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New Rites: Expansive, Inclusive, or Stifling?

By Matthew S.C. Olver

What follows is a brief summary of a much longer journal article considering the rites in 2018-D078 in relationship to previous alternative rites. As such, this piece is not meant to be comprehensive, and I have chosen just a few salient examples for this abbreviated format.

For background, it may be helpful to consider my post “Licit Liturgical Revision for the Future.”

The 79th General Convention authorized what it called an “expansive language version” of Rite II, including three of its four eucharistic prayers (A, B, and D) in Resolution D078 (henceforth 2018-D078; paragraph numbers will appear parenthetically). Since 1985, the General Convention has directed the Standing Liturgical Commission or its successor, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, to produce and refine inclusive/expansive liturgies, including those that supplement the 1979 BCP and those that present alternative versions of some rites in the prayer book. I have written earlier about the issues that Enriching our Worship 1 presents to orthodox Trinitarian theology (see here and then the version in Anglican Theological Review here). That resource sought to balance traditional language with terms and images underutilized in Scripture and tradition, and it contains alternative versions of the offices and the Holy Eucharist. It remains authorized for use.[1]

A Summary of the Changes

Resolution 2018-D078 reduces the use of three sets of terms, each by around 50 percent: (a) masculine names for the Persons of the Trinity (Father and Son); (b) masculine pronouns that refer to God or any of the Persons of the Trinity; and (c) the title Lord. Further, there are additional changes beyond these revisions, such as amendments to the Nicene Creed as it appears in Rite II, some edits to Prayer D (all of which I will discuss in the last part of this section), and the revision of some of the proper prefaces.

There are seven places where the name Father was changed, replaced, or removed. The first of these changes is the introduction of a second option for the opening acclamation for use in ordinary time: “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” becomes “Blessed be God: most holy, glorious, and undivided Trinity” (§12). Outside of this example, the majority of the revisions replace Father with God, sometimes with an additional adjective applied (e.g., Holy or Almighty). Son occurs less frequently than Father in Rite II and thus the number of changes is less frequent. The phrase your Son Jesus Christ is changed either to our Savior Jesus Christ or to Jesus Christ our Savior (§171 and §328).

As we turn to the use of masculine pronouns, it is important to recall that the vast majority of them in the Rite II eucharistic liturgy refer to Jesus (68 of 73; 93%). The approach to revising them is univocal: the pronoun is replaced with its referent, which is either Jesus or Christ, reducing the total masculine pronouns for Jesus by half. Further, the two instances in which a masculine pronoun refers to God the Holy Trinity are revised (acclamations for ordinary time and for penitential times). Another noteworthy change occurs in the Benedictus qui venit: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (§155, §276, and §306).

The third major category that relates to gender is the reduction of Lord, which “is often seen as a term of masculine domination in our society” (Liturgical Texts for Evaluation, p. 6). The method for replacing the title varies depending on the original referent. When the title refers to Jesus, Lord is changed to JesusChrist, or Savior, or it is simply removed. When it is less clear whether Lord refers to one of the Persons specifically, it is always replaced with God.

Finally, the translation of the Nicene Creed is that of the English Language Liturgical Consultation. In addition to the removal of the filioque clause, four other changes are made: (a) the phrase by the power is removed; (b) the phrase regarding the incarnation is translated more literally in order to indicate that both the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary are the objects of the preposition (“was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary”); (c) the Greek gerund enanthrōpēsanta is translated as became truly human instead of was made man, as in both Rite I and Rite II; and (d) the two masculine pronouns for the Holy Spirit are replaced with relative pronouns (as in Rite I and the Greek original).

(There is a long background regarding the filioque. See these General Convention resolutions: 1979-B017; 1982-A045; 1985-A050; 1994-A028; and 1994-D056, and Resolution 19 of the 1993 joint meeting of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council.)

Issues Raised

The removal of Father and Son in the eucharistic prayers raises critical issues in Trinitarian theology not unlike those in Enriching our Worship 1. In 2018-D078, Father is not used in Prayer A and Son is not used in Prayers B and D, which is both outside the wide norm of historic eucharistic praying and unprecedented in the English and American prayer book traditions. Is an anaphora not clearly addressed to the Father — or that lacks mention of the Son — within the bounds of the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this church has received it”? (See the vows in “The Ordination of a Priest,” 1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 526.)

The masculine pronouns that refer to God more generally and to Jesus specifically were revised in 2018-D078, often with less than satisfactory results. A key purpose of pronouns is to reduce the repetition of the noun in question, mostly because English assumes that the repeated repetition of a word is a tiresome practice. And yet Jesus, Christ, and God are repeated over and over in the rite, which not only hurts the ears but begins to feel like a transgression against the commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain.

It turns out that a lot of the means by which the language is meant to be expanded in 2018-D078 does the opposite: it both contracts and stifles. While the relative pronoun is used in the third article of the Nicene Creed, it could be used a great deal more as a way to reduce the repetition of masculine pronouns (for more on relative pronouns in liturgy, see an earlier piece of mine at Covenant). But they also come in handy as a way to avoid the repetition of the second person pronoun you, which can quickly sound as though we are wagging our fingers at God as we pray.

It may be surprising to many readers that hardly any new language is introduced in 2018-D078. Contrast the rather limited range of language it has for God with the fourth-century eucharistic prayer Apostolic Constitutions VIII:

For you are knowledge, without beginning, eternal vision, unbegotten hearing, untaught wisdom, first in nature, alone in existence, too great to be numbered. You brought all things from non-existence into existence through your only-begotten Son; and him you begat without an intermediary before all ages by your will and power and goodness, your only-begotten Son, the Word, God, living wisdom, the firstborn of all creation, the angel of your great purpose, your high-priest (and notable worshipper), king and lord of all rational and sentient nature, who was before all, through whom are all.

This one sentence contains ten referents to the Father and 12 to the Son, and only three of the latter are proper names (Son, Word, and God). The options available within Scripture and the tradition are wide indeed.

The approach to the removal of names raises again the question of whether Father, Son, and Lord are names or metaphors. While “few would insist that God is male, the discomfort felt by so many at the idea of addressing God as ‘Mother’ as well as ‘Father’ suggests that the constant use of masculine metaphors does lead us unconsciously to identify God with characteristics associated with male human beings” (Supplemental Liturgical Texts, C-10).

In a recent interview, Ruth Meyers posed the problem in more provocative terms. She suggested that a patriarchal and hierarchical worldview is created when “we have a strongly masculine image of God,” one that “allows for abuse of women, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and a sense of entitlement by men to women’s bodies.” Is this the position of the Episcopal Church, or do we think that this is a possible, but not necessary, corollary to masculine language for God and that proper catechesis is essential?

The pastoral need to teach and explain and form and catechize has always been present. It is striking that in the discussions about liturgical revision, there is a notable absence of a call for renewed catechesis about what Frank Griswold in his preface to EOW1 called “the Trinitarian and Christological formations which we, as Anglicans, regard as normative and the ground of our common prayer.”

What is needed is a return to the sophistication of the original expositors of the Christological and trinitarian mysteries: Augustine, the Cappadocians, Aquinas. They were convinced that Father is the proper name of the First Person of the Trinity, namely, because “the Holy Trinity itself has indeed deigned clearly to reveal it to us: in these names by which he wanted the single persons to be known, it is impossible to understand one Person without the other” (Eleventh Council of Toledo, 675). But the indispensability of Father and Son does not preclude the use of additional biblical names, even when this usage mixes gendered speech in a way that would be nonsensical if applied to humans. From the same council:

We must believe that the Son is begotten or born not from nothing or from any other substance, but from the womb of the Father, that is from His substance … therefore we confess that the Son was born from the Father without beginning.

“Womb of the Father” is a way to convey the consubstantiality of the two. But here is the rub: it conveys this truth in a way that still requires explanation or catechesis, as with Father and Son. The meaning and truth of Anselm and Julian of Norwich’s language of Jesus as mother is not self-evident (see EOW1, pp. 39-40). Father and womb are a reminder of a critical principle in classical Trinitarian theology.

As Aquinas puts it, “these names are applied to God … because their perfections flow from God to creatures,” not the other way around (see ST, I q13 a2 corpus). For not only was there never a time when God the Father was not the father of God the Son; but this paternity is closer to motherhood to the extent that a baby comes forth from a mother in a manner that is physiologically distinct from a father’s contribution to a child’s incarnation. Cyril of Alexandria indicates that language of womb and birthing (drawing on Ps. 110:3) “is authentic and the Son has been born from the same essence of the Father, the expression from the womb demonstrates this perfectly. It is a salient example, paradigmatic of our own life” (quoted in Lauren Winner, Wearing God, p. 137).

Our ordering principle must be a commitment to “the Trinitarian and Christological formations which we, as Anglicans, regard as normative and the ground of our common prayer,” to quote Bishop Griswold again. From there, we can ask how best to address the very real and substantial concerns that masculine language can introduce for some people. And we have to teach — but only after pulling Augustine, Basil, Aquinas, and others off our shelves, praying for a while, and then re-reading them and wondering at the degree to which they anticipate our questions and provide avenues through the complexity of our concerns.


[1] It was authorized by 1997-A075 and reauthorized by 2000-A069, 2003-A091, 2006-A074, 2009-A102, 2012-A057, and 2018-D046. It was not authorized at the 2015 Convention, and this may be because the authorization in 2012 did not speak of the next triennium, and thus may have been interpreted as having authorized them indefinitely. The 2018 resolution is the first not to specify that their use must be subject to “the direction of a bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority.”


  1. I concur with Dr. Olver’s critiques here, especially his admonition that we need liturgical catechesis in the church, and his conviction that the current trial liturgies fall far short of the expansive language ambition.

    (a) Masculine names for the Persons of the Trinity (Father and Son)

    Expand, do not subtract. I think it is a major mistake to remove the language of Jesus’ relationship to God from our liturgy. Father and Son is a central motif in the New Testament to describe Christ’s relationship to the Jewish God. However, there is ripe opportunity for expansion in the ways we talk about God that uses scripture as a paradigm. There are many excellent feminine and maternal metaphors for God. The question of course is how to approximate this language to Trinitarian theology. But feminist theologians have already charted a good course on how to do this.

    (b) Masculine pronouns that refer to God or any of the Persons of the Trinity.

    My recommendations are: organically integrate both pronouns when referring to the first Person of the Trinity (e.g. through Father language and Sophia, Proverbs 8 language, as a start); use male pronouns when referring to Jesus, and use genderless language when referring to the Holy Spirit. The male pronouns in the final part of the Creed are totally unnecessary, and I do concur with the trial liturgies that these particular pronouns should be removed from the Creed, as well as incorporating the language that Jesus was made fully human.

    I concur with Dr. Olver that the repetition of proper names over pronouns is liturgically clunky. I would add that pronouns are key to personalist language, the way we signify God’s personhood. That’s why I favor the use of both male and female pronouns, rather than the avoidance of them.

    (c) the title ‘Lord’

    I think objections to this are unmotivated. The oldest of all Christian creeds is the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. I think this is a case where we need to let older language stretch our modern minds, rather than stretching the language to fit our predilections. I simply don’t think this needs to be a masculine term, and we can change our understanding of it, rather than changing the term.

    In conclusion, I frankly find the new gender-sensitive liturgies to be typical of proposals coming under the banner of “liberal theology”: they’re just not progressive enough. Real progressive theology and liturgy follows the wild ecstasy of the biblical vocabulary in pushing the boundaries of thought and language. Its driven by a love for the inexhaustible depth of God, as Elizabeth Johnson demonstrated in her now classic She Who Is. But the liberal approach seems to be far more interested in tracking humanist criteria and a enshrining a suspicion that the Church’s language for 2,000 years has been a mistake. If so, we don’t need a revised liturgy, but to hang up our mitres and chasubles and close the parish doors.

    If the Church really has been a vessel for God’s Good News, then we must have some real faith that the Holy Spirit and Christ have led and ordered this vessel. That doesn’t mean its perfect or infallible, and again I think a real progressive option — expansive language modeled on the biblical paradigm — is much needed reform. But subtractionist liturgy is not reform, nor progressive. It only hollows out our liturgy, making it more abstract and impersonal, and less recognizable to Christians across time and space.


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