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.

7 thoughts on “Expansive Language Rite II

  1. Barbara

    This is the kind of thing that makes sense to me – keeping the rhythm and flow and content, but finding other, better ways to say things. Far better this than wholesale revision, IMO; and, it deals with the question at hand instead of wandering off into everything else.

    They made a mistake introducing “Him” in the Sursum Corda anyway! So this corrects that big error, which I’m glad of. Hopefully there will be provision for slight tweaking of the language, as you point to here.

  2. Sophia Twaddell

    I share your anxieties about piecemeal revision. And it looks as if that’s the way this is going. But to echo your caveat to some extent–I’m a straight white woman and the masculine language is something I’ve learned to live with. People are arguing that God is bigger than male and female but we keep getting tied up in pronouns. And I have yet to hear expansive language for God that is any less limiting. I want to fall back on that Orthodox POV: it’s a mystery. Anselm’s formula: Or that than which no greater can be thought.

  3. Scott Knitter

    I think any BCP revisions need to be prayed with for an extensive time, ideally by a community that prays the liturgies often, like a monastic community. That’s a big part of how the St. Helena Psalter turned out so well as a thoughtful inclusive-language edition of the 1979 psalter: it was used by a praying community, and refined based on that experience, for a long time. Piecemeal revisions make me think we’ll end up with something that irritates (and not in a good, healthy way) when a testing phase might have helped smooth the flow problems. There’s also the “Will it sing?” aspect that needs testing.

    Then there’s the whole angle of looking at what other Anglican provinces have done to address similar perceived problems in their liturgical materials and considering whether there’s a better solution among those than the wheel we’re about to reinvent.

  4. Patrick Coleman

    How many parishes ever use Eucharistic Prayer D? I have never been in a parish that does, but my experience is limited. Somehow I had the impression this option has only been theoretical and certainly my current rector is not a fan. We now mostly uses a prayer from something called worship for an inclusive church.

    By the way, Derek, whatever happened to the idea of getting every parish in TEC to send in a couple of Sunday bulletins to see what is actually going on throughout the country?

  5. Derek A. Olsen Post author

    Prayer D is frequently used for major festivals (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost) in my experience, especially sung with the Mozaribic tone (which the priest *must practice*).

    The bulletin collection project is part of the SCLM’s recommendation, and may well happen as long as PB&J appropriates the $59k budgeted for it.

  6. Brian R.

    Derek, do you have any thoughts on the issues that arise when we attempt to impose “inclusive” language upon the structure of our Eucharistic prayers? These prayers are uniformly offered (except for a moment of weirdness in one of the EOW prayers) to the Father through the Son in the Spirit. By making God the Father persona non grata, it seems to me that we lose our ability to proclaim and articulate the saving acts of the Triune God in accordance with Holy Scripture and the faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Church (which some of us still want the Episcopal Church to be a part of).

  7. C. WIngate

    I had something of the same reaction as Brian: changing from praying to the Godhead as a whole rather than to the Father is something we need to talk about (as is dropping the filioque). I’m also a bit bothered by the avoidance of “kingdom” given modern practice in earthly kingdoms.

    The whole Father-erasure thing triggers all sorts of theological alarms, but my big problem with this thing, as I eventually said elsewhere, is procedural. This is a way to bypass the revision process without any kind of substantial discussion. If it takes twenty years to get to a proposed new book, well, in the mean time surely some very large number of parishes will already be doing a new rite which they are likely to (falsely) advertise as Rite II, on the basis of a resolution which people had, at best, a matter of a couple of weeks to look at (I don’t know when this was put out for public reading) and which seems only to be publicly discussed extremely briefly. The point, after all, is to give rectors a way to abandon the current Rite now instead of having to wait.

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