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]