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On authorization

Eileen Scully

At the recent National Worship Conference in Edmonton, a member of the Liturgy Task Force and I hosted a consultation with about thirty five conference participants who’d agreed to stay on for a few extra hours. We did a bit of an overview of the work currently in progress, and then listened to what the gathering told us about what were the critical issues for them with respect to liturgical texts. Some people had questions about the Revised Common Lectionary and the logic of using it. Many shared the concern that we are not doing well as a church, generally, to shape and form and educate leaders and planners of worship. These are two things I’ll write about in a separate blog. For now, I’m launching head-first into one of the most challenging areas, with an invitation.

A Bishop has the authority and responsibility, under their “jus liturgicum” to order the worship life of the diocese.  That means that the practices and the texts used are those approved by the diocesan bishop, or “Ordinary.” Across our church, our bishops have different approaches to this role and to the processes of approval. Some have permitted for use only those liturgical texts which have been authorized by the General Synod. The House of Bishops authorized Evangelical Lutheran Worship a year after it came out in 2004. Some bishops permit anything that has been authorized in any Province of the Anglican Communion. Some have permitted locally-created texts, including Eucharistic prayers and whole rites for eucharist and baptism. Others allow locally-created rites for special circumstances such as diocesan synods or clergy retreats. Some give a wide license to local parishes for experimentation. Others do not.

Now, there are ‘hard’ texts and ‘soft texts’ and a certain hierarchy of texts, and contexts for use of those texts, in terms of what can or ought to be modified or changed or dropped in local practice. For example, we have ecumenical agreements binding us to the use of the Trinitarian formula – in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit – in baptism. The text of a blessing prior to the dismissal is probably an area where most would agree to the possibility of using other language. The Litanies and other prayers in the BAS offer some decent formulae and language for the Prayers of the People, but these are often best crafted by wise and discerning worship leaders who know how to do this well. I’ve had to remind a lot of people – including myself – lately that the BAS contains a lot of rubrical notes that allow for creativity and new words (“in these or similar words” would be the most obvious). But there is general agreement that the Eucharistic prayer used is to be one of the (24 or 25 available to us) authorized texts, except where permitted by the bishop.

At a time when our energies are turned to revision and creation of new liturgical resources, it is particularly important that the Liturgy Task Force be able to access what prayers and whole rites (and music) have been crafted locally across our church. We’d like to craft a source library that can feed in to the work we’re doing, so that we are able to draw from the best of what has been created already by fine liturgists across the country.

We are aware that some of the things we are seeking will have been crafted locally and used with the permission of the bishop. We are aware that some things will have been crafted and aren’t being used because they have not received permission. We are aware that some who craft liturgical texts haven’t approached the question of asking permission, for a variety of reasons. We are not encouraging anything outside of what is agreed order and right procedure in any diocese. But we do want to collect all that is available, all that the church is willing to share with us from parishes, dioceses, theological schools, conference and retreat centres, and religious houses.

Please feel free to spark a conversation here about these matters, but, more importantly, please send your materials (with a note about context and authorship) to: [email protected]

With thanks.


Eileen Scully

About Eileen Scully

I’m serving the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada as Director of Faith, Worship, and Ministry and have a passion for how worship and learning form disciples for God’s mission in the world, and how that mission shapes our common prayer.

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3 Responses to On authorization

  1. It would be nice if we could get revised liturgy with the theological depth of content that the BCP and not the theology lite that we have with BAS.Our first concern should not be our biases but it should be pleasing to Him and inline with his word not with our preferences.We must remember that it is God we are worshiping not us so we should be more worried about His perceptive then what we like or dislike. I also have a pet peeve with the way that the lessons and the Psalms are edited leaving out.usually the parts that may speak of the wrath of God or some other attribute that the editor find offensive thus giving a skewed representation of God as Paul said when he was leaving the Ephesians ” I did not shrink from declaring to you the WHOLE counsel of God ” We do God a disservice when we only focus on one or two of His attributes rather then praising him for all his attributes not just the ones we like but also the ones we have trouble with. Sorry I sort of drifted from the topic but that is ,as I said ,just a little pet peeve I have.
    Thanks for letting me get that of my chest.

  2. As you’re speaking to the issue of authority on the local level, I’m a bit curious if you wouldn’t mind speaking to an issue of authority at the national level and to the Committee’s work. The Declaration of Principles for the General Synod on its face limits the jurisdiction of General Synod to the declaration of doctrines, “in harmony,” with the Solemn Declaration, which itself cites the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal and the 39 Articles of Religion as containing those doctrines.

    Does the Committee consider the Declaration of Principles authoritative in its review of these proposed liturgies?

    It is an interesting concept in light of some of what your article discusses in terms of the inclusion of liturgies that are not authorized which, bearing in mind that just because a liturgy has not been authorized or even submitted for authorization does not automatically mean it would necessarily be in any kind of conflict here. As I said, reading about this issue of authority at the local level simply made me curious about the question of authority at the national level.

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