Thursday, January 12, 2012

Negotiating the Book

As I remarked last time, the pressure on the 1979 BCP is growing in the land of liturgical revisionism. And generally, the pressure is bad. Here's an example from some prayers used recently:
That we may discover God's Word in every sound of our world, God's touch in every embrace, and God's redeeming love in the love of others, let us pray to the Lord.
People: Lord, have mercy
One can belabor the faults of this: that it is precious, vacuous, wordy, and proud of its political correctness, and that it fails to satisfy the rubrics for the prayer of the people as they are set forth in the BCP. More to the point, however, is that so very much of what I'm seeing here is not prayerbook revision at all. One can of course criticize the 1979 book on that same basis: Rite II is not, for the most part, a revision of the 1928 and earlier books so much as it is a wholly new rite which uses some of the same material as the old. However I would say that this project was, for the most part, more successful than the Prayer Book Society let on.

But this time around it seems to me that the accusations of theological innovation, dubious in 1979, are not dubious at all this time around. There is, for instance, the continuing insistence on inserting a phrase in the confession of sin, having us confess our sins against ourselves. Can we really do so? Well, isn't a lot of discussion required on that before we stick in such a change? The same thing goes for the emasculation of the God-language which is a signature feature of every attempt going forward; it is quite controversial.

But even beyond that, here it is, thirty years after the most radical rewrite of the liturgy effort, and it seems to me that so much of the material being proffered owes nothing at all to older liturgies except that the structure of the 1979 rite, for whatever reason, seems to be almost immutable. When the rewrites do address the actual current BCP text, the changes almost never have to do with fixing infelicitous phrasing or the like; they are almost always introductions of theological novelties. And on top of that, in practice, doing what the book actually says has in some districts become increasingly uncommon. There are places where one can expect a straight up Rite II with hymns from the 1982 hymnal and nothing either omitted or added; one can even find places where they still kneel at the prayers, and perhaps where they even still stand for the psalm (though I haven't seen the last in a couple of decades). But increasingly the Anglican traveller is well-advised to become a connoisseur of parish websites, looking for the tell-tale signs that the BCP liturgy will be tampered with to some lesser or greater degree, for expediency or because the rector does not want to say what the book says to say. And increasingly one finds on church websites doubts about anything and everything that we might do, all to be set aside in the name of Inclusion.

That someone who is an Anglican might find this excluding is entirely the point. And the signs are disturbing. Derek Olsen throws down the gauntlet, saying that commitment to the 1979 BCP is non-negotiable, and on the one hand the various concurrences (from, among others, Bryan Owen and Tony Hunt, as well as the many comments on the article itself, and a separate opinion from Tony Clavier) are gratifying, giving hope that preservation and true revision of our book may prevail, I also have to fear that, in spite of the vigorous opposition, the church establishment will see to it that this opposition is dismissed as regressive and that problem liturgies will be pushed through because they are objected to. And I would assume that, should this not come to pass, the current pattern of widespread disobedience as to the rubrics and liturgical canons will see even more tolerance (and implicit promotion) in this or that diocese and parish. Obedience, after all, is only for traditionalist and conservative dissidents; progressives are authorized by their sense of righteous progress to break any rule that stands between them and Inclusion. It indeed hardly seems necessary to develop liturgies for same-sex marriages, for instance, given that they are already being performed without benefit of canon.

The Idol of Inclusion, it appears, demands as a sacrifice any kind of institutional character; and our liturgies, it seems to me, are about all that is left beyond mere organizational bonds which hold us in a common religious consciousness. It is time to topple this false god. Christianity is not about inclusion, but about incorporation; and in our church, incorporation is through being bound in common worship. And in that worship is bound, not just across place, but through time. I cannot say it enough: anamnesis is the core of Christian worship, and constant change and constant deviation work against memory. When our church cannot remember what to pray from one town to the next and from one week to the next, we forget who we are. We are not here merely to make people feel good about coming in the door; we are here to change those who enter into Christians. And for us Anglican Christians, part of that change is being bound into the cycle of liturgy that dates back to our founding as a separate church, and which has roots as deep as liturgy goes back in time, all the way back to that upper room and through every sanctuary since.


The Underground Pewster said...

Good post. One thing that made me think:

"We are not here merely to make people feel good about coming in the door; we are here to change those who enter into Christians."

I agree, but I keep hearing (in word or by deed) the false argument that we can change people into Christians by making them feel "good," or the corollary argument that all that talk about "Sin" makes people feel "bad" that just turns people away from "Church."

Bill Dilworth said...

The problem, it seems to me, is that the whole "God loves you just the way you are" thing should be obvious - why would Christ have died for us if he didn't live us in our fallen state. But there's often a deadly addition made to that statement "...Don't ever change!"