Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On the Impossibility of Enacting Other Trial Rites for General Use

[Note: This post is Part IV of a series on amending the BCP and adopting trial or experimental liturgies for use in the Church, as we head into General Convention LXXVII later this week. Part I is at this linkPart II is at this linkPart III may be read here, and Part V, the conclusion, will appear tomorrow.]

In the first three parts of this series (linked above), we analyzed Article X of the Constitution concerning amendments and additions to the liturgy of the Episcopal Church (USA), and saw how it would be impossible for the present General Convention, meeting in Indianapolis, to adopt a rite for  same-sex blessings without violating the Constitution. In this post, I shall look at some of the other Resolutions proposed to General Convention by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. In the process, we will see how many of them suffer from the same inability to be enacted with the constitutionally required margin in the House of Bishops.

Let us start with one of the SC's more exotic proposals, Resolution A054 dealing with rites for favorite animals:
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 77th General Convention authorize for use in congregations or other church groups wishing to provide pastoral care for people caring for animals, liturgical materials found in the Blue Book report of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, entitled "Various Rites and Prayers for Animals."
I find this Resolution indicative of sloppy draftsmanship by the Standing Commission. It is not a Resolution to amend the BCP. Nor is it a Resolution to provide rites for a "special occasion" which a single Bishop could authorize in accordance with the Canons of General Convention, or the Rubrics. That leaves only adoption of the prayers and rites for "trial use," even though the text does not refer to that phrase -- but that will require the same impossible majority in the HoB as will the Resolution for SSBs. So the Resolution can lawfully go nowhere -- it is void of meaning under the Constitution, and one can fault its drafters for that.

Resolution A053, proposing to adopt liturgical materials "for honoring God in Creation," suffers from the same deficiency. Its accompanying Explanation contains this statement: "While the Book of Occasional Services is being revised, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music proposes to make these texts available electronically." That is a Constitutional impossibility, unless and until they are adopted by the required majorities as a BCP alternative.

The same impossibility infects Resolution A055, the way it is drafted; it seeks to have General Convention authorize "for experimental use" the materials entitled "Daily Prayers for All Seasons" included in its report to the Convention. "Experimental" is a synonym for "trial", and so the second paragraph of Article X applies to it, as well.

In contrast, take a look at Resolution A059, to amend pages 270-295 of the BCP in order to bring its readings into line with the Revised Lectionary approved at GC 2006.  Because of its length, I will not quote the text here, but please take note of this paragraph from the accompanying Explanation:
Article X of the Constitution requires that revisions to the Book of Common Prayer are proposed in one regular meeting of General Convention, published to the Diocesan Conventions, and adopted at the next succeeding regular meeting of General Convention by a vote by orders. This is the proposing resolution for revisions to the authorized text of the Book of Common Prayer, “Proper Liturgies for Special Days” (pp. 270–295) to reflect the previously approved changes to the Lectionary. If adopted, this revision will return to the next regular meeting of General Convention for second reading and vote by orders.
Now that shows that the SC can perfectly well understand how to work under the strictures of Article X when it has to. Resolution A059 is up for "first reading", as it were, and if it passes by the required simple majorities at this General Convention, will not actually change anything in the BCP unless and until it passes again, in the same form, at GC 2015. And that is the way you make changes to the BCP under Article X.

(Note that Bishop Dan Martins dissents from this action, and argues, with history on his side, that "Prayer Book revision" has been used only four times in the past, and only for complete overhauls. The problem is that there is -- as yet -- no Canon to provide for automatic updating of the printed version of the BCP whenever General Convention votes to revise the lectionary.)

Finally, we come to Resolution A056, "Continue Revision of the Book of Occasional Services," and to Resolution A057, "Authorize Enriching our Worship 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5." Both resolutions refer to revising (or continuing in use, respectively) a work which is already in use in the Church as a whole. And both works are not part of the BCP, but contain alternatives or supplements to it. Before we ask whether these latter two resolutions are proper under Article X, we therefore have to ask first: how did those works ever come to be authorized for use alongside the BCP in the first place?

Therein lies a very interesting (to canon lawyers, at any rate) legislative history, which can be traced easily by using the resources at the online Digital Archives of the Church. And that will be the topic of the next and final post in this series.

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