Over at Topmost Apple there’s a discussion about the east-wall altar written—I believe—by a current or former dean of Nashotah House. In any case, it’s interesting to see the responses. Furthermore, it’s time to set them within the larger picture. Academic thought tends to move in pendulum swings. A good idea moves a field in a certain direction. The trajectory pushes the idea to its acceptable limits. Then beyond them into the borders of wacky-land. The next generation pulls it back more toward the center in an vaguely Oedipal exercise of doktor-vater slaying and this movement, in turn, moves the pendulum in a different direction. The process repeats itself in generational cycles.
The field of liturgy has been dominated by the success of the Liturgical Renewal movement. This is the Protestant side of the movement that resulted in Vatican II. Essentially it called for a return to third/fourth century norms, an elevation of the place of the people, and the suppression of clericalism. It’s tied in to Baby Boomer notions of equality and social justice making itself present in the liturgy. The young fiery proponents of this way of doing things that shook things up then are now the endowed-chair professors and are starting to retire if they haven’t died already. So—we’re talking Don Saliers, Gordon Lathrop, Aidan Kavanaugh, Paul Bradshaw, etc. These people were responsible for the liturgies enshrined in the liturgical books of the late second half of the twentieth century.
But now—their time is over.
The critiques have already begun. The east-wall altar discussion is symptomatic of a larger questioning of their theological and liturgical project. They turned the altars around. They put the liturgy back into the vernacular of the people (remember y’all—until the most recent BCP and the LBW services were still in thees and thous…). They emphasized the role and participation of the people. Now, we’re starting to rethink these innovations. Now we get to look at them again through the lens of time. It’s time for us to start sorting through in order to find what we’ve gained and what we’ve lost. And certainly, gains were made. Dirty bathwater was poured out. However, it’s now our job to discover the babies that went with it and to re-collect them. It’s time to re-question some of the assumptions that were foundational to these scholars.
In the course of this sorting process, however, the pendulum is being pushed—but where does it go now? As we move the pendulum away from the borders of wacky-land (self-congratulatory congregation-centered prayers, entertainment liturgy, etc.) where should it go from here? Where does the renewal move?
The way I read it—feeling the pulses that are out there—I’d like to see it move to rediscovering monastic qualities. A lot of us are drawn to this, especially some of the Benedictine forms. The rhythm of the Offices, living into the Psalter, a community at prayer lay and clergy combined, the antiquity and authenticity of a prayer tradition rooted in our common Catholic heritage and emphasized again in the Anglican Reformation all speak to a postmodern world that earns high marks for style but low marks for substance.
What do you think?