Formal language of Rite I reflects a more distant God

Link to Rite I:Book of Common Prayer – Rite One

Link to Rite II:Book of Common Prayer – Rite Two

Book of Common PrayerIn the 1979 revision of the American Book of Common Prayer (BCP), we compromised between our grand tradition of formal language that goes back to the first prayer book and the King James Bible and that has defined English as a language. The 1979 BCP provides liturgies in the contemporary language of American Modern English (Rite II) and keeps the earlier Rite I (still with reforms) with a more classical grammar and syntax. Rite I sounds traditional and Rite II sounds current. The deeper reforms are less evident to the ear.

Our prayer book continues to be the arbitrator of theology and prayer and language, and the 1979 prayer book represents a profound shift in our thinking as well as our grammar. The theology is profoundly shaped by the liturgical studies of the 20th century and their careful attention to early church practices. These sources also shaped reforms in many mainline and continental churches, including the Roman Catholic Vatican II in the late sixties. The reforms centered around baptism as full entry into the life of the church and the Eucharist as centered in both the historical meals of Jesus’s ministry and the seder and passover of his Israelite faith.

bread and wine (1)The study of the Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, mass, or communion has profoundly changed the organizing metaphor at the center of our worship. There was a time not so long ago when coming to church meant coming to the border of heaven where the Holy God was just over there, past the priest, and we were gathered with him for Him on the border of the Holy. The proper response to that holiness was silence, reverence, awe. You would never receive Communion unworthily.

As we have set the service of worship in the context of Jesus’s meals with Pharisees and tax collectors, prostitutes and disciples, our central image at the heart of our worship has profoundly changed.

We now understand ourselves as gathering at the table with Jesus and his disciples and everyone else, including the clergy. We are all here to hear the story of our salvation and celebrate in this meal of inclusion. Here we see God’s grace enacted in history and in hope of the meals foretold by the prophet Isaiah. We are a family, God’s royal priesthood, gathered from the four corners by the winds of the Holy Spirit. We are made one in the body of Christ. The proper response is welcome, checking in with each other, joy, companionship, and celebration. No one receives such grace worthily. It is unimaginable that we would exclude anyone.

Rite I preserves the first image for many, and Rite II gives language to the second image. Our worship is profoundly changed, far beyond the word choices and tweaks from “understandeth” to “understood.”

Some grieve the loss of reverence, awe, and silence of Rite I. Others celebrate worshiping with joy and sharing God’s love using Rite II. It is important to hold both with tender hands of compassion. We are called to be God’s family, but holiness is a clear part of that call. We cannot love others if we are not trustworthy, shaped by a holiness of life that will allow for open hands and clear consciences.

Our worship at Grace Church, based on Rite II,  seeks to balance the formality of the liturgy and traditional vestments (robes and fabrics) with the joy, celebration and familiarity of family and friends who know Jesus’ power and resurrection. Come discover with us the reverence and relevance of our old faith made constantly new.