For most of the rest of 2019, our Thursday posts will be walking through the Communion service of the 2019 Prayer Book. Today we’re starting at the beginning, the Opening Acclamation.
We’ve looked at these once before during Advent, and have noted how the Opening Sentences of the Daily Office have taken on a similar role in modern liturgy. So let’s look at the Acclamation that occupies the majority of the Church Calendar Year.
The people standing, the Celebrant says this or a seasonal greeting.
Celebrant Blessed be God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
People And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever. Amen.
Besides this, the Prayer Book has about eight other Acclamations to choose from, according to the season or occasion. Most of them are quotes from or references to Scripture; a couple of them (like this one) are not.
Functionally, these are what one might entitle “The Call to Worship”, and is very similar to the beginning exhortation in the Office right before the Confession, or the Invitatory dialogue and psalm. A traditionalist might look down his nose at these Acclamations, however, for they are not a part of Prayer Book tradition before 1979. But there is more background to them than meets the eye.
In Western liturgical tradition, the introit is a “proper” – a text that is paired with the Collect and lessons of the Mass. It’s usually a few verses from a psalm, though sometimes other Scriptures or texts comprise an introit. It usually ends with a Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father). Each Sunday and holy day (and, I presume, minor saints day and votive mass) would have its own introit. These Acclamations in modern tradition is actually a reduction and simplification – instead of having a particular introit for each mass of the year, there are just these nine or so Acclamations. The Roman Catholic Church has done something similar with its liturgy; some of their Acclamations are very similar to ours.
An attentive reader or worshiper may notice that this Acclamation is different than it was in the 1979 Prayer Book. That book rendered it:
Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We, meanwhile, have added “the” to each person of the Trinity. Why?
It’s more explicit about trinitarian theology. The previous format can leave one with the unconscious impression that God is a nebulous entity with three aspects, and fall into the heresies of sabellianism or modalism. But stating, instead the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we subtly emphasize that these are three distinct persons, not just modes of being that God can switch between. Yes it’s subtle, and yes it’s implicit, but that’s one of the important things about worship and common prayer: little things repeated enough times can have a huge impact.
Did this phrase along cause the catastrophic descent of the Episcopal Church into theological chaos in the latter quarter of the 20th century? No, probably not. More likely it was a symptom of pre-existent trends. But it is a phrase that we found we could adopt and improve for a clearer proclamation of the identity of the God we are gathering to worship that day, and every day.