Liturgical Grumpiness: Prayer C Alterations

There’s a resolution out there to change the language of Eucharistic Prayer C (C077).

It doesn’t try and smooh out or update the rather dated language of the beginning, rather it shoots for gender equity:

Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;

Lord God of our ancestors; God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, [God of _________], God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.

Now, I have some questions here. They came to me on Sunday when our rector used these very variations.

I understand the desire here—to remind people that the people of God haven’t just been men. Ok, so far so good. However, we now open a serious can of worms.

  • Abraham and Sarah. Yes. I can see not putting in Abraham’s second wife, Keturah (Gen 25:1) even though she bore him 6 children. But what about Hagar (Gen 16 and 21), who was oppressed by Sarah yet rescued by God? Theologically, what does it mean that we choose to leave out (oppress/exclude/etc.) Hagar? Of course, the argument could be made that we are mentioning people from whom the Children of Israel spring. Well, ok…
  • As for Jacob and Rachel and Leah—how about Bilhah (Gen 30:3-8) from whom come Dan and Naphtali or Zilpah (Gen 30:9-13) who bore Gad and Asher? You can’t use the lineage dodge with these that could get you off the hook for Hagar.
  • So, what we see is that in the name of fairness and inclusion, we are honoring the wives and ignoring the concubines through whom God’s plans were also being realized… There seems to be an unpleasant message here about power dynamics and choosing women who are authorized by the patriarchy which seems especially odd given the attention that intimate relationships are receiving these days in the church.  Is this really what we want our liturgy to say?

When we make changes to the liturgy without thinking through their implications we open ourselves up to more problems than we solve.

35 thoughts on “Liturgical Grumpiness: Prayer C Alterations

  1. Jason Wells

    I did recently hear one priest add Hagar to that list in Prayer C. I did take it as a minor shock but didn’t have the opportunity to ask for her reasoning behind it.

    The content of this alteration aside, the fact of the alteration just makes the prayer books in the pews all the more useless. Between this, the RCL and the stated intention to remove the filioque, the permitted liturgical practice is more and more removed from what the laity have in their hands.

    Sometimes I wonder why we really keep the books there at all.

  2. rick allen

    I always understood this common biblical phrase to refer to the God of those with whom the covenant of the chosen people was entered into, originally with Abraham, then renewed with Isaac and with Jacob (Israel). For whatever reasons, the wives, concubines, and mothers are not participants in the making of the covenant. It’s undoubtedly patriarchal, but their inclusion rather significantly changes the focus of the phrase.

  3. Derek the Ænglican

    No, Jason, they’re just preparing us for the Next Great Liturgical Leap Forward… ;-)

    Rick–that is the original intention and you’re right, adding in the family members is changing it.

    As long as we’re tinkering, what’s wrong with: “Lord God of our ancestors; God of the patriarchs, prophets, and martyrs, God of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ:…”

    No explicit patriarchy and you have full inclusion of women in the prophets and martyrs as well as mention of the BVM.

  4. Annie

    I’m with you, Derek. Your first point, about Hagar, was the first thing out of my mouth. Your second point (about Bilhah and Zilpah) was Joe’s follow-up. There’s an unpleasant message there about authority and exclusion and I don’t like it at all.

  5. bls

    It’s the same old nothing-ever-happened-before-we-were-born Baby-Boomer myopia.

    It’s really just a tribute to the American nuclear family: Dad, Mom, 2.3 kids and a dog in a nice little house in the ‘burbs.

  6. churchmouse

    Derek, I agree with you. No, I don’t think you are being grumpy.

    I like (not) the way churches of whatever denomination think they’ll be getting more bums on seats by ** tinkering ** with prayers that, in some cases, could lead to heresy. Perhaps not heresy in this case, but there is no need to mention these particular women.

    When was the last time anyone heard a cogent sermon about salvation?

  7. Bill Carroll

    I think that we should move an amendment that would remove prayer C from the Prayer Book altogether.

    I’ve always worried about the progressive street cred of anyone who left out the concubines as compared with the “real wives.”

  8. Bill Carroll

    It seems to me that creation is lifted up at every celebration of the holy mass. St. Francis day and rogation days provide ample opportunity. We often do something around Earth Day as well.

  9. Phil Hassett

    “Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”

    There seems to be here an unpleasant message about power dynamics and God dealing only with men, which seems especially odd now that we ordain women as priests and bishops. Is this really what we want our liturgy to say?

    You raise some good points, but your take away is that trying to change anything opens up too big a can of worms, so we should just leave everything as it is? The problems don’t go away when we choose to ignore them.

  10. Derek the Ænglican

    Phil, I did acknowledge that issue up front in the original post. My point is not that we shouldn’t change anything ever, but that the changes made should be deliberate, thoughtful, and not unintentionally create more problems.

    Hence my own suggestion in comment #6 which leaves intact the original sense (“God of our [spiritual] ancestors”) by identifying groups of both genders in a traditional yet non-gendered formula (“God of the patriarchs, prophets, and martyrs”) and specifically identifying the most important female ancestor-in-faith by name (“God of the Blessed Virgin Mary”).

  11. Phil Hassett

    Derek, I recognize that you acknowledged the problem. I might suggest that the proposed change doesn’t so much create more problems as it does bring to the foreground a problem that is already there, and that the proposed change remains an improvement over not making any change, but that’s an understandable difference of opinion.

    As to your suggestion in #6, it strikes me as a bit of a dodge, “solving” the problems you discuss by trying to avoiding them entirely, and perhaps that’s as good as can be done, although I hope more of the thoughtful, deliberate consideration you advocate will get us somewhere better, because in the face of a long tradition of minimizing and erasing women from the story of salvation, the proposed change is trying to put the names of specific women back into our story. As you suggest, it perhaps does not go far enough, but it is trying, and I think that is important.

    Your version does very little to put them back in–they remain largely invisible, technically included, but not really placed in our story. First off, the suggestion that a formula invoking the patriarchs contains “no explicit patriarchy” is puzzling at the least. Second, I’ll grant that there are some women included among the prophets, but I’m guessing an awful lot of people would be hard pressed to name even one of them, and I doubt it strikes most people as a category with “full inclusion” of women, if they even recognize it as a category that includes women at all. And I don’t think you get much credit for including and naming the one woman who is and has been most universally recognized throughout the church–the BVM has spent too much of our history as the exception that proves the rule of patriarchy.

  12. Derek the Ænglican

    the proposed change is trying to put the names of specific women back into our story

    I’ll grant you that point.

    And I don’t think you get much credit for including and naming the one woman who is and has been most universally recognized throughout the church–the BVM has spent too much of our history as the exception that proves the rule of patriarchy

    I’m not sure this one carries much weight with me, though…

    To get back to your first, wouldn’t it seem better that if we were to add the names of specific women that they be women who are there of their own account and not as appendages to men?

    Therefore, selecting three to put in parallel with the patriarchs, might we not be better off with something like this:
    “Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God of Deborah, Naomi, and Judith…”

    Thus we we retain the notion of ancestors yet dispense with raising the problematic issue of the complicated family lives of the early patriarchs.

  13. Marshall Scott

    I see your point; and in the progressive environment of the hospital I’ve heard folks make the change – consistently missing Bilhah and Zilpah, but also occasionally forgetting Leah. That said, I can’t imagine that this resolution can go anywhere. It calls for a change in something central in the Prayer Book, unlike changing the Calendar or even the Lectionary. My guess is that someone will point out this would take two Conventions and require a Constitutional consideration, and then point out that Enriching Our Worship allows something of the sort; and then allow the matter to die in committee. I might be wrong; but if I am I’ll be somewhat surprised.

  14. Christopher


    Well, I think this partial fix actually leads to some hardenings of oppression and misreads the tradition as the modern Church obsession with the nuclear heterosexual family. We hear so much “the bible says” telling us about biblical marriage and this doesn’t really trouble the waters as deeply as the bible troubles such readings.

    In other words, this fix maintains too much the power dynamics of patriarchy (which is not the same thing as having elders), it is in its own way heterosexist, and by this, I mean that it maintains the overall sense of power dynamics of patriarchy precisely by upholding those “legitmate” women, namely the wives (Abraham’s second excluded interestingly).

    Yet, our God works through concubines (Hagar, Zilphan, Bilhah) and harlots–Rahab comes to mind (after all listed in Christ’s own lineage, foreigners (Ruth, Puah, Shiphrah), and well, those whom some of us read as at least bisexual (David). At the heart of heterosexism sits this assumption of who is legitimate and who is not irrespective of their character, their faith, and God’s working out of God’s purposes through them.

    I want to again know, why are we changing the BCP by resolutions. This is such a mishmash way to go.

  15. Derek the Ænglican

    First off, the suggestion that a formula invoking the patriarchs contains “no explicit patriarchy” is puzzling at the least.

    I don’t see the mere mention of the patriarchs as a pure and simple manifestation of patriarchy despite the similarity between the two words.

    I feel fairly comfortable in saying that most Episcopalinas realize that we live at a remove of over three thousand years from the age of the “patriarchs”; that they and their time don’t conform to our norms nor our sense of equality should not come as a surprise. I don’t seek to replicate that age or its norms but neither must we eviscerate the language of the tradition to retroject our values upon it.

  16. John-Julian, OJN


    I didn’t think you were grumpy: I thought you were funny — and I chuckled!

    And if we’re going to get into the ancients’ business, what about Adam and Eve! And what about Moses, for heaven’s sake? (Or take a look at Thanksgiving #4 on BCP 838 — there’s a really odd assortment!)

    The whole thing is too silly to treat seriously, but I suppose there are those who will (treat it seriously).

    I’m totally with Rick Allen: those were the “covenant receivers” and should have special treatment.

  17. Phil Hassett

    Yes, my first sense is that would be better (although, really, I’d probably change “Fathers” for “ancestors” or something else). Now we just have to see what anyone can find to be grumpy about in that formulation. :)

    And I don’t really have a clear sense of the legal procedures and politics involved, but I suspect Marshall is probably right, or ought to be. The time to modify the language of the prayerbook rites is at the next revision of the prayerbook, not in piecemeal re-editing.

  18. Christopher

    The convenant receivers are not just one person, but a people. That is the point of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). In Christ, also is a people. The sociality of both need not be pitted against naming particular persons to whom God gave his promises. It can be a both/and.

    In Orthodox Christianity, St Mary is the culmination of the first and the opening of the second testament/covenant. If we’re careful not to get into arrogant supersessionism, to name the BVM could be a rich affirmation of all gone before.

  19. Patrick

    Our rector does add “Sarah, Rachel, and Leah,” but not paired with their husbands (fortunately). Doesn’t bother me. I’m sure some people would love Deborah and Judith for thier kick-butt qualities…
    But I think our otherwise mellow congregation would bristle at mentioning Mary in the Eucharistic prayer. What I’d really like to have is Prayer D once in a while, but that’s unlikely too.

  20. Bill Carroll

    The problems with prayer C are far deeper than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The real problem involves the way in which the lay-clergy dialogue is constructed. It should be in a litany form of some kind, so that it doesn’t keep people’s noses buried in a book. It was a beautiful idea, and Galley is one of the treasures of our church, but I have to agree with Stuhlman that this prayer is a “failed experiment.”

    Best to avoid it and start over, trying to preserve some of the eloquent turns of phrase in a completely new prayer.

    I also think that “from the primal elements you brought forth the human race” is pretty close to a denial of the doctrine of creation. I understand the intent to affirm a theistic conception of evolution, but God does create out of nothing. Far better to affirm the distinction between primary and secondary causes.

  21. Vicki McGrath

    One of the flaws (minor though it is) in Prayer C – IMHO – is in the phrase “memory, reason and skill.” I think it’s supposed to be an allusion to Augustine whose phrase was “memory, reason and will.” Really quite different – if MY memory serves!

    And Patrick – we do Prayer D on the 4th Sunday of the month, as well as on Maundy Thursday, All Saints, and a few selected others.


  22. Bill Carroll

    We’re using prayer D from Trinity Sunday to the end of the summer. I’d love to use it for Christmas Eve and Easter, but I hate to lose the proper preface. Also, these are sung services for us and I’m not quite up to the Mozarabic tone, though I plan to work on it.

  23. Derek the Ænglican

    This is from Christopher who’s having posting issues:

    I agree with Fr Bill that the prayer, though modelled on Ethiopic patterns, is difficult because of changing responses on the part of the people–I can’t simply put the book down. A litany rewrite would be easy enough. My suggestion, use “Glory to you for ever and ever” or some such as the response. Incorporate the current responses into the Presider’s portion or some such.

    “Memory, reason, and skill” is allusion to St Augustine, and could easily be remedied. I’ve heard priests use “will.”

    In our ecological era, I personally am a fan of this prayer over all, and I have enjoyed its use in summer in my parish especially when chanted. There are phrases in it that put is in a place of wonder and awe before a creation much bigger than ourselves. And that close is right out of Cranmer–“develiver us from the presumption….” It’s a powerful call to Holy Communion and to Christian living all in one. Whether we like it or not, this prayer has entered into Episcopal bones and changed our perceptions, and I am one who doesn’t want it to completely go away.

    I never thought of primal elements in the Platonic sense but rather in the Big Bang sense or primordial stew sense, so there is room for debate about whether or not this prayer denies creatio ex nihilo or as the Orthodox interpret that doctrine, creatio ex amore. It depends on how one interprets “primal.”

  24. bls

    I like Prayer C, although there are some way-too-stickily-sentimental parts.

    I just breathe through my mouth only at those points – or keep quiet.

  25. Bryan Owen

    Unless approved by General Convention, additions to the Prayer Book liturgies constitute a violation of the clergyperson’s solemn vow to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.

  26. Derek the Ænglican

    Again, from Christopher (and I agree…):

    ” Fr Bryan,

    I think most here know that. That should not stop discussion of the theological/aesthetic merits of the prayer, nor of how it might be improved. I personally think a resolution method is a terrible way to amend this prayer. Are we going to piecemeal revise the Prayer Book? What a messy precedent that sets up. ”

    [Is anyone else having posting problems? please shoot me an email if so…]

  27. Bryan Owen

    It’s not my intention to “stop discussion” on the topic raised here. I agree, Derek, that “a resolution method” is, indeed, “a terrible way to amend this prayer.” But while problematic, it at least has one advantage over the “method” of priests and bishops simply making and putting into practice revisiosn of this prayer on their own – it is legitimate.

  28. Ren Aguila

    Christopher wrote (through Derek):

    ‘A litany rewrite would be easy enough. My suggestion, use “Glory to you for ever and ever” or some such as the response.’

    I think the Canadian BAS made such an emendation already, which has been recommended.

  29. FrSean

    The Canadian Version….
    Eucharistic Prayer 4

    Celebrant The Lord be with you.
    People And also with you.
    Celebrant Lift up your hearts.
    People We lift them to the Lord.
    Celebrant Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
    People It is right to give our thanks and praise.
    Celebrant It is right to give you thanks and praise,

    O Lord, our God, sustainer of the universe,you are worthy of glory and praise.

    People Glory to you for ever and ever.

    Celebrant At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space,
    galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home; by your will they were created and have their being.
    People Glory to you for ever and ever.
    Celebrant From the primal elements
    you brought forth the human race,
    and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill; you made us the stewards of creation.

    People Glory to you for ever and ever.

    Celebrant But we turn against you, and betray your trust; and we turn against one another. Again and again you call us to return. Through the prophets and sages
    you reveal your righteous law.
    In the fullness of time you sent your Son, born of a woman, to be our Saviour. He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. By his death he opened to us the way of freedom and peace.

    People Glory to you for ever and ever.

    Celebrant Therefore we praise you,
    joining with the heavenly chorus,
    with prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and with those in every generation who have looked to you in hope, to proclaim with them your glory, in their unending hymn:

    All Holy, holy, holy Lord,
    God of power and might,
    heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    Hosanna in the highest.

    Celebrant Blessed are you, Lord our God, for sending us Jesus, the Christ, who on the night he was handed over to suffering and death,
    took bread, said the blessing,
    broke the bread, gave it to his friends, and said, “Take this, and eat it: this is my body which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

    In the same way, after supper, he took the cup of wine; he gave you thanks,and said, “Drink this, all of you:this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it,
    do this for the remembrance of me.”

    People Glory to you for ever and ever.

    Celebrant Gracious God, we recall the death of your Son Jesus Christ,
    we proclaim his resurrection and ascension, and we look with expectation for his coming as Lord of all the nations. We who have been redeemed by him, and made a new people by water and the Spirit,
    now bring you these gifts. Send your Holy Spirit upon us
    and upon this offering of your Church, that we who eat and drink at this holy table may share the divine life of Christ our Lord.

    People Glory to you for ever and ever.

    Celebrant Pour out your Spirit upon the whole earth and make it your new creation. Gather your Church together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom, where peace and justice are revealed,
    that we, with all your people,
    of every language, race, and nation, may share the banquet you have promised; through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, all honour and glory are yours,
    creator of all.

    People Glory to you for ever and ever. Amen.

    I have re-read again the Canadian version of Prayer C and it appears that they have a leg up on us on two of my major issues with C – the Patriarchs without Matriarchs of any kind and the place of the Epiclesis. The Canadian version omits the “Lord God of our Fathers” entirely, and places the epiclesis in the appropriate place. It does keep the language “from the primal elements.” The second creation account speaks of Adam (earthy) being formed of the earth. I have never heard “from the primal elements” in theistic evolutionary terms, but I see how one might.

    I think perhaps the Canadians have the best redemption of this Eucharistic Prayer and perhaps we could add this version of Prayer C to Enriching Our Worship (with a slight word change here and there) to give us the option to use it without wholesale revision of the 79 Book.

  30. AKMA

    I adhere to “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” because it draws on a biblical expression — but I’d suggest adding a clause stipulating a pertinent range of foremothers, as well (my preferred option would draw on the Matthean genealogy to say, “God of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary” — which leaves out “the wife of Uriah”/Bathsheba, but the rhythm of the prayer trumps comprehensiveness).

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