Category Archives: Liturgy

Prayer Book Studies: Digital Edition

One of the things I have hoped and intended to do for a long time is to make the Prayer Book Studies series more available throughout the church.

For those not familiar with it, “Prayer Book Studies” was a concept set into motion by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 1949. This would be a study of liturgy, liturgical principles, and the rites of the church that would guide progress towards a new Book of Common Prayer. Prayer Book Studies I/II (containing the first two studies) appeared in 1950; Prayer Book Studies 29: Introducing the Proposed Book of Common Prayer was published in 1976.  Appearing (mostly) in floppy blue pamphlets of varying length, these booklets are invaluable looks into the thoughts, logic, knowledge, and assumptions of the men (mostly men…) who shaped our present American Book of Common Prayer (1979).

As we discuss liturgical revision at this time, and as we have memorialized the 1979 BCP—whatever that means—it is imperative that we as a church gain a clear sense of this book that we have and the principles and priorities that produced it.

And these topics are discussed and made explicit in the volumes of the Prayer Book Studies.

I have signed a contract with Church Publishing to produce a digital edition of the full series. Exactly how they will be gathered and distributed is a marketing decision, and not entirely in my hands. Nonetheless, the goal is to produce the complete text containing footnotes (and introducing editorial footnotes where I think something needs to be added or clarified) for the reflection and edification of the church.

Want to know why a text was chosen? Check here first.

Want to understand the reason for a rubric? Check here first.

Want to get a better sense of why we do what we do? Check here first…

We plan to move quickly on this. I’ve already begun the first series, and PBS 1-3 are in the hands of the good folks at CPG. I intend to finish the first series (Prayer Book Studies I-XVII) by the early summer; I don’t know what that means exactly for a release date, but I hope not too long after that. I plan to blog as I go, sharing some of the gems I discover, and whetting your appetites for the arrival of the full set.

(Work on the Psalms book still continues, albeit at a sluggish pace, and will be back on the front burner when this is done…)

So—check back frequently for more updates, ask me if you don’t see any, and keep me in your prayers as I work to make this great set of resources available for the church!

GC Wrap-up: Prayer Book Revision

General Convention has concluded for another triennium. The sky has not fallen.

Lots of people with far more time on their hands than I have been and will continue to be commenting on a host of things. Rather than trying to do all things poorly, I shall focus exclusively on three resolutions and what changes they may (or may not) effect. I’ll do it a post at a time so as not to mix things up too much…

A068: Plan for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer

For as long as the link endures (I’m told at least Labor Day?) the text of this resolution as passed can be found here. After that point this link will no longer work and there ought to be a new one from the Episcopal Archives folks.

This resolution:

  • Creates a new Task Force (a thing that exists in a different canonical space from the SCLM) on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision. The SCLM will still exist; this will also exist alongside it. Exactly how they will relate to one another is unclear at the present time.
  • The TFLPBR (pronounced Tiffle-Pibber) is supposed to report to GC80 (held in Baltimore!! Woohoo—church nerd party at my house!!). But—here’s the thing: the resolution doesn’t say what it is to report on… It is not tasked with “presenting a new prayer book” and there are no timelines for anything like that. General Convention has given the TFLPBR a very open-ended charge.
  • The emphasis is on a dynamic process of watching local organic revision that contains several broadly construed themes: fidelity to our historic rites, a continued emphasis on Eucharist and Baptism, loving reconciliation, creation care, the riches of our collective multi-dimensional diversity, inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity, and emerging technology.
    • Wow, that’s a lot of stuff… We’re casting the net broadly and not very specifically.
  • The intention of the resolution reads to me like we are not asking the the TFLPBR to be drafting things as much as we are asking them to watch the local level, identify good stuff/best practices, and to share those perhaps with an eye to coming up with things based on them at a later date.
  • The 1979 prayer book has been “memorialized” and the TFLPBR has been asked to draw up new constitutions and canons to provide legislative space for the identification and dissemination of liturgical creativity. So—the current books stay in the pews; more books are appear there—or maybe things will start appearing in your bulletins or in downloads on your smart devices.
  • The work of drafting and revising, then, is not actually in the hands of the TFLPBR—at least not at this point. Instead, it is supposed to happen at the local level. This could become chaos. In theory, the choke-point to prevent it from dissolving into a liturgical free-for-all in which each go their own way is the bishop: the bishop will engage the congregations and expansive, experimental efforts will be collected—and, one supposes, assessed?—at the local level for broader dissemination to the TFLPBR and the Church.

 

What the heck does all of this mean?

Honestly, there’s enough fluidity in the language and potential gaps in understanding that it still remains anyone’s guess. Check back with me in three years… However, this is the way that I am reading the situation right now:

The center of gravity for revision under this resolution is not with national bodies. Specifically, it does not reside within the SCLM. Neither the SCLM nor the TFLPBR will be drafting liturgies for imposition on the church. (At least, not at this point nor under these directions.)

The center of gravity is at the local and diocesan levels. We are the ones who are supposed to be doing the work which will then be sifted and assessed. If there are gate-keepers in the process, the gate-keepers will be operating at the diocesan level: the diocesan liturgical commission that will “collect, reflect [upon? one hopes?], teach and share these resources with the TFLPBR.”

If you are interested in classically grounded, theologically astute, inclusive, truly Anglican liturgies coming out of this process, then it seems to me your two best moves are these: 1) talk to your bishop what experimentation will look like in your diocese, and 2) volunteer to be part of the liturgical commission.

The regnant assumption is that all experimentation will be tilted in a free-form, free-church-ish, breezy kind of direction. And perhaps it will be—if people who think otherwise don’t step up! That’s exactly why I drafted this liturgy when permissions to use Rite III were passed by the previous General Convention: to remind you that all revision doesn’t have to be like that. Don’t let yourself be locked into these mental frameworks! Instead, consider what it means to do inclusive/expansive revision that truly is grounded in the historical liturgies around our sacraments.

For what it’s worth, I am planning to speak to my bishop, seeking permission for the St. Bede’s Breviary to engage in some experimentation on the Daily Office. I will retain the prayer book forms as options, of course, but will also seek to do some (modest) experimentation on the Offices that I believe will improve the rites while connecting them into the history and theology of the Office in the West. Don’t expect these changes anytime soon, though—I have a bunch of other things on my plate to complete first. (Including the Anglican Breviary. Work on that continues…)

Brief Notes on GC & Prayer Book Revision

  • Prayer Book Revision was passed by the House of Deputies.
  • As of this writing, it has not been passed by the House of Bishops which is required for it to become actual passed legislation. [Update 7/9/2018, 12:53 PM EST—The bishops are at work on it; according to the version in the virtual binder, they have taken off the table any changes to Rite I, the Historical Documents, and the Lord’s Prayer.]
  • If Because the bishops make made changes to the resolution and then passed it, it will have to be re-debated and re-passed without amendment in the House of Deputies. Because if they do amend it, it will then have to be re-passed in the House of Bishops… And if any approval in either place does not occur before convention ends, the thing as a whole is dead.
  • The Project, Budget, & Finance committee has not yet released a budget. What work gets done depends on what funding is given and with which strings.

Ok—say it passes. What next?

  • The resolution as currently written directs the SCLM to follow the plan proposed in the Blue Book. which includes both qualitative and quantitative listening. This is where my “big data” Bulletin Collection Project is laid out.
  • Does this mean that the Bulletin Collection Project will happen? It’s likely—it depends on the funding and the degree to which the funding is designated. If it has a line-item or is directed towards the Episcopal Archives (who would be the ones directing it), it will almost certainly happen. If the money is given in a big bucket to the SCLM to decide how they want to parcel it out, then it will depend entirely on the next iteration of the SCLM and to what degree they follow the directions given to them.
  • (If you don’t know what I mean by “Bulletin Collection Project,” the Blue Book has a garbled form of it, but the big picture for it is laid out in this post written after last GC which lists the two other things that I still think we need 1) big-data bulletin collection, 2) transparent input from the church, and 3) transparent drafting mechanisms.)
  • What “next iteration of the SCLM”? Remember that appointment for clergy and laity to the SCLM is only for two triennia; bishops serve only one. Each triennium, half of the membership turns over for the clergy and laity—and all the bishops do. Thus, several of my friends and colleagues will be rolling off and we do not know who will be put on it. And you can bet that if you thought trying to get on the SCLM was difficult and contentious before, it will only be moreso now with revision in the air!
    • (I’ve seen a few comments online wishing I hadn’t resigned. It wouldn’t have made a bit of difference, because my term would have been up now anyway and I accomplished what I could do while I was there.)

That’s enough for now—time to get some actual work done…

Expansive Language Rite II

Friend of the blog Mother Laurie Brock has posted a resolution for General Convention that would offer an immediate trial use first reading of an expanded language version of the Rite II Eucharist. The resolution with liturgy is here, the liturgy alone is here.

As readers should know, I’m not a fan of revision and I’m usually wary of expansive language. Imprecise or incorrect theology is always the number one concern when liturgy gets tinkered with. But, poetics are a major concern of mine as well.  All too often expansive language comes from a well-intentioned place but produces bad liturgy. Effusive wordiness creating overly imaginative metaphors causes clunky sentences. Liturgy is not just poetry, it’s poetry that occurs out loud. Liturgy is inherently spoken. As it result, it must have the right rhythms for speaking it aloud and at volume.

Laurie took the Rite II services that we currently have and went through them, making gentle modifications to tone down both the male language and the dominion (kingdom/Lord) language that many in the church are finding problematic.

Here are my initial thoughts on a read through of the liturgy…

  • I don’t love the initial acclamation: “Blessed be God: holy, glorious, and undivided Trinity./And blessed be God’s reign, now and for ever. Amen.” I was initially unsure about “holy, glorious” thinking that it might be a little out of character from the styling of the rest of the service but was reassured when I realized it was riffing on “O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,” from the Litany. The response is more the issue. I get that we have a shift from “kingdom” to “reign” but I’m not a fan of the homophone especially in the first line of the service (rain=water from the sky? rein=God’s kidney? rein=part of a bridle?). I don’t know what would be a better replacement, though.
  • I like that the option is given to use either “God” or “Lord” in the collect dialogue.
  • I like the three options for responses to the reading, and that the “The Word of the Lord” remains the top one. This is a theological affirmation of the content that grounds the others. Just the “Spirit” options on their own makes me wonder if the Spirit is only in the act of hearing and not in the source material itself. The Spirit can speak to me from the NY Times; retaining “Word of the Lord” liturgically affirms that the text is God’s revelation even if one of the other responses is chosen.
  • That both Gospel acclamations have “Lord Christ” is great. In other places, the “Lord” language is de-emphasized but I agree that this is a key spot where we ought to retain it. That’s key–knowing when to be expansive and where the traditional language really is essential.
  • I like the treatment of the Creed.
    • It retains the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are non-negotiables for Christian liturgy. Get beyond them in the creed and you’re doing something else.
    • “became truly human” is a good change. Yes, the incarnate body of Jesus was a man—it had a penis. However, the creed’s statement on this account is not about the personal plumbing of Our Lord but his humanity which this change accomplishes.
    • The use of relative clauses beginning “who” regarding the Holy Spirit is a good strategic move. It removes the unnecessary “he”s and forestalls revisionist “she”s that I frequently hear around the church.
    • [Update: I’m not a fan of the removal of the filioque, so I’m not thrilled about that. I’m well aware it’s not in the ecumenical version, but the West has used it for centuries and too many Episcopalians have Arian tendencies already…]
  • In the opening dialogue for the Eucharist, while the initial “Lord” is optional, its use later is not. I think that is a good move. Again, there’s a difference between expanding and expunging. Too often the former becomes the latter. I’m less concerned than some about the shift to “our” in the last response because the priest’s line makes it clear that our thanks and praise are, in fact, directed to “the Lord our God.”
  • Prayer A
    • “Son” language makes appearances while “maker and preserver” tones down the male language.
  • The Lord’s Prayer is untouched with both traditional and contemporary options retained.
  • The rhythm is off in the dropping of “Son” from the second line of the first post-communion prayer. What about “of our Source and Savior Jesus Christ?” It expands while retaining both the alliteration and the rhythm.
  • The second post-communion prayer retains a “Son” and “kingdom” but I’m not sure about “we are living members of the Body of your Child.” My own (likely idiosyncratic) mental image is that I will become the arm of a baby or toddler. Sorry—that’s just my mental word association with “Body of your Child”…
  • I like that a blessing is called for in the rubrics but nothing is directly stated. I think that’s a wise move because it permits a classic “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” blessing if so desired, and does not legislate, recommend, or encourage a modalist option.
  • Prayer B
    • There’s something about the flow of “In Christ’s sacrifice, unite us that we may be acceptable…” that feels off to me. Not sure what it is exactly… (It maybe the pile-up of sibilants at the start.)
  • Prayer C
    • “your only Child, born of Mary” is a good change. Of course, to my way of thinking, more Mary in our prayers is always a good change!
    • “God of Abraham and Sarah” is the choice taken to deal with one of the infamous hiccups in this prayer. This is a good option, but not my favorite option. Abraham and Sarah were the parents of Isaac, the child of promise who both indirectly begets and typologically represents Christ. So—there’s nothing wrong with this and it doesn’t raise the question of why Hagar isn’t named. I still prefer to the retention of the ancient title for God, “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” but want to see it balanced with “, the God of Miriam, Deborah, and Ruth” or something like that which includes women but doesn’t get into elaborating wives/concubines/sex partners of the patriarchs which gets messy really quickly.
  • Prayer D
    • There was a pretty light touch on D which is wise given that one of our reasons for including it is ecumenical.

I have some anxieties about piecemeal revision of the prayer book. I don’t know if that’s a road we want to go down, and it worries me about the precedent it would set.

However, if General Convention is bound and determined to do something right now to make things more inclusive, this is something that I can get behind. I have yet to see anything in Laurie’s revision that is problematic. Yeah, a few minor term and rhythm things I’d do differently, but those are quibbles. This is way better than EOW, and miles beyond what could be foisted upon us!

It gets an up-vote from my side. That having been said, I’m a straight white guy: I don’t get triggered by male or dominion language. I imagine some who do might say that this is too conservative and has not gone far enough. For my perspective, though, Laurie has done a wonderful job with this and I hope it receives proper consideration.

Random Antiphonage

Doing some psalm antiphon transcribing.

The fourth antiphon for Lauds on Pentecost—so the one intended to go with the canticle… We all know the Benedicite, right? That’s the one on Saturday morning that never ends. Love this twist on it:

O ye Wells of Salvation, † and all that move through the baptismal waters thereof, * sing praises to God, alleluia.

This is the kind of theo-liturgical play that antiphons offer.

That is all.

Xunzi’s Take on Ritual: Part 2

Here’s the second part of my presentation for the Society of Scholar Priests. Part 1 introduces Xunzi as a pre-modern person interested in how ritual practice forms virtue; part 2 is here, part 3 is looking at classical Anglican liturgy with Xunzi’s thoughts in mind.

(Production on the next Liturgical Look Forward is running behind, but it should be up at some point today…)


 

I’m going to abstract out of Xunzi’s thought four big picture points.

  1. Human nature is bad; because it’s bad it must be corrected by means of external tools following an external pattern.

  2. The efficacy of ritual lies chiefly in its ability to channel emotion and shape affect.

  3. Ritual is essential, but for ritual to be most effective requires teachers.

  4. Ritual creates a harmonious society by inculcating proper relationships

 

1. Human nature is bad; because it’s bad it must be corrected by means of external tools following an external pattern.

Mengzi—a Confucian teacher in the previous generation—teaches that human nature is good. Since it’s good, in order to know what is good, we simply have to look within ourselves. Goodness is inate. While our good nature may be corrupted by society or through some other problem, it’s always there and its development is a natural process. Thus, meditation and introspection are key tools for forming the virtues because they enable us to look inwardly and tap into that inherent good nature. As a result, Mengzi can use the metaphor of growth. So, seeds of virtue within human nature will naturally grow. It’s one-directional process and there’s a certain natural inevitability to it. Just like a plant, if human nature is given what it needs and is not interfered with, virtue is going to grow. So, Mengzi can use agricultural metaphors.

Xunzi doesn’t. He’s deliberately setting himself up against Mengzi and he uses no agricultural metaphors for the human spirit or for the acquisition of virtue. Instead of being agricultural, all of his metaphors are about crafts; they’re technological. A piece of clay is never inherently going to become a pot. If you don’t do anything to it, it’s just going to sit there.  In the same way a piece of wood is never going to spontaneously turn into a wheel. Instead, it requires an artisan to steam the wood and use a jig to shape and bend it into a new configuration. These are the metaphors he employs before turning to the construction of virtue within humans.

Someone may ask: if man’s nature is evil, then where do ritual principles come from? I would reply: all ritual principles are produced by the conscious activity of the sages; essentially they are not products of man’s nature. A potter molds clay and makes a vessel, but the vessel is the product of the conscious activity of the potter, not essentially a product of his human nature. A carpenter carves a piece of wood and makes a utensil, but the utensil is the product of the conscious activity of the carpenter, not essentially a product of his human nature. The sage gathers together his thoughts and ideas, experiments with various forms of conscious activity, and so produces ritual principles and sets forth laws and regulations. Hence, these ritual principles and laws are the products of the conscious activity of the sage, not essentially products of his human nature. (Burton, 160)

[All quotations come from Burton Watson’s translation of sections of the Xunzi whom he romanizes as Hsun Tzu]

So—there are two external things at work here. There is the tool and then there’s the pattern. So, there’s the means by which character is shaped, then there’s the pattern of what you’re trying to shape it to. So where do these come from? This is directly related to the question that Lizette Larson-Miller raised in her talk: if liturgy is primary theology, where does liturgy come from? What’s it’s initial source? Xunzi invokes the sage kings of antiquity and points to the rites handed down in the traditional documents:

In ancient times the sage kings realized that man’s nature is evil, and that therefore he inclines toward evil and violence and is not upright or orderly. Accordingly they created ritual principles and laid down certain regulations in order to reform man’s emotional nature and make it upright, in order to train and transform it and guide it into the proper channels. In this way they caused all men to become orderly and conform to the Way. (158)

Well, ok, great—but where did the principles come from?

The former kings looked up and took their model from heaven, looked  down and took their model from the earth, looked about and took their rules from mankind. Such rules represent the ultimate principle of community harmony and unity. (107-108)

Xunzi is invoking a received pattern here. The Five Classics refer to a triad between heaven, earth, and humanity. Each of these has a Way, a Dao. As far as the Daoists—like Laozi and Zhuangzi–were concerned, these three ways are interwoven into one great unnameable indescribable Dao and human virtue consists of cooperating with and conforming one’s life to the Dao of heaven and earth. You align your pattern with the cosmic pattern. Xunzi says, no, that’s not going to work—because if you look at heaven and earth, things aren’t perfect, orderly, and harmonious. The natural world has lots and lots of disorder in it. So as far as he’s concerned, you can extract some principles of right living by the observation of heaven and earth, but humans are the ones who bring order to both heaven and earth. Our job isn’t to passively float along accord to their Dao; instead, we need to discern the patterns, figure out how order needs to be brought, then to accomplish it. Thus the first job of the sage kings is to ask—what’s the cosmic pattern supposed to look like. Where is it orderly and harmonious, and where is it not? What are the patterns that do work? So—from that work of observation the sage kings figure out what the patterns of humanity are supposed to look like.

Next, the tools. Then they abstracted from that big-picture goal what rites and rituals and ceremonies are needed to do the work of shaping people to create virtue. Ok—so how do they figure this out? Here we get to Xunzi’s anthropological principles and to his functional approach to ritual and that leads to our second point:

 

2. The efficacy of ritual lies chiefly in its ability to channel emotion and shape affect.

Emotion is at the heart of Xunzi’s anthropology: “The basic nature of man is that which he receives from Heaven. The emotions are the substance of the nature and the desires are the responses of the emotions” (151).So, Xunzi sees us principally as emotional beings. We act out of our emotions and our emotions give rise to our desires. Alright so what’s the problem here? Well—here’s where we get to why he says human nature is bad:

Hence any man who follows his nature and indulges his emotions will inevitably become involved in wrangling and strife, will violate the forms and rules of society, and will end as a criminal. Therefore, man must first be transformed by the instructions of a teacher and guided by ritual principles, and only then will he be able to observe the dictates of courtesy and humility, obey the forms and rules of society, and achieve order. (157)

So, this is where I’m going to qualify his language a bit. When Xunzi says that human nature is bad, a precise way to frame it is that human nature is inherently anti-social because our tendency is to follow our desires regardless of the consequences for ourselves or for anyone else around us. That’s our nature: we’re selfish and will live a disordered existence in order to satisfy these desires.

[In many ways, I see his perspective as parallel with an Augustinian post-lapsarian anthropology: while humanity is created good in the image of God, the corruption of Original Sin does make us inherently selfish and disordered—a condition from which we need to be redeemed. Obviously, we and Xunzi disagree on how that redemption happens!]

What do we do about desire? Well, some philosophies said that desires can be extinguished—whether through force of will or meditative training, desire can be stopped. Xunzi had a very clear teaching on this point: “Beings that possess desire and those that do not belong to two different categories— the living and the dead” (150). Desire is not the kind of thing that can be extinguished. Instead, it can be channeled and directed and modulated:

What is the origin of ritual? I reply: man is born with desires. If his desires are not satisfied for him, he cannot but seek some means to satisfy them himself. If there are no limits and degrees to his seeking, then he will inevitably fall to wrangling with other men. From wrangling comes disorder and from disorder comes exhaustion. The ancient kings hated such disorder, and therefore they established ritual principles in order to curb it, to train men’s desires and to provide for their satisfaction. They saw to it that desires did not overextend the means for their satisfaction, and material goods did not fall short of what was desired. Thus both desires and goods were looked after and satisfied. This is the origin of rites. (89)

If the people have emotions of love and hatred, but no ways to express their joy or anger, then they will become disordered. Because the former kings hated such disorder, they reformed the actions of the people and created proper music for them, and as a result the world became obedient. (115)

Music and ritual, then, are the means by which emotions are channeled and expressed in appropriate ways. They take the urges that are going to arise in humans naturally, but they place boundaries and limits on them. He points in particular to the way that burial and mourning rituals function:

Rites trim away what is too long and stretch out what is too short; eliminate surplus and repair deficiency. Extend the forms of love and reverence, and step by step bring to fulfilment the beauties of proper conduct Beauty and ugliness, music and weeping, joy and sorrow are opposites, and yet rites make use of them all, bringing forth and employing each in its turn. (100)

So—rites and music don’t suppress feeling, they direct it. They guide it. Sometimes they may need to temper it, but Xunzi’s starting place is with humans as emotional animals whose responses and anti-social tendencies can be remedied by means of ritual patterns that can model and inculcate proper desires and proper social relationships.

3. Ritual is essential, but for ritual to be most effective requires teachers. 

So—rites are essential. But, they are not self-evident. They can lead individuals in certain directions but are going to be less efficacious if they are not fully understood. You can’t just be self-reflective. You can’t look into yourself and figure out they are or aren’t working because the principles are external to you. You need a teacher to get the most out of them. Here’s the long version:

In learning, nothing is more profitable than to associate with those who are learned. Ritual and music present us with models but no explanations; the Odes and Documents deal with ancient matters and are not always pertinent; the Spring and Autumn Annals are terse and cannot be quickly understood. But if you make use of the erudition of others and the explanations of gentlemen, then you will become honored and may make your way anywhere in the world. Therefore I say that in learning nothing is more profitable than to associate with those who are learned, and of the roads to learning, none is quicker than to love such men. Second only to this is to honor ritual. If you are first of all unable to love such men and secondly are incapable of honoring ritual, then you will only | be learning a mass of jumbled facts, blindly following the Odes and Documents, and nothing more. In such a case you may study to the end of your days and you will never be anything but a vulgar pedant. If you want to become like the former kings and seek out benevolence and righteousness, then ritual is the very road by which you must travel. (20-21)

Learning by itself is no guarantee of virtue. You’ve got to have a teacher. Here’s the short version:

Ritual is the means by which to rectify yourself; the teacher is the means by which the ritual is rectified. If you are without ritual, how can you rectify yourself? If you have no teacher, how can you understand the fitness of ritual? If you unerringly do as ritual prescribes, it means that your emotions have found rest in ritual. If you speak as your teacher speaks, it means that your understanding has become like that of your teacher. If your emotions find rest in ritual and your understanding is like that of your teacher, then you have become like a sage. Hence to reject ritual is to be without law and to reject your teacher is to be without a guide. . . . Therefore learning means learning to regard ritual as your law. The teacher makes himself the standard of proper conduct and values that in himself which finds rest in ritual. (30)

4. Ritual creates a harmonious society by inculcating proper relationships 

Confucian thought is not modern Western thought. It is not egalitarian. Instead it is inherently hierarchical and, indeed, hierarchy is very much seen as a good thing. Kongzi [aka Confucius) himself laid out five fundamental relationships between unequals that must be kept in correct relationship in order to ensure the smooth functioning of society. Xunzi insists that the correct relationships are embedded within ritual:

Heaven and earth are the beginning of life, ritual principles are the beginning of order, and the gentleman is the beginning of ritual principles. Acting on them, practicing them, guarding them, and loving them more than anything else—this is the beginning of the gentleman. Therefore Heaven and earth produce the gentleman and the gentleman brings order to Heaven and earth. The gentleman forms a triad with Heaven and earth; he is the controller of all things, the father and mother of the people. Without the gentleman, Heaven and earth will lack order and ritual principles will lack unity. There will be no true ruler or leader above, no true father or son below. This is what is called the extreme of chaos. The correct relationships between ruler and subject, father and son, elder and younger brother, and husband and wife begin and are carried through to the end, end and begin again. They share the order of Heaven and earth, they last for ten thousand generations. They are what is called the great foundation. The rules that govern mourning and sacrificial rites and the ceremonies of the court and the army are based upon this single foundation.  (44-45)

Men, once born, must organize themselves into a society. But if they form a society without hierarchical divisions, then there will be quarreling. . . . This is why I say that ritual principles must not be neglected even for a moment. He who can follow them in serving his parents is called filial; he who can follow them in serving his elder brothers is called brotherly. He who can follow them in serving his superiors is called obedient; he who can follow them in employing his inferiors is called a ruler. (46)

The patterns in ritual lay out the social scripts for how one is supposed to behave towards those arrayed around you in social relationships. If we live into the ritual then we will be taught the proper kinds of actions and the proper kinds of attitudes that we should use for people all of the way up and down the social scale. This happens most powerfully in full scale, whole community ritual activities.

Most of the time that Xunzi talks about ritual it’s rather generic and in passing. There are only a few specific rites that he goes into detail on. Otherwise he just assumes that we’re familiar with the ritual environment of 3rd century BC China. The two he does dig into in detail have very specific social hierarchy connects. One is burial and mourning rites for parents, the other is a community feast that takes place at a village school. He describes how the host treats the guest of honor, and then how all of the people in attendance are served. He ends his description of it and summarizes the ceremony like this:

When the distinction between eminent and humble is made clear, when the complexity or | simplicity of the ritual is adjusted to distinctions of rank, when there is harmonious pleasure without abandoned behavior, drinking according to distinctions of age but with no one left out, and drinking and feasting without disorder—when these five types of conduct are achieved, they will be sufficient to insure moral training to the individual and peace to the state, and when the state is peaceful, the world will be peaceful. (119-120)

I find this significant. His ideal ceremony for describing what a well-ordered society looks like and how a well-ordered society is formed in the first place is a community feast where everything is done in good order and where no one is left out. It’s really hard for me to read this and not to make the move to the Eucharist! So—let’s go ahead and do that. Let’s move away from Classical China and move into Classical Anglicanism. After making one over-arching concluding point.

For Xunzi, ritual is about moral formation, virtue acquisition, through training a new habitus formed in and through ritual action. Even though there’s a lot of talk about learning, and a teacher is essential to get the deepest meaning out of ritual patterns, the most important thing about ritual is to do it and to gain a new way of being through ritual action. We perform our way into virtue. We don’t think it. Our emotions are trained and modulated and the affections are shaped. This is an incarnate and incarnational process. We’ve mentioned muscle memory several times across presentations. And here it is again. The renewing and redirection of desire is trained through ritual participation and the way we relate to one another is formed through deliberate patterning. Ok—now that we have that piece in place—let’s take a look at some Classic Anglican patterns and practices and see if we can find anything new…

Serious Liturgical Geekery: Part 1

I often post sections or entireties of presentations that I give for various groups—this is one of them.

I was invited to present at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Scholar-Priests this past month on the broad & general topic of the liturgy and formation. This gave me an opportunity to play around with a concept that has been bouncing around in my head for several years and to re-attack something that I had been previously from a new angle.  Because I’m reworking some stuff here that I originally wrote for the SCP conference in Detroit several years ago, there is material here that some long-time readers will likely recognize, particularly in the latter stages. However, there’s a lot of new things too and the new things make the old things more interesting! (I think so, at least…)

This is part 1 of 3; part 2 is looking at Xunzi’s arguments about what ritual is and how it functions; part 3 is looking at classical Anglican liturgy with Xunzi’s thoughts in mind.

So, without further ado…


Whenever I take on a big topic—and Liturgy and formation is a very big topic—I always like to try and get some outside perspective. We tend to get caught up with the usual authorities and in the usual takes on the situation as laid down by the usual authorities based on the usual stances and approaches. So my reflex is to go find somebody else. Somebody who does not share all of the fundamental assumptions that we start from and that isn’t locked into the philosophical constructs of late post/modernity and the combined academic and ecclesial culture of the Episcopal seminary. But yet—still has something interesting and compelling to offer. So, someone disconnected from our conversations but who still has a perspective worth engaging.

Our liturgy and its liturgical cycles are the product of a pre-industrial, pre-enlightenment world. Not pre-technological, not pre-philosophical, but thoroughly pre-modern but in no way does that mean primitive. So, in order to understand the motivations and spirit that had a hand in the construction of our liturgical cycles, I like to find interesting thinkers who were thinking about these topics—ritual, ceremonial, what it all means and why we do it—who are pre-industrial, pre-enlightenment, and pre-modern yet are dealing with these topics in interesting and sophisticated ways.

As a result, I’d like to introduce you to a thinker who will most likely be a new acquaintance to most of the folks here. Xunzi was a philosopher writing in the Confucian tradition right around the fall of the Zhou dynasty and the rise of the Qin. Born around 313 BC, he died in about 238 BC. We don’t have a lot of biographical data about him. He was born in the state of Zhao which is in the northern part of China up on Yellow River. Like many of the sages of the time he bounced around between the governments of the various warring states that existed before the rise of the dynasty that would unite China under a single Emperor, Shi Huangdi, in 221 BC. He was a teacher, a ritual specialist, and a magistrate before losing his position when his patron was assassinated in 238. He retired into obscurity before his own death. His writings are collected in a book known by his name, the Xunzi, divided into 32 essay-length chapters.

To put him in philosophical context, Confucian thought begins with the writings of Kongzi (Confucius) who died in 479 BC and whose writings focused on building a strong and virtuous society grounded in traditionalism, right relationships amongst and within a stratified society, ethical improvement that classified people on a spectrum from petty to gentleman to sage based on their investment in ethical progress. Much of the thought of Kongzi consists of reflection on older books of learning, histories, poetry, and ritual thought to be written by the philosopher kings of old. These are referred to collectively as the Five Classics. So references to the sage kings or the former kings refer to this body of traditional material that was seen as a quasi-divine revelation.

Around the same time as Xunzi, you have the philosopher Mengzi (or Mencius), also a Confucian thinker who advocated a human nature is essentially good and offered a moral and ethic program based on self-reflection. Since your nature is good, all you have to do is look inside yourself to know what is right. Mengzi becomes the central bearer of the Confucian tradition going forward and he is considered one of the four great sages of China along with Kongzi and two other later thinkers who will not appear in this paper.

Also at this same general time was Zhuangzi, whose book bearing his name would become one of the fundamental texts of the Daoist tradition. His basic concept is that there is a way (Dao) or fundamental pattern woven into the cosmos that can be discerned. The true sage is the one who conforms to this great Dao agreeing with Mengzi that human society is often responsible for people losing their way morally and ethically.

So—why is Xunzi interesting at all? Why bother going through all of this? Xunzi represents Confucian heterodoxy—his is the path not taken, and it’s because he fundamentally disagreed with Mengzi. Whereas Mengzi developed his moral thought based on the premise that human nature is good, Xunzi went in the opposite direction. He states clearly, repeatedly, that human nature is bad. I’m going to nuance that in a little bit—that’s his language, which is intended to be deliberately provocative, not mine. What Xunzi does believe is that because human nature is bad, it must be corrected and the ritual is the key. Of all the Confucian writers, he is the one who speaks the most and the most clearly about ritual and about Confucian metapraxis: why ritual should be done, why ritual is important, and how ritual functions as a formative tool to create virtuous individuals and a virtuous society. So here we have a 3rd century BC voice explaining what ritual is, how it functions, and how it creates virtue. He is thoroughly uninvested in our arguments and language games and in our philosophical constructions.

One other very important point about him: Xunzi denies any supernatural efficacy to ritual acts. As far as he is concerned either the gods and ancestors don’t exist or they do not care to intervene in human affairs—he’s kind of analogous to the Epicureans in that respect. Rather, he is arguing that ritual does what it does on its own terms and by its own means—not because a god or ancestor or spirit is functioning supernaturally through it. So, what I’d like to do is get a sense of where Xunzi is coming from, and then take a look at some components of Classical Anglican liturgy from the perspective that he shows us. I’m not proposing any sort of syncretism, of course; in fact, I disagree with Xunzi on some really important points. What I’m suggesting is that looking at how a pre-modern, pre-industrial, pre-enlightenment ethical thinker deeply invested in ritual and ceremony can break us out of our boxes and give us new eyes with which to look at our familiar practices.

Evensong Handout, Rite I for Lent

Over on the Rubric Facebook page there was a question about whether any churches do Evensong from the prayer book any more. The answer is, yes, they do…

Just to distinguish, there are three main kinds of evening prayer services:

  • Evening Prayer where the service is prayer from the Book of Common Prayer,
  • (Congregational) Evensong where the officiant and the people sing the service together (the appointed psalms may either be read or sung—I’ve seen it both ways), or
  • Choral Evensong where the service is sung between the officiant and the choir. The congregation may chime in on the canticles or hymns—or not. Usually everything is sung and it uses either the 1928 or the 1662 format.

M’s church has been doing a congregational evensong during Lent and Advent. Attendance varies, sometimes it’s as high as 15, sometimes it’s just been 3 or 4. Usually it’s in the 10 or 11 range, but numbers aren’t the driving goal—offering Evensong is.

For several of the participants over the last couple of seasons, it was the first time they’d ever been to an Evensong. Too, sometimes M invited others to lead—once a priest from another congregation, and once our younger daughter H wanted to give it a try.  It worked because we used a format that was pretty easy. My preference is always to use the book, but I don’t find that practical in this instance because you have to know when and what to sing and when to move from hymnal to prayer book. Instead, we worked up a 1-page front-and-back sheet that contained the main body of the Office without hymns, psalms, or canticles. This allowed us to make one run of sheets that we could laminate and use over and over throughout the season.

Also, when you get into hymns and such you start running afoul of copyright regulations. Virtually all of the hymns and much of the composed service music is under copyright.  Both the text and tunes found in the hymnal for the specific service texts for Evening Prayer are in the public domain because, in the case of the prayer book, the texts are explicitly in the public domain. In the case of the tunes, they are traditional and have been used for hundreds of years. What *is* copyrighted is the typesetting of them in the hymnal. That’s why you can’t copy-and-paste from the hymnal without a license: the image of the contents are copyrighted even if the contents are not.

While M’s church does have one of the big rubber-stamp music licenses because they livestream and YouTube their service (which you can watch here), I opted to dispense with the issue altogether by setting the music myself with a basic music notation font and judicious use of the Paint utility.

So—what you’ll find here is a Rite I Evensong for Lenten congregational use that fits on a one-pager. [Now, with all the notes in the Dismissal!] Officiants will need their prayer books as some of their texts are partial or missing to save space and, of course, no propers are included.

The Confession is included and there’s a reason for that… When M first started this, she was doing it with a clergy colleague. We handed out the sheets, and he began with the Confession—which wasn’t on the sheets. This caused unintentional chaos, so I added it and it’s been on since. (As a basic rule, if you’ve given a handout for an unfamiliar service, you’d be advised to go with what’s on the handout even if it’s not the way you’d normally do it. Finish the service, then address the handout; don’t deviate in the middle [or beginning] and confuse everybody…)

Year B Gospel Canticle Antiphons for the Daily Office

I had a post in the works that got into discussions of the Anglican Missal and Breviary* and such that got long and windy and such so I’ll just keep this brief and cut to the chase…

Of course, I like the Anglican Missal and Breviary but there’s one obvious problem with using them as direct supplements to the ’79 BCP: our current use is grounded in a three-year Eucharistic lectionary. These venerable resources are grounded in a one-year lectionary.

One of the key elements of continuity between the Mass and Office in Western liturgy was the use of bits and pieces of the Gospel and Epistle for the nearby feasts in successive days of the Office and chief among these is the Gospel Canticle Antiphon which was typically taken from the Gospel lection. I have two different cycles of Gospel Canticle Antiphons in the St. Bede’s Breviary, but this is a post to alert you to another…

Friend-of-the-blog Charlie Heeley has put up a set for use with Year B of the Revised Common lectionary that also includes some appropriate Chapter passages for use with Noon Prayer as well. It’s a compact, six-page (printed front & back) booklet that puts these texts right at your fingers. It’s in a Google Doc that can be found here.

Let me know what you think!