Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Prayer Book revision for better and worse

On the Day of Pentecost we attended a confirmation at a Presbyterian church and were both amazed and thrilled that the presiding minister borrowed the episcopal prayer from the 1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

Defend, O Lord, this thy child with thy heavenly grace, that s/he may continue thine forever, and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until s/he come unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen.

Every churchgoing Episcopalian knew this prayer by heart, having heard it repeated over and over, year after year, confirmation class after confirmation class, by the bishop as he placed his hands on the heads of each successive confirmand. My husband and I have said it for our own children and grandchildren.

Here is the prayer from the 1979 revised Prayer Book:

Strengthen, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit; empower him/her for your service; and sustain him all the days of his/her life. Amen.

Will someone please explain why and how this pedestrian new prayer, utterly lacking the cadence and majesty of the older one, is better?

(It has been called to my attention that the 1979 BCP does include the old prayer--with "thy" changed to "your"--but I had not noticed it because all the bishops in my purview have used the new one. However, wonder of wonders, just this past Sunday, June 14, Bishop Peter Lee used the old one at a service of confirmation in Leesburg, Virginia.

It occurs to me that the newer prayer is a result of the shift away from the biblical view of the human predicament. We do not believe we need to be defended from anything, but only "strengthened," "empowered," and "sustained," as though we were essentially OK but could use some extra help. In the apocalyptic view of the New Testament, we are defenseless against the principalities and powers without the intervention of "the Lord God of Sabaoth [Hosts]").