Monday, July 2, 2012

On the Impossibility of Enacting a Trial Rite for Same-Sex Blessings without Violating the Constitution (II)

[Note: This post is Part II 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 III will follow tomorrow, and the remaining parts each day thereafter, until the series is complete.]

Yesterday we reviewed the first two methods in the Constitution for adding to or changing the liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP): the first, by amending the BCP itself, and the second, by authorizing liturgies for Church-wide use, on a trial basis. The first requires the changes to pass two successive General Conventions; the second may be accomplished in only one General Convention. But for that very reason, the second method requires a greater majority in the House of Bishops than does the first method. 

To adopt a trial rite for the Church, the Constitution requires approval in the HoB by "a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote in the House of Bishops." As we saw by examining the two provisions in detail, that bold phrase means that all the Bishops who are entitled to vote in the HoB, including retired Bishops not attending, must be counted in determining the required majority. 

Thus if there are, say, 300 Bishops in all who are entitled to vote in the House of Bishops, it takes the vote of at least 151 of them to approve a rite for trial use. And if only 120 of them are present for the meeting, then there cannot be not enough votes for the measure to pass -- even if every Bishop present voted "Yes."

However, Article X of the Church's Constitution provides yet a third method of approving rites which are supplemental to the BCP, but only for limited use (I have added the bold for emphasis):
And Provided, that nothing in this Article shall be construed as restricting the authority of the Bishops of this Church to take such order as may be permitted by the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer or by the Canons of the General Convention for the use of special forms of worship.
Under this language, it is up to the discretion of each Bishop with jurisdiction in the Church to authorize, within his or her own jurisdiction, "special forms of worship" -- if the same are already permitted under the Rubrics of the BCP, or have been authorized by the Canons.

Let's put the Rubrics aside for a moment, and look at the Canons which General Convention has enacted pursuant to this language. If we consult the Index to the Canons, under the heading "Worship - Special forms of", we see that it refers us to no particular Canon, but right back to Article X of the Constitution. That's not very helpful.

If we instead turn to Title II of the Canons, dealing with "Worship", we do find a Canon numbered II.4, entitled "Of the Authorization of Special Forms of Worship", but it deals only with the approval by a Bishop of special services translated into a foreign language, for use in a non-English-speaking congregation. So that is not much help, either.

Turn now to the Preface of the BCP (page 13 of the 1979 edition). It begins as follows (again, with my emphasis added):
Concerning the Service of the Church  
The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in the Church. 
In addition to these services and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used. Also, subject to the direction of the bishop, special devotions taken from this Book, or from Holy Scripture, may be used when the needs of the congregation so require. 
For special days of thanksgiving, appointed by civil or Church authority, and for other special occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book, the bishop may set forth such forms as are fitting to the occasion.
The Rubrics, accordingly do not authorize "trial" rites, but only those forms permitted "by authority within this Church" (i.e., by the Constitution and Canons), or certain forms taken from the BCP itself, or from Holy Scripture. Any further special forms may be "set forth" for a diocese by its bishop, but only for that diocese, and only for "special days ... and ... occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book ...."

The conclusion is inescapable. Although the Constitution allows General Convention to authorize individual Bishops to use "special forms of worship", General Convention is required to do so by a suitable Canon for that purpose -- and to date, it has not enacted any such Canon. Moreover, even if it were to pass such a Canon, the most it could do is authorize "special forms of worship" for individual Bishops to use in their own jurisdictions.

Other than by following the procedure for adopting trial rites for Church-wide use as provided in the second paragraph of Article X, therefore, General Convention is very limited in what it can do to approve such trial rites for experimental use by the Church as a whole.

It is time now to start looking at the current proposals made by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to the 77th General Convention, and to analyze them in light of the foregoing Constitutional and canonical provisions. That task will begin with the next post in this series, to be published tomorrow.


  1. Good work, ASH.

    Our President complains that the Republicans in the Congress are keeping him from enacting his agenda, 'gridlocking' and so forth. He doesn't have the luxury (yet) that the 815 ruling class has of rule by fiat.

    However, from what you have written here and from yesterday, it seems clear to me that the writers of our US Constitution had one thing in common with the generations of writers of our ECUSA Constitution: they LIKED, that's not it: gridlock was THE very IDEA in the first place! They wanted radical change to be HARD to achieve.

    Is there no official parliamentarian, no one to enforce and inquire after 'points of order', for GC? Not that I expect this cabal of handpicked dipsomaniacs, prescription drug-abusers, serial adulterers, narcissists, and nymphomaniacs (who will pubcrawl in Indianapolis each evening and then stumble back to the convention center in the morning to vote on God knows what) to raise a whole lot of 'points of order', but I figure that there must be several weapons in the legal arsenal in the constitution to slow all of this down...keep the powers-that-be going through red tape until they only see red. Perhaps if a paucity of orthodox churchgoers are still going to GC, maybe a few of them can throw a wrench in the clogs, bring the machine to a crawl, bog the ruling class down in a quagmire of legalese peat and quicksand, etc.

    The 815ers will want to jam all of this down our throats as quickly and quietly as possible, but since all of this is done openly, they are going to want to APPEAR (just as their websites and Facebook page makes them APPEAR to be Christians) to be following the rules. I think it's time for a little partisan obstruction! ;-)

    Oh, well. Just a morning fantasy of mine.

    Maybe after they illegally adopt the same-sex trial rite blessings for BCP, they can replace the Nicene Creed with this quote from Thomas Jefferson (since they love him so much...well, not all that stuff about tyranny and limiting absolute power, etc.)

    “I am increasingly persuaded that the earth belongs exclusively to the living and that one generation has no more right to bind another to it's laws and judgments than one independent nation has the right to command another."

  2. Reading the tea leaves on this leads me to envision that they will adopt the final method (via fini) and authorize as the local bishop sees fit. However, the twist will be that the not so subtle pressure from 815 will be to practice the new rites and if you don't toe the line...

  3. I am afraid such arguments will be brushed aside. I usually hear the following verse taken out of context and used to justify illegal actions.

    "But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit." Romans 7:6