Friday, May 04, 2012

More Liturgical Fish in a Barrel: and I Brought a Shotgun

Bill Dilworth suggested I should make some comments on "Daily Prayer for All Seasons", another product of the SCLM to be put before General Convention this year. Well, heck, how could I resist? Never has so much that is bad in the outpourings of our liturgical overlords been distilled into such a concentrated essence.

For those of you who didn't make it all the way to page 352 of the Blue Book: this thing is is something of a combination of scriptural meditation and office, as if Forward Day by Day were folded directly into the "Daily Devotions" section of the BCP. Well, OK, on one level it's hard to object to this on principle, though I don't know that I would want something written once for the ages. And it's not really my cup of tea, at that; I'm more of a "grind through the office lectionary" kind of guy. That said, however, everything I complained about in "Liturgical Materials Honoring God in Creation" is just as bad here, and there's more to boot.

Let's start with the second entry, for prime in the Advent season. It begins with a versicle and response ostensibly repeating Isaiah 40:5:

God’s bright glory will shine,
and everyone will see it.
OK, right from the top: this isn't what the verse says. The correct NRSV text is this: "Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." The italicized portion has been omitted entirely, and the leftist problem word "LORD", which those who stayed awake long enough in the higher quality sort of Sunday school will recognize as a placeholder for God's name, has been dropped. OK, so where did this come from? Shouldn't this come from the RSV, as the BCP directs? Well, perhaps the NCC's campaign to suppress the RSV is likely to prevent us from reprinting it, At any rate, however, the text admits that this comes from The Message, Eugene Peterson's extremely free paraphrase; and he can be quoted saying that he is uncomfortable with its use as a liturgical text. Peterson and I do not see eye to eye on a whole raft of issues, but at the very least I think the bible words that we repeat should be the actual words of a genuine translation!

I cannot similarly criticize the translation of the hymn, for it is new to the 1982 hymnal, and with the cost of the hymnal companion the source doesn't come readily to hand. And at least when we get to the scripture reading, the true NRSV text is used. (A question to the SCLM, by the way: does the NCC know what you're up to? Are they going to license the NRSV for this?) The meditation sentence by one Sam Portaro is innocuous enough, at first glance. But then we get a highly egregious "affirmation", a word which in itself gives a discomforting note of psychobabble. What it is, in fact, is a substitute for the Apostle's Creed. This I have big problems with, just on principle: if we cannot say the creeds as the rest of the church says them, then we are in schism. But never fear, the urge for a precious moment finally bursts forth here:

We believe in God, Creator of all:
The two-legged, the four-legged,
the winged ones, and those that crawl upon the earth
and swim in the waters.
I am moved to flip back to "Honoring God in Creation" and cry out, "but what about the prokaryotes?" And what about heaven? Sorry, guys, but this is just glurge, and as I don't have a need for the stuff (and indeed would avoid it if I could), I wouldn't give up Christian unity for the opportunity to indulge in that vice.

And there's more of that in the prayers, but I would rather advance to terce, where we get a little womynist love in the form of a "hymn" from Julian of Norwich. Dame Julian is an official Cool Saint of the Modern Churchtm, so one cannot get away with complaining about some fairly out-there imagery. But the surprise in this service is hidden in the scripture reading, which curiously claims to skip over a verse in Isaiah 11. Really, one has to be immediately suspicious when a passage of a mere four verses has to omit one of them, but looking up the missing verse shows that half of it does in fact appear in the printed reading. What is omitted is the following sentence: "His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD." And I have to assume that the sentence was omitted because someone on the SCLM found it theologically offensive. Well, it's time for them to get over that, a read scripture as it is given to us rather than editing out the bits they don't like.

But as far as that editing goes, they top themselves in sext, where they have the gall to redact the Virgin Mary's words in the name of feminist correctness. Now, I have to suspect that of those people who actually do the hours, 93.42% of them have a Pavlovian reaction to the word "magnificat", and start off saying or singing "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." The other 6.58% are the hardheads who memorized Rite II, and it is they who will be tripped up the worst in this exercise, because while the first line is the same, the second is not. Recall the scriptural context: Mary is speaking to Elizabeth, and therefore she refers to God in the third person from beginning to end. And since, therefore, five of the eight verses begin with the word "he", our liturgical overlords have recast this as a hymn addressed to God, so that all those offensive pronouns can be replaced by "you". And heaven forbid we should speak of a promise made to Mary's fathers. So we have yet another case where we can't say what scripture says.

And so, on it goes. I skip ahead to sext for Epiphany, where Christopher Wordsworth's text must be altered, that God may not in man be manifest. At the prayers for none we have one of those modalist things. The "confession" supplied for vespers is a mealy-mouthed thing against which words of the actual BCP stand in stark relief. As far as Lent is concerned, it appears that the only sin of which we might be convicted is inadequate social justice; personal purity and piety make no appearance. Things get a little better in holy week, if only because, perhaps, they dare not erase the cross. But I don't feel the need to go beyond there; it is bad enough thus far.

I do not think that anyone will actually use this for daily prayer. The people who do that will use the daily devotional rites we already have in the BCP, or the hours from some Anglo-Catholic rites, because they will want to work through the office lectionary. If approved, I think this would see use perhaps on seasonal retreats. And I do not think that the unwary should thus be lured into using works which tamper with scripture so, and never mind the abominable taste in the writing. Why in the heck can't we use the texts everyone else uses? Why can't we say the Magnificat and the Creed as others do? Why can't we confess our sins as sins? Look, the problem with the offices as we have them isn't anything in them; it's that we have a culture of not doing them, due to time or whatever. Making them more elaborate isn't going to get people to do them, and using them as yet another conduit for SCLM's wimpy theology is dishonest. If SCLM has time to waste on this stuff, then we can do without them. Everything they touch turns not to lead, but to arsenic. It's time to disband them and live with what we have for another thirty years or so.


Jon in said...

I, for one, welcome our new liturgical overlords.

This is why I dread the coming of a new Book of Common Prayer: not because it cannot be better than the one currently in use (I use the term "in use" loosely) but because it probably won't be better and will likely be something much, much worse. Indeed, it will probably not be recognizably Christian at all.

As a former Episcopalian, I don't really have a dog in this fight except to note how much it pains me to watch a church willfully self-destruct like this, leaving any number of faithful, scripture-believing, sacrament-trusting Christians out in the cold.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Well said. I have long remarked that the only sin recognized in the Episcopal Church is voting Republican. Or -- local to NC -- supporting Amendment One.

But I happily don't see anyone trying to do a revision to the BCP. Perhaps we can't afford it. But a revision to the 1979 BCP may be the straw that breaks the proverbial back.

Dick Mitchell

C. Wingate said...

Dick, right now I see things developing as Melanie Wright once told me: the BCP sits unused in the rack, and parishes will increasingly go to material in service leaflets or the like. The peril in this, of course, is that the average parishioner is then completely at the mercy of the rector/celebrant, and as the rites deviate increasingly from those in the BCP, it's hard to assess their legitimacy except by turning up the Protestantism and personally critiquing the theology; the assurance that one is getting the church's own rite is next to nonexistent. It's already the case, in my experience, that if the entire liturgy is written out, it probably deviates from the BCP rite in at least one place.

Anonymous said...

That is the source of my own unease with fully printed-out bulletins. they make it SO much easier for specious liturgy to creep in. I'm currently trying to untie the knots left by my predecessor who was, judging by the liturgical nightmare he left behind, a United Church of Christ Arian. Mind you, if SCLM eventually tackles a new BCP I may be the one printing off own Wee Bookies.

Anonymous said...

As one who is decidedly not in favor of many of the SCLM's proposed liturgical innovations and who celebrates a straight-up BCP liturgy every Sunday, I want to gently push back against the anti-printed service sheet sentiment I see here. When I arrived at my present parish I began the practice of using a fully printed service sheet, and those reasons have nothing to do with wanting to muck around with the liturgy of the prayer book.

First, I wanted to eliminate the BCP/hymnal juggle, and since we use two hymnals ('82 and LEVAS), the required acrobatics were even more cumbersome, so having the hymns and service music in one place was enormously helpful. Secondly, the service leaflet was part of an overall evangelism strategy directed at people with little or no faith background. The feedback I consistently got from visitors and newcomers was that following the service was confusing, and let's face it, the BCP is not an easy book to follow, especially if one is also juggling hymnals. Finally, I wanted people to know why we do certain things, so I expanded the rubrics by adding some explanations. I do think that literacy with the BCP is important, however, so if newcomers decide to make this parish their spiritual home they have the option of attending the BCP Bootcamp class I teach every year, where I tend to place emphasis on the Daily Office.


C. Wingate said...

KJ, I appreciate your arguments for putting it all in the leaflet. Back when they consecrated the national Cathedral a leaflet was the only practical recourse; however, that was also long enough ago that the cathedral's rite was actually that of the prayer book. More recently, at the Bishop of Maryland's consecration, many liberties were taken. Being able to edit the rite seems to be an irresistible temptation to too many priests, unfortunately.