The Church of England has recently introduced a modern version of its services entitled “common worship”.
This provides the latest alternatives to the traditional language of the sixteenth and seventeenth century versions. There has been fierce controversy about the appropriateness of the changes, with the Prince of Wales defending the seventeenth century publication and the bishop of Salisbury supporting the new book.Published in autumn 1999, the book of common worship was the new proposal from the Church of England to replace the Book of Common Prayer that had graced the pews of churches nationwide since 1661.
Its introduction provoked dispute between Christians as the argument of tradition over the need for change began.The BCP contains services like communion and is written in what is known today as early modern English, similar to that of Shakespeare’s work. By taking into account the current purposes and priorities of the Church of England; as numbers of people attending services are diminishing it would be recommended to prioritise improving its appeal to the masses, thus increasing interest and believers. We then have to consider whether maintaining the tradition and the heritage of “common prayer” is more valued to the church than the amount of people attending church. Putting the content of BCP into the modern day context it is not practical.It is argued that the dated language alienates attendance numbers in church as it is harder to understand, therefore has less significance in meaning. For example archaic and unfamiliar lexis such as the use of the subjunctive “glory be to god”, compound words “only-begotten” and repetition of “thou” are all unfamiliar to the young audience of today that the church is wishing to attract if they wish attendance numbers to augment. Therefore confusing and losing any meaning of the holy texts to an audience who are less favourable to making an effort to comprehend something that is considered boring and insignificant in comparison to the modern alternatives available.
On the other hand it is claimed that by progressing to the book of common worship we are detracting the religious significance and stigma that is carried through such archaisms as “thou that sittest at the right hand of god”, where there is a change from complex to simple sentence structure. It is said by many traditional Christians including the Prince of Wales that the archaic language envelops a sense of religion and defines it as “holy” in the world where the language has evolved so much it is largely different to that of four hundred years ago, therefore without it we detracts the holy message and implications. Without retaining the BCP the church risks losing the remaining worshippers it has; but are we being disrespectful to ask implement change or are we trapped in thinking that formality= religion? What dictates this potential social divide? Is Prince Charles’s approach not biased when you consider his fortunate, wealthy upper class upbringing?By keeping the BCP it is still argued that the church is being hypocritical in its appeal for more worshippers as that is their duty to serve god and spread the word of Jesus. Therefore by not changing to the proposed edition of common worship is the church not marketing itself as an “exclusive club”, of which you can only join and appreciate the teachings of God if you have had the right upbringing and are capable of comprehending the English used such as irregular verbal inflections “thou art”. Why would people today learn an unused language when it is never used, is it not unreasonable to expect this?Tradition and heritage however play a strong point in preserving the identity of the church, by keeping the language original and respectful to god to define his holy status. “O Lord.
..” although is not used today is clearly recognisable as an indication to devotion to god, thus emphasising his importance to whoever is speaking. Connotation versus denotation also needs to be considered, as meaning and value of words change over time; therefore it is believed this causes ambiguities amongst readers. However without this prominence would god really be considered less worthy? Those in favour of the book of common worship believe on the other hand that an up to date lexis and use of collocation such as “you alone” instead of “thou only” eliminates these ambiguities and surely makes the messages clearer therefore conveying god’s message as the church aims to do.Examples of analogies such as “lamb of god” nowadays provoke imagery of the successful heavy metal band to young people not the central image to the religion therefore suggesting to me that there are issues of ambiguity to still be dealt with as the mind of people unaware or appreciative of religion is not easily persuaded as the church wishes.With a relevant lexis, using modern denotation (which will need to be updated when meanings change) and a pertinent syntax the book of common worship is a step towards reforming the modern conception of the church of England by many people of whom the church also wants to attract, therefore it would be hypocritical to alienate them with morals of tradition when there is an opportunity for successful reform.
Finally it is the personal interpretation of a text what religion is all about. You can’t let someone else decide for you what it says, but it is about getting people to want to read such religious texts in the first place that is the real task as a religion cannot be forced upon someone if they don’t want to adhere to it.