Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Revival of "traditional" language?

There began inside the Church in the late 1950s and moreso in the 1960s a major change in the way that English-speaking Christians addressed and referred to God the LORD.

The received form of language, the English dialect of prayer, was judged by leaders of social change to be irrelevant and outdated. They emphasized that God must be addressed in the same way that people are addressed and so they began to remove such pronouns as Thee and Thou with related words from the translation of the Bible and sacred texts as well as from public prayers. "Hallowed be thy Name" became "May your Name be holy."

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible from the 1950s and 1960s sought to preserve part of the received Dialect of Prayer, but it was the last of the modern Bible translations to do so.

Thus when the Episcopal Church set about the revision of the received Book of Common Prayer (1928) in the 1960s, it is not surprising that the Standing Liturgical Commission soon decided that much if not all of their productions had to be in what was being called "contemporary language." We may note that the Episcopal Church was deeply affected by the social revolution of the 1960s whose greatest effect was upon the types and classes of people who attended parishes of the ECUSA.

It is reported that all "traditional language" would have been removed from the projected new prayer book (published eventually in 1976) had not the then Presiding Bishop insisted that it also contain some services/rites in traditional language. However, when we examine the final product, the Prayer Book approved in 1979, we note two things:

Traditional language is only provided for Morning and Evening Prayer, for the Eucharist and for the Burial of the Dead (called Rite I). Significantly, the Psalter, Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony & Ordination Services are not provided in traditional language. The services themselves in traditional language are not identical with the services from the classic Prayer Book tradition (e.g., BCP 1928), but they are made to conform in basic respects to the new structure and doctrine of the Rite II, contemporary language and theology services.

This suggests, and experience since 1979 has confirmed, that the majority in the ECUSA General Convention wanted to phase out received traditional doctrine, piety and language, but were prepared to retain some of it in the short term for the older membership who after all were generous suppliers of funds! Since 1979 no traditional language rite has been used at the General Convention Daily Service and very few if any bishops have chosen voluntarily to use such in parochial visitations or diocesan meetings.

And we may add that unlike England and Canada (and other places) where the new Prayer Book existed alongside the traditional Prayer Book (BCP 1662), the ECUSA made the 1979 book a total replacement for the 1928 BCP. Thereby the classic source of the English dialect of prayer was removed in the USA.

The cumulative effect upon generally subservient parishioners over two decades and more of using only contemporary language rites for praying and singing psalms, baptizing and confirming children, and being married, is that the general mindset has conformed to the religion and doctrine of these new rites. Thus there has been a diminishing resistance in the ECUSA amongst religious and social conservatives to novel teaching on a wide range of topics, but especially to the doctrine of God, the Ministry and human sexuality. Now Deity can be addressed by any name and marriage between people of the same sex is acceptable!

However, the contemporary language and innovatory doctrine of the 1979 texts followed by many more novel and approved texts since then, have not won a complete victory in the ECUSA. Though some parishes still use the 1928 BCP and though fewer parishes are using Rite 1 now than in say 1990, there is a growing interest in what lies behind Rite 1, the authentic texts found in the classic Book of Common Prayer in its 1662 or 1928 editions. This interest is at its strongest amongst educated young people in the 20s and 30s who are beginning to take seriously what they call "the values" of their grandparents' generation.

The time has come for all who use Rite 1, because they prefer the traditional dialect of prayer, to move to using the texts from the classic BCP in order to preserve the Anglican Way in its classic form. When this is done creatively by churches they will find an increasing interest from young, educated people. Rite I is like having a second hand car when you can get a new one - the 1928 BCP - for the same price!

Also the time has come for those churches which now use the classic BCP to do so in such a way that it is recognizable to all that they are using this Liturgy for what it is and not drowning it in a variety of additions and extras. It is the classic Liturgy offered to the Father through the Son in the Spirit that will provide worship in the beauty of holiness.

Having said all this, I must also say that to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth is possible in contemporary language as long as the language serves the truth that is in Christ Jesus and not the values of the social revolution of recent times. But my point here is to do with the continued pastoral usefulness of traditional language as a way of addressing the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon MARCH 6, 2002

No comments: