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On liturgy and the General Convention

July 21, 2012

WE QUITE agree with the words, reposted below, of the Revd Stephen Gerth, rector of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Times Square. Although we think the General Convention cruelly disfigured Morning and Evening Prayer in 1979, the current Prayer Book is basically sound, reasonable, and Scriptural. More than that, it is common, which is to say general. Why should the prayer “For a Person in Trouble or Bereavement” (p. 831) not be good enough for any person, in any kind of trouble, at any time? It is a conceit to believe one’s own trouble greater than the unknown and unfathomable afflictions of his neighbor, and a Church that panders to such vanity is a church that is missing the point entirely.


Fr. Gerth.

The Weekly Angelus

Volume XIV, Number 35
July 22, 2012

From the Rector: Liturgical Notes and Thoughts

The General Convention has approved the use of the original 1979 Prayer Book lectionary by parishes and institutions who have their bishop’s permission to use it. Bishop Sisk has given his permission, effective immediately, for the use of the 1979 lectionary in our diocese. We will return to the original lectionary beginning this Sunday, July 22.

My reason for the return is very straightforward: the 1979 lectionary was developed for use with the Eucharistic Rite of the new Prayer Book; the new Episcopal edition of the Revised Common Lectionary was not—and it shows in many ways. The 1979 lectionary is not perfect by any means, but it was shaped by and for Episcopal Church worship. We have the opportunity to use it and I think we should. Thank you, Bishop Sisk.

The General Convention also authorized continued “trial use” of Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. In my opinion, that’s an unfortunate decision. That volume reflects a real diminution in theological thinking and standards from the church’s previous work in this area. If there is a good side to this decision for Saint Mary’s, it has motivated me to work with my colleagues, including Deacon Mary Jett, to develop a statement of theological principles for deciding what lesser feasts will be observed here.

We will be looking at the guidelines the church used to produce Holy Women, Holy Men and those that produced the different editions its predecessor, Lesser Feasts and Fasts. In addition, it will be a good excuse for me to look again at The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity (2011) by Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson—an important survey and analysis of current scholarship on the veneration of martyrs and Mary.

Other things: when I read it in the newspaper I simply didn’t believe the Episcopal Church had authorized “A Burial Office for a Beloved Animal.” It turns out we did. It makes me cringe to wonder what will end up in the next edition of The Book of Occasional Services. Maybe that volume will include the prayers authorized in 2006 for “transitions” in human life, prayers for occasions like “Moving from a Crib to a Bed” and “Learning to Ride a Bike”—seriously, I’m not making this up. You can now even buy a copy of Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passages from Church Publishing—their webpage actually says the volume is “long awaited.” Really? Again, I’m not making this up.

I don’t think we Episcopalians need to look any further than the Book of Common Prayer and our regular Sunday worship for help in shaping our own prayers. I think the Church would be better off if our Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music turned away from proposing liturgical rites and began again to be a source of serious liturgical study. When study was the agenda for the then Standing Liturgical Commission in the 1950s and 1960s, we produced what many observers consider by far the best of the revised liturgies of its time, the 1979 Prayer Book.

I don’t think we need the General Convention to develop rites for every eventuality in our lives. I certainly can remember crying when the family dogs in my childhood died. I have been present to try to help comfort people who have lost pets that were dear to them. We don’t need a burial office to bury an animal. When a child learns to ride a bike without training wheels, she or he needs an ice cream cone, not a liturgy. When I sit with my mother who has Alzheimer’s and who can manage little more than what I think is a smile of recognition and a kiss when I see her, the only prayer I want to say with her is the one I know she has known as long as she has been alive, the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t need anyone to tell me that.

Stephen Gerth

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jules permalink
    July 21, 2012 09:22

    Well said, Father! Personally, I detest “Holy Women, Holy Men.” As far as I can tell, the compilers decided that “pious and devout” equals “holy,” and one doesn’t even need to open the dictionary to know that that’s not the case.

    How else – other than bald-faced political correctness, and I’m trying not to go there – do we explain the inclusion of people who are known only for scholarly work or founding schools or composing music? Not that they weren’t fine people, indeed people of faith; but “holy”? That’s pushing it.

  2. August 1, 2012 09:09

    Jules, it’s worse than that. There is no sense in which agnostics and atheists like John Muir and W.E.B. Dubois could possibly called pious or devout, but both of them are listed.

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