Common Worship (2000): Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. [This collect has a reading age of 21, says Bayliss.]
Bayliss also supplies two simpler versions for comparison, the second of which I presume has been developed by Bayliss himself:
Alternative Modern Language Version (2004): Lord of heaven and earth, as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer, give us patience and courage never to lose hope, but always to bring our prayers before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Reading age: 18.]
A version with more encouraging readability statistics: Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus taught his followers to keep praying. Teach us never to lose hope, but always to bring our prayers before you. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Reading age: 8.]
The final version of the collect listed is an improvement on the previous two—certainly if part of the purpose of liturgy is to enable worshipper participation in the drama of a church service. Bayliss, drawing from other studies, argues that the use of unfamiliar and/or polysyllabic words (words with more than three syllables, he clarifies) and long sentences prevents worshippers from truly engaging with the liturgy. ‘Liturgies that avoid both complex words and longer sentences (of more than 20 words) can be developed successfully,’ Bayliss concludes. I have no reason to doubt him.
It’s important here to recognise that Bayliss isn’t suggesting that liturgy be dumbed down; the absence of polysyllabic words or overly long sentences in liturgy doesn’t entail an unsophisticated theology. There will always be a need for theological explanation for those who aren’t content merely to say the words. Consider Bayliss’s version, which contains the phrase: ‘We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ This is a simply expressed statement pregnant with theological meaning: What does it mean to ask God something through Jesus Christ? Why do we ask God through Jesus Christ? What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ is our Lord and our Lord? Good theological insight can still work its way through simpler liturgy. There’s no need to employ multiclaused sentences, as though these are somehow more ‘spiritual’ than simple sentences. Is it really more spiritual to say, ‘We give you thanks, O Lord’ than to say, ‘Thank you, Lord’?
Bayliss’s recommendations might be helpful for ministers, too. Sometimes I think some worshippers lose interest in what’s going on, especially during the Eucharistic Prayers, because the liturgy isn’t performed appropriately. While a Eucharistic Prayer isn’t the same thing as a Shakespearean soliloquy, imagine how flat the latter would likely sound if it were delivered by someone with limited theatrical training or with little sense of metre. Simpler liturgy might help ministers pray a Eucharistic Prayer in a way that conveys the importance of the sacrament without it coming across as gibberish, a formula, or an incantation.
Preachers and other speakers might benefit from Bayliss’s advice as well. When I practise a draft sermon, I suppose that if I have difficulty in saying something—and I do mean saying something—then I need to simplify that sentence, either by leaving out words, changing words, or breaking a sentence into shorter ones. My underlying assumption here is that if I have problems speaking what I’ve written, then the congregation will likely have problems listening to me or understanding what I’ve written. Thus I believe Bayliss’s recommendations for liturgists are also relevant for speakers more generally.