Professor Samuel L. Bray recently highlighted in his article, “‘And (Apart From Your Grace) There is No Health In Us’ Weighing the merits of a liturgical revision“, that the proposed ACNA Book of Common Prayer has qualified the classical prayer book phrase “there is no health in us” in the daily office General Confession. I commend his well-researched article to everyone and hope the ACNA Liturgy Task Force will heed his advise and simply retain the clause “And there is no health in us” without qualification.
Today I write regarding a different clause that has been excluded altogether from the same General Confession found in the order for both morning and evening prayer. The (in)famous clause, “miserable offenders,” follows directly after the line “And there is no health in us” in the classical prayer book. However, in the proposed ACNA daily office General Confession, the line simply says “O Lord, have mercy upon us.” It omits the following clause, “miserable offenders” and follows the language (or lack thereof) found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Rite One General Confession.
This omission is in need of correction. I applaud the ACNA Liturgy Task Force in restoring, albeit with qualification, the line “there is no health in us” but suggest they also restore the full language of the clause following it: “O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.” The term “miserable offenders” identifies humanity for precisely what we are and explains why we are asking for mercy from the Creator.
Additionally, no less a luminary than C.S. Lewis cautioned against the liturgical revisionism in his day and urged the retention of the very same clause in his essay, “‘Miserable Offenders’ An Interpretation of Prayer Book Language.” In the words of the immortal Lewis:
ONE of the advantages of having a written and printed service, is that it enables you to see when people’s feelings and thoughts have changed. When people begin to find the words of our service difficult to join in, that is of course a sign that we do not feel about those things exactly as our ancestors. Many people have, as their immediate reaction to that situation the simple remedy — “Well, change the words” — which would be very sensible if you knew that we are right and our ancestors were wrong. It is always at least worth while to find out who it is that is wrong.
This brief essay is a must read for laity and liturgists alike. “Modernizing” language or omitting language that is offensive to the modern mind also results in changing the theology of the Church’s rule of prayer. The use of the term “miserable offenders” in the context of asking the Lord to have mercy upon us strikes home the fact that there is truly “no health in us” and, as Lewis explains, we are miserable as we are to be pitied for the state of affairs we find ourselves. This is exactly why we are asking for the Lord’s mercy.
Indeed, after this cry for mercy upon miserable offenders such as ourselves, the General Confession turns to asking God to forgive those who are penitent. The confession ends with a request that we may repent and then turn to the Lord for restoration and assistance in living “a godly, righteous, and sober life” to glorify His holy Name. But unless we realize the depths of our sinfulness, how can we truly ask for repentance and restoration? It is precisely because we are miserable offenders without any health in us that we need repentance in the first place. Furthermore, because of where we find ourselves, we are in desperate need for the Lord’s help in turning towards a godly, righteous, and sober life.
If you agree with restoring “miserable offenders” to the daily office general confession then please contact the ACNA Liturgy Task Force immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org as they are quickly closing the time period for further comments and edits to the proposed ACNA 2019 BCP.