Friday, January 8, 2010

In Defense of Rite One, Prayer I

At my defense, my committee members were astonished that I gave such a thorough defense of and plug for the Rite One Eucharistic Prayer in its composition and christology as well as for its regular use.

Was it because I reject Rite Two?: No. Actually, I am rather fond of Rite Two.

Was it because I reject theories of the Atonement other than a reformed Anselmian notion: No. As I explained drawing on David Bentley Hart and others, Anselm--and thus, Cranmer's, Atonement theory has more in common with Patristic Incarnational (and also, Creedal) notions of Atonement than has often been recognized. Many scholars in revisiting St Anselm have noted that his "theory," for Anselm's work is deployed by many in ways he would not recognize or own, could be read as a short version of classic Patristic christologies with their emphasis on the Incarnation. It is a shorthand for such. Remember, as I argue again and again, we cannot divide out the Incarnation from the Crucifixion in Patristic modes of thinking. The latter is supreme highlight of the former, especially in the mind of St. Cyril of Alexandria from whom we inherit the communicatio idiomatum. At any rate, I recognize that the Church catholic has never promulgated one theory of Atonement as the theory.

Was it because I reject contemporary English: No. I in fact reject notions that suggest somehow that present language is incapable of the divine because too ugly, etc. To suggest that contemporary language is incapable of the divine is to reject our own reformed history. But I will suggest that liturgical contemporary English need not be the same as the way I speak on the street. Nonetheless, I am aware of the resonance required for understanding English literature. To not know the Authorized Version, the Book of Common Prayer pre-1979, and Shakespeare among others is to be at a grave disadvantage. My Lutheran high school English teacher taught me that, and because of her insistence that we know these, I can read English literature with a depth others may not be able to do.

I was born in 1974 and not raised Episcopalian, though my mother flirted with our becoming so when I was age nine. I have never known 1928 except as a book of prayers. And remember, I have only ever experienced Rite One once in my entire life, and that botched by the removal of the Prayer of Humble Access, one of those superb Cranmerian compositions.

So perhaps it is nostalgia?: No. It is because I recognize christological motifs in the prayer that are vital to retain and because to sideline Prayer I is to sideline a vital piece of our inheritance of the reformed Sarum.

My first concern is that there are a number of priests in The Episcopal Church committed to never using Rite One with all of its Anselmian, and therefore, radically Benedictine and feudally-subverting as well as Cranmerian christological riches. Remember the Enclosure controversies were still an issue in Cranmer's time. Economic feudalism still a reality. Prayer I testifies to Christ quite powerfully within its context and at heart is this Anselmian notion that reforms and subverts abuses of feudal relations--Christ's merits alone save. This is an important part of our inheritance and one that resonates with Archbishop Tutu's own context when he resists Apartheid by declaring we need produce nothing to be loved by God. Prayer I subverts our consumerist notions as much as it subverts feudal abuses.

Being the Body, our ancestors in the faith bequeath to us a criticism of ourselves that we dare not ignore. Thus, to refuse to use Rite One at all is hardly a Common Prayer spirit in which all, priest and people, are guardians of our liturgical life and pray-ers of its riches and its criticisms of us. Indeed, to remove this prayer from use altogether is to rob pewsitters and impose a form of clericalism that is rejected by the Common Prayer spirit.

My second concern is canonical. In other of our prayers, other riches of christology are to be found, from the East, from our debates over the Word as Creator (think Maurice and Lux Mundi), Apostolic Tradition, Julian inheritance, etc. What we have developing in the 1979 Prayer Book (and EOW) then is a canon-in-the-making, by which riches of our christological arguments are to be found in holding together all six (nine if we count EOW) of the Eucharistic Prayers. To pull out Prayer I, for it is this prayer that receives most villification, is to cut off a corrective to the others. It would be like pulling out James and Revelation from the Scriptural Canon, something we Anglicans rejected though other Reformers tried to do just that.

My third concern is christological and thus corrective. The Rite One prayer is very honest about God's mercy in Christ and of our being sinners. I suspect that it is the latter point that receives most objection--we are sinners. Given what I see around me daily and in myself reflectively, that we are sinners seems a fairly honest assessment of who we are before God. Yet, underlying the seemingly penitential thrust on our part is actually an incredibly generous foundation, a Deity who not only names us sinners but calls us children and friends. Think Lancelot Andrewes' sermons on sacrifice and George Herbert's "Love (III)" with recommendation that all read Stephen Syke's analysis of the piety of that poem in light of classic Anglican Canon(s) of which Prayer I is a descendant. The prayer begins in mercy and ends in mercy. We find ourselves held by a merciful Father in Christ. The reason, I explained to the committee, that I so strongly defended Rite One is that this "hard-nosed" anthropology names our times and what my generation and those younger see. It names sin squarely without denigrating either creation or us. Here is what we see: Environmental degradation, greed, poverty, etc. My own christological (and thus, theo-anthropological) sense must attend to the reality of all creation at praise with the wonder of the thought of such things as dolphins being considered by researchers as non-human persons and at the same time to the sewage spilling in the creek in park near our home, must attend to the wonder of Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Maximillian Kolbe and to the hell of Bergen-Belsen.

The point is this, Prayer I is very clear that God saves, and that God does so through means of Himself, namely, Jesus Christ. That God bears our sins and undoes sin. That we cannot save ourselves. And this all goes counter to some of current christological tendencies in our Church that want to understand Jesus Christ as only teacher whom we follow (which implies the possibility of our saving ourselves through moral behavior--left or right, or enlightened spiritual practices. In short, does not want to deal with sin.); a human child (and thus, person) who was enlightened (and thus, so can we be) rather than a Divine Person become human being who enlightens the whole world by means of Himself; and a God who changes us primarily or only by drawing us to himself and thus by our own efforts rather than He who is Salvation once-for-all and works out that Salvation in us by grace through faith in Him. These tendencies cropping up bend toward the boogies Pelagianism, a version of Arianism, and finally Moral Influence as a singular soteriology rather than a theory appropriate to our appropriation of Christ who has saved once-for-all in His Person. These tendencies do not want to deal with a Person outside ourselves--i.e., objective Reality and Presence, and the intersubjective relationship of God-with-us. Instead, they tend to the subjective and focus on ourselves.

All of these subtly twist emphases Anglicans have maintained as reformed yet catholic: that as Logos, Christ is Teacher because He is the Pattern for all existence and for human life as brought into conformity with God's will and is particularly so for us as revealed God in the flesh; that God's self-identification with us in the Incarnation dignifies human persons, creation, and all flesh such that though sin goes all the way down (affects every bit of us) we are wounded rather than depraved and thus redeemed by Him and able to be healed in Him (not of ourselves); that salvation (and growth in God) is rightly about our participation by pure gift in God's own life and thus we are called to live in the relational/personal way of that Life who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

My analysis is this: I believe the 1979 revisions made a mistake in not providing for a contemporary translation of the prayer in Rite Two, which would not have been without precedence. After all, updating of the language of the prayer has occurred before our time. The last changes were minor, but English has changed a lot since then. Leaving the prayer and others only in Elizabethan-Jacobean-esque English made more easily the sidelining of what comprises a sizeable inheritance from our ancestors in faith.

Hence, the suggestion, as Derek rightly espies that Rite One was for those who could not get with Rite Two. Rite One was largely relegated to the early morning service with the hope of its dying. That may have been the original intent, but as Derek reminds thirty years out, Rite One is ensconced as ever and beloved of many of the younger.

Further, Rite One should not be relegated to the early service in such a way that Episcopalians have no experience of its riches. To avoid Rite One altogether is to pray less than Common Prayer. Pewsitters should be in riot over this as much as Maurice reminds us that The Apostles' Creed is our defense against clerical theological tyranny.

From the close of my dissertation:

The scuttlebutt I have heard ever since I became Episcopalian ten years ago has been about retiring Rite One and moving beyond Rite Two. Enriching Our Worship represents in part how this might be fleshed out. This runs counter to the canonical method that is our strength as provided for in 1979. I would argue that retiring the former and moving beyond the latter without paying careful attention to what each teaches us will leave us the poorer. Such a decision will leave us unable to offer the sort of critique that is not only prophetic but practicable, not only joyous but critical. We need both movements, that of Rite One and that of Rite Two, that of utter dependence on God and emboldened thanks, if Episcopalians are to honor who Christ has been and is for us. Together these, and I would argue that portion of EOW that takes up creation as Christ’s work, provide firm ground upon which to not only criticize society, but our own grasping after satisfaction through production and consumption. To not only set ourselves apart from “out there,” but to recognize where we too are often worldly-captured. To downplay any portion leaves us unprepared for our ecological age.

Maybe it is my Benedictine formation or my love of the subversive theology of St. Anselm of Canterbury and appreciation of Thomas Cranmer’s catholic concern, but I do not want us to lose the substance of the old prayer-tongue. Rite One has found some favor among those my age and younger if anecdotal remarks have even some modicum of accuracy. The sense of transcendence and language somewhat ancient and tradition long-tested surely draws. But I would suggest it is something more than this. We, who see these looming crises not as something future but as something we are already inheriting, recognize that another orientation and new practices rooted in this are needed. What better place to begin than on Christ’s merits alone or in modern idiom, “God’s unearned love in Christ”? This frees us to question a sociality and society based in exploitation, production, and consumption for meeting the gaping maw of unending dissatisfaction.

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