In the 1970s, as the Episcopal Church was preparing to inflict a watered-down version of the Prayer Book on a laity that did not want it, as ascertained in a Gallup Poll, William F. Buckley Jr., an architect of contemporary American conservatism, wrote this column on the revision of the liturgy. His rapier pen cut to the heart of the matter.
New Liturgists: Lord, they know not what they do
As a Catholic, I have abandoned hope for the liturgy, which, in the typical American church, is as ugly and as maladroit as if it had been composed by Robert Ingersoll and H. L. Mencken for the purpose of driving people away. The modern liturgists are doing a remarkably good job, attendance at Catholic mass on Sunday having dropped sharply in the 10 years since a few well-meaning cretins got hold of the power to vernacularize the mass, and the money to scour the earth in search of the most unmusical men and women to preside over the translation.
THE NEXT liturgical ceremony conducted primarily for my benefit, since I have no plans to be beatified or remarried, will be my funeral; and it is a source of great consolation to me that, at my funeral, I shall be quite dead, and will not need to listen to the accepted replacement for the noble old Latin liturgy. Meanwhile, I am practicing Yoga so that, at church on Sundays, I can develop the power to tune out everything I hear, while attempting, athwart the general calisthenics, to commune with my Maker, and ask Him first to forgive me my own sins, and implore him, second, not to forgive the people who ruined the mass.
Now the poor Anglicans are coming in for it. I am not familiar with their service, but I am with their Book of Common Prayer. To be unfamiliar with it is as though one were unfamiliar with Hamlet, or the Iliad, or the Divine Comedy. It has, of course, theological significance for Episcopalians and their fellow travelers. But it has a cultural significance for the entire English-speaking world.
THE BOOK was brought together, for the most part, about 400 years ago, when for reasons no one has been able to explain, the little island of England produced the greatest literature in history. G.K. Chesterton wrote about the Book of Common Prayer: "It is the one positive possession, the attraction . . . the masterpiece of Protestantism; the one magnet and talisman for people even outside the Anglican Church, as are the great Gothic cathedrals for people outside the Catholic Church."
What are they doing to it? Well, there is one of those commissions. It is sort of re-translating it. As it now stands, for instance, there are the lines, "We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done."
That kind of thing - noble, cadenced, pure as the psalmist's water - becomes, "We have not loved you (get that: you, not thee. Next time around, one supposes it will be "We haven't loved you, man,") with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves."
"Lead us not into temptation" becomes "Do not bring us to the test."
WELL, IF the good Lord intends to bring his Anglican flock into the test, he will not test it on this kind of stuff. One can only hope the Anglicans will reject any further attempt to vitiate their line of communication with our Maker.
Emphases are mine (Ed.)
Mr. Buckley’s comments are as timely now as they were when he wrote them 45 years ago, for the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is busily preparing yet more radical revisions unrecognizable as either Christian doctrine or good literature, which undoubtedly will speed up Episcopalians’ flight through church exit doors. We urge you, our readers, whether you are still in the Episcopal Church or have fled to an Anglican parish where the traditional 1928 Book of Common Prayer continues to thrive, to stand firm for your classic liturgy, based on holy scripture.