Thursday, December 9, 2010

Eucharistic Prayer for Inclusive Communities @sofiabmm

This post is part of my series on prayer booksI received a complimentary review copy of this book without a requirement or expectation of a positive review.

Eucharistic Prayer for Inclusive Communities comes in two volumes, Themes and Special Occasions and Possibilities for the Liturgical Year. The volume titles are rather good definitions of the respective books. Volume 1 can be used year-round for various life cycle events, while the second volume is organized aroudn the traditional liturgical year. They were edited by Sheila Durkin Dierks and Bridget Mary Meehan, while the prayers were compiled from a variety of men and women worldwide.

The central focus of the volumes is time to gather to enjoy, celebrate, and experience the Eucharist (also known as Communion). Therefore, they are intended to be used in a group, communal setting rather than for individual devotion.

Besides the focus of the prayers on the Eucharist and community, these books particularly emphasize inclusion--communities that are not defined by walls and in- and out-groups. Meehan, in particular, has been advocating for female clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, so there is a strong feminist theme that runs through the books.

Ultimately, these prayer books are particularly aimed at more liturgical congregants of Catholic, Episcopalian, or Anglican traditions who emphasize inclusion in their communities. As the authors noted in the introduction of volume 1, many of the traditional Eucharistic prayers have been lost over time and create a feeling of exclusion for certain groups. The authors seem to want to help people feel welcomed to worship and connect with God, which is a noble and difficult task.

One way they attempt to be more welcoming is by intentionally using more inclusive language (those who have followed the debates over the TNIV know how controversial this can be in some circles). This inclusive language even moves to language about God. Specifically, the authors state:
A couple of thoughts: we encourage variations in naming toward God. The world is full of amazing possibilities, and as you give yourself permission to stretch in words of Eucharistic prayer, you will also find new ways of calling out to God in all the her/his/its wonderful abundance. (Vol. 1, p. xii)
Gender ambiguity related to God can definitely be controversial, but as most theologians would agree God is without gender, it should be less controversial than many make it out to be, in my opinion. Even if one is comfortable using male gendered language with God, changing our language temporarily can help us remember why we use the words we use.

The websites for each book also include a sample liturgy from the books. These definitely represent the "high church," strong liturgical traditions, so checking a sample could be good if you are unsure if you are a fan of liturgy. If you are a "low church" Protestant who is new to and exploring the liturgical traditions, other prayer books, like Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, may be a better start, as it provides more instruction and guidance. However, for those who love liturgy, this is an excellent resource.

The prayers are strong and definitely represent inclusive language. Those who are open to different approaches to language about God could benefit from these prayers in stepping back from routine ways of talking about God in order to remember the meaning in our language.

Unless the reader is a feminist or a strong advocate of explicit inclusive language, this may not be a resource for regular use. I definitely want to see more inclusion in communities and am an egalitarian rather than a complementarian, but the text was still representative of a perspective that is more "liberal" than my own and would probably not be one I would use. Again, though, it is still useful as a way to reflect on my own position and beliefs, and I can definitely see how this can be a very valuable prayer book for many people.

I received PDF versions of the books, but I was told they come in spiral-bound versions, which are made so they easily lay flat during times of prayer and celebration, making them sound quite user-friendly.

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