If we do not take into account the massive change since the 1970s from “Thou” to “You” in addressing the Lord our God, and we look instead at the change, or omission, of verbs in public liturgy and hymnody then we notice some rather important changes in doctrine and devotion.
What verbs do I have in mind? Let us start with three, realizing that there are others, not to mention a series of nouns, adjectives and adverbs which belong to the same category and ethos.
(a) To beseech. This verb occurs in both Morning and Evening Prayer, the Holy Communion, and many times in the Litany, and in the Collects for the Christian Year and for special occasions. It has the meaning of asking someone (who is above one in the hierarchy of social order) urgently and fervently for help in a way in which he alone can do. It was what suppliants did before emperors, feudal lords, and judges. And so in religious use it well fits the unworthy and undeserving sinner urgently and fervently asking the Almighty Father in the Name of Jesus, the Savior, for his unique, saving help.
(b) To beg. This verb is less frequent than “to beseech” but is nevertheless significant. For example, the “Prayer for all Conditions of men” ends, “And this we beg for Jesus Christ his sake.” It has the meaning of asking someone (who is in a position to grant a favor) earnestly and humbly for something. It is what millions have done at the side of the road and before those in authority. In religious use it well fits the sinner. who has no personal merit or righteousness, appearing humbly before God seeking mercy.
(c) To fear. This verb occurs frequently in the Old Testament and is not without a strong presence in the New Testament. It occurs often in the Collects and Prayers and is taught as a necessary Christian attitude to God in the Catechism. Throughout human history millions have feared (= had reverence for, and awe before, kings and emperors) and in religious usage, it well describes having profound reverence for, and overwhelming awe ,before the “Divine Majesty,” who is the Judge and Savior of mankind, and who is the God of both wrath and mercy.
Living as we do in societies where natural, civil and human rights are much in place, and thus the individual person is invested with rights, the notion of beseeching or begging for anything goes against the tide. Each of us, it is often assumed, also has a right to stand before God and to ask for his blessing: and if we “humbly kneel” as the old Prayer Book directs then we dishonor ourselves and the very rights and privileges that God has given us.
And, the major reason why “to fear God” is absent from modern Liturgy is, I suggest, because in a real sense we have “domesticated God” and made him to be the Deity who is primarily immanent and omnipresent and only secondly transcendent, holy and ineffable (which seems to be the opposite way round to the Bible and in classic liturgy). Further, in much feminist and liberation theology, historic classic Trinitarian Theism has altogether disappeared to be replaced by one or another form of panentheism or process theology; and such new forms of theism cannot tolerate the received liturgy and so look for new forms with a changed style, content and vocabulary.
One result of these tendencies in modern liturgy—Roman and Anglican— is that it has the character of both celebration and community. This can degenerate into community celebration, where the celebration is primarily of the community and the real sacrament is “the sharing of the Peace.” Another, is the dumbing-down of the offensiveness of sin to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—and with this dumbing-down there is naturally little emphasis on humble penitence and repentance, together with the complete loss of the biblical doctrine that the genuine confession of sins is the praise of the God of mercy and justice (thus part of true celebration). Yet another, where sin is minimized, is the minimal emphasis upon the “precious blood” and the once-for-all-atonement of the Lord Jesus at Calvary.
One major reason why I worked with the AMIA to produce and publish AN ANGLICAN PRAYER BOOK (2008) –from www.anglicanmarketplace.com-- was that it represented a serious attempt to keep the doctrine, piety and devotion of the historic Anglican Prayer Book (1662) in “contemporary” English. Even so, what to substitute for “beseech” and “beg” and “fear” was a problem never truly solved!
I worry that it is very probable that we know God (experientially and mentally) much less than we ought to, and could do, in the modern Anglican churches. The reason is simply because we have cut ourselves off from a large part of that saving knowledge basic to Holy Scripture, the classic BCP of the Anglican Way and the best hymnody of the Church—especially those parts which state the truth of the human condition and which set forth the glorious attributes of God, the LORD. In a sense, and this is a tragedy of the West in particular, we are not able to help ourselves because we are so fashioned in mind and heart by modern individualism and human rights that we find it exceedingly difficult even to hear the Word of the Lord when it speaks of (a) the depth and breadth of our sinfulness and (b) the glorious attributes of the holy LORD.
www.pbsusa.org www.anglicanmarketplace.com firstname.lastname@example.org March 6, 08