Dear Ambrose: I have been hearing about Eucharistic Prayers using expansive language. What is this about?

Our prayer shapes us. The work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is for the sake of the Church’s formation in the mind of Christ as we make our prayer to God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our work has always had this in mind: people who pray together shape the community of Christ.

Many people have recognized that some of the language of the 1979 Prayer Book works against people’s formation in the mind of Christ. Specifically, for many people, the patriarchal language of prayer stops them from engaging their hearts and minds in prayer.

At last summer’s General Convention, the committee tasked with resolutions about the revision of the Prayer Book heard from many people from across the church who voiced their concerns around patriarchal language and their hope for more inclusive language for the church’s use in our common prayer.

Resolution D078, entitled Authorize Holy Eucharist, Rite II (Expansive Language) for Trial Use was approved by General Convention in 2018 for immediate use with the permission of the bishop or ecclesial authority in the diocese where it is used. The ways that texts are defined in the Episcopal Church is essential, and sometimes confusing for people.

First, the unambiguous, authorized liturgical text for TEC is the 1979 BCP. Because of its canonical status, it is used throughout TEC without need of permission from anyone. Second, everything else exists in slightly ambiguous canonical categories. The exception to this ambiguity is with what are called “trial rite liturgies” like D078. Trial rite liturgies have a clear canonical definition: they are liturgies that are to be used with an eye to the future revision of the BCP. All trial rite liturgies have to be authorized by the diocesan bishop or other ecclesial authority in their jurisdictions. How this permission is given varies from place to place, but it is important to find out about permission for using trial rite liturgies before they are used in congregations. This is “meet and right to do” because the diocesan bishop is in charge of the liturgies (besides the BCP) that can be used in their dioceses.

Ambiguity is both a strength and a weakness for TEC. It’s a strength because rigid rules don’t work so well in our denomination; people are shaped in TEC to exercise more freedom not less, sharing the work of ministry across all the orders of ministry. But, ambiguity is a weakness because it means that some people get shut down for “breaking the rules” even without knowing that they’re doing something so awful. The ambiguity is also a problem because it can tend to undermine the concept of “order” in the church. You can compare this to a meeting where Robert’s Rules of Order are not followed: then the loudest voice in the room gets all the attention, instead of giving a level playing field for everyone. If one diocese gets to use a resource, and another doesn’t – it can create a situation of injustice in the church.

One of the hopes of General Convention is that the inclusive rite eucharistic liturgy will be used across the church, along with reflection on the experience of using it. Once a congregation receives permission to use the text, it would be a good thing to design a reflection process on the experience. And then, it would be a beautiful thing to share those reflections with the SCLM.

But, where are the inclusive language eucharistic texts?! The SCLM is still in the process of getting them into final form. For now, you can find the texts, as a part of the whole resolution from General Convention HERE.

Blessings to you on your work of creating liturgy for the benefit of God’s people. The whole church truly gives thanks for all the ways that God is blessing you!

                                                            The Rev. Paul Fromberg for Bishop Ambrose