Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Vogonic Mass

"The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Sussex, in the destruction of the planet Earth." From The Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Perhaps she worked on the Standing Committee for Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church.

For all the complaints about Holy Women, Holy Men, the blue book for General Convention is out, and we see even more of the fruits of SCLM's labors, set before the church for ratification. And as I try to force myself to read through it, a competition mounts in my head between my repugnance at the language, my anger at the dubious theology, and my annoyance that we have to waste our time over this at all. I mean, it's bad enough that we have to suffer through a kalendar revision to commemorate a bunch of non-Christians, badly, when most of the parishes which bother with so complete a list are never ever going to to use this, and when the message is that you don't need to be a Christian to be a Christian. It's bad enough that we have to even consider communing the unbaptized (though this heresy, at least, cannot be laid at the door to SCLM's meeting rooms). No, besides the ill-conceived rite for same-sex blessings, we are given two more dumps of liturgical stuff. First, we have "Liturgical Materials Honor God in Creation and Various Rites and Prayers for Animals", which, besides setting forth a rite for the St. Francis Day blessings, has a slew of other material: litanies, prayers, and a Rogation procession. The latter has prayers various stations along the way, including the local landfill or transfer station if it be on the route. As seems to be the case for all material issuing forth from their word processors, the notion that one could use so conventional a form as "through Jesus Christ our Lord" seems to have been utterly abandoned, so that indeed it seems that they must spend a great deal of time devising alternative titles and honorifics. There are, inevitably, lapses into modalism, as well as travels further afield. For instance, we have this paganism-flavored litany:

On your earth, as it changes, Creator, have mercy.

On the soil, that it may be built up and be fruitful, Creator, have mercy.

On the minerals below the earth that nourish life, Creator, have mercy.

On your volcanoes and lava flows, Creator, have mercy.

...and on it goes, on and on, and there is a another after that. In the Hitchhiker's Guide it is said that "the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council, survived [an Azgothan poetry reading] by gnawing one of his own legs off." I might do the same if forced to stand through this, or at least cast aside a candy bar wrapper in protest of this pollution of my ears.

After that, we have a loooong series of meditations disguised as an annual cycle of daily prayer. And again, there is the same preciousness, the same aversion to the old scripturally-based forms, and the same venturing out into questionable theological territory. Don't the Forward Movement people take care of this for us? Why does SCLM have to write such drivel? Why can't they write anything baldly orthodox?

And why do they have to write anything at all? Look, almost none of this is going to get used, even by the many parishes that have St. Francis Day services. Perhaps some of it will be used on Earth Day observances (I forget whether HWHM adds the latter to our Kalendar). And none of it should be used, as offensive as it is to both theology and the art of writing English. But really, I have to think that it doesn't matter that any of it gets used: the point is to make a lot of people feel good about having directed SCLM to write it in the first place, and for the writers to think well of themselves for their progressive liturgical politics. Meanwhile, the church declines, three percent a year, and I cannot conceive of how these rites and prayers will have the slightest effect in reversing the decline. And after that in the pipes, we have hymnal revision coming up, and I expect that they will make a hash of that as well, as though we really need to put parishes through the expense of buying yet another set of expensive books to put in the pews.

It's time for SCLM to take a vacation. A long vacation. Say, a decade or two, or the forty years prescribed for the Israelites in the wilderness. Nothing they are doing is going to get more people in the pews, and indeed they seem to be largely trying to drive away anyone with, well, orthodox views on how prayers and rites should be conducted. And if they want to do something for the environment, well, cutting out the three hundred and thirteen pages they take up in the blue book, multiplied by the number of delegates and bishops, would be an excellent starting gesture.

2 comments:

Bill Dilworth said...

Why would minerals and lava flows need mercy in the first place? What does that even mean?

What does it mean to ask that the Creator have mercy on "eukaryotes and prokaryotes, archaea and viruses; on microbes of endless variety, the complex and the simple"? Viruses and microbes? Really? All of them? We're now expected to pray for Treponema pallidum, the smallpox virus, and HIV?

But thank, um, the Creator that pet funerals have finally been taken out of the hands of fifth graders and given the liturgical dignity they are entitled to - complete with the addition of "and all you cats and dogs" to the Benedicite and prayers for the departed. Who are these people, and why do they think that dead animals need our prayers? Honestly, sometimes being an Episcopalian is downright embarrassing.

I would love to see your take on the abysmal "Daily Prayer for All Seasons" that was released at that the same time, by the way.

C. Wingate said...

Bill, I did mention that stupid "daily prayer" cycle, just not at length. Maybe I'll have to subject it to a separate post, but it was closing in on midnight and I had to go to bed.