A liturgical review

Tuesday’s liturgy was rubricly flawless. I’ve been called a “prayer book fundamentalist” and I’ll take that as a badge of honor. So when things are done by the book — by the prayer book, that is — it gladdens my heart.

Alas, Wednesday’s liturgy was not so tightly done. To be sure, the text that was printed in the leaflet was rubricly flawless. The Presider, Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles, did several things that were not “by the book.” I’m sure most people thought it was great. I, however, do not tend to be the kind of presider who injects my own personality into liturgy when I can help it.

  • Bishop Bruno made up something for the offertory sentence (the book says to use one of the sentences provided, or another sentence of scripture).
  • He made up a communication invitation (the book says you have to use “The Gifts of God, for the People of God…” in Rite II). On the latter point, I sympathize. I don’t much like the communication invitation, preferring a closer translation of the Santa sanctis “The holy for the holy”. But every Sunday, I say what’s in the book, since there’s no provision for another invitation.
  • There was not silence at the fraction. That wasn’t the Presider’s decision, I suppose. Everyone likes to trample that one, but the book clearly says after the Fraction, “Silence is kept.” It is not optional. We are meant to have a moment to contemplate the enormity of what we are doing.
  • Finally, Holy Communion was not distributed the way the prayer book says to do it. First, the presider should receive in both kinds. Then the other clergy at the table. And then the people care communicated. Again, I don’t much like this, but we do it that way every Sunday, because I don’t think I have the right to change these things.

Why do I mention all this? Not because I take particular or gleeful pleasure in finding errors. Mostly because one day was just right, and the next day had some “issues.” Both days could have been done precisely according to the forms appointed by the Book of Common Prayer. None of the errors particularly detracted from the liturgy for most of those in attendance, I suspect. Many people who were there probably even enjoyed some of the things Bishop Bruno added, and may have even found them more spiritually edifying than the words in the prayer book. But in a world in which the church is accused of coming off its moorings, I wanted a few people to know that at least one blogger noticed these things and lamented a tight, prayer book liturgy.

I am quite liberal on social matters, but my ecclesiology and liturgical sense are quite catholic. I do not see it as within my realm or my right — or even a bishop’s realm or right — to innovate on Sundays, principal feasts, and these major occasions. (Experimental communities, non-principal services, academic communities, and many other contexts may be suitable for this kind of approach, so long as it is thoughtful, well articulated, and consciously related to the Anglican stream of liturgical life.)

It should be noted that the music has fantastic again — nicely varied and very well done. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon was thought-provoking, well delivered, and compelling. Mostly, this was a good liturgy where the Word was proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly celebrated.

Let’s hope that future liturgies here are as good as the first two days!

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5 Responses

  1. These sorts of posts gladden my heart. Just knowing that there are other “prayer book fundamentalists” out there, who are that way on ecclesiological and liturgical grounds (rather than mere orneriness or snottiness), makes me feel better.

  2. Bryan Owen says:

    I, too, have been accused of being a ‘Prayer Book fundamentalist,’ a charge which I willingly embrace for ecclessiological and liturgical reasons.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Scott.

  3. Peter Carey says:

    Amen, amen, amen!

    And I love the Postulant’s and Bryan Owen’s comments as well!

    Keep up the great work!

    Peter Carey

  4. Fr Alexander says:

    Well, not having been there I can only go on the info you have supplied, Scott, but here’s my take:

    1. Offertory Sentence — your condemnation is a bit iffy here. The Rite II rubric says: “The Celebrant may begin the Offertory with one of the sentences on page 376, or with some other sentence of Scripture” (p. 361). Said rubric doesn’t forbid the celebrant from saying something else; it just gives these sentences (one of which is non-scriptural) as things that the celebrant *may* say. Moreover, on page 407, “before the Offertory” is identified as one of the places where “necessary announcements” may be made, one of which could conceivably be: “OK folks, it’s time to start the Offertory!” (or whatever Bishop Bruno said). Failing that, the rubric on p. 361 says that “During the Offertory, a hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung.” It’s a recognized liturgical principle that things that can be sung may also be said, so whatever Bishop Bruno said could well be covered as a “hymn, psalm, or anthem.” I could go on, but I think my point is clear. Rubrical fundamentalism has its limits.

    2. Communion Invitation — You are absolutely right on this one. Rite II gives no option but to say, “The gifts of God for the people of God.” (Rite I makes this optional, which I take as tacit permission to substitute another ancient Communion Invitation, namely the “Ecce Agnus Dei” … the liceity of which which we can discuss at another time.

    3. Likewise, you are absolutely right about the silence after the Fraction. My liturgics professor in seminary called this the single most violated rubric in the Episcopal Church. At S. Stephen’s, we most definitely observe several seconds of silence after the Fraction.

    4. I would love to know in what sequence Communion was distributed. In seminary, I wrote a research paper on the 1979 rubrics governing the distribution of Communion; and my conclusion was that the sequence of celebrant first, then clergy present in the sanctuary, then choir and acolytes, then congregation was not merely “what the Prayer Book says” but in fact what is authorized by the normative tradition of the Western Church. In other words, if a future edition of the Prayer Book were to authorize some other sequence of distribution, then that edition of the Prayer Book would be *wrong.* (This is why I am not a Prayer Book Fundamentalist, even though I am coming at these questions from the opposite direction from the do-it-yourself whatever-feels-good experimental liturgy crowd.)

    On the whole, it seems to me a good thing that the official liturgies at GC are in fact using the Prayer Book instead of something some clever liturgist made up for the occasion. That is a huge improvement over previous General Conventions, is it not?

    Pax tibi,


  5. Phil Snyder says:

    The only “innovation” I’ve ever suggested (and had implimented) to the BCP is that I recite the Great Commission each Sunday before the dismissal. I do not do it instead of the dismissal, but before it.

    At our congregation, I normally process out with the rest of the Altar Party, but then move up the side aisle and return to the place just before the chancel step. After the closing hymn is finished, I walk down the aisle reciting the Great Commission. I have it timed so that I finish just as I reach the back of the Church. I then say “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” (or another appropriate dismissal from the BCP).

    Phil Snyder