Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Liturgical Note

I was going to take the day off from blogging, but this long thread at Stand Firm, in which I have participated, deserves a passing mention.

(NOTE: Non-Anglicans, and even Anglicans who are not liturgy geeks like me, may find this a bit arcane. Feel free to move on. My site meter has already clicked!)

The Anglican Mission in America, which was formed just a few years ago and consists of some 80 or so congregations, is technically and canonically part of the Province of Rwanda. The news has just been released that they have authorized (for optional trial use, apparently) an edition of the Book of Common Prayer that is essentially the 1662 English book (still the lawful Prayer Book in the Church of England) with modernized language (no Elizabethan verb endings).

There are already more than 100 comments in the Stand Firm thread. The vast majority express hope that the reconfigured American Anglican province that is coming will embrace a liturgical discipline that will closely resemble either the 1662 English book or the 1928 American book, certainly in structure, and, in the hopes of most of the commenters, in diction and grammar.

My strong suspicion (hope?) is that those who have participated in the thread are not a representative sample of those who will be taking counsel together when it comes time to authorize liturgical rites for the new province. The level of historical, linguistic, and technical ignorance that one can see there is disturbing. I hope the actual project will be in more competent hands. But a real nerve has been struck. The responses are visceral. That passion will have to be dealt with.

In my post of a couple of days ago, I posited that for the Covenant Design Group to ground its work in the notion of a formal confessional standard for Anglicanism would be to create something "smaller" than what Anglicanism actually is. It would make us a denomination, a sect, and not a church. The opposite of "Catholic" is not "Protestant," but "sectarian." (Ironically, the Church-of-General-Convention--aka the Episcopal Church--is trying very hard to become a sect, and a boutique version of one, at that.) If some future American Anglican province were to adopt either the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Book as normative, it would be doing the same thing. Rather than trying to locate and freeze genuine Anglicanism at some moment in time, like an insect preserved in amber, we would be much better served to do the harder work of finding our liturgical voice within the choir of the larger Catholic tradition. For what it's worth, this is what I think the 1979 Prayer Book has accomplished. It has not done so perfectly, but it has done so well, and it deserves to be the starting point for future revision.

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