Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wooden Liturgies

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-Laudian 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.


Canon Tallis said...

And for that I am extremely thankful. Historically I believe that liturgical change always has a negative effect upon the Church. I look especially at the revision of the Russian liturgy which was intended to make it closer to the Greek and which resulted in the Old Believer schism. Then it was discovered that the Russian liturgy has preserved much which the Greeks had lost.

The leaders of the Church think that it will bring in those outside, but what it mostly does is make it impossible for their most faithful to worship with the depth and intensity which they did before. I remember a Roman Easter Even Liturgy in Kansas City in which the cathedral was full, standing room only. The service was entirely in Latin and the singing of both the choir and congregation marvelous. A few years later the service was now in English and their were barely thirty people.

Every time I celebrate the 1928 liturgy even under the most deprived of conditions, I am carried away with the beauty and come away with greater spiritual strength and joy. The wooden words and format of the modern revisions would not do this for me. I do not want to substitute uglines for beauty; it would be much too painful.

Tregonsee said...

My CANA parish still uses the 1979 BCP. Most current members are from a new TEC plant which decided to leave 3 years ago. The result is that most are far younger than the typical TEC congregation, many are converts, and only a literal handful have ever used the 1928 BCP. Fortunately one of those is the priest.

We are just finishing a trial period using the 1662 BCP, combined with an adult education class of the changes in the BCP over the centuries. The last class will compare the 1928 and 1979 versions.

My hope, and there is significant reason to believe it will not in vain, is that there will be another trial period, this time of the 1928 BCP, and the eventual use in at least some services.

Robert E. Armidon said...

Where can one find the Reformed Episcopal Church modern-language 1662 Communion rite?

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

It was distributed as part of the reports from a General Convention a few years back. I have a scanned copy that I might be able to post.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

On a related note, I did my own update of the 1928 based on the REC 1662 version. Here's the address to access that:

Robert E. Armidon said...

Thanks for the link.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

There may be some mistakes in it--one of the most prominent I noticed was that I still had a few "thees" left in there.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think we have yet to improve upon 1549. So much for progress!