Very often in our Churches, we are concerned about our extremely limited resources even if we have the courage and ingenuity to put them to full use. In his Charge to the Synod last Saturday, our Bishop had something to say about the liturgy as having been designed for use in great churches and elaborate ceremonies. Our churches are small, and they require the liturgy to be simplified for the available resources. This has always been done since the time when rubricists like Adrian Fortescue and J.B. O’Connell began to rationalise the ceremonies for masses without deacon and subdeacon and even when the priest was alone apart from a single server or even only a lay person in attendance. They based their work on approved sources like the Ritus Servandus and the Memoriale Rituum together with other decisions from the Roman Congregation of Rites. Anglican liturgists came up with books adapted for their rites like Ritual Notes. These are practical issues which remain an important aspect of our pastoral service to the faithful. But the art of the liturgy, the ars celebrandi, must go much further than practical instructions or rubrics – doing the red and saying the black.
Another aspect of the liturgy is what it means and how we relate to it. What happened to the liturgical life by the early sixteenth century happened again by the 1950’s. The problem was not that the rite was too complex or in a foreign language, but that people were no longer relating to it fully. Piety became individualistic and sentimental. This is where clergy and lay people need to be formed in the nature of the liturgical action and its symbolism. How do we conduct ourselves?
One thing we need to overcome is dualism or separation and opposition between any two things in our lives. We are whole persons of body and spiritual soul, and we participate in the liturgy in our wholeness. We become more human in the deepest sense so that divine grace might transfigure us. The first task of liturgical formation is making ourselves and others “capable of symbols”. How do we learn to conduct ourselves, our whole selves, through symbols? Some gestures are very simple, like kissing and making the sign of the cross, and others are quite complex, giving us a complete human experience. However, doing things, wearing things and saying special words are not all. We need to perceive the deep relationship between things and the notion of the whole. Relationship and familiarity are vital, the sense of being at home. Modern culture has done much to destroy these notions of familiarity and relationship, and alienates us so that we become dependent consumers. Think about the enormity of it!
The liturgy, as a “sacrament” (like the Church itself) enables the essence of things to be experienced and perceived through the special words and symbols we have in the liturgy. Certainly, children can be brought to seize these notions much more easily than adults. Children’s games are often highly ritualised. I remember that I had one game with my sister that involved listening to a piece of music and clapping the hands and performing bodily actions at exactly the right times, and then one could make a wish! This is the liturgical instinct the modern culture destroys in us. The liturgy therefore cannot be “adapted” to modern culture without destroying it and making it something eminently meaningless, soul-numbing and boring.
Then the liturgy brings us into the world of our relationship with each other in the Church, as the individual fits into the life of the community. The relationship constitutes communion and true personhood. The Church as universal communion and the person live in a mutual relationship. A study of the theology of the Church, ecclesiology, is vital – and this is why I have always been so insistent on the acquisitions of the twentieth century and the ressourcement school, with its obvious parallels in Eastern Orthodox theology. It is a church or parish that is conscious of this relationship that makes the liturgy possible. The liturgy brings us into full awareness of the Church.
In the Anglican tradition, we tend to be more ecclesial and communitarian than in some other communities. We need, all the same, to be watchful for any tendencies or temptations to individualistic isolation and excessive sentimentalism in prayer. Of course, extroversion can become excessive, and fail to consider the differences between persons with their natural temperaments. Privacy is something we treasure, and the community has to respect that at least to some extent. We, as human persons, all belong to a culture and a tradition – and this is the point of crisis in many of us who have been alienated for whatever reason from our cultural origins. The Church has to be our home.
There are landmarks that remain in spite of the destruction of humanity in our times. In the Churches of our times, we have suffered considerably from secularisation, desacralisation and alienation in the name of adapting to modernity. We are forced into superficial extroversion and deprived of our personality in a kind of potential Orwellian totalitarianism. Our era is marked by activism and noise that shout out and obliterate the contemplative and intercessory dimension of the Church.
One thing that is desperately needed in the Church is liturgical or mystagogical catechesis. Catechesis is not merely the teaching of doctrines and articles of faith, but the complete and whole life in Christ through the Church. We need to recover the great patristic tradition and develop an authentic rite of Christian initiation for adults. As Anglicans, our contact with the tradition of the Reformation has given us great love of reading the Bible, forming the Christian community and evangelising. We need also to develop the mystagogical side to balance out the intellectual dimension.
There are several notions in liturgical catechesis. Firstly, there is the explanation of basic liturgical signs and their relationship with our life and the actions of the Christ-Mystery. There is not only the ordinary of the Mass, the part that is repeated day in and day out. There is also the two cycles called temporal and sanctoral that superimpose each other and are woven together through the liturgical year. There is also a thorough study of the history of the liturgy in its different local and traditional rites, so that many symbols and gestures have a historical meaning.
We western rite clergy would do well to learn something about the Byzantine and other oriental rites, and also about the diversity of western rites in the dioceses of Europe and the religious orders. There is no excuse for ignorance and prejudice!
We are in a privileged situation to be able to learn from the mistakes others have made over the last half century in terms of “creativity” and “relevance”. Men like Pope Benedict XVI have emphasised the notion of bringing man to the liturgy rather than the liturgy to the modern world. The liturgy needs to be something objective and stable, with which familiarity can become possible. At the same time, it needs to be inhabited and made homely, and this is our chance as such a small and family-like Church. Clerics need to learn the ceremonies and make them a part of their personalities. The laity need to learn what things really mean and follow the rites with intelligence and their human personality. There are many things where lay people with special talents can participate that much more actively, particularly through singing and playing musical instruments.
Preaching has changed in its signification and there is a distinction to be made between the homily and the sermon, the former being an explanation of the Scripture readings, but also a mystagogical catechesis. The days of the sermon seem to be getting shorter and shorter, as people take increasing exception to being “preached at” and moralised! People take personal offence at notions intended merely to illustrate points, which are better reserved for study sessions. We have a lot to learn here. I am sure that bishops could open this ministry to knowledgeable persons, including women who have studied theology to an equivalent standard to that of clerics.
There are also many practical aspects to liturgical formation. For the clergy, including assistants and servers, the ceremonies should be learned to perfection, but there is also a style of behaviour that is sober and measured, confident and reverent, precise and far from sloppiness, yet not cold or mechanical, not theatrical or showy, but clear, human and warm. People feel intuitively when things are right. The church needs to be tastefully appointed and dignified, without the excesses of being a bric-a-brac shop on one side or a spartan whitewashed preaching barn on the other. I believe that lessons can be learned from the Arts & Crafts movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – sobriety, simplicity and high quality of workmanship. Regardless of precise style, there need to be objective standards like the dimensions (especially the height) of the altar, sanctuary steps, etc.
Among many ideas for improving the life of our dioceses, parishes, missions and chaplaincies, a great idea would be a liturgical institute where theological, practical and cultural teaching can be grouped and made available to both clergy and laity. This is something I have dreamed about for many years, but it is hampered by the desperate lack of resources. Actually, we have more than we thought we had. We have the Internet and instant telecommunications that are now no more expensive than our fixed monthly connection charge. We need to use these to the best and develop ways to make our books and sources available, and not limited by people’s ability to travel and find time for fitting in with schedules. That needs a considerable amount of thought, motivation and commitment.
We have to be positive and get the ideas out.