This past Sunday at my church, the Collect for the 3rd Sunday in Lent was this tried and true traditional prayer:
We beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I love this. It’s simple, to the point, and comprehensive. It submits all the desires of our hearts to Him; it asks for His defence against all our enemies. So when I saw another less traditional and slightly notorious diocese (Some of you know the one.) had this as their collect . . .
Heavenly Father, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you: Look with compassion upon the heartfelt desires of your servants, and purify our disordered affections, that we may behold your eternal glory in the face of Christ Jesus; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I thought there goes that diocese again.
But then I looked and saw that is the same collect used in the ACNA 2019 Book of Common Prayer. So this was not just that diocese, but the Anglican Church in North America as a whole (although many ACNA churches, like mine, use traditional BCPs and thereby stick to the traditional collect).
Now the ACNA 2019 Lent 3 collect is certainly a good prayer. Unlike the TEC 1979 BCP, which utterly threw away the traditional collect, it somewhat restores the pattern of presenting the desires of our hearts to God and of asking for help against “disordered affections.” And quoting St. Augustine is always good.
But it is still a departure from the traditional collect, which goes back not only to Cranmer but to the first millennium. Cranmer’s version in traditional BCPs is a respectful translation of the ancient Latin collect.
I usually do not like liturgical departures because I like praying with the whole catholic church present and past as much as possible. I could go on a good rant about that. But what bothers me more — and, yes, I will rant about this, thank you — is that “enemies” remains expunged from the newer ACNA 2019 collect.
Look, I get it that the enemies to which we should pay the most attention are internal, particularly “our disordered affections.” Pogo was downright Biblical when he said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” And in the Gospel for Lent 3, Jesus warned against a dead and barren internal life that is wide open for Satan’s infiltration. I get that — or at least I hope I get it — and am trying not to be my own worst enemy. I know I need to focus on such during Lent.
But “all our enemies” are far more, both in strength and number, than our inward “disordered affections.” Right now I know there are enemies out there who have too much influence and too much power and would be happy to put me in the gulag. And if they cannot do that, they would be very pleased to take away my rights and freedoms and turn me into a dhimmi. Some of these and many others, increasing in number due to weak border and criminal justice policies, are predatory criminals and sociopaths who would be pleased to make prey of you and me.
So I am comforted when I hear the Lord and His Holy Church know about those enemies and are concerned about thwarting them. I need that encouragement. I need that comfort. I need to know, I need to hear, I am not alone against those enemies. The traditional Lent 3 collect gives me that comfort. The ACNA 2019 Lent 3 collect does not.
I see this as a small part of the weakening, even feminization, of liturgy in the modern church. Part of the weakening is we are squeamish about calling enemies “enemies.” Several of the Psalms make us cringe. Some Psalm passages are even omitted from public reading. Some public acknowledgement of enemies remains, such as in The Litany (Who prays The Litany much anyway other than those old traditionalists?). But the less we mention enemies the better. Why be so unpleasant?
I cannot quite put my finger on just exactly why the modern church is this way. And I should say here that I do not presume to know the mind of the ACNA BCP task force either. I do have issues with their final product while I appreciate the faithfulness and hard work of the members. But, by their own choice and even after gentle warnings from others, including me, they were influenced by the 1979 BCP, thus allowing modern influences to creep into the ACNA BCP.
With those caveats, I suspect part of the problem is that we, overly influenced by decadent modern Western culture, are more reluctant to say clearly that someone or a group of people are sinful or wrong or evil. We shy away from such harsh moral judgements. We can even be diffident about admitting we are sinful as reflected in the toning down in the General Confession of sin. We don’t even like saying we are “miserable offenders.” So we are all the more loath to call others our enemies or even to acknowledge such exist, except perhaps for those straight white “cis” men, of course. And even then we don’t call them enemies; we just treat them that way.
But Jesus said we should love our enemies; he did not say we have no enemies. Of course, by saying we should love our enemies, he said, yes, we do have enemies. Neither was Tolkien nor Lewis the least bit squeamish about writing of enemies. Take enemies out of Lord of the Rings or out of The Screwtape Letters and you turn great manly works of literature into pablum.
The more we take enemies out of our liturgy, the closer we get to turning it into pablum as well. And that repels godly real men and godly real women. It repels men and women with backbones and eyes to see. Anyone who has striven for Christ to do what is right and needful knows that stirs up enemies, especially Satan but not only him. What are those of such godly courage then to think of a church that is timid about recognizing enemies?
Living right and doing anything of importance stirs up any number of enemies who serve Satan. Tolkien knew that. C. S. Lewis knew that. The Apostles and Fathers and any number of holy saints knew that, many of whom knew death at the hands of enemies. Above all, God and His Holy Scriptures know that.
If we are going to do right by real men and real women of God, our liturgy must show that we know that, too. God’s faithful people need to hear, in church and from the church, that the right hand of the Majesty of God is “our defence against all our enemies, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!”
So liturgical wimpiness begone! Earnestly plead for “the might of Jesus Christ our Lord” to “defend us . . . in all assaults of our enemies” so that we “may not fear the power of any adversaries.”* Pray for our enemies — even if they hate it! — that the mighty arm of God humble them to repentance or to defeat.
*From the traditional BCP office of Morning Prayer, of course.