By Hugo Olaiz
An interview with the Rev. Dr. Juan Oliver, Custodian of The Book of Common Prayer
You are the custodian of The Book of Common Prayer in the Episcopal Church. What does your work entail?
Basically I am responsible for certifying that what is published is the text approved by General Convention. I am also responsible for certifying that translations into languages other than English are faithful to the original.
You once told me that when we say, “Book of Common Prayer,” it’s not the text of the prayers what we have in common, but rather the structure of the Anglican liturgy. Can you explain that?
Not quite. What I was referring to was the decision by the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation regarding the meaning of “common” throughout the Anglican Communion. Across the Communion there is not a single BCP, but a variety of them, and what they all have in common is a shared liturgical structure of prayer. However, in the case of a province of the Communion, like the Episcopal Church, “common” refers to the BCP and other liturgical texts as approved by the General Convention.
What are some of the resolutions proposed for this upcoming General Convention (2018)related to The Book of Common Prayer and liturgy in general?
There are several:
- As I said above, Resolution A063 calls for clarification on the relative canonical standing of different types of liturgical materials.
- Resolution A064 calls for approval of the submitted new revision of The Book of Occasional Services.
- Resolution A065 calls for approval of the accompanying new edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
- Resolution A066 calls for the addition of Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray, and Li-Tim-Oi to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2018.
- Resolution A067 calls for the GC to ask the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to consider adding additional days to Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 and to present its recommendations to General Convention in 2021.
- Resolution A068 calls for the revision of The Book of Common Prayer 1979, mandates the SCLM to implement the submitted plan, and asks for $1,917,025 for its implementation–a process taking at the very least six years, and probably twelve to fifteen.
- Resolution A069 calls for a Commitment to The Book of Common Prayer 1979, and mandates the SCLM to develop a process for the whole church to be better formed in its theology, practice and implications, concentrating especially in the use of the BCP for catechesis, formation and discernment throughout the church, Cost: $1,180,625.
- Resolution A070 calls for new translations of the BCP 1979 into Spanish, French and Haitian Creole.
- Resolution A085 calls for the authorization for trial use of additions to the BCP, the liturgical resources put forth by the SCLM last General Convention to celebrate the marriage (or blessing, if civil law does not allow it) of couples of the same sex: “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage,” “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2,” “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage 2,” and “An Order for Marriage 2,” beginning the First Sunday of Advent 2018.
You belong to Facebook groups that discuss the Episcopal liturgy. What are some of the topics or themes that come up?
Many, too many to list here, but I would encourage readers to visit:
Rubric: Dissecting the Rubrics of the Episcopal Liturgy (I rarely post there).
Liturgical Theology: My page dedicated to exploring theological issues at the core of liturgical matters.
By the way, I would love to learn of any Facebook pages or groups dedicated to discussing why we need a revision of the BCP, what such a revision might entail, and the theological issues at stake.
A new version of the Spanish translation of the BCP, dated March, 2016, was released on line. It includes minor changes authorized by the last General Convention. What was your involvement in this project?
I certified the version, as it included calendric revisions made by the last General Convention. I am not responsible for typographical errors!
What are some of the issues that native Spanish speakers have raised in regard to the need for a new translation into Spanish?
There are two main challenges regarding the current Spanish translation of the BCP:
A) Rite I is very rarely used anywhere. I wonder if it would be used more if it were translated into sixteenth century Spanish, but I doubt it. Still, if it is in the English BCP, it should be in any Spanish translation of it.
B) The main challenge of the current translation is that the translators were obliged by the Custodian back then to translate literally. Thus the book reads as if we were “….thinking in English but speaking in Spanish,” as a lay person said to me in Puerto Rico recently.
To remedy this, the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music has developed new guidelines for the translation of liturgical texts. Our Task Force on Translations consists of native speakers and works with the assistance of the Language Department at 815. The Task Force will:
- publicize translation projects with professional literary translators.
- interview and hire them.
- stay in constant dialogue with them as they work.
- manage a process of receiving feedback from congregations, liturgical theologians, writers and professors of literature.
- develop final drafts with the translators for my certification and publication.
Personally, would you like to see a new Book of Common Prayer in English? How about a new Libro de Oración Común?
What great questions you ask! I am of two minds regarding the need for a new BCP–which could be anything from a slightly improved ‘79 BCP to a completely new book. First, as great a work as the 1979 BCP is, there are aspects of it that are already sounding dated to many and make me want to update it. I am not in favor of major theological changes to the BCP.
On the other hand, there is also a series of developments in New Testament studies that are bringing up some important insights into what was originally meant by its writers in their time and context. This alone makes me want to wait another ten years or more until these developments take root –or not– since they will affect the liturgical language used until now by English speakers.
As to a Spanish (Latin American) BCP, Prof. Louis Weil called for one as far back as 1971 but nothing has happened to date. The excuses are many, but the challenges can be met. For example, it could take gradual form, developing over time, through efforts by Latinx congregations, clergy and theologians whose native languages are Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, French, and Haitian Creole. It would take some time, but I would not reject the idea out of hand.