Friday, November 5, 2010

Liturgy for Episcopal Church's "Seusscharist"

Just a few weeks ago, I noted that Calvary Episcopal Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was offering a "Seusscharist." As with other illegal liturgical revisions in the Episcopal Church, I expressed my opposition to this trivialization of the Eucharist as an act that signifies a "shocking lack of respect and reverence for one of the holiest things the Church does."

In the comments to my posting, one person asked: "Are we sure that this actually represents some sort of Eucharist transposed into Seussspeak, as opposed to simply a cutesy name for a common or garden-variety Eucharist?" At the time, I didn't know for sure how to answer this person's question. But I now know that the answer to that question is: "Yes, this is, indeed, a Eucharist transposed into Seussspeak."

The entire Eucharistic liturgy used by Calvary Episcopal Church is available here. But just in case it disappears, I'll share a few highlights. Before I do, I note that the pdf file for the bulletin says:

This 'Holy Eucharist according to Seuss' was developed in the Diocese of Central PA, and adapted for Calvary Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

As I've previously noted with both Kevin Thew Forrester's revision of the liturgy for Holy Baptism and Church of the Holy Trinity in NYC's revision of the liturgy for Holy Baptism, only the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has the authority to revise or authorize liturgy for use in the Episcopal Church's public worship.

But on to the Seusscharist.

Here's the Seussspeak version of the Collect for Purity:

Almighty God
to you all hearts are open wide,
All of our want-wanting in you we confide
and from you our secrets we just can not hide:
Clean the thinks of our thumpers
And we shall be happy jump-jumpers.
So, by the help of your Holy Ghost,
Your Name we may deservingly boast;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here's the Seussspeak confession of sin:

God, we have wronged you
And we need to say boo-hoo
For the things we did and didn’t do
We are not content
we want to repent
One hundred percent
Oh so sorry we say
Won’t you forgive us this day;
So we can walk in your way

Then there's the Seussspeak Eucharistic Prayer:

Celebrant God be with you.
People And with you too.
Celebrant Lift up your hearts without sadness.
People We lift them up with great gladness.
Celebrant Let us give thanks to the Lord our God and Father
People To give him thanks is a great joy and absolutely no bother.

It is right and good-ful; blessed and joyful; holy and beautiful,
To give thanks to you our Father, Almighty and wonderful.

For you have given us this great time,
Filled with laughter, humor and rhyme.
And you have shown us your holy love,
That you have sent from heaven high up above.

Tooting our horns and stamping our feet
With angels and archangels and the whole holy fleet
With one voice let us all proclaim
The glory of your righteous name

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

O Father, merciful and divine,
You have made our world
And made it quite fine.

But we have been oh so bad
And made a mess of it all
You had every reason to be quite mad.

Instead of making a fuss
You sent your only Son
To live and die as one of us.

On the night before he died
Our Lord lifted some bread
And said with loving pride

“Dear friends, my body to you I give
Take it; share it
In you I will live.

From now on, whenever you meet
I want you to remember our time
And let this be the thing that you eat”

When they were done with their sup
Jesus again spoke with his friends
While high He lifted the holy cup

“For the New Covenant, this is my blood
A sign of the Lord’s continuing love
Let it replace the one from the flood

Whenever you drink this, think of me,
Keeping me close at heart
So that our friendship may go on endlessly

And so we now say

His death we recall
His resurrection we shout
When He comes again, it will be for all

These gifts are for you and not just a few
Fill this bread and wine truly with you

Your Spirit come down
And send it around

Make holy this food
To put us in the mood

To bring your grace
To the whole human race


I also note that, instead of an Old Testament reading or a New Testament epistle reading, the first reading in this Seusscharist comes from Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle. While not exactly the same thing as replacing the New Testament epistle reading with a reading from the Qur'an, this still liturgically places non-biblical literature on an equal footing with a reading from Holy Scripture.

Interestingly, the Lord's Prayer is not translated into Seussspeak, but rather remains in the traditional wording. Could it be that even in a Seusscharist some things are deemed too holy to be messed with?

Someone may say: "Aw c'mon Fr. B! Relax, dude, and stop being so cranky and insensitive. What in the world is wrong with any of this? It's so profoundly meaningful for the children, and it can help us adults make new connections to the divine, too. Lighten up!"

My response is to say that there is a divide in the Church between those who find profound meaning by doing sacraments "in a new way" and those for whom such innovations are a betrayal of a sacrament's integrity and a trivialization of the sacred to the silly (not to mention a violation of the oath of conformity on the part the clergy who enact such illegal liturgical revisions).

It strikes me that the perspectives on either side of such a divide are incommensurable and irreconcilable.


TLF+ said...

Thanks for getting this posted.

There is some charming stuff in it. There are even some nice theological efforts in some of the word choices.

But it is absolutely wrong according to the rubrics of the Prayer Book, the Canons, and any sense of Common Prayer.

What's truly disgusting is that these are the folks who claim "We have no doctrine - it is our common liturgy that unites us."

These are also the folks insisting on polity ueber alles when they slither into courtrooms over property and checkbooks.

Incoherent, amoral and duplicitous.

SometimesWise said...

Thanks Fr. Bryan for reviewing this - I couldn't bring myself to go look for myself.

I'll admit that I started out thinking, "This isn't so bad...", the Sanctus was untouched, and everything was just mostly silly (as you said). I was increasingly uneasy with the transformation in the actual Eucharistic prayer - there were enough things left out to take the stamp of reality out of it - for instance, Jesus didn't give thanks to God for the bread OR the wine? Really?

"Doing sacraments" in a new way does not give license to leave out VERY important elements.

Thanks again!

The Underground Pewster said...

I was thinking of printing the "liturgy" and showing it to various people at our liberal church. I expect to find some will say, "Love it," and others will say, "Shove it."

I have to think twice about my plan because somebody just might pass it along to the youth minister.

Joe Rawls said...

God Almighty. But I noticed they included an epiclesis, amazingly enough.

bob said...

I wonder if you had thought of the possibilities this thing offers. First, check to see if the maroons putting on this event had *permission*. Important. More than once in history someone has been nailed on *violation of rubrics*. Was this authorized? Is the local bishop letting someone do this (without officially signing off on it) in order to provide them with enough rope to hang himself? That's enough to get a trial, and enough to lose one. One can only hope.

Bryan Owen said...

My guess, bob, is that few in the diocese view this as a serious matter worthy of such attention and action, particularly since the information is available for all the world to see on the diocesan website.

+Edmund said...

The theology is horrible. The "eucharistic prayer" is universalist ('he will come for all'), garbles the words of Institution, and screws up covenant theology ('replace the one from the flood,' are they kidding?)

This whole Seussified Eucharist (I won't twist the sacred word) is the quintessence not only of sacrilege, but of the kind of self-indulgent lightweight attitude that leads directly to the selling of seminaries and the mortgaging of church HQ buildings.

I cannot wish well to a church that can stoop this low. Rome did, for a while, but they've pulled their pants up. Apparently, TEC is quite content to have its bum out.

The clergy responsible need to be deposed posthaste.

Don said...

I am happily surprised by the uniform revulsion of this by my classmates. Small mercies!!

+peace brother

Bryan Owen said...

It's good to hear that, Don. Thanks for sharing and, as always, thanks for reading my blog. Blessings!

C. Wingate said...

It's not even a good pastiche of Suess. It's more like William Mcgonagall's writing.

eugene said...

Hi, Fr. Owen.

In the comment on the Suess liturgy, you said: "there is a divide in the Church between those who find profound meaning by doing sacraments "in a new way" and those for whom such innovations are a betrayal of a sacrament's integrity ." I think that's probably the position of the Orthodox Church viz a viz the Western denominations in general. As always, I say this with no acrimony whatsoever. I am ultimately relating, again, to the post on "the sufficiency of Anglicanism." The question is: at what point did the Church lose its authority to declare some things sacred and true, and some things profane and silly? Was it somehow after the 3rd Council? Or the 4th (as the "sufficiency" article suggests)? Or the 5th? Or the 7th? Or maybe the Church never did lose that authority, but some bodies chose to remove themselves (for whatever historical reasons) from it? The end result, in one form or another, may be Suessism.

Just a thought.


Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for commenting, Eugene. Your question "at what point did the Church lose its authority to declare some things sacred and true, and some things profane and silly?" is an important one. I think that the answer to that question is quite complex and not the sort of thing that can be easily reduced to a blog comment.

Depending on one's perspective and convictions, different stories can be told as to how and why the Church has lost such authority. The story I would tell would be influenced by the following sources: Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man, Philip Turner's "An Unworkable Theology," and Richard John Neuhaus' "The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy." I would also include relevant sections from N. T. Wright's Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense and After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.

Perhaps the quote I posted from John Gresham Machen summarizes it for me.

Given the profound changes that have occurred over the past few hundred years in our understanding of what it means to be human (including our understanding of what it means to do theology and ethics), it may be that Suessism and other forms of trivialized, feel-good, consumer-friendly religious "products" are inevitable. If so, the question becomes: how do we resist in love?

Bill Dilworth said...

I missed this at the time. It's horrible, absolutely horrible. The best thing that can be said about it is that might not be a valid Eucharist, since those aren't really translations of Christ's Words of Institution (now, what did the Chicago Quadrilateral say about those?).

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for sharing your revulsion over this, Bill. This is a fine example of a feel-good but theologically vacuous "liturgy."

Christ is Risen said...

Thank you for posting this (dreadful) "Seusscharist" and the comments following. I have written a response too long to reprint here to the interim pastor who wants to use such a travesty of a Sunday Eucharist for the Sunday recognizing and honoring the parish summer group for kids. I'd be happy to send that comment to anyone who wants to read it, and read my observations on why this 'eucharist' is exactly the wrong thing to do on such a Sunday.

But there is another consideration, that has little or nothing to do with our Episcopal worship, and everything to do with honoring and respecting the body of creative work left by Theodore Geisel. This "Seusscharist" does NOT reflect Geisel's amazing ability to tap cadence, rhyme, emotional resources by using deceptively simple language to allow readers and listeners to explore very deep issues indeed. The authors of "Seusscharist" haven't begun to echo Geisel: they have produced a very badly written hash parody of Geisel's work. As someone noted, they caught the shallow feel-good, but not the serious substance. And there's nothing of the infectious rhythms that encourage children (and adults) to join in and take to heart the delight that Geisel makes contagious.

So it's bad theology.
It's bad writing.
It's near to bad plagiarism.
It's near to copyright violation.
And for sure, this 'eucharist' is in violation of Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

I told the interim that I was already scheduled to be Sunday supply celebrating in another congregation for the Sunday in which this service was contemplated, but that if that weren't so, I'd be likely to find a reason to visit another congregation for that day rather than endure such 'liturgy.'