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The Alternative Eucharist’s Alternative

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New Zealand’s Anglican worship agreements are difficult to find – and when you find them there is disagreement about what we have agreed to. They are confused and confusing.

In A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare there’s A Form for Ordering the Eucharist (pages 511-514). It is a list of things that should be included and a framework for producing a Eucharistic Prayer – for the Eucharistic Prayer, there’s a few fixed words which we have agreed we will use, but the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer is in your local hands. The Form used to be “for particular occasions and not for the regular Sunday Celebration of the Eucharist”. But that changed – now you can use it whenever you like.

But that wasn’t flexible enough.

So General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) authorised An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist. It’s a confused and confusing template, badly misunderstanding and misexpressing international liturgical scholarship, but it allows more than the Form for Ordering the Eucharist. It allows any Eucharistic Prayer authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion to be used here.

This year, GSTHW began the process of forbidding the use of such international Eucharistic Prayers. I struggle to understand what GSTHW thinks it is up to. The only thing that An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist added to our worship life was the agreement that we are allowed to use other Anglican Eucharistic Prayers. But GSTHW, in its wisdom, wants diocesan synods and hui amorangi to ratify that we remove that possibility but retain An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist (Statute 737). Please, members of GSTHW, explain to a slow learner like me why you didn’t simply rescind An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist? What does your suggested alternative An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist add to A Form for Ordering the Eucharist?! Other than even more confusion in our Church.

Some might think that GSTHW is beginning the process of trying to put the liturgical toothpaste back into the agreement tube – but GSTHW seems to think this is best done by increasing the number of empty unusable tubes around the sink so that we spend more time and energy trying to work out which tube is which than actually using the tube when we’ve found it. Some might think our worship pendulum has swung too far and needs to be drawn back in before it breaks off its anchor, but GSTHW seems to think that the best thing to do on our liturgical Titanic, with the iceberg in view, is to have us vote whether to bring the fork in with the course or have it already on the dining table…

Once upon a time we had one Eucharistic Prayer, memorised responses, and a single lectionary. We called it “common prayer”, and it was all found in one book, for everyone – regardless of whether they were lay or ordained. Unsurprisingly, this was called The Book of Common Prayer.

Then, we had some revision. We had one new Eucharistic Prayer, and one old one. And two lectionaries. We still called it “common prayer”. Soon there were more Eucharistic Prayers, more lectionaries, and different responses. We still referred to it as “common prayer”.

But it was not enough. Then we purposely made our responses different. But we had a limited number of options. The year was 1989.

But it was still not enough. Now we could make up everything, or borrow it from anywhere, except for, in the Eucharistic Prayer, a few words were fixed.

But it was still not enough. Now we could make up everything, or borrow it from anywhere, and use Eucharistic Prayers from anywhere else, including other frameworks for making up our own ones.

But still it was not enough. We changed our Constitution so that bishops could authorise anything that still couldn’t be done. But even then we could not agree whether
1) Bishops can authorise any rite except they must use the ordination rite as agreed
2) Bishops can only authorise rites for which no agreement (formulary) currently exists
3) Bishops can authorise any rite whatsoever, even if an agreement (formulary) currently exists. This includes bishops being able to ignore the agreed ordination rite and authorise their own rite to ordain.

And still, with a wry grin, and a bit of a grimace, we call it “common prayer”.

And, astute readers will notice, I haven’t even mentioned A Template for Anglican Worship (come in; do something; leave), nor our culture of ignoring with impunity (at every level) whatever we agree about worship at the highest levels.

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12 thoughts on “The Alternative Eucharist’s Alternative”

  1. So, Dear Bosco, what you mean here is apropos the Scriptural injunction; “Bring out of your (liturgical) treasures something old and something new” – but, please, not too many of them!

    I do agree that, if our provincial Prayer Book is to be of any theological propriety, it really should be quite clear on what is allowable in the parish situation – bearing in mind the peculiar circumstances of typical Anglican diversity of understanding of Eucharistic worship. Parameters need to be clearly set.

    Your obvious concern for liturgical order, Bosco – I have long thought – should be recognised by the Province. You should have a place on our Liturgical Commission!

    1. Thanks, Fr Ron.

      We (Christians) have accepted the “world’s” lens of difference and my right to satisfy my particular tastes. So we choose our supermarket, and within that choose the brand of each food item. We choose the denomination, and within that the brand that suits me (young families, charismatic, evangelical, with a praise band, at mid-Sunday-morning, for example). But we’ll still call that “common prayer”.

      I may be made quieter by being dragged inside the tent, but I don’t think there will be any effective change until there’s more than simply one voice saying there’s an issue here. This is about training, formation, study, and a change of culture. Conversion.


  2. Jonathan Streeter

    My introduction to the Anglican communion began about 30 years ago, when I joined a choir at an Episcopal church in Washington DC. At that church, they strictly used the BCP (no alternate language or prayers) and we did a lot of singing out of the standard-issue Hymnal (including “service music”). While I loved the service and the music, during the Great Thanksgiving the priest recited everything in a bored monotone as if he were regurgitating his multiplication tables. “… 6 times 8 is 48. 7 times 8 is 56. 8 times 8 is 64… by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction …. ” So I learned simultaneously about the joy and the horrors of traditional liturgy.

    Over the years in a wide variety of churches I have seen priests work hard to infuse life and meaning to the communion service, either through more passionate recitation of the standard forms, and/or through use of alternate language. There are times when I feel transported. And there are times when I count the number of pipes in the organ to stay awake.

    It’s a conundrum.

    1. Thanks, Jonathan. Good, important points. My work distinguishing prescriptive from descriptive I believe points towards a solution. And why is there not ongoing, positive critique and assistance to the clergy you are describing? On the other hand, I find a clergyperson’s imposition of their latest theological fad onto my spiritual life unhelpful. Blessings.

  3. To bend Proverbs 29:18 to my own purposes, “Where there is no (coherent) vision, the Prayer Book perishes.” It occurs to me, Bosco, that common prayer plays a strategic role in keeping the via media functioning healthily. What do you think?

    1. Thanks, Trevor. That is such an interesting perspective. I am currently teaching the Reformation, and we look at the 1549 Prayer Book (most “catholic”), the 1552 Prayer Book (most “protestant”), and the 1559 Prayer Book (Elizabethan Settlement/ “via media”). Your point is certainly borne out by that study. Blessings.

      1. I would venture, then, to predict that the “via media” – already under strain – will fail sooner rather than later unless all parts of our church recommit to common prayer.

        1. Thanks, Trevor. Yes – that is one dimension that we are losing, the both-andness of faith. I would say there are other dimensions also. I’m particularly concerned that we are individualising the relationship with God – which will also tend to eliminate the need for a saviour. There is also the danger of increasing clericalism; certainly the Pope has starkly highlighted the dangers in that. Blessings.

  4. I suspect that if I were to attend an Anglican Church in New Zealand I would be confused at the least or wonder

    While the CofE isn’t perfect, we have both the BCP and Common Worship to contend with, but we also have rules on what and what not is permitted.

    In Common Worship “A Service of the Word” there is a great deal of flexibility in what may be used, but also some basic rules about what must be included.

    Eucharistic services give a number of Eucharistic Prayers suitable for most occasions and several permitted alternative, but all authorized.

    Informal worship can be challenging, dependent upon which tradition you might be worshiping with, but generally even the most outgoing Pastors, Priests or Worship Leaders stick to a recognizable format, that can be within the Common Worship Format.

    Some of us are quite comfortable with the 1661 BCP as well, quite prescriptive, but during my LLM training, we were permitted to experiment with the formats for MP and EP, by including others things, from the BCP.’

    The first time I led Evensong in my Parish, I leaned on this freedom to include the alternative introduction from the 1928 prayer book. The looks that I got and the feed back afterwards, demonstrated that people, who are used to and who value traditional forms are quite uncomfortable with changes, not announced in advance.

    I was advised to stick to the traditional format, and leave adventurous innovation to Common Worship. I have to say, that while I disagreed, I took their point that they come for the familiar, not the innovative.

    So, being aware of the time, place and the those who are participating in worship is an important lesson to learn in real time.

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