For the next several weeks, the SCLM will present essays describing portions of our Blue Book report and explaining the thinking that shaped our conclusions. We invite your comments and hope that our conversation here will be beneficial to the legislative committees of General Convention.
This essay explains the SCLM’s response to constitutional and canonical issue that complicate the consideration of many liturgical issues, including some that will come before this convention. As Paul Fromberg writes: “Texts that churches use every Sunday, across the breadth of the Episcopal Church, have very tenuous constitutional and canonical authorization.” The SCLM believes it is time to create a more rational process for authorizing such texts. For that reason it recommends passage of Resolutions A062 and A063.
On the surface, the work of creating beautiful, meaningful liturgy may seem to be all about the poetic. Liturgists are like poets to the degree that we attempt to give a shape, in language, to all of our inchoate experiences of God. But there are also a lot of nuts and bolts to the work of crafting liturgy, and not just rules around grammar or rhetorical structure. The SCLM has found that, at the bottom of our toolbox, one of the most powerful tools we must pay attention to are the Constitution and Canons of the Church – vessels that hold the order of the church for the sake of our shared life.
In the current triennium, we discovered that the church has been working without a canonical net. Article X of the Constitution is clear about the authorized source of our common prayer – the Prayer Book. Canon II.3 is clear about the way to authorize new texts for our use. And neither one allows the kind of latitude the church has taken for granted for generations when it comes to liturgical materials. Texts that churches use every Sunday, across the breadth of the Episcopal Church, have very tenuous constitutional and canonical authorization.
Here’s the bottom line: The Constitution and Canons are silent on whether General Convention can authorize liturgies not included in the Book of Common Prayer, short of amending Article X. Further, it doesn’t authorize a process for authorizing liturgies. However, for at least the past 40 years General Convention has authorized The Book of Occasional Services, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Holy Women, Holy Men and Enriching Our Worship and voted to “make available” A Great Cloud of Witnesses. The General Convention also has approved liturgies that were not intended for inclusion in one of these compilations.
There are two ways of amending or making additions to the BCP. General Convention may vote to
- Amend the Table of Lessons and all Tables and Rubrics relating to the Psalms….
- Authorize for trial use…an alternative…to the established Book of Common Prayer or to any section or Officer thereof…
Beyond these two cases, there is no other constitutional or canonical provision explicitly authorizing General Convention to approve alternate forms for any of the liturgies or rites in the BCP.
There is language on page 13 of the BCP, in the section entitled “Concerning the Services of the Church,” which states, “… In addition to these services and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used.” This may provide authorization, although that is not explicitly the intended meaning.
With all of this in mind, the SCLM decided that one of the most important things we could do for the church during the triennium would be to propose legislation that clarifies – and legalizes – the many liturgies that we already use. We also considered that the way we all make common worship, Sunday by Sunday across the church, would be strengthened by providing a path to authorize the use of additional liturgies to supplement those in the BCP. This practice is already happening in many worshipping communities.
When we recognized that most congregations of the church were operating outside of the Constitution and Canons, the only logical step we could take was to propose amendment. We did debate the precise means for making changes. Among those we considered:
- Add a Canon to Title II stating that all liturgies and rites authorized by General Convention are available thereafter for use throughout the Church until the authorization is revoked or modified.
- Amend Article X to explicitly allow General Convention to authorize other forms for the liturgies and rites contained in the BCP—in other words, such forms don’t have to be for “trial use.”
- If desired, retain “trial use” under Article X as an alternative in addition to (2).
- Add a canon to Title II explicitly allowing General Convention to authorize liturgies and rites in addition to those in the BCP (such as Book of Occasional Services, Holy Women, Holy Men, and Enriching Our Worship).
- Add a canon to Title II explicitly allowing General Convention to authorize use of Prayer Books of other Provinces of the Anglican Communion and those of denominations with whom we are in full communion. General Convention would specify which ones.
- Amend the language in Rite III to allow for use of any Eucharistic Prayers authorized by General Convention.
- Clarify the extent of a bishop diocesan’s authority to approve other forms for BCP liturgies, or liturgies not in the BCP somewhere other than or in addition to the language on page 13 of the BCP.
- Add a canon to Title II setting out the process, conditions, guidelines, etc. for local experimentation with liturgy—those included in and not included in the BCP.
We believe that it is vital, for the sake of the church’s order, to amend Article X to add the following:
Authorize for use throughout this Church, as provided by Canon, alternative and additional liturgies to supplement those provided in the Book of Common Prayer.
And likewise, to amend Canon II.3 to add Section 7:
Whenever the General Convention, pursuant to Article X(c) of the Constitution, shall authorize alternative liturgies to one or more liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer or additional liturgies to those in the Book of Common Prayer, the enabling Resolution shall specify the precise texts thereof, and the terms and conditions under which such liturgies may be used.
We consider that we’ve landed on language that is straightforward, honest, and the least likely to perpetuate disorder in the Church.
As with all things liturgical, the development of texts has to be relational; the wisdom of many is always stronger than the opinion of the few. We believe that these amendments honor this principle of shared wisdom in the ordering of our common life.
We welcome your comments!