Fr Tobias has been talking about Prayer Book changes; the post has been picked up over at Creedal Christian as well.
In my own understanding of the Benedictine roots and expression of the Episcopal Church, sticking with the texts of the authorized BCP is a matter of both stability and obedience that (quite naturally in Benedict’s ascetical theology) lead into conversion of life. As a Prayer Book Catholic I am committed to using the ’79 BCP but I sometimes find my “catholic” warring with my “prayer book”. That having been said, I entirely subscribe to what Fr. Tobias and others are saying. The American ’79 BCP is the authorized book of our Province. It is the definition of Common Prayer for American Episcopalians and as such should be regarded as the foundation of our “lived experience” and the beginning of our pathway into life with the Triune God.
Is the language used by the prayer book outside of the normal vernacular? Does it need to be fiddled with again to make it more accessible? Not to my ears—for two reasons. First, it was last revised thirty years ago. The English language has not changed that much in 30 years. (No…just…no)
Second, as someone who works primarily with language, let me say that language matters and the ways that we choose to be sloppy or precise with our language says a lot about both our action and our thought. I could, for instance, use the word “book” and most of the time it’ll get the job done. words like “manuscript” and “folio” might be synonyms in some cases—in others they mean something quite specific. It makes quite a lot of difference if I’ve found a liturgy in a “book” or a “manuscript”. Questions of provenance, accuracy, scribal tendencies, completeness suddenly jump to the fore with “manuscript” that simply don’t exist or to a much lesser degree if I say “book”.
Similarly, I see a desire to “translate” “churchy language” as, more often than not, not only as a dumbing down but a deliberate choice in favor of imprecision and loss of meaning. Yes, I can say I’ve made a “mistake”; but don’t be confused that this is the same as saying I’ve committed a “sin”. Different words mean different things. We—okay, I—don’t use “churchy language” for the sake of “being churchy”; I use it because it’s accurate. If “mistake” would work I’d use it—but it doesn’t, so I don’t… There is a distinctive Christian vocabulary that is necessary to transmit specifically Christian thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. It shouldn’t be used to “exclude” but if we don’t use it then we’re not transmitting the faith that we have received.
Language is acquired primarily in two ways. First by definition, second by context. From Sunday School, to Youth Group, to seminary, to graduate work, many people have defined the word “sin” for me in different ways. But I’ve also heard and seen it in literally tens of thousands of contexts which teach me far more about the word’s true meaning. That’s how vocabulary gets acquired. What, therefore, does it do if we begin dropping such language from our liturgies? Unless you equally begin editing these “churchy” terms out of, oh say, the Bible and 99.9% of English language Christian literature than you are depriving the people to whom you give a dumbed-down liturgy the tools they need to understand the Scriptures and other Christian literature.
Enough… Here endeth the rant. For now.