As I've commented in the past, I have nothing against "contemporary" language liturgies--if they are done well. However, the problem is that most are definitely not done well. The 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church has some beautiful parts (aesthetically speaking), but these qualities mask a great many problems--not the least of which is that the book departs wildly from the pattern of Common Prayer set down in the classic liturgies following the Cranmerian
path. In short, it is not Common Prayer in the great tradition of the 1549 The Book of the Common Prayer
Given that I have no problem in principle with the use of the modern language in divine liturgy, I have been open minded to those that have attempted faithful (re)productions or renderings of those classic Anglican liturgies for those who have not come from a traditional language background. The Reformed Episcopal Church produced a (little known) modern language 1662 Communion rite which I think is excellent, in that all it really does is replace the "thees" and "thous" with "you." It is good because it changes so little from that which is excellent.
For the 1928 American Communion rite, we have the work presented in the Rev'd
. Dr. Peter Toon's Worshipping the Lord in the Anglican Way
. Some have suggested that this be used as a modern language rite in worship. I would hesitate in making such a move. While the Toon
text is better than the 1979 Prayer Book, in many places it lacks the poetry and cadence of the original 1928 service. Indeed, in some places it is simply unnecessary to "update" the language--but it is updated nonetheless. For instance, in the Litany, why would we need to change "Mercifully forgive the sins to thy people" to "In mercy, forgive the sins of your people." Why not simply update only that which needs updating? This would have rendered the portion mentioned as "Mercifully forgive the sins of your people." Perhaps I'm being overly critical, but needless revision is. . .well. . .needless. Another instance comes in the Eucharistic prayer, where the priest in the 1928 service prays "All glory be to thee, Almighty God. . ." whereas Toon
renders this "We give all glory to you, Almighty God. . ." I know it isn't "common English" to say that we give someone "all the glory" but couldn't we simply say "All glory be to you, Almighty God"? I think most would understand it.
I think Toon's
contemporary service is good as a bit of an "explanation" for those worshipping in a 1928 Prayer Book parish who may desire a better understanding of the traditional language. Due to some of the turns of phrase that will cause many familiar with the 1928 service to stumble, I would advise a more conservative "revision" where the "thees" and "thous" are replaced and only those parts of the English language that have passed from usage are updated.
Another updating of the classical Anglican tradition comes in An Anglican Prayer Book
, wherein the Eucharistic services of the English 1662, the American 1928, and the Canadian 1962 are rendered in contemporary language. It is purported
that this is largely the work of Toon
, but given that it is a production for the Anglican Mission in America I can only assume that the leaders of the that body had a strong hand in the composition as well. In some places this book is better than Toon's Worshipping the Lord in the Anglican Way
, in some places it is worse. When one begins to read the service for Holy Communion one is struck by this "Our Lord Jesus said: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."
Why are we now using Mark instead of Matthew? Why has this, one of the most memorable parts of the Anglican liturgy, been changed so noticeably? In that we are now using Mark (itself jarring given that most classical Anglicans are familiar with the use of Matthew in the 1928 service) why is the Markian
verse provided in such an inelegant manner. We read "the second is this" in reference to loving your neighbor as yourself, but having a second implies a first. The opening sentence of the verse is amputated, making the rest read almost as though it were a misprint. In the very least we should have had "The most important [commandment] is. . ." When the rendering of one of the most memorable parts of the American Anglican service is done in such a way, I can only hope that they revise the book very soon.
In short, the original services have yet to be matched in either their beauty and or their theology. Again, although I am open to contemporary language services I have yet to see a complete service published for wide use that doesn't clunk and sputter in too many places to make it liturgically viable. As a result I'm increasing in my fondness for the straight 1928.
Labels: Book of Common Prayer, modern language