Liturgy Thoughts

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?

16 thoughts on “Liturgy Thoughts

  1. *Christopher


    I couldn’t say it any better, and this has given me pause to consider exactly what I should write my dissertation on–perhaps on a posture itself–the facing East? What does this say for our time? We’ll see. I do think that the Benedictine tradition in particular has a lot to offer in this regard.

    Last night I was commenting, rather ranting, to C about the Renewing Worship teaching manual he brought home–“geared toward babyboomers”.

    BTW: Some of those retiring have deep issues with what has been termed the Lathrop project in Renewing Worship in the ELCA. You know of whom I’m speaking. And I agree with him on the end of self-congratulation social-justice not rooted in someone Greater. No more Marty Haugen masses for me, thanks…

    In this case, their may be some Electra Complex matters. Some doktorin-muter slaying going on as well. Remember Gail Ramshaw, Marjorie Proctor-Smith and such are also a part of this turn.

    Gains were made, we remembered YET AGAIN that we’re participating in a meal, but I’m greatly afraid that in emphasizing that, we’ve lost sight of the MEAL we’re actually participating in.

    bless you for this.

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    “In this case, their may be some Electra Complex matters. Some doktorin-muter slaying going on as well. Remember Gail Ramshaw, Marjorie Proctor-Smith and such are also a part of this turn.”

    Excellent point; I was remiss in not adding them to the list.

    Yes–our dissertation choices, yours, mine, lp’s, M’s, will have an impact of some sort on how this develops… Furthermore, it’s not just the clergy and teachers of clergy who matter in this respect. Too much of the liturgical renewal movement–especially in its waning years–left the realm of the practical and the functional. Lay people thought it was crap. And that’s where any learned types must have humility. Folks like bls, Charlotte, and other concerned intellegent laity (and academics not in liturgics like Anastasia) are also going to play their parts.

  3. Anastasia

    i’m all for slaying gordon lathrop :) sorry i don’t have anything much more intelligent to say. i need to go read the discussion a topmost apple.

  4. *Christopher


    Absolutely. Since a lot of my work is actually at the parish level education-wise and at a good gay-sensible Anglo-catholic one at that, you’re right and this layman and scholar is hand-in-hand with folks in the pews who find much of the last push of renewal to be crap–the 1979 is really the final line for me in most cases with a few exceptions like the introduction of the Trisagion.

    Education is multivalent conversation and what I’m hearing from the pews is a deep desire for improvement on some of those 1979 “improvements”, meaning a reconsideration of time-honoured practices like facing East, beautiful language, CHANT!, Daily Office, weekday Eucharist (all of which have theological import)…I only hope to join others adding my two-cents to the project with scholarship to shore up the concerns of others.

  5. David B.

    I would like to see us getting away from silly academic trendiness in liturgy, that takes our worship further from our own traditions and disenfranchises all but a few of the academic “in-crowd.” I would argue that the worship revisions in many churches amounts to a kind of clericalism (or academic elitism) because they are products of liturgical revisers who have moved far away from what the laity wants/expects.

    I used to avoid the worship services at seminary because they were the flakiest events out there. The planners were more concerned with exising masculine pronouns than planning something that gave glory and honor to God most high. Perhaps a whole class on “worship” would be appropriate.

    I think rediscovering monastic prayer is a good idea, as is looking to the medieval developments, both East and West, to help shape our future liturgies. Also, looking to our own past traditions is helpful, as is abandoning the modern chauvenism sometimes present among liturgical revisers.

  6. Gracious Light

    Okay… you all know that I consider myself a Saliers disciple… both in his writings on Liturgy and the social justice implications (funny, the standard rap on baby boomers has always been narsissism, not worrying aobut the plight of their neighbor) so my apologies if I come across huffy.

    I agree that liturgy and the discussions of the topic needs to be pulled out of the ivory tours and given to the whole body.

    I also must admit that in some circumstances people went too far (Marjorie Proctor-Smith’s book that deconstructed the liturgy as being Roman court proceedings and as such need to be done away with is a good example. A point that needed to be told but also needed to be the extreme of the pendulum).

    But if liturgy IS, literally, the work of the people, then what good is it for the Body to go back to monastic-style offices. I remember being SO excited about being in York for Evensong. We all got to sit in the choir stalls. I thought: this is it. This is going to rock. It sucked. It was a !@#$%^&* concert. It did not convey anything related to good news, neither did it convey a sense of the holy. It was something more akin to liturgical masterbation.

    Some of the liturgy that is not in vernacular might be okay, if it fits the context (people in Mableton, GA will not have anything to do with that, for example). Taize is a great example for me. But a liturgy where the service is conducted by the professionals? No thanks, why don’t we go ahead and start reserving the cup again.

    I KNOW I must not be the in the minority on this one. I dare say most people who would ever want to enter a church (especially those not professing a faith) would not be interested in heading back to the days of Trent’s idea for worship.

    But just because you think the Saliers, Lathrops, etc. of last 30 years might have gone too far doesn’t mean toss all their ideas. Indeed, I heard Lathrop last week at a conference honoring Don. Lathrop’s lecture was putting forth a notion of the community of faith as being a meal-sharing fellowship. Powerful stuff.

    So I guess my comment to addd to this conversation to this , is the pendulum actually swinging in these directions or are we only placing our ears down on the railroad tracks to listen for the train heading in the direction we want to go?

  7. Derek the Ænglican

    Dude–I’m not at all suggesting a return to Latin, nor am I suggesting a non-participatory service. I see that as a more cultured form of entertainment worship, not as the answer.

    What *I* mean when I say monastic is a return to the structure of the Offices and an emphasis on the continual and on-going daily worship as the fundamental life of the Church and a place where people can fully participate. Remember–the Offices can be led by laity.

    My *only* issue is a mischaracterization of the notion of “vernacular.” How broadly should it be defined. I.e., are we really to the point where the “rap mass” is considered more appropriate than Rite II because it “more fully expresses the language as spoken by the people”? The bottom line for me is this: does the call for the vernacular necessarily have to mean an end to poetic beautiful language in the liturgy. And I don’t necessarily mean early modern (aka King James) English either. How about just some liturgy with good flow and good sounds; some nice apposite phrases, tasteful alliteration, etc. Is that to much to ask? ‘Cause I tell you what–you can’t have that with words like “God’s-self.” While I understand the thinking behind such a word, the world itself is an aural abomination (especially as the reflexive demands the presence of the original word so we loose the whole point of the reflexive *pronoun*–we get “God God’s-self” which is one of the most infelicitous phrases I’ve experienced in a while…)

    And yeah, it’s my blog, so I get to rant… ;-)

    So, as I said, I’m *not* against everything that these people did and stand for. I like the whole emphasis on the Easter Vigil and I do find the use of Modern English acceptable. The issue is whether Rite I must be proscribed and, seperately, whether all beatiful language must be hacked out of the liturgy.

  8. Derek the Ænglican

    One more thing. Etymologies only go so far. Biblical studies went through an etymology phase in the 40-50’s when the Theological Dictionary of the Old/New Testament came out. This is where we got the notion about *hamartia* meaning missing the mark. While that’s etymologically true, no-one in the 1st century was thinking about the etymnology or meaning the etymology when they said it. Same thing for “liturgy.” It’s great that it originally meant “work of the people” but the people who cite it seem not to remember it’s original content and use. A *liturgy* was a burden that a wealthy citizen would undertake in order to spend a lot of money on a building project that would benefit the whole community. So, Democritus the Loaded decided to build an amphitheater for his town–that’s a “liturgy.” If you want the modern equivalent, it’s like buildings named after people who provided the major gift for a capital campaign. *Pitts* Library, say. Where in this do you find a bunch of people doing things in community? Because that’s how liturgy folks use it. I’m not against this notion, of course. I’m *for* community participation. I just think it’s time to lose the folk etymology because we’re misusing it.

    And I’m not trying to load up on you, Dave, I’ve seen a couple of people use it this way recently and it’s one of my peeves… ;-)

  9. *Christopher

    david allen,

    Leitourgia does not mean the work of the people in the sense that the people decide just how it will be, but a public work, which while it may seem semantical is not–one suggests a rising up of the people who determine which way to go, the other suggests that the people participate in a work that is before all the world to see but that need not mean that the people soley determine the content without reference to historical matters and experts. At heart it understands that hierarchy is top/bottom, over/under rather than a more Christian turn on the understanding of hierarchy as differentiation, in this case according to gifts. A good liturgist must be a theologian, a historian, a poet, an artist, a member of a worshipping community and leader in such either lay or ordained, and above all else humble.

    The “work of the people” notion is often based in a people/experts divide, a divide I question, being one who is both a layperson and a budding scholar (it’s similar to the high vs popular culture bit) and I hope an improving liturgist. We’ve always had liturgical experts in our traditions lay and ordained, what I question is some of the experts’ latest round of advice. Is all that they did bad? No. A recovery of the sense of the laity. A grounding of the clergy within the community. A renewal of the meal aspect. A remembrance of the extemporaneous as an important aspect especially in extremis–here the ordo is very helpful. A drawing upon multiple sources and traditions in our Eucharistic prayers. But I find much of the latest round problematic especially when a common prayer culture is what has held us together despite our various factions. We’re not only in danger of losing our common prayer culture, but of losing our commitment to fourth century theological settlements in our move to extemporaneous creativity and weekly change.

    I would suggest that what makes Taize attractive to so many is that it is simple, chant, rooted in the past but modern, open to all to participate, beautiful, uses Latin and well-worded English, is repetitive (a + in my book), stabilizing, contemplative… Much of the best of the Tridentine Mass and even a 1979 BCP has some of these similar qualities. But not if we move to ordo over historical roots.

    Your York experience is unfortunate. I’ve been to wonderful Benedictine works of G-d in the Office where we were all involved and yet we chanted beautifully regardless of our order and had beautiful organ music to boot. I do think we need to consider also how when a choir does sing and the people listen, that I personally long for such moments. Those too are active, participatory (from V2 document on liturgy) moments when I find myself in a contemplative form. Now if it becomes a concert, that’s different, but it’s okay to have the choir do certain parts as well. And frankly, more Latin would be welcome, but even more so, chant which requires a certain poetics of translation in our English renditions of Holy Writ…

    As for social justice, some of the most convincing arguments for some in a High and Anglo-Catholic style come from the likes of F.D. Maurice and ++Temple.

  10. Gracious Light

    No prob man and I can go with you with what you say about what to recover. Awkward language for the sake of being politically correct (although we all know that good wordsmiths can make the excuse of awkwardness for using exclusive language null-and-void).

    I guess I’m tired of people hollering and romanticizing about the good ol’ days.

    And please lets’s all trash entertainment worship, entertainment evangelism, worship evangelism. Its all no creativity and even less theological depth.

    But truth of the matter, if I get to sit in the pews, I want to participate, experience the Holy, and hear in the prayers, songs, and homily good news. If its just a concert–on one extreme–or motivational speech–the other–then my time and money is better spent elsewhere.

    Rant away. I miss it. God knows I do.

  11. Gracious Light

    BTW– I guess I need to break out my theological dictionary the next time I post. Sorry for being so…. pedestrian.

  12. *Christopher

    pedestrian? Not at all. I’m sure over a good beer, we’d have a fine conversation theological language mixed in with the vulgar. I’m fond of the vulgar, as I once noted in a post… ;)

  13. Gracious Light

    Lets move this a little out of the Tower:

    Do you really think that Bubba and Sue-Ellen want to hear Latin or even chant in worship. Sure, middle to upper-middle class culturally refined values like or tolerate these expressions but what about blue collar folk. I don’t want to leave them to our Baptist borthers and sisters.

    I don’t mean to rail on you but I think this is important conversations to be had–what of ‘high’ liturgy (non-vernacular components to worship, chant, etc).

    One of the things that I have recently found (and it is heart-breaking and has caused vocational confusion) is that those of us who are contemplatives simply don’t connect with the people who come to church to ‘look for something to get them through the next week’ (yeah, it makes me throw up, too. but when we have to stop dealing with hypotheticals and worrying about if there’s enough butts in the pews to put enough money in the plate to bay the bills, its different).

    I’m looking for honest answers, here. This really bothers me. I know what my own spirituality and formation says but those who make decisions about my future as well as those who offer help about growing a congregation say the exact opposite.

  14. Derek the Ænglican

    That’s a legitimate question, Dave. But most of the rural people I know are also the ones most in contact with their Bibles. I’d think that the idea of even reading the Psalms through every month might be something even a Baptist could hang his hat on.

  15. *Christopher

    david allen,

    Here is the deal. I’m not from a upper-middle class background. I come from working poor stock, and I became Roman Catholic before I went to college (a first in my family) because of the beautiful way the smalltown parish I attended did liturgy. I appreciate beauty as many in my family do as well. Do we know that folks like Bubba and Sue-Ellen won’t enjoy Latin chant or even English chant or plain chant of the Psalms. To assume so is also elitist. Folks come for interaction, beauty, a sense of the Holy. My grandmother always comments on how Catholic churches just feel holy by the very contemplative nature of their setup. Perhaps this won’t attract everyone. Well, I don’t deny that G-d is working down the street in the local Baptist congregation. And there is enough room in Anglicanism for high and low expressions, I’m just on the high end and probably a little crazy. At any rate, if we compose modern hymnody that isn’t just happy clappy praise with simplistic theology, good, but too much of what is passing these days is drivel. We can have bartune hymnody and good theology: Luther and Wesley taught us that!

Comments are closed.