In which she knows what she likes.

The liturgy for the imminent installation of the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church has been posted. I have read it with wonder, hope, and delight. You may peruse it here, for as long as the Cathedral folk keep it up and available.

I posted this on Facebook and commented, “This liturgy feels like the absolute best of our church to me.” I may also have confessed to getting a little verklemmt.

This evening I got thinking about the spectrum of liturgical sensibilities within the Episcopal Church. We Episcopalians have deep and powerful feelings about our ways of worship, and there are wide divergences amongst us in our liturgical tastes and convictions. I’m sure there are people out there who look at this liturgy and feel dismayed, alienated, confused or scornful. So I thought I would hop back onto my neglected blog and try to put a few words to why I find this installation liturgy so powerful and lovely.

I see this as well-designed Episcopal liturgy because is patterned and sacramental. It has the right parts, arranged in a graceful and effective order.

I see this as well-designed Episcopal liturgy because it is both familiar and fresh. Some of the hymns and liturgical texts are deeply familiar. Some are brand new to me. The familiar grounds and connects me, while the fresh stirs me up, opens my eyes and heart and mind to the new things beginning here.

I see this as well-designed Episcopal liturgy because it is eclectic and diverse – the musical styles representing multiple eras and cultures, the many voices and even languages – and yet coherent. It doesn’t feel fragmented to me; it flows smoothly, each piece adding to the whole.

Thinking about all this reminded me of the list of characteristics of Episcopal liturgy that is buried deep in the 2012 Blue Book. I actually think it’s rather a good list; I offer it for your consideration. It is abstracted and lightly adapted from Handout F (page 273) of the study materials that accompanied “I  Will Bless You and You Will Be A Blessing”, the liturgical and theological materials for blessing same-sex unions that were approved at our 2012 General Convention as Resolution A049:

“…. Nearly as important is that the proposed liturgical materials embody a classically Anglican liturgical ethos and style. Recognizing the varying notions of what makes public prayer recognizably Anglican, the task group identified these qualities:

  • It resonates with Scripture and proclaims the gospel.
  • It is rooted in Anglican theological tradition.
  • It has high literary value; it is beautiful according to accepted and respected standards.
  • It uses the recurring structures, linguistic patterns, and metaphors of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
  • It is formal, not casual, conversational, or colloquial.
  • At the same time, [the liturgical text] must resonate as natural speech in contemporary ears. A religious or sacred tone must be achieved without the use of arcane or antiquated words or patterns of speech.
  • It is dense enough to bear the weight of the sacred purpose for which it is intended.
  • It is metaphoric without being obtuse.
  • It is performative: that is, it effects what it says.
  • [The liturgical text] must be what it purports to be—liturgical prayer—and not didactic or polemical statements in the guise of liturgy.”*

By all these standards, from where I am standing, the Installation is finely-crafted Anglican liturgy. May it fill the hearts and exalt the spirits of all those who attend and view from afar.

* That last one, there, is a particular temptation of progressive Episcopalians composing new liturgical texts. It drives me nuts when I see it, and I try very hard not to do it myself. Don’t try to manipulate or shame people with liturgy. Just don’t. 

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