While I've noted several instances of illegal liturgical revision on this blog, I've never really answered the "why" question. But it's a very good question. And it's a question that Bishop Daniel Martins of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield reflects on in a recent blog posting entitled "Bored With the Book of Common Prayer?" Here's some of what he writes:
From time to time—more frequently now that I am a bishop—I find myself in situations of corporate worship with other Episcopalians. Whether it’s sitting in a pew on a rare Sunday off, or attending a meeting or conference or the like, I have come to expect that what I find when I step into the worship space will probably not be a straight-from-the-book BCP service. Sometimes it is, but more often it’s not. On occasion, it’s one of the authorized supplemental texts from Enriching Our Worship, but not often. And, of course, there is the unauthorized but widespread informal emendation of Prayer Book language to render it more palatable to various sensibilities (“And blessed be God’s Kingdom, now and forever…”, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord”, “Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel [and Leah]”). But I’m not actually talking about this sort of thing either (although, arguably, it deserves to be talked about).
No, what I have in mind are worship services that are cobbled together not quite on the spur of the moment, but almost. They appear on a printed sheet or booklet, so presumably some amount of thought has gone into them. They’re not exactly confected from whole cloth, because very often they incorporate substantial material from a Prayer Book rite (“Scenes from Morning Prayer,” some of them might be called). But they are almost invariably at a time of day for which there is an appropriate Prayer Book office. So, one wonders, why not simply use what we have? From whence comes the need to tinker?
Two factors immediately suggest themselves. One is a fairly widespread aversion in some quarters to traditional liturgical language that is considered sexist and/or patriarchal and/or insensitive to non-western cultures and thought patterns. The other is a practical concern to integrate worship with the particular objectives or ethos of a conference or retreat.
I wonder, however, whether a major contributing factor, and perhaps the major contributing factor, is simply … boredom. Itching ears. We are an over-stimulated society. We are addicted to constant change. Popular culture (music, fashion, entertainment media) is in a state of continual flux. Technology evolves so rapidly that the cycle of obsolescence keeps getting shorter and shorter. “Yesterday’s news” is no longer a euphemism but a literal descriptor. Should it be a surprise that people who exist in, and are formed by, secular culture would carry their conditioning with them into the councils of the church?
Even if it doesn't account for all of the liturgical deviations and unauthorized revisions out there, I think that Bishop Martins' reflections are on to something important. We do, in fact, live in a culture characterized by over-stimulation and constant change. How many times have you - or I - checked Facebook or e-mail, surfed the Internet, or sent text messages in the last hour? Should we really be surprised that as this cultural shift become increasingly a taken-for-granted reality that it affects how we approach what it means to worship, do liturgy, and be the Church?
As a result, it may seem more difficult to justify the ritual of Prayer Book liturgy: gathering week in and week out to do the same things and to say the same words over and over again. And so the very idea of common prayer as a defining feature of Anglican practice and identity may seem not only oddly out of step with the realities of the world we live in, but boring as well.
Are changed cultural realities a sufficient reason to justify tinkering with or revising authorized Prayer Book's liturgies? Do we lose something precious and central to our identity in efforts to be relevant and appealing by deviating from or rejecting the ritual of liturgical repetition?