Sunday, July 31, 2011

What is happening to our prayer book?

Kiwi Anglicans are often flattered by rave reviews of our A New Zealand Prayer Book, though here on this site some less than enthusiastic comments have been made about that. Actually, whether it is a good, bad, indifferent, all of the above prayer book it is our prayer book and we (licensed clerical and lay worship) leaders in ACANZP have obligations to use it. Those obligations are matched by process in making changes to NZPB which acknowledges the need to have as much participatory buy-in to decisions as possible. To change even a word in NZPB requires a "twice round" of our General Synod making a decision, our diocesan synods confirming that decision, and the next General Synod re-confirming the decision.

Bosco Peters at Liturgy has raised into the open the possibility - not so far denied - that somewhere in the bowels of our church's administration and between-General Synods governance - a plan has been agreed to which would see the presentation of Collects in NZPB changed in the next printing of it (stocks are running low on this popular book) without going through the twice round process. I think I can understand the logic going on if, indeed, there is such a plan: previously our General Synod has received (but not sent on "twice round" process) a choice of collect for each Sunday in the RCL, now, perhaps, our GS Standing Committee thinks that enough to warrant printing the collects rather than pointing to them. Currently NZPB offers two lectionaries, a two year cycle, and a three year cycle (sort of RCL derived but ...*). For the former it supplies generally three collects; for the latter it simply points to a given Sunday in the two year cycle and leaves the choice of collect to the minister (e.g. today, 18th ordinary Sunday, Year A = "Collect of Lent 4", same Year B, and Year C = Pentecost 4).

Here is the problem: when three or so collects are given there is a high probability that at least one will be satisfying in respect of theology and liturgiology (i.e. the classic character of collects being Trinitarian in structure and simple in making just one request). Conversely there is a high probability that at least one collect will be sophisticated nonsense. Constitutionally we should not place our licensed leaders of worship in the position of being obligated to pray nonsense prayers.

Today actually is quite a good example of the problem of the varying quality of our collects (that is, following the three year cycle within NZPB and being pointed to the Collects for Lent 4, p. 578):

Heavenly Father,
you see how your children hunger for food,
and fellowship, and faith.
Help us to meet one another's needs of body, mind and spirit,
in the love of Christ our Saviour.
I think this is a nonsense collect: no one can meet another's needs of 'mind and spirit'; 'food, and fellowship and faith' as a trio are not straightforwardly cross-matched to 'body, mind and spirit.'

O God, giver of life and health,
your Son Jesus Christ has called us
to hunger and thirst to see right prevail;
refresh us with your grace
that we may not be weary of well-doing;
for the sake of him who meets all our needs,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
This is a well written collect, pivoting around the simple and straightforward request 'refresh us with your grace', though (like all collects here) missing any reference to the Holy Spirit, but, nevertheless, standing firm in the tradition of Anglican collects through the centuries.

God of the hungry,
make us hunger and thirst for the right,
till our thirst for justice has been satisfied
and hunger has gone from the earth.
This verges on nonsense, but otherwise is banal. Why is God the 'God of the hungry' and not, say, 'God of the hungry and victims of injustice' or 'God of justice' given that the prayer is more concerned for righting injustice than for ending hunger? The prayer reads well as a set of words flowing through themes of hunger, justice and satisfaction but on closer inspection it is "all about us" and not about those who suffer hunger and injustice: it only asks "make us hunger and thirst for the right" and thus makes significant presumption that when that prayer is answered we will be well on the way to ending hunger and injustice ... speaking just for myself and not for others, I would like God to be less reliant on me solving the immense difficulties of the world, but I would be keen to join with God in God's work in the world.

Incidentally, I see that on closer inspection of our Lectionary published for 2011, the direction re the collect to be used today is very specific: 4:3 is directed to be used.

Hmm ... I hope I won't be forced into canonical rebellion today!

All in all: absolutely agreed, for my part, we need some basic revision to our prayer book re sprucing up the collects, and also (see asterisk below) bringing our thre year cycle into line with our published annual lectionaries. But the revision needs to be open for all and sundry to participate in, confident that the process will be governed by our constitution.

Why, if not careful, the next thing we know we could be agreeing to the Covenant, out of line with good process ...

*According to NZPB the epistle today is Romans 8:35-39, but in our Lectionary (RCL based) published for 2011, the epistle is Romans 9:1-5.


liturgy said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Peter

Just to expand on your points. In our province’s confused liturgical processes and products we do appear to do “twice round” things from time to time – but what results is not a formulary of our church unless so explicitly initiated by General Synod and hence cannot be printed in our Prayer Book – which is binding on us not just for running services but as a standard of doctrine under our Constitution.

The status of these non-formularies, been-twice-round things certainly confuses me.

An example is “Ashes to Fire”, resources for Lent and Easter. This is not a formulary but is following a “twice round” process. I do not understand its status – do you? Does anyone?

Currently under our flexible formularlies all within “Ashes to Fire” is permitted to be used. After this process I hope, I think, I’m not sure – but I don’t think we will be required to use it. Will we? [I am tending towards, in this confusion, to vote against such things as, as I said, even if it does not “pass” it is still permitted; and I have no real idea what it means to pass it – do you?]

What are the three different statuses of rites in schedules 1-3 in Canon VI Title G. Does anyone understand any of this stuff any more? Or ever did?

I have not heard that GSStanding Committee is involved or even knows about this. As I wrote on my site, Tikanga Pakeha Liturgical Working Group had no part in it, and does not concur with the change.

Next Sunday may be an even better example, Peter. Our Prayer Book (the formulary) points to Epiphany 6 (page 568); the lectionary points to Pentecost 6:2!

Page 568 has

Jesus, Saviour in storm,
when the waters of the deep are broken up,
when the landmarks are washed away or drowned,
come to us across the water.

It’s a nice enough prayer, with nice images and sentiments – but it is NOT a collect. A collect is the core prayer of the Ministry of Word and Prayer and like the core prayer of the Ministry of the Sacrament, the Great Thanksgiving, it is addressed to God the Father, through Christ in the power of the Spirit.

The one I would use next Sunday from that page is

Everloving God,
your Son was revealed that he might overcome evil
and make us heirs of eternal life;
grant that we who have this hope in us
may purify ourselves as he is pure,
that when he appears in power and great glory,
we may be made like him,
to the honour of your name;
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.

Many collects go back right into the early church and hence are shared with Roman Catholics and other denominations. This one was probably composed by Bishop John Cosin for the 1662 BCP revision.

Currently we have a choice.



Anonymous said...

I'm to the point that I'm somewhat surprised when "God" is even mentioned.

ed weston said...

How sad that the beauty of the 1662 has been replaced with 'that which borders on the banal". I am deeply saddened by the Anglican Church and how it seems to have lain down and rolled over! Such great Articles such a wonderful Prayer Book such rich traditions and I am not even an Anglican! How I will be become one though and as a dear friend wrote to me recently from Reform [UK] - pray! pray! pray! And who knows what God may yet accomplish if we are faithful? Reading "Moorman's" - History of the Church of England - I can only suggest that God has His purposes and we need to with Daniel set our face to seek God! Consider the prophets and what God did with those who were faithful to His prophetic word! Those of you who are in the Communion must remain for the Gospel's sake.

Anonymous said...

Just when you think you have reached bathos, you discover there are new shallows.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for comments, everyone.

To be fair to NZPB itself: it has been around since 1989; these collects, banal though they be, have been around in our life for over twenty years. However, in the wisdom of our then Prayer Book Commission, we were provided with choice, and no one was compelled to descend to the bathos and lower.

Now the issue is whether some canonical compulsion will exist to force us to do what we do not want to do, nor ought we to do.

liturgy said...


I think Peter’s point in his last comment needs to be underscored.

This is not about some crypto-movement to return to sixteenth/seventeenth century texts. They were excellent for their day. We need to do in our day what they did in theirs. To suggest that we cannot "enflesh" doctrine and prayer in contemporary English has itself serious doctrinal implications.

Furthermore, our prayers do not all have to be of Cranmer’s quality – there are places for simple prayers to Jesus as I indicated in my last comment. But the collect and the Great Thanksgiving (Eucharistic Prayer) have particular roles to play, just as the prayer ordaining a person (etc). To abandon the tradition that undergirds the structure and format of such prayers would require a serious debate. And in any such discussion I would stand firmly against abandoning this particular tradition. The church is aware of the seriousness of such decisions and so has a very clear, careful process, enshrined even in an Act of Parliament and our Constitution. We have not even begun such a debate. That is the issue. The prayers, banal or not, may be useful in private devotion or other appropriate contexts, but in the Eucharist the tradition has collects and Eucharistic Prayers addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The rare exceptions in Christian history have proved the rule.



Anonymous said...

So what's the point of a denomination having a Prayer Book? Is it to be a model of authorized church doctrine and prayer (lex orandi lex credendi) or a gallimaufry of the sublime and silly?

Bryden Black said...

I am implacably with you Bosco on this!

BTW: folk might like to check out C Frederick Barbee & Paul Zahl’s The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Eerdmans, 1999). For should we indeed wish to update our Collects into contemporary English, we have to, as Bosco suggests, parallel the ‘weight/glory’ of the Great Thanksgiving at least. This book comes to our aid, by probing the wonderful structuring of many of Cranmer’s Collects, adds history and then a Meditation on each, all of which we may surely emulate in our day ... perhaps?!

liturgy said...

Thanks so much, Bryden

I look forward to this book - I did not know of it, but the approach appears exactly where my interest lies.



Jenny chalmers said...

It seems to me that if there is to be an update/revision of nzpb then we need to sort out the dreadful baptism/confirmation service and sort out the parody of a psalter. Twenty years since publication seems to be good amount of time to do some revisions

Anonymous said...

Cranmer understood that every prayer contained in the BCP should truly express the reformed doctrine of the Church, just as much as the Creeds and liturgy. It was not intended to be an exercise in subjectivity or experimental "contested" theology. Many later Anglicans show they have little grasp of history or Cranmer's reformed theology.

Bryden Black said...

Tolle lege Barbee & Zahl!!!