One of the fun perks of watching the liturgical revision process carefully and attentively over the past 3 or 4 years is noticing what has been pretty consistent from the start, and where the pinball machines are located. The Suffrage (also known as the Lesser Litany or the Preces & Responses) in the Daily Office is one such instance, having gone through a subtle edit or two almost every year.
Is a “subtle edit”, you may ask, really worth mentioning? Sure, some changes are bigger than others, and there’s no major doctrinal conflict at stake in this Suffrage, but the fact that it’s part of the Daily Office – a service of prayer common to all Christians as opposed to the Prayers of Consecration only ever read aloud by priests and bishops – makes it a point of contact for real common prayer. This is the sort of thing that people memorize after a while, so even the small and subtle changes can be jarring for regular pray-ers of the Daily Office (especially if you’ve sung these at Choral Evensong or something).
The starting point for these call-and-response prayers seemed to be the version found in the 1979 Prayer Book, and the constant question seemed to be how much further they should be rolled back towards the style and wording of the classical books. Let’s take a look at how these have been translated and adapted.
It should be noted, further, that the ordering of these prayers is a little different in the 1979 book. We’re following the order as found in our own 2019 prayer book, which matches the historic order with one addition.
The First Pair (Psalm 85:7)
1662: O Lord, show thy mercy upon us; And grant us thy salvation.
2018: O Lord, show your mercy upon us; And grant us your salvation.
2016: O Lord, show us your mercy; And grant us your salvation.
1979: Show us your mercy, O Lord; And grant us your salvation.
This one is subtle. The difference between “show us your mercy” and “show your mercy upon us” is significant. The former, as in the 1979 book and 2016 draft, is a general request that could be answered in any form. The latter, as in the historic and probably-final draft of the new book, asks for such a show of divine mercy to be enacted upon us specifically. It’s just like the translation of the Kyrie – “Lord have mercy” versus “Lord have mercy upon us.”
The Second Pair (Psalm 20:9)
1662: O Lord, save the King. And mercifully hear us, when we call upon thee.
2018: O Lord, guide those who govern us; And lead us in the way of justice and truth.
2016: O Lord, save our nations; And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
1979: Lord, keep this nation under your care; And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
This is an inevitably tricky one, as the verse needs “translating” the moment it leaves England. A traditional option was “O Lord, save the state”, but that’s actually quite divergent from the original – praying for a country or government rather than a specific person or leader. And so you can see the sweep of thinking and re-thinking as this prayer is adapted into North American life while still seeking to be faithful to the original verse.
I don’t know why “and hear us when we call upon you” hasn’t been restored though, as that’s what our Revised Coverdale Psalter now reads. Force of recent American habit, perhaps?
The Third Pair (Psalm 132:9)
1662: Endue thy Ministers with righteousness; And make thy chosen people joyful.
2016: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; And make your chosen people joyful.
2018: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; And let your people sing with joy.
1979: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; Let your people sing with joy.
Our Revised Coverdale Psalter translates the second half of this verse “And let your saints sing with joy.” There’s an interesting balance in the 2018 version, as a result: we’re making closer use of our psalter’s translation of the verse, yet also retaining a rhythm (or syllable count) that matches the 1662 almost exactly. This especially makes it easier for those who chant or sing these prayers to adapt to the new wording; though even just reading it with a similar cadence is a pleasant experience.
The Fourth Pair (Psalm 28:9)
1662: O Lord, save thy people; And bless thine inheritance.
2018: O Lord, save your people; And bless your inheritance.
2016: O Lord, save your people; And bless your inheritance.
1979: Let your way be known upon earth; Your saving health among all nations. (Psalm 67:2)
The 1979 Prayer Book omitted this one entirely and used a different verse instead. It’s a fine prayer (it’s all Scripture), but we’re going back to the original.
The Fifth Pair (Leviticus 26:6)
1662: Give peace in our time, O Lord; Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God.
2018: Give peace in our time, O Lord; And defend us by your mighty power.
2016: Give peace in our time, O Lord; For only in you can we live in safety.
1979: Give peace, O Lord, in all the world; For only in you can we live in safety.
I secretly suspect that the double-length of this response is the bane of every modern liturgist, who I’m assuming wants every line to look close to the same length. The question, of course, is how to shorten it faithfully. That half is not directly in Leviticus 26:6, but is simply implied in the context (and throughout the Old Testament), so, unless there’s something I’m missing, we are at liberty to rephrase it without direct scriptural appeal. I can see why the more radical end of the modernist revisionists wouldn’t want to talk about God “fighting” and prefer to emphasize our “safety” in him. But it makes more sense to me, as with the 2018 probably-final version, to be a little more explicit about God defending us by his might power.
The Sixth Pair (Psalm 9:18)
1662: (This one wasn’t added until 1979 as far as I’m aware.)
2016: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
2018: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
1979: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
This one’s a bit of an anomaly. The 1979 Prayer Book added this one in, for what I believe was the first time in Prayer Book history. It’s a fine prayer, straight from the psalter in that book. What amuses me is the fact that we haven’t updated its wording to match more closely our psalter, which reads:
For the poor shall not always be forgotten; * the patient hope of the meek shall not perish for ever.
It’s possible that the 2019 book will make some final edits here, but it’s probably more likely that the “inertia” of liturgy will result in this prayer remaining the same as in 1979.
The Seventh Pair (Psalm 51:11)
1662: O God, make clean our hearts within us; And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.
2018: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And take not your Holy Spirit from us.
2016: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And take not your Holy Spirit from us.
1979: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.
This verse is a classic point of argumentation among Christians; there are those who argue that such a concern/prayer is no longer applicable to us under the New Covenant. The 1979 Prayer Book certainly cracked under that pressure and changed “take not from us” to “sustain us with”, completely sidestepping the issue and rewriting the Bible verse. As I’ve said a few times before, it’s a fine prayer, but we’re sticking with the original.