Liturgical Chickens Coming Home to Roost

This is more a passing thought than a well-developed argument so take it with a grain of salt…

The Liturgical Renewal Movement is the fundamental context for understanding the current shape of the ’79 Book of Common Prayer. In many ways, the ’79 BCP represents a substantial break from previous Anglican prayer books.  The Eucharist was reordered. Additional options were made available. The Office was shifted a bit. Far more options were introduced into it. Classical patterns were shaken up. New Offices were added. The Calendar was greatly expanded to include heroes of the faith from the post-apostolic age.

The main reason for the radical change was because the aims and ideals of the Liturgical Renewal Movement had been internalized by our top liturgists. At mid-century and in the second half of the Twentieth Century, the LRM was the best game in town liturgically. It championed a return to the sources, a privileging of a Fourth Century model of Christian liturgy and community, and was profoundly ecumenical. It offered an opportunity for ecumenical fellowship through joint recovery and adoption of a more free, less strict way of conceiving of liturgy, church, and sacraments. Clericalism was targeting as a major problem liturgically and theologically as well as eccelesiastically and liturgy was re-branded as “the work of the people.”

Much good was accomplished here.

Of the classical church “parties” two were happiest with the ’79 BCP: the catholic wing and the broad church wing, particularly among the elites for whom the LRM represented an ecumenical consensus open to a liberality of spirit in contrast to liturgical and ecclesial conservatism; the “Spirit of Vatican II” and the “Spirit of ’79” made common cause with one another.

The Catholic wing thought they had made major strides because many of their longstanding issues with the Cranmerian reform had finally been undone. The liturgy had moved back towards a classic Western (Roman) model. The Calendar was once again filling with the heroes of the Great Church and of Western Catholicism in addition to a variety of Anglican worthies. Antiphons and propers were licit again. The Eucharist was the primary service on Sundays.

While these things were accomplished, it had more to do with their consonance with the aims of LRM than a tide of catholicity sweeping through the Episcopal Church.

Due to the influence of the LRM and its influence in the upper reaches of liturgical thought in the Episcopal Church, the ’79 BCP ended up having a more catholic appearance due to 1) the recovery of historical ideals that also guided the reform of the Roman liturgy post Vatican-II and 2) ecumenical rapprochement with Roman Catholics. Furthermore the performance of the liturgy likewise took on a more catholic appearance with a proliferation of chasubles in places where they would have been anathema as ‘too popish’ just a generation before.

But now we’re nearing the point of a generational shift. My liturgy teachers were young academics and graduate students at the time of Vatican II; they were the ones responsible for the modification of Protestant liturgies in the the post-Vatican II era. I sat at the feet of Saliers; I read White, Lathrop and Weil, and learned from them when we met. But now my generation is coming of age and are reaping the consequences of the choices of the LRM.

My crystal ball is telling me that Holy Women, Holy Men and the furor around it is emblematic of the liturgical issues that we will be dealing with in the next few decades. We are at the point where we must come to terms with the fact that we have inherited a prayer book with a greater catholic appearance but without catholic substance behind it. To put a finer point on it, we have a catholic-looking calendar of “saints” yet no shared theology of sainthood or sanctity. While a general consensus reigned that the appearance was sufficient, the lack of a coherent shared theology was not an issue. When we press upon it too hard—as occurred and is occurring in the transition from Lesser Feasts & Fasts into Holy Women, Holy Men into whatever will come next—we reap the fruits of a sort of potemkin ecumenism that collapses without common shared theology behind it.

Is there a catholic theology of sanctity in the Episcopal Church? Yes, in some places. Is there an inherently Episcopal theology of sanctity that proceeds naturally from the ’79 BCP that is in line with a classic Christian understanding? Without question! But is it known? No. Is there any common Episcopal understanding of sanctity? The arguments around the church especially as embodied in the discussions within the SCLM lead me to answer,  no—I don’t think so.

The struggle of this current generation will be to wrestle with a liturgy that portrays a catholic appearance but lack a catholic substance behind it. It’s not that the substance can’t be there—it’s that it’s not.

44 thoughts on “Liturgical Chickens Coming Home to Roost

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  2. Peter

    I am working on an edition of the 1718 liturgy which is 4th century in inspiration and Anglican Catholic in the sense you mean here. You have put your finger on something important here, but I also sense a hunger for our traditions among younger Episcopalians.

  3. Derek Olsen

    Being a younger Episcopalian, yes, there is a hunger for traditions. But we’re at a cross-roads. At what points do we advance a catholic theology and practice in spite of the general theology of the church, and when do we roll back to a more protestant position in recognition of the realities of the church?

    And that’s an open question, not a rhetorical one…

  4. Paul Goings

    There’s also the distinction to be made between those who prefer (or at least don’t mind) some amount of “catholic” externals, but who have no real interest in catholic theology, whether mediated by official Anglicanism or otherwise.

    My guess is that this will lead to increased fragmentation, in tension with the inertial pull of edifice and pension fund. What an individual does will depend entirely on what the local situation is like, as opposed to what the Episcopal Church teaches, either formally, or through its liturgies.

  5. Tom Sramek Jr

    Then clearly the baton has been passed from those who have gone before to those who are here now to do the work of creating that “substance” to which you refer. God grant that we have a new generation of theologians and liturgists who are up to the (often thankless) task!

  6. Barbara (bls)

    To me, the problem is this: the Prayer Book, by itself, has become the source of our theology, rather than (or I guess “in addition to”!) the expression of it.

    I think it’s being asked to bear too much theological weight at this point. Because it actually seems to me that in order to figure out what Episcopalians believe, we have to look at the Prayer Book – including all the rubrics! – and interpret it; I did this just recently, in fact, in another discussion. And as far as I can see, this is how all theological discussions go in the Episcopal Church.; take a look at this article for a good example of this. Because, as the article says, “The only formal statements of doctrine adopted by the Episcopal Church in the United States are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.”

    I mean, this is an interesting approach – I do really think so! – but isn’t it slightly backwards? And it creates a circularity which we can’t get around, as far as I can see. I mean, consider this part of your post: “We are at the point where we must come to terms with the fact that we have inherited a prayer book with a greater catholic appearance but without catholic substance behind it. To put a finer point on it, we have a catholic-looking calendar of “saints” yet no shared theology of sainthood or sanctity. “

    But again: the problem is that the BCP is itself the source of our theology! In other words: what kind of content is there that can teach a “shared theology of sainthood or sanctity” – if not a “catholic-looking calendar”? That’s how we do theology; we put it in our Prayer Book. In other words, what sorts of “liturgical formularies” could be changed here or added in order to teach that “theology of sanctity” in a deeper way?

    Do you see what I’m getting at here? It seems to me that in some ways we’d be trying to create a theology out of thin air – and then we’d have to express it via the BCP in some way. But how? It seems such a thing wouldn’t really lend itself to a rite – but maybe I’m wrong?

  7. Derek Olsen

    Because it actually seems to me that in order to figure out what Episcopalians believe, we have to look at the Prayer Book – including all the rubrics! – and interpret it…

    Yes and no. In fact, this is where a big part of the problem lies… It’s one thing to produce a theologically loaded or informative liturgy; it’s another to accurately capture where people are–especially a church with strong historic factions. In order to figure out what Episcopalians believe, you have to spend time with them, get a sense of how they use–or don’t use–the liturgies they’ve been given.

    Is the prayer book descriptive or prescriptive? That is, does it accurately capture and describe the theology that most Episcopalians believe or are trained into, or does it attempt to create those theologies and attitudes through liturgical programming? Of course, it’s never an either/or—it’s always a sliding scale. I think the way I see it is that I have always understood the book to be descriptive of a catholic Anglicanism. But when it came out and was making its mark and being taken up it was much more prescriptive than descriptive. It was leading people to the LRM’s ideal rather than describing where the church was. Some that was prescribed has been taken up; other parts have never come to pass (Vigil of Pentecost, I’m looking at you, with some additional glances at the restoration of lamplighting in the Order for Evening Worship…).

    But where do we go from here? What exactly is EOW in relation to the prayer book? Again—not a rhetorical or a trick question; it’s one that came up at the SCLM meeting and was batted around for a while without any complete answer. And does EOW attempt to describe the theology of the church as it stands and express it in ritual form or is it an attempt to lead us in some direction—and what direction—and for what purpose…?

  8. Michael Bertrand

    I strongly dislike EoW because I feel like I’m being manipulated into agreeing with implicit theological positions that are never explicitly explained. In other words, I feel that EoW is heavily prescriptive and I dislike where it’s directing me.

    The longer I’m ordained (8 years now), the more I feel that the same is true of the 1979 BCP. It’s not as heavily prescriptive, but it was definitely intended as a revolt against the 1928 and all previous BCPs, as opposed to a reform. I like the majority of the changes it instituted, but I feel they were major and without precedent.

    Where to go from here? I’d like for us to have a theological discussion like this one prior to making any changes. I’d love for us to consider what it is that we’re wanting to do on Sundays and how our BCP currently reflects/ enables that. I’d also like for us to ask. “What are we going to do with dissenters when we change the BCP?” Will we legislate them out of existence as we did when we transitioned from the 1928 to the 1979? Or is there some other way to go forward together as one Church, without one side bludgeoning the other into submission?

  9. tom rightmyer

    How do we understand the “establishment” of a slightly revised version of the Articles of Religion by General Convention 1801? The legislative history is that this version was adopted in response to a proposal in the House of Deputies at the previous General Convention for a more radical revision. The issue was “what is the doctrine” to which clergy promise conformity?

  10. aredstatemystic

    These are just impressions and should be taken with a grain of salt, too! These are just impressions I’ve been thinking about . . .

    With the OF and the ’79, I can echo the statements of the Rev. Michael Bertrand above. I get the feeling that the liturgy is so self-aware that it’s consciously trying to tell me what to believe about this or that, or not believe. It’s like sitting through a prayers of the people that not-so-subtly tries to preach at the congregation. If you’ve ever sat through that little horror, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Yet, as you so wonderfully point out, none of this passive-aggressive theology-teaching-through-liturgy actually works. I don’t know if it’s actually passive-aggressive, but it feels that way to me.

    But, with the Latin and Rite I Masses, I don’t get that feeling. Perhaps it’s because the language hides all these political/historical motivations better (or I don’t understand them), but I don’t feel like I’m constantly being told what to do or what to think or what to believe or not believe. I’m free to, well, you know, pray. Nobody cares what I believe or don’t believe because they’re there to pray, too. The Priest isn’t even looking at me. What these feel like to me was that the liturgy was saying: “This is how we pray. If you want to stay, great. If not, we’ve got better things to worry about”. I’ve heard other say similar things about Choral Evensong or a Solemn High Mass or sung Compline.

    I’ve a theory that in two generations–certainly not ours or our children’s–someone will write a book about how dictatorial the Liturgical Renewal Movement was compared to the liturgies that came before and after. It was used as a weapon. It was violent intellectually and spiritually. They’ll say it was a good response of a church white-knuckle frightened with non-existence and nuclear annihilation, but unlike the older liturgies, it could only work for the Church of this time and this place–not all times and places. And when the newness wears off, some of those peculiar specificities will be cast off, while the LRM principles will remain. This is just a theory, of course.

    In a word, the ’79 and the OF care too much about what I believe. But do a terrible job of telling me what to believe instead. I want a liturgy that is chiefly concerned with prayer.

  11. MarkP

    I think you’re right about the use of a saints’ calendar: it appears catholic because we invoke saints where previously we would not have but, as I think you’ve pointed out elsewhere, the ways in which we invoke them (collects and such) are not particularly catholic at all. And, in so far as we’re talking about what Episcopalians believe, most don’t have much more interaction with the saints now than they did in 1953, since saints aren’t celebrated on Sunday.

    I’m not sure I see this “catholic appearance vs substance” issue as more generally true of the BCP, though. The re-introduction of the Eucharist as the primary service of Sunday worship is catholic both because we do it (99% of Episcopalians spend 99% of their time in church celebrating the Eucharist), and also because of the way it’s done — I’d say the theology the BCP eucharistic liturgies express is pretty catholic, especially when compared to 1928.

    In any case, there will always be chickens coming home to roost wherever living humans gather.

  12. MarkP

    There’s an interesting discussion to be had about this comment. I don’t doubt that there are ways in which the church is more protestant, but it’s not always easy to put one’s finger on. There’s nothing like the evangelical wing at the heart of the Church of England in TEC. Nobody debates the reserved Sacrament anymore in most places. Hasn’t protestantism usually been marked by adherence to confessions, and isn’t that exactly what the Episcopal church seems largely to be rejecting? Add to this the polls that show that most Roman Catholics in the pews don’t actually hold to a lot of what the catechism teaches (describing the Eucharist as “symbolic”, say) and it’s all pretty hard to get a handle on.

  13. Victoria Geer McGrath

    Derek, I think your observations/ponderings are on the right track. The liturgical transition was happening in my home parish when I was in high school and college. Interestingly, we were a Morning Prayer-tradition parish with a new rector who was from the catholic tradition, as was the director of music. One of the biggest aids to a smooth (ish) transition was the rector’s teaching about the structure of the liturgy; I know he was thrilled with the restoration of the Gloria to its proper place. At the same time we had an influx of new people who were very taken with the charismatic renewal, which added its own dynamic.

    I think part of the lack of substance regarding the concept of sanctity in the Church as a whole comes out of that period. In trying to loose the understanding of holiness from a stranglehold of moralism and in wanting to make Christian life be more about life the way it is actually lived (I suppose “relevant” is the word, but I really dislike it), we missed the point that holiness is first about participation in Christ. And so then I think we put ethics and justice in the place of holiness. Another way of saying it, perhaps, is that we (largely) domesticated holiness; it is no wonder, then, that we have no consensus or understanding about what sanctity is. Of course morals/ethics play a role in holiness, but the main point is in the continual and never-ending process of being made more Christ-like – and that is never something that we will be able to control or fully wrap our minds around.

    A final thought about prescriptive/descriptive. The complaint my parishioners have about the liturgy currently is the Prayers of the People. They find them to “talky”. When you add in the parish sick prayer list, parish cycle of prayer, diocesan and Anglican Communion cycles of prayer, it does get to seem like a shopping list! On the other hand, the POP forms where there is only silence after the intercessor’s bidding, doesn’t sit well, either. So we are tending to limit the forms we use (mostly III, IV and VI), and print all those cycles in the bulletin and make reference to them in the Prayers, rather than reading them all out – leaving room, of course, for people to add their petitions, and plenty of room for silence in general. We’ve also had a parishioner who is a very skilled writer compose a new POP form for us. I suppose an underlying question here is really all about the nature of prayer, the nature of participation in corporate worship, and how much weight the liturgy is being asked to bear in a time when the individual reading of Scripture and the tradition of structured daily Christian prayer continues to decline.

  14. Barbara (bls)

    Well, I certainly should have put that a different way: “In order to figure out what the Episcopal Church teaches…..”

    That’s what I actually meant, and it’s a totally different thing. Sorry for being unclear there…..

  15. MarkP

    One nice thing about the way the BCP functions here is that serious change inevitably engages nearly everyone in the church — there was liturgical blood in the streets just about everywhere for several years leading up to 1979. If General Convention were addressing “what the church teaches” by modifying the 39 Articles I’m not sure it would engage people to the same degree.

  16. Barbara (bls)

    I’m not at all in favor of a revival of the 39 Articles, believe me. And I do think there are positives in having the Prayer Book function this way. I also think there must be – ahem – some sort of “middle way” between these two options.

    Because there are problems with the “BCP is our only theology,” too. Somebody mentioned below the thing about “implicit theological positions that are never explicitly explained.” This is one of my big peeves about the Episcopal Church – the problem of “lack of clarity” – but of course, it’s also the basis for the famous “Anglican Fudge.” Others mentioned how manipulative this all feels, and how much they hate it. Somebody else pointed out that under this system our theology could end up being greatly changed depending on which faction’s got the power. Ugh. Anglican power politics isn’t all that attractive, from the evidence of the last 10 years; I’m not sure that “liturgical blood in the streets” is necessarily a good thing.

    The biggest problem, though, to me, is the conclusion drawn from all this that theology isn’t really that important – or, worse, that it’s really all up to us as individuals to decide what Christian faith is about. I saw this explicitly stated in a comment on an article whose subject was “Rowan Williams as Theologian-in-Chief.” The commenter said, basically, that “We don’t need a theologian-in-chief because every Anglican is his own theologian.” This, to me, takes “not making windows into men’s souls” and flips it on its head – but it seems to be a fairly common understanding, don’t you think? The worst part about this, though, is that it’s straight-ahead boring; it removes anything that could be interesting or challenging and replaces it with “what I already believe.”

    But we are in post-Christendom now; more and more people simply have no idea what Christianity is actually about, or how it addresses the human situation. More and more people simply dismiss it as an elaborate fairy tale – and I’m sorry, but “every Anglican his own theologian” only exacerbates this problem. I think we need much more clarity – and we need to say much, much more about the thinking that actually underlies the liturgy.

    Finally: you have to ask why people who are completely untrained in theology or even Christian history – most of us laypeople, that is, Derek being a notable exception to the rule – seem to be making theological decisions, via General Convention and its committees, that will affect how Episcopalians worship for many years to come. It’s absurd! (I should add that I don’t really understand how many of these decisions do get made, and whether or not there are good checks and balances in place, or any kind of theology actually being done. From what I can tell from outside General Convention and the other confabs, though, it doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe somebody can enlighten me about this?)

  17. Derek Olsen

    I suppose an underlying question here is really all about the nature of prayer, the nature of participation in corporate worship, and how much weight the liturgy is being asked to bear in a time when the individual reading of Scripture and the tradition of structured daily Christian prayer continues to decline.

    Bingo! I think you got it here.

  18. Derek Olsen

    Of course chickens will always roost where living humans gather. And I may be overplaying appearance vs. substance a bit in calling attention to it. On the other hand, consider the “issue de jour” that weekly Eucharist has led to: Communion without Baptism. As I understand it, coming from the sacramental theologies I find in the prayer book itself, the question of whether we should do it or not is a no-brainer. Occasional pastoral sensitivity aside (which I respect and understand), the idea of Communion without Baptism as a standing policy is fundamentally at odds with the prayer book’s theology. That swathes of the church can support a practice so at odds with it makes me question whether this theology of the Eucharist has really been internalized.

  19. Michael Bertrand

    “Finally: you have to ask why people who are completely untrained in theology or even Christian history (…) seem to be making theological decisions (…) whether or not there are good checks and balances in place, or any kind of theology actually being done. From what I can tell from outside General Convention and the other confabs, though, it doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe somebody can enlighten me about this?)”

    In my limited experience the clergy and laity who serve on these committees are well educated in theology and well trained in its practice. However- when it comes to the process of editing/ revising the BCP there is another important question: 1) what happens when theological points of view conflict? 1a) How do we decide which point of view is “correct” and worthy of guiding the form of our BCP?

    Like Barbara, I’m not seeing much in the way of checks and balances. I know they exist on paper, but I haven’t seen them in action. The recent revision of our Title IV process and the blatant disregard of the canon that limits communion to baptized Christians leads me to doubt that future revisions of the BCP will be inclusive of opposing theological points of view.

  20. Jules

    My problem with “Holy Women, Holy Men” is that the compilers failed to start with the most basic element: the definition of “holy.” As a result, they ran hagio-wild (if I may so coin a word) and cluttered the calendar with all manner of worthies who, while they may have been fine upstanding people who did great things in the world, were not particularly “holy.” That needs to be fixed.

  21. Barbara (bls)

    Thanks, Michael. I do know of one important check/balance: it requires the approval of two successive General Conventions to change the BCP. So at least there’s that.

    As to the theological issue: I have to wonder, given what you say, how many of the people chosen for HWHM actually came to be chosen. Also: how is it that laity can be well-trained in theology? Are they chosen because they’re scholars (like Derek), perhaps? In my experience, the ordinary layperson simply doesn’t have this kind of training at all – and from what I’ve seen, it’s not very often provided at the parish level.

  22. Fr. Justin Fletcher

    This vigorous and lively conversation seems to me, because I have had the same thoughts, exactly spot on. The prayer book suggests catholic practice, but to be in many Episcopal churches is to find a lack of catholic substance regarding the faith. I’d like to merely add a couple of points that are perhaps more causal than symptomatic. For example, though the eucharistic theology is broadly “higher” in ’79, the reverence demonstrated for the same in Episcopal worship is broadly “lower.” So, even though more priests and laypepole would utter they believe Jesus Christ to be truly present in the bread and wine, fewer take up the actions that have traditionally been indicative of that. That reality is only a symptom, though, of something larger. Let me suggest a few things that have generated these realities.

    The Episcopal Church’s chaplaincy to the university-educated class.
    Though TEC has long been associated with the upper echelon of American society, post-WWII America began to emphasize education, particularly university education, in a new, more determinative way. But, as you will know well, not all schools are created equal. Small, regional state schools have very different curricula and ethos than major research universities. Episcopalians almost solely fill the ranks of the latter. A somewhat dated study from 2002 reports that 40% of Episcopal parishes claim that most of their members are college educated, as opposed to only 11% for other so-called mainline bodies. The Episcopal Church, then, is largely a church for those who have been catechized according to the telos of contemporary universities.

    Aside: {This, in fact, better explains the oft-talked about migration of Baptists to TEC. For a first generation, Baptist-raised, college graduate, the poor, uneducated preacher (using outdated 19th century thought-forms such as objectivist epistemology) is easily unpalatable.}

    This is merely a statement of demographics but the following points demonstrate how they are generative for the symptoms the post and the comments indicate.

    The commodification of all relations and it’s consequent therapeutic reality
    University education is catechesis and formation into the faith and practice of post-industrial consumerism. In that gospel, everything is a scarce commodity, and one must learn to instrumentalize all other things to secure as many of these scarce commodities as possible. That is to say, the university gives both formal and material embodiment, forms of life, ways of living, that sustain and promulgate faith in the market. That reality yields at least three things.

    First, it is the common ground, that is common language since forms of life are always rooted in language, for the ecumenical thrust of the LRM. Methodists, American Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc., easily found common ground. “We’re not that different, right?” Well, no, our lives are indeed determined by the same practices of consumerism. Thus it is commodified, that is instrumentalized, language that they come to agree upon. Go ask a Methodist how this has worked out. The new kind of clericalism between local pastors and Duke or Emory trained pastors is evident, as is the rift between many rural parishes who still want revival-like worship, but pastors who have been taught to celebrate the Eucharist. Back in TEC, the difference between the traditional eucharistic prayer and the ones written in the 70s are obvious here. The logic behind “take, bless, break, give” is instrumentalist logic that make other things “extraneous” and produces phrases like “all you have to do is…”. When it’s a commodity you “boil it down;” when it’s gratuitous gift you have time for “and here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.”

    Second, the reality that everything is a scarce commodity is an undoubtedly harsh one. That is why, as Philip Rieff rightly points, out therapy triumphs. The post-industrial educated class is the therapeutic class, and to the extent that Episcopal parishes are chaplains to that class they become therapeutic parishes. That plays out at the altar at each celebration of the Mass as the Sacrament becomes an instrumentalized reality that provides therapy.

    In such a grammar the memorial of the Cross has no place, making the Calvinist-memoralist wing awfully out of place. Rather, each person gets their own personalized Jesus, just for them; our own private experiences that we can then, subsequently, share. This explains how the verbal assent to Jesus present in bread and wine can be so readily coupled with a set of practices that seem so out of step. Jesus just shows up, but only in a flat, untextured way making possible phrases like, “I don’t care how you do it, so long as Jesus shows up at the end.” It is not the triumph, but the commodification of Anglo-Catholicism.

    Finally, I think HWHM largely provides another form of therapy that makes us “feel” a particular way, knowing we have make some of the entries. Until we can face up to the crisis of what is the content of Christian faith and practice, I think all the work of the church will be heavily weighed down by this reality. That means rethinking the practice of the liturgy because if my argument is true, then the very practice of the 79 liturgy tends towards commodification. For it isn’t a question of whether or not the liturgy is forming or informing – such a question is language gone on holiday, language is always forming and informing – the question is how. Ok, please criticize, and Derek, many thanks for the fine, fine work!

  23. Michael Bertrand

    I think the process for selecting for HW/HW was an open ended nominating system. People from all over the church nominated who they wanted included and the committee found a slot for them on the calendar. The diverse crew that ended up in the book illustrates the issues we face with arriving at any sort of final definition about anything in TEC. As for how lay people in the committees get trained in theology: many studied in undergrad and at post graduate levels. They didn’t go to seminary for various reasons, but the folks in those committees do tend to have the training. One challenge is that this training/ education isn’t all from one source. One person may have been trained in a Roman Catholic college under Jesuits. Another may have attended a Southern Baptist seminary for a time. There’s tremendous differences in content between the Episcopalian seminaries, even. As I see it, we have no theological consensus. Many are well trained and have thought out their beliefs- but what good does this do when we can’t even agree on the definition of the word “holy?” Much less come together to produce the next BCP.

  24. Barbara (bls)

    LRM = “Liturgical Renewal Movement” – see the post for more. This was the movement that ultimately generated the 79 BCP (and apparently revisions to the rites in other churches), following on, I believe, from Vatican II and its revisions of the liturgy in the 1960s. But I think its orgins were even earlier than that.

    EOW = “Enriching Our Worship” – a supplement to the BCP containing different forms of the Rites; used in dioceses only with the permission of the Bishop, I believe.

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  26. wayne kempton

    “I get the feeling that the liturgy is so self-aware that it’s consciously trying to tell me what to believe about this or that, or not believe. It’s like sitting through a prayers of the people that not-so-subtly tries to preach at the congregation. If you’ve ever sat through that little horror, you know exactly what I’m talking about.” This gets my vote for quote of the day.

  27. MarkP

    “the tradition of structured daily Christian prayer continues to decline.”

    Are you sure about this? Among clergy it’s probably true — the daily office isn’t required of us as it was of previous generations, and I’m sure many don’t say it — but I’m not sure it’s true for others, at least during the course of my half century and a bit. What kind of structured daily prayer are you thinking of?

  28. Laurence

    Fr. Fletcher writes “Until we can face up to the crisis of what is the content of Christian faith and practice. . . .”

    He points, in my opinion, to the real culprit underlying and resulting in the difficulties about which most commenters above express concern. The Episcopal Church like the rest of Anglicanism (except for those Provinces that adhere to a doctrinal “confessionalism,” based on a Christian cultural consensus, particularly in Africa, which confessionalism will, no doubt, collapse as their cultures and Christians inevitably become more “westernized”) cannot clearly and concisely define the content of Christian faith and practice because its principles of doctrinal and moral authority, particularly as interpreted in the last 60 years, prevent it from doing so.

    Principles of “dispersed,” authority, as held by Anglicanism, result in the fact that doctrinal and moral definitions can only be made in synods which must include not only bishops, but lesser clergy and laity (see the concern, in bls’ comment above, about untrained laity making theological decisions in GC), and also result in a rejection of any overarching doctrinal and moral teaching authority for the Anglican communion as a whole in favor of a latitudinarian confederation of autonomous churches. Anglican doctrinal and moral “comprehensiveness” requires that any definitions of the faith be left “open” enough and broad enough to accommodate differing, or, in some cases, mutually contradictory affirmations (“real presence” and “receptionism,” or Cranmer’s “virtualism,” to give one small example). This “openess” and “broadness” is the source of Anglican vagueness in faith and morals, and surely also a big part of the Anglican “hesitancy” to define the faith.

    This is why there is no agreed theology of “sainthood or sanctity,” no definitive theology of the relation between baptism and eucharist that would make “communion of the unbaptized” clearly out of bounds, and the lack of a host of other central theological definitions clear and strong enough to establish an actual concise content to Anglican faith affirmations. Because this does not happen, the individual conscience has become, “defacto,” the supreme authority in the interpretation and definition of the faith even though Anglicanism has, heretofore, always insisted on the necessity of other principles of authority informing the individual conscience.

    If the last 60 years are any indication, Anglicanism will continue to hold fast to its principles of authority, and continue, therefore, to resist defining, and be generally unable to bring itself to define the Christian faith (or even those portions in question) with clarity and conciseness. Hence, many of the concerns expressed in the comments will continue.

  29. Caelius Spinator

    “The commodification of all relations and it’s [sic] consequent therapeutic reality
    University education is catechesis and formation into the faith and practice of post-industrial consumerism. In that gospel, everything is a scarce commodity, and one must learn to instrumentalize all other things to secure as many of these scarce commodities as possible.”

    I don’t really see universities as loci for catechesis in post-industrial consumerism. Most people are catechized in that by mass media. You don’t need to go to school for it. The shift between a population largely without higher education to one with some exposure to it is contemporaneous with urbanization and suburbanization, which I think is more likely to be responsible for some of the shifts you observe.

    If anything, the universities of higher calibre catechize in post-industrial scarcity, which is indeed a real, poignant challenge. If even we collectively decided to return to pre-industrial resource usage, our usage of resources in the past 250 years and growth in population would pose challenges in many parts of the world. The catechesis would differ, depending on discipline, in the faith about whether technology/ the market is our redeemer or whether we are doomed to dieback in the coming century.

    I think you mistake the therapeutic attitude of Episcopalians to the Eucharist as a search for their own “private Jesus.” Post-industrialization has changed white collar life, but the process of instrumentalization has made them feel simultaneously alone and guilty. They feel they have benefited from privilege but not to an extent that satisfies them. Inclusion in all its forms allows them to vicariously relate to/share solidarity with the less privileged.

    And by them, I, of course, sort of, mean me, on my bad days.

  30. Adelaide Kent

    I am just a humble sixty year old layperson who came to church in mid- life with no formal instruction in any religion. My ‘tradition ‘ IS the 1982 hymnal and the 1978 BCP.

  31. Dale McNeill

    These a just a few thoughts.
    I appreciated and enjoyed reading and thinking about what you wrote here. I became Episcopalian in 1979, the same year I graduated from high school, from a non-liturgical tradition. It was a heady time in the church and I was lucky (as so many are–I don’t mean that the luck was unusual) that there was a truly excellent priest in my small Oklahoma town, gifted as a preacher, teacher, pastor, and liturgist.

    That parish used the ’28 Book occasionally, enough so that I know it well. I don’t miss it in corporate worship, though I pray the daily office using it once in a while.

    Thinking of the prayers of the people, I’ve occasionally encountered a locally written form in contemporary language structured as the prayers of the people are in Rite I and in earlier prayer books. I rather liked that. I frankly don’t think there’s a theological reason for naming every person or prayer cycle or whatever in corporate worship.

    Like many people, I’ve moved often. I’ve been a active member of parishes in the dioceses of Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, Dallas, Long Island, and West Texas in that order. In each, I’ve found wonderful liturgy and pastoral care. What has been missing, though, for the last 20 years or so is *teaching* from the pulpit. Instead, teaching is moved to another time when far fewer people will benefit from it. I’m talking about a few sentences or suggestions for theological education or even something in the bulletin. I’m not talking about replacing the sermon/homily with a lecture. How will the people be engaged in theology if it isn’t presented to them?

    When I truly came to love the ’79 Book was when I was in graduate school at LSU. Since most of my friends there were Roman Catholic and all went to daily Eucharist, I just walked with them and when to the daily service at the Episcopal chapel on campus. The rhythms and forms of the book became so intimately familiar. That was a long time ago, but I remember that time fondly.

    Last I’ll touch on Holy Women, Holy Men. I don’t have any big problem with the people suggested for trial use. Some will probably be only in this one book and there’s nothing wrong with that either. But I struggle with many of the collects. I read the appointed on most every day and feel don’t experience some of them as prayer. They seem more like essays in the form of prayer.

    I’m looking forward to reading other comments.

  32. aredstatemystic

    “But I struggle with many of the collects. I read the appointed on most every day and feel don’t experience some of them as prayer. They seem more like essays in the form of prayer.”

    YES. THIS. So much of this!

  33. Fr. Justin Fletcher

    Caelius, thank you for the point about loneliness and guilt — you said what I had like to say better and more succinctly. But you’ve missed the point about contemporary education habits. Mass media is a second order reality that only has fecundity because of prior disposal of the soul to its allurement. For example, my infant son has no desire for the various things the he’s told he needs from television because he hasn’t been trained to be sensitive to those things yet (hopefully ever!).

    Marketing in its various guises takes advantage of dispositions created elsewhere. In so doing, the sustain and give new life to such dispositions, but they do not create them. That comes from elsewhere. I suggest that happens most profoundly in school, especially in universities because a college degree is now a bit like confirmation in the faith.

  34. C. Wingate

    I’m another 1st gen ’79er (my confirmation BCP says “Proposed” on the title page). My sense of trouble goes all the way back to the days in the dining hall at St. Andrews School hearing people talk about the vote to ordain women at the 1976 GC. I approved of the decision, but was uneasy about how it came about. So we continue to hear the phrase “justice issue” or some equivalent popping up in talk about liturgy, with its implication that “lex orandi” means that we should be manipulating liturgical language to make people right-thinking about social issues. You can see an early trace of this kind of thinking in Prayer C’s most famously trite passage. It seems to me that (at least until we got Derek on the SCLM :) ) all talk of liturgical revision was dominated by this principle, but the part that made it hard to take was that it is tightly coupled with what in a more robust age would have been called heresy. Not everyone associated with those revision attempts was like this, but there hasn’t been a single new text that I’ve seen which didn’t incorporate material objectionable to a catholic and orthodox theology, from EoW’s love of nontrinitarian language for the Godhead to the whole notion of CWoB. At its worst, I get the message that it doesn’t matter what the liturgy says about God, as long as it says the right things about people.

    I think the catholic substance can’t be there until these people are pried loose from the reins. Even if there isn’t a formal commitment to basic orthodox belief (and I still maintain that standing up every Sunday in a communal recitation of the Creed is close enough to that) the consensus theology has to maintain some catholic continuity for the liturgy to continue to be something that people who hold to orthodox faith can continue to say and participate in. And I’m afraid that means that the church’s social activism is going to have to be judged by its conformity to divine revelation rather than the other way around.

  35. Robert Paul Travis

    I’m grateful for this blog post in clearing up some of the internal confusion I was facing about using Holy Women, Holy Men in our Church. We had been using Lesser Feasts and Fasts, until HWHM came out at our weekly healing service whenever the “Saint’s” day fell on that Wednesday. Now that we’re using HWHM it really is hard to incorporate some of the figures in the same way we would have with the more commonly accepted saints. It’s good to know that this discussion is taking place at the SCLM because we really need some common underlying theology around sanctity. If we cannot find that common theology, I believe priests like me will resort to honoring those saints they feel worthy and ignoring the others (I tend to use an ecumenical lens for that judgement), and doing that based on a relative lack of information since often the only time we have to prepare (those of us who even use the books at all) involves reading the one page synopsis of the person in LFF or HWHM. Others seem comfortable to use Brightest and Best, or materials from Catholic or other traditions. Thanks again for some of the background.

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  37. Dan B.

    Thanks to Derek for this post and to all who contributed to the conversation. I read every word with avidity. As a (34 yr.old) Roman Catholic considering a move to the EC, the issues discussed above are of great interest to me and I have had a hard time finding places where they’ve been treated with such openness and intellectual rigor. An attendant (if somewhat off-topic) question I have is: are there really no authorities on these matters (namely liturgy and eucharistic theology) around which a consensus might coalesce? And by authority I don’t necessarily mean ham-fisted institutional authority with a capital “A”, but perhaps Episcopal/Anglican personalities like a Merton or a Bonhoeffer–those whose integrity, intelligence and/or conviction have lent their ideas a gravity that goes beyond the relative modesty of their “rank.”

    “Via Media” is an extremely attractive idea to me, but it seems that one of the challenges it conjures (to the extent that Episcopalians self-identify this way, which may be little, i don’t know) is the difficulty of occupying middle ground, preserving the best of both worlds, without allowing your/our identity to be determined by what you/we are not.

    Thanks again for the insightful discussion.

  38. Jack Zamboni

    “…who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world…” Rite I, of course, and 1928 and all the way back to Cranmer. Within the Reformation debates about the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death for our salvation and “the sacrifice of the Mass” this is most certainly a liturgical text “consciously trying to tell it’s hears what to believe.”

    My guess, though I don’t know enough liturgical history to sustain it broadly, is that liturgies written at times of great transition in the life of the Church (such as the Reformation and however one might characterize the time we have been/are living through in the late 20th and 21st centuries) are at high risk of to some extent being prescriptive of what those creating the liturgies think the Church ought to believe/practice in the coming times. Such liturgies typically also claim to do so on the basis of returning to the roots of the earliest Christian centuries (FWIW, I think the LRM is on much firmer ground here than Cranmer, if only because of the vastly better scholarship available).

    My point is that to the degree the ’79 BCP and EOW might be criticized as being prescriptive in this way, it may well be that this simply comes with the territory of creating liturgy in times of ecclesial transition. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t ask questions about the theology being taught in these liturgies, but should do so recognizing that quasi-prescriptive liturgy (of whatever sort) may be inevitable in times such as ours.

  39. Michael Bertrand

    Dan asks, “Are there authorities around which a consensus might coalesce?” Yes, there are. The challenge is that they can be very divergent from one another. Example: one priest might look to Fulton J. Sheen as an authority, while another considers James Cone to be the end all be all. Which one of them is right? Which one gets heard by the majority in the national church and has their theology written into the BCP?

    Via Media is a strength and a weakness. Sometimes we get the best of both worlds and sometimes we get the worst.

  40. Jack Zamboni

    While it is certainly true that Anglicanism has trouble “clearly and concisely [defining] the content of Christian faith and practice because its principles of doctrinal and moral authority .. prevent it from doing so” that is not a problem (if it is a problem) of the last 60 years. It goes back to the Elizabethan settlement. The particular dynamics of how Anglican principles of doctrinal and moral authority are exercised may have changed some, but the openness and broadness that allows us “to accommodate differing, or, in some cases, mutually contradictory affirmations” is in our DNA.

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