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Rite I

O Worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness* Let the whole earth stand in awe of him. Psalm 96:9a

Dear Friends in Christ,

What is Rite I and why do we use it in Lent? There are two settings of the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, and parishes can use either of them. We’ve chosen here to use Rite I in Lent and Rite II in other seasons. When the Episcopal Church revised its Book of Common Prayer in 1979, it provided two settings of liturgy for the Daily Office and the Eucharist: Rite I and Rite II. The language of various Books of Common Prayer in Anglican Christianity had been very similar throughout the centuries since Cranmer’s first English book in the1500s. The 1979 BCP sought to update both the liturgy and the language. The most apparent change is the shift from “thee” and “thou” and “thine” to “you” and “yours” in Rite II. There were other changes as well. Some of them applied to both Rite I and Rite II (in the structure of the Liturgy). But Rite I also retained much of the theological language from prior books—language that Rite II simplified as it updated it. Some of that simplification moved from a more penitential feel (aware of our sin and need of God’s grace) to a less penitential and perhaps more celebratory feel to the liturgy. Another change is increased participation by the congregation in Rite II. Some of that simplification also reduced a lot of technical theological language in the prayers. With several centuries between us and the Protestant Reformation, perhaps we are less concerned about how Jesus’ death on the cross is a “full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction” for our sins. But perhaps we should be! “Praying Shapes Believing” is an old saying: the language of our prayers teaches us about God and reinforces what we believe. Because of this, Rite I is a helpful way to draw us deeper into the meaning and purpose of God in Christ, and the great gift that we have received in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Lent is a particularly good time for Rite I as it helps us express our sorrow at our sins and the greatness of God’s grace in forgiving us and reconciling us to him. Note in particular the Confession, the Absolution and comfortable words, and the prayer of humble access (after the breaking of the bread). Note also the boldness in the prayers that call for Christians to “agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love” and for clergy to “both by their life and doctrine set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments” and for the people to truly serve God “in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life,” and “honor thee with their substance, and be faithful stewards of thy bounty.” These are rich prayers for God’s grace, and they remind us of a higher aim for the Christian life. In Rite I, the Shakespearean language (and the use of the generic masculine) can be foreign to people, especially visitors. That is a downside to Rite I, and a good reason for us to use Rite II in other seasons. I’ve heard it said that the rubrics (the rules of the prayer book) allow adapting Rite II to “thee” and “thou;” I wonder if Rite I could be adapted to “you” and “yours,” allowing the richness of the language to come through without some of the stranger word forms. I invite you to pay close attention to the language in Rite I; notice the richness of theological claims present in the prayers, as well as the heartfelt devotion and emotion in the poetry of the historic prayer book language. Allow the prayers to welcome you into a place before God that is both humble in our humanity, and lifted up by God’s grace. Ponder with greater depth the greatness of God and the fullness of a life following Jesus. How do you respond to Rite I? Where does it bless you? Where does it challenge you? Where does Rite II do a better job of expressing your prayers and praise? May you grow in grace through our worship of God this Lent. Yours in Christ, -Tom


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