A conversation about Prayer Book revision is now on the table in the Episcopal Church. General Convention 2015 passed Resolution A169 directing “the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.” Jordan Hylden and Keith Voets voiced their profound concerns about Prayer Book revision on this blog in the final post of their three-part series “A Way Forward Together” (I strongly encourage readers to read that short article first). And then on October 8, 2015 Dr. Ruth Meyers of Church Divinity School of the Pacific and outgoing chair of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for the Episcopal Church offered a web forum with her personal thoughts on Prayer Book revision in light of the resolution (see The Living Church’s story here and watch the entire presentation here). Episcopalians need to consider this development very carefully, and our ecumenical partners should watch it closely.
(a) the basic contours of the revised Holy Eucharist liturgy in the first volume of Enriching our Worship (henceforth, EOW1; see the entire document here and all the volumes in the series here);
(b) a consideration the Trinitarian theology contained therein.
Why look at EOW1? Every indication suggests that the work of EOW1, along with the new collects in Holy Women, Holy Men, signals the trajectory of further liturgical reform in the Episcopal Church. Dr. Meyers seemed suggested as much in her recent presentation. At the installation of the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev’d Michael Curry, on November 1, 2015 , the eucharistic prayer came not from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) but from EOW1 (see pages 19-20 of the bulletin here). Thus, it is essential that all Episcopalians — particularly the bishops who are charged with the task of guarding “the faith, unity and discipline of the Church” (BCP 517) and are the chief liturgical officers for their dioceses (BCP 13) — read these rites and examine them carefully and with prayer.
The character of EOW1 is that of a resource. The texts within EOW1, its introduction explains, “may be used in two very different ways.” Probably the most common use of EOW1 is as a resource “in conjunction with the Rite Two liturgies of the 1979 BCP.” As much or as little of EOW1 could be incorporated into a Rite II liturgy, from just one element to four or five, including one of the three eucharistic prayers. There is also a second option: “to develop an entire liturgy using the supplemental texts. The entire eucharistic liturgy can be designed with only the collect of the day from the BCP being added” (EOW1, p. 14). These two different uses of EOW1 bring a real degree of complexity to a theological reading of its content. EOW1 is both a set of supplemental options and, conversely, a complete rite (either option, we should remember, is subject to the explicit permission of the diocesan bishop).
I have decided to approach this examination by analyzing the EOW1 as a whole eucharistic rite, all the while acknowledging that it could be used in a more ad hoc fashion. The careful reader will need to alter my analysis depending on how much or how little of EOW1 is used in a specific instance. The principle reason for my decision to analyze EOW1 as a complete rite is twofold. First, only the eucharistic prayers lend themselves to a theological reading on their own, and this is something that I will do later in this series of posts. Many of EOW1’s changes are small; trying to tease out an interpretation of each would be less than fair. Second, most of the publications related to the composition of EOW1’s materials argue that the principles that undergird its must be brought to fruition. [These essays can be found in How Shall We Pray? (1994), A Prayer Book for the 21st Century (1996), and Gleanings (1999), all edited by Ruth Meyers, and Lionel Mitchell’s essay “Background” published in both Commentary on Prayer Book Studies 30 (1989) and Supplemental Liturgical Materials (1991).] Until these principles have been fully implemented, the purpose of EOW1’s texts has not yet been realized, and the Episcopal Church remains constrained by (putatively) restrictive and biased language. Thus, at least from the perspective of the essay’s authors, and from my reading of Dr. Ruth Meyers’s recent address, the complete implementation of these principles is the ultimate goal in some set of future rites. From what a few members of the SCLM have said to me, this is not, however, the perspective of the whole of the SCLM. Some members have reservations about the language in EOW1 and some have strong reservations about revising the 1979 BCP. Thus, I want to take care not to paint with too broad a brush.
Nonetheless, my analysis will address the eucharistic rite as a coherent whole, both because EOW1’s introduction mentions such a potential use and also because a completely revised rite like that in EOW1 is the stated goal of the SCLM. Furthermore, I do not doubt that some congregations use EOW1’s rite in place of the BCP rite. However, as I noted above, the reader should remember that the materials in EOW1 could be used simply as supplemental resources.
The principle concern that motivated EOW1 was about how we speak about God in our particular context. The initiative first appeared, its introduction explains, when “ears attuned to contemporary language and culture grew uncomfortable with liturgical metaphors and forms of address, inherited largely from the 18th and 19th centuries, in which God is primarily envisioned as a kind of Paterfamilias” (“Introduction,” EOW1, p. 8). More specifically, “one of the considerations in choosing or developing texts included in this collection has been the prayer experience of woman” (“Preface,” EOW1, p. 6). “Then as now,” their solution has never been to adopt the strategy of the modalist-sounding “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier/Sustainer” but rather to excavate language and metaphors from the tradition that have been underutilized: “in particular the writings of the Early Church, along with the ecstatic evocations of the Medieval mystics,” as well as “the riches of scripture and the Christian tradition, which include an abundance of images of God” (“Introduction,” EOW1, p. 8). One way to express the SCLM’s main theological concern with the range of language used thus far in Anglican liturgies is that the (over-)emphasis on certain attributes or aspects of God (e.g. God as a “law-giving sovereign” or God’s fatherliness) runs the risk of becoming an “idolatry” of particular aspects of God.
Whether or not one agrees with how the SCLM attempts to solve these concerns, I think it is important to acknowledge at the beginning of this piece that Christians must take seriously the concerns raised by feminist theologians (along with many theologians who wouldn’t use the moniker “feminist”). We cannot dispute that women have not been treated as equals to men for much of history, whether inside or outside of the church. But even more, the practical experience of some women with regard to men and the masculine is often negative, often as the oppressor and the subjugator. And for some women (along with men who have experienced abuse at the hands of other men), the predominantly masculine language of most Christian theology and liturgy is experienced as painful, disorienting, and alienating.
Related to this more experiential concern is the basic Christian theological claim that God is neither a man nor a woman, neither male nor female. God is God. God’s eternal Word and Son became incarnate as a human being, specifically as the man Jesus of Nazareth; but God is not a man (or a woman). And since God is not a man, masculine pronouns for God the Holy Trinity raise real concerns for some theologians because they might lead to the inaccurate conclusion that God is a man. There are not the only concerns and critiques raised by feminists, nor are these the only suggestions that might be made about how to change the church’s public liturgy in light of them.
But, I would note, that truly taking these concerns seriously does not necessarily entail a theological revision that jettisons traditional Christological and Trinitarian language. It may, but this is not necessarily the case. There are a variety of ways to respond (pastorally, spiritually, theologically) and retain the language of Scripture and tradition: namely, that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is the one God of Israel who is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all of whom equally share in and partake of the divine substance and nature and are rightly called the Holy Trinity. The Cambridge theologian Sarah Coakley provides an excellent example of a feminist author striving to respond creatively to feminist concerns, while retaining the conciliar language:
Neither the straightforward obliteration of ‘Father’ language, nor the feminization of the ‘Spirit’ (or indeed of the Son), constitute in themselves satisfactory strategies in the face of the profound feminist critique of classical Christian thought forms and patterns of behavior. These problems can only be met satisfactorily by an ascetic response which attacks idolatry at its root (Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: an Essay ‘On the Trinity‘, p. 7).
Also at the outset, I think it is also fruitful to note the range of options available to those who wish to revise Christian liturgies in light of the concerns articulated by feminist theologians. Here are three possibilities:
One option is to replace masculine names and pronouns with feminine ones: e.g. “Mother Almighty, creator of heaven and earth” or “It is right to give her thanks and praise.” This approach has the advantage of retaining both the personal aspect of God “for us” (albeit analogously) and the relations between the Persons (Note: While there are some legitimate concerns about the use of “Person” for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [see how Aquinas addresses this in ST I.29], I will use the term as a brief shorthand, acknowledging that we use this term about God in way that is different from how we use it for human beings). While a mother is not identical with a father, both have an equally unique and singular relationship to a child and these names speak to this relationship. Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter all convey in their respective names a fact about who each is in relation to a particular other.
Another is to try and balance masculine and feminine words, moving in some sort logical way between masculine names and pronouns and feminine ones. This has both the advantage of the first approach (because it communicates “being-in-relation”) while at the same time including the Scriptural language of Father and Son. While Scripture uses feminine/maternal analogies for God (e.g. Isa. 49:15; 66:13; Ps. 131:2; Ezek. 16:44-45; Sir. 4:10; Matt. 23:37), it does not use a name or mode of divine address that is definitely feminine. (Note: unlike English, the word for spirit is feminine in Hebrew and neuter in Greek, but it seems imprudent to try and draw too many conclusions from this). In this approach, both scriptural language and the attendant relationality of that language are preserved.
Still another tack is to avoid gendered language altogether. And this is the approach of EOW1 and the new prayers in Holy Women, Holy Men. There are a number of ways to avoid gendered language. One approach (though I’ve never seen this in a liturgical rite) would be utilize the non-gendered procession language that was so central to the pre- and post-Nicene debates, such as Unbegotten (αγενετος) and Only-begotten (μονογενής). Thus, Prayer 1 in EOW1 could read, “Blessed are you, gracious Unbegotten One [replacing Gracious God]…” and then later, “Then, in the fullness of time, you sent your eternal and Only-begotten [NB: this phrase is added] Word, made mortal flesh in Jesus” (is made what we want to say?). EOW1, however, takes the non-gendered route and also avoids any language of begetting, procession, or relation.One way to evaluate the Trinitarian theology of EOW1’s eucharistic materials is simply to ask about the basic shape of the theology presented therein, which is what I shall do in later posts. The claim that the Prayer Book holds a special place in Anglicanism as an expression of doctrine is part and parcel of its self-identity. Without an authoritative magisterium that speaks with any binding authority, and without an official confession or catechism like what is found in many of the magisterial Protestant traditions and in the Roman Catholic Church, the Prayer Book and our canon law (to a much lesser extent) express our doctrine, albeit in the mode of liturgical language. Nonetheless, given the weight it carries for us vis-à-vis other families of Christian, a doctrinal evaluation of a new and proposed rite is one of the first and basic steps when considering liturgical revision
Part 2 –
The Revised Holy Eucharist Liturgy of EOW1
- Acclamation: the Trinitarian acclamation for Ordinary Time (“Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”), which was borrowed from the Byzantine Rite, is changed in such as way as to remove any references to the Persons or to the Trinity: “Blessed be the one, holy, and living God” or simply “Blessed be God.”
- The Collect for Purity and the “Kyrie eleison/Lord, have mercy” have been removed. Thus, any sense of a posture other than praise (such as humility or penitence) is removed from the Preparation Rites.
- The rubrics helpfully clarify what the compilers of the 1979 BCP clearly intended: the “Song of Praise” that can be sung in place of the Gloria in excelsis is ideally a biblical canticle or an ancient construction like the Te Deum.
- The Salutation is changed from “The Lord be with you” to “God be with you.” This is the first of many places where the term Lord is excised completely.
An option is provided during Ordinary Time (the seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost) to replace the Prayer Book collects with those from a list of new collects. I will not attempt a summary of the alternative collects; but as it concerns Trinitarian issues, I note the following characteristics, which are similar to the approach of the entire rite:
- Father is never used;
- Jesus is never referred to as Son, neither as a proper name nor in terms of his relation to God the Father;
- The relationship between the Persons is unclear: how the Father relates to Jesus, how the Spirit relates to Father and Son, and many similar questions, remain opaque.
- The Response after the lessons is changed from “The Word of the Lord” to “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people/the churches” (cf. Rev 2:29).
The Gospel proclamation changes in three ways:
- The acclamation preceding the Gospel changes Lord to Savior (e.g. “The Holy Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ according to _________”)
- The response to the acclamation (“Glory to you, Lord Christ”) is removed
- The acclamation following the Gospel (“The Gospel of the Lord / Praise to you, Lord Christ”) disappears altogether.
The translation of the Nicene Creed is altered in a number of ways from the “We believe” translation in both Rite I and Rite II of the 1979 BCP:
- Language regarding the Incarnation now more accurately reflects the conciliar language so that the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary are both the object of the preposition ἐκ (“of”): σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου is translated as “was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary”
- “and was made man” has become “and became truly human” (the purpose for this, Ruth Meyers explains, is to emphasize “that it is not the maleness but the humanity of Jesus that is significant in the redemption of humanity”
- The masculine pronouns for the Holy Spirit in the third section of the Creed are able to be removed by the judicious use of relative pronouns (which makes it more like the Rite I form of the Nicene Creed)
- The Confession is rewritten with a number of changes: the clarification about sin “in thought, word, and deed” is removed; the parallel of not loving God and our neighbor (cf. Luke 10:27) also disappears; we repent “of the evil that enslaves us,” the meaning of which continues to elude me; and “Son” is changed to “Savior”
- In the Absolution, “through our Lord Jesus Christ” becomes “through the grace of Jesus Christ”
- “The Peace of the Lord be always with you” becomes the “The Peace of Christ”
- N.B. The eucharistic prayers will be addressed in Part 3 of this article
- The Lord’s Prayer simply disappears from its place between the Eucharistic Prayer and the Breaking of the Bread/Fraction (note that the Lord’s Prayer is also removed from its normal place after the salutation in Morning and Evening Prayer)
- The two Postcommunion prayers of thanksgiving are written in the vein already noted about language changes (no Father or Lord, nor Jesus as Son)
All the blessing options are possibly Trinitarian in their implication but are nonetheless rather vague:
- In one, the Father is the “Eternal Majesty” and the Son the “incarnate Word”
- In another, the Father (presumably) is “the God of Abraham and Sarah,” the Son is “Jesus Christ born of our sister Mary,” and the Spirit is the one who “broods over the world as a mother over her children”
- Still another speaks of “God’s blessing,” “Christ’s peace,” and “the Spirit’s outpouring”
- And still another of “the Wisdom of God,” “the Love of God,” and “the Grace of God,” a construction that also does not appear to make a direct correspondence to particular Persons
How might be categorize these changes?
- All language that carries with it any notion of gender has been excised or replaced — mostly notably, Father and Son
- The use of the term Lord is radically reduced. It is retained only in two places: (a) in the Nicene Creed (“Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord” and “the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life”) and (b) in the Dialogue of the Sursum corda that begins the Great Thanksgiving (“The Lord be with you / We lift them up to the Lord / Let us give thanks to the Lord our God;” if the Gloria in excelsis is used, the term Lord also appears).
- If the materials from EOW1 are used as an entire rite (and not just as a supplement for a few parts of the rite as given in the 1979 BCP), the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer are not required to be said. Since the Gloria in excelsis is already optional in the 1979 liturgy, this means that all the places in the liturgy that articulate the received scriptural teaching as explicated by the early councils is entirely absent.
- Outside of the Gloria and the Nicene Creed, there is no reference to God as Trinity (the word Trinity appears only in an optional collect). The liturgy speaks of God; the liturgy speaks of Jesus; the liturgy speaks of a (Holy) Spirit. But how each is related to the other is not clear. And certainly any sense that their relations (or processions) have any bearing on the identity of God is simply unaddressed.
The Eucharistic Prayers of EOW
- There are no masculine pronouns for God, and few for Jesus (only when explicitly referring to Jesus in his earthly life)
- The title Lord is not used, except in the Sursum Corda (Within the 1979 BCP Rite II, Prayer C had the lowest uses of Lord with 4, while Rite I, Prayer II had a total of 14 uses)
The EOW1 eucharistic prayers are not clear whether they are addressed to a specific Person of the Holy Trinity or if the terms of address used are only meant to indicate a divine addressee generally. Here are the names used when addressing God, (1) before the Sanctus and then (2) after the Sanctus in each prayer:
- Prayer 1: (1) You and (2) Gracious God, creator of the universe and giver of life
- Prayer 2: (1) Holy and gracious God, source of abundant life and (2) Holy and living God
So what is stated in these prayers regarding Trinitarian theology? Here is an outline of the theology that can be surmised from the prayers (quotations are noted parenthetically with the numeral of the eucharistic prayer from which it comes):
- There is a clearly one God. This God is holy, eternal (though Prayer 2 makes no mention of this latter quality), gracious, living, a source of blessing (3) or abundance (second Postcommunion prayer), and giver of life (a creedal title for the Holy Spirit that is interestingly used in such a way to not tie it to a particular person).
There is also Jesus Christ who redeems us (1, 3), is Savior, is God’s eternal Word (1, 3) who has never been silent (3), and is Wisdom (3).
- The work of Jesus was to triumph over evil, opening the way of freedom and peace (1), to make the sacrifice of his life (2). He is the one who freed us from sin, brought us into your life, reconciled us to you, and restored us to the glory you intend for us (3)
- The relationship of Jesus to God is that Jesus is God’s eternal Word, made mortal flesh in Jesus (1), the holy child of God (2)
- There is a (Holy) Spirit who replenishes (1), who moved over the deep and brought all things into being (2), who acts to make bread and wine the Body and Blood of Jesus and to make us Christ’s Body in the world (2), a people of hope, justice, and love (3), and generally part of the Body of Christ.
More could be said, but this provides a fair overview, I trust.
First, if there are (to use the traditional language) three hypostases or Persons who are nonetheless homoousios (of the same substance, meaning that they are all “God” and thus completely distinct from creation), how do we distinguish the hypostases from each other? How is God related to Jesus and the Holy Spirit? From the prayers, it would seem that their distinction comes about by way of their actions, not by their relations to each other or how they come forth from the First Person. But, of course, this runs the risk of either tritheism or modalism. Traditionally, Christians have taken extreme care to maintain that (in some way) all three Persons act even when we speak of just one Person undertaking an act (e.g. if the Father creates, we cannot say that the Holy Spirit does NOT create). This is a primary point of Gregory of Nyssa’s On “Not Three Gods”; unity of operation practically is the definition of common deity.
Second and more strikingly, it is not clear if there is a “First Person,” the One traditionally called Father. Is Jesus God? Is the Holy Spirit God? Are we to infer when God is used at the beginning of the eucharistic prayers, that we are referring to the Father? There is also nothing that really precludes a “binitarian” theology in the prayers. Without the language of Father or Unbegotten, we are left with the more generic term God along with Jesus/Word/Wisdom/Child and Holy Spirit. There is nothing that really clarifies if there is a third Person besides Jesus and the Holy Spirit to whom the prayer is addressed, or whether the prayers asserts that there is God who is Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I honestly doubt that this is the intention of the text’s authors. But the problem is the construction doesn’t rule out this interpretation.
In short, it is simply not clear what kind of Trinitarian theology is embedded in these eucharistic prayers. Even a reference to Christ as “who was and is and is to come” — this does not preclude a Christ created by God before the rest of creation. The lack of language that clarifies each Person’s relationships to the Others (which, in traditional theology, is bound up with who each Person is — i.e. Jesus is the eternal and Only-begotten Son of the Unbegotten Father, whose union and love is constituted eternally by the Holy Spirit) means that a great deal about the God to whom we are praying is quite unclear. Neither neo-Arian subordinationism, modalism, “binitarianism,” bitheism, or tritheism are necessarily ruled out by the linguistic constructions of EOW1.
First, I noted already a number of times where parts of the 1979 BCP that spoke clearly of the Trinity and their relations were removed (principally, the opening acclamation in ordinary time and optional final blessing, and the absence of Father and Son language). None of the 1979 eucharistic prayers say much about the Holy Spirit, particularly in terms of the Spirit’s relation to the Father and the Son. They all use the Father/Son language, Prayers B and C using it the least.
The second part of the answer concerns the wider context. First, the 1979 communion rites presume the use of the Nicene Creed on every Sunday. Add to this that for most of the year, a Trinitarian opening acclamation and blessing is used, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed, and most places also sing the Gloria in excelsis (the Te Deum would do just as well). Within this wider context, then, the 1979 rite as a whole speaks classical Trinitarian theology, regardless of which of the 6 Eucharistic Prayers are used.Thus, the answer is, “Yes,” these various positions that could be read into the EOW1 rite are excluded by the 1979 rites as a whole.
Much of the approach of scholars like LaCugna, however, has been soundly challenged by scholars such as Lewis Ayres, Michel Rene Barnes, Sarah Coakley, and Khaled Anatolios. They have shown clearly shown on historical grounds that the concern of the Fathers was with a coherent account of the whole of the Scriptural witness. These debates, in short, were not philosophical but scriptural. They were debates about the exegesis of the Bible, and one of the main questions was how to speak in such a way as to preserve what the Scriptures say and then how to make sure that everyone agreed on the definition of the terms employed. The conclusion was that certain non-Scriptural terms (e.g. homoousios, hypostasis, and Theotokos) were necessary in order to preserve the clearest account of what Scripture says.
The reason that the Episcopal Church must find a different way to address the feminist concerns I outlined in my first post is that, despite the claim of SCLM’s principle that “the truth of the Gospel which proclaims Jesus as the Son of God the Father and as Lord is essential,” the EOW1 rite as a whole, speaks a fundamentally contrary word. EOW1 speaks a de facto different Trinitarian theology. Let me be clear: I do not wish to imply in any way that the SCLM is trying to introduce a new Trinitarian theology. Rather, I want to suggest that the Trinitarian implications of their revisions take a back seat to the stated goal of removing gendered language for God. My reading is that they have not considered carefully enough the wide-reaching implications of these revisions in Trinitarian theology, Christology, soteriology, and beyond.
The very existence of this resource also raises further questions about the very act of making liturgical choices between different options. This matter was raised in earnest by the 1979 BCP, which in providing a host of options gave the parish priest a whole series of liturgical choices to make without providing any criteria by which one is to choose between these options. EOW1 pushes this to a whole new level. What are laudable or suspect reasons for choosing to incorporate some, all, or none of the aspects of this resource into public worship? As I’ve already noted, the way the EOW liturgies are defended in the collections of essays usually assumes that EOW1’s revisions are imperative ones. And yet, every priest and bishop is left to make this decision without any reference to other parishes or bishops, inside or outside the Episcopal Church. Until we address the theological and ecclesiological issues embedded in the practice of individually choosing this or that rite based on our own constructed criteria, we need to carefully consider this approach to liturgical revision.
For “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24). Language like “Wisdom” and “Word” for Jesus, and the maternal imagery in Scripture, need not be cut off from our public liturgy. But it cannot increase at the expense of the terms by which Jesus invites us to join him in calling God “Our Father.” Jesus “issues an invitation which we can of course refuse, but whose terms we cannot define: they are defined by the persons of the Trinity themselves” (B. Marshall, Trinity and Truth, p 15).
- The Preface to the first American BCP states, “… this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.” Does what we see in EOW1 signal a departure from this doctrine, discipline, and worship. If so, in what respects?
- Bishop Frank Griswold, chair of the SCLM at the time EOW1 was written, writes the following in the Preface: “At all points along the way in the process of selection and development of texts the question has been asked: Is this text consistent with the Trinitarian and Christological formulations which we, as Anglicans, regard as normative and the ground of our common prayer?” Does what we see in EOW1 signal a departure from these conciliar formulations? It is also worth asking whether such changes would render null our agreed statements with other Christian families, most notably with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, and the Oriental Orthodox Churches (think especially of the recent statement on Christology). Does this matter to the Episcopal Church?
- Are the theologies in EOW1 and those of the Nicene Creed in tension? If, as is proposed, the Nicene Creed is removed, the Creed will not be able to serve as a hermeneutical lens. In light of what Prof. Meyers said in her lecture about the need to “return to ‘more concrete images of the Bible and the liturgy’ in place of the arcane philosophical language of the fourth-century creeds,” does this place Scripture and the Creed in a relationship of antagonism?