Tuesday, January 18, 2005

eucharistic pet peeves

One of the things that bothers me most about worshiping with the group with whom I usually worship is probably many of them insisting on changing certain words to be more agreeable to them. This phenomenon manifests itself in two main places: 1) "It is right to give Him thanks and praise" becomes "It is right to give GOD thanks and praise" and 2) the wording of the Benedictus becomes "Blessed is THE ONE who comes in the name of the Lord."

Now I understand that people have hang-ups about God-language. I also understand that in the final analysis, God transcends gender and predication of any sort. I have read "The Divine Names" of the Pseudo-Areopagite. I understand that sometimes people are uncofomfortable with the concept of fatherhood because of their personal experience.

HOWEVER -- these prayers are COMMON prayers. The Eucharist is the offering of the Church. It is not a private offering, subject to our private emotional hang-ups about gender, or anything else. That I may be squeamish about blood-letting (I am) does not entitle me to replace references to Christ's blood with references to whatever I please, even the pronoun "it".

The Common Prayer of the Church is meant to draw our attention to various things as much (or more) as it is meant to get God to act. This is particularly true of Anglicanism (lex orandi lex credendi). One of the things (the main thing) to which the Church's Common Prayer directs us is the offering of the Son to the Father. That this makes us uncomfortable is beside the point. Our focus is meant to be on THAT: the man hanging on the cross, perfectly acceptable to the Father.

The chief aim of the Church is, arguably, to bring us to forsake our autonomy. This object is severely hampered when we insist on exerting our finite power on the very subject effecting our salvation. We are utterly weak and pathetic and sinful, and our emotional problems are symptoms of that fact. The cross is the balm that heals us of our impotence by its supreme potency. The Eucharist is the God-ordained application of that healing; it is the offering of the Body of Christ, it belongs to the Church. It is not ours, as individuals, to manipulate. Rather we are Christ's and subject (if it please God to save us) to manipulation unto death by our Lord's own cross.

Besides, changing the words in this wise is just not charitable. It makes it difficult for others (like me) to worship. It subjects others to irritation and an uncharitable and distracted frame of mind. And the burden of conformity ought not to be on me as subject to the changes of whimsy, I ought not to be left simply to "deal with it." Rather the burden ought to be on those who would innovate. After all, their innovation is a passing of judgment on that part of the tradition they seek to change, deeming it inadequate, unjust, or whatever. But the fact that a feature of the tradition is, in fact, a feature of the tradition means that the Church has leant its assent to the presence of that aspect in its common life. And why should the judgment of the Church about the desirability or efficacy of a practice be subordinate to the judgment of the individual or the interest group?

The answer, in the short and long runs, probably: pray.

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