Thursday, May 18, 2006

Is This Liturgy Heresy? Please Discuss

It's our buddies at the Office of Women's Ministries again, this time with a Eucharist Using Female Nouns and Pronouns which is "for use in discussion". They want discussion? I can give them discussion.

One point which has come out of all the liturgical revision proposals is that the 1979 structure has become the de facto ECUSA standard. All the changes have concentrated on the words; none have suggested the kind of rearrangements that 1979 made. This has important positive and negative consequences.

The positive consequence is that a fixed structure reinforces examination about how church architecture supports the liturgy. I've had some discussion of this with others, and then there are those crazy liturgists at St. Gregory of Nyssa who are clearly working from the 1979 structure as the basis for a radically different space. (In my view, it's an unsuccessful experiment, but that's another post.)

The negative observation is, unfortunately, the one that matters more. Changing the words tends to imply a certain rejection of the old words. OK-- the whole experiment here seems to be to do without the male language for God. If that is so, then there are a lot of changes which go beyond this. For instance, the conventional change V&R at the end of the readings is changed from

Reader The Word of the Lord.
People Thanks be to God.

to this:

Reader The Holy Word.
People Blessed be.

The first change is obviously explicable by the desire to avoid the word "Lord". The second change is not; the original response ought to be utterly innocuous. What's more striking, as a number of the respondents on titusonenine have pointed out, is that "blessed be" is a conventional response among wiccans, and has no particular Christian precedent. This change is objectionable; we ought not to be replacing our own language with that of an anti-Christian group.

The puzzling changes continue in the prayers of the people. They have chosen to adapt Form III, which is a rather good use of the V&R form. But again, the changes seem to step far outside their program, because the only "problem" word is the first one: "Father". I wonder why there is a problem with saying "Grant that every member of the church may truly and humbly serve you; that your Name may be glorified by all people." (I've italicized the words that were changed, as in the following passages.) I also don't understand why we cannot say "We pray for all bishops, priests and deacons; that they may be faithful ministers of your Word and Sacraments."

WHen we get to the confession, the changes multiply, and some of the changes have a history of contrary objections. The invitation has many changes (which I've bolded): "Let us confess the ways we have separated ourselves from our Divine Mother, from our own best selves and our neighbors." "Sin" has been excised; "against" has been excised; and "our best selves" has been inserted. Getting rid of sin is a weenie revision, to begin with. But there's also the question of whether we can sin against ourselves. The confession itself seems to think so, and boldly inserts a third commandment after the two Great Commandments.

All of this is before I step up to the central change: calling God "Mother" and using a lot of non-biblical language to emphasize the feminine. There's a long record of objection to this which I mostly endorse, so I'll confine myself to two observations pertinent to this text. Right at the beginning, the celebrant says, "Blessed be the Lady who births, redeems and sanctifies us." Right off the bat, I'd object to the word "births". God made us. I also have to complain about the modalism that creeps in every time they have to work around the Triune Name, and following the greeting there is a seemingly needless rewrite of the COllect for Purity. But the choice of "births" is striking. All along there seems to be some implication that we-- well, that women need to feel some connection to the Persons of the trinity that is strong than the mere human image. Well, this gets tripped up by the sensible yet perverse judgement that Jesus' masculinity must be scrupulously preserved in the texts. They also do not dare to change the Lord's Prayer, though they do dare to resist calling Jesus "Lord". And in the one explicit reference to the second person of the Trinity, he is called "son". Well, isn't Jesus supposed to humanize the godhead? And so, isn't the scandal still there, that Jesus is and must be a particular sex? And therefore, doesn't this make the whole argument rather moot, because we must be able to relate to Jesus regardless of our own sex?

My reaction, in the end, is that if the words of 1979 need revision, for the most part at this point we can only justify some tinkering. It amazes me that, only thirty years after the most extensive changes ever made in the liturgy, we are already talking about wholesale change again.

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