Interesting article by Damian Thompson – ‘Draw your favourite part of the Mass’, said the RE teacher. Big mistake.
We priests seem to take it for granted that the laity are as much “into” liturgy as we priests are. Apart from a few men who are former seminarians or altar servers, or who have made of liturgy a “hobby” most laity cannot relate to the liturgy.
I find it interesting that Damian Thompson says that he has “a strange feeling that my aversion to Sunday morning services would have been just as strong if I’d grown up with the Old Rite“. Many lay people feel that liturgy just isn’t their “thing” or that taking an interest in it would be like passengers on a ship going up onto the bridge or down to the engine room.
I try to recall my own feelings about religion as a teenager. Of course, my perspective is affected by the fact that I was in another “engine room”, that of organs and choirs, but one that is more “lay” than the sanctuary. As a boy, I remember feeling more at home at Mattins and Evensong than the Communion Service. The new style altars facing the people and the modern language reinforced the feeling of alienation from that strange service that involved going up to get a piece of something that looked and tasted like cardboard and a sip from the chalice of something that tasted good and gave a warm feeling in the throat.
Obviously something made me want to become a priest rather than do a music degree or join the Navy. It seems to have been church music for me and the beauty of church buildings, and then a kind of liturgy that “melted” into the church as a complete spiritual experience. Like looking at a painting at the art gallery from a distance before examining the artist’s brush strokes, the lay person feels that the “spell” might get broken if he gets too near. High gothic churches and distant altars do the trick! Many religiously inclined people talk of the “mystery” of the Mass and keep their distance.
Monks and priests are right in it. If I didn’t celebrate Mass or say the Office, I don’t know how often I would go to church given the distance to town on Sunday mornings and the desolation of many generations in our country churches! If I were a devout layman, I would probably trek out to the Abbey of Saint Wandrille where they use Latin and Gregorian chant. Whether you’re at a “mystical” distance or the priest “doing it”, how does the Church cater for those who are somewhere between the back of the church or in the priest’s shoes?
In times before clerics began to insist on congregational participation, either at the time of the Reformation or in our own times, lay people had their own devotions and helps for their spiritual lives. They had books of hours, rosaries and other forms of prayer. The Church allowed a degree of “Christian paganism” as a more liturgical expression was perhaps too demanding for some.
Protestantism, both in the “old” style and modern Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism, gutted liturgical services into what would be essentially a collective lay devotion involving free improvised vocal prayers.
What is the place of liturgy in the Church? Only priests, monks and a certain “type” of urban young (and not so young) man seem to be interested in traditional rites. What makes the traditional Byzantine Liturgy more of interest to Orthodox lay people than the western Latin rite for Anglicans and Roman Catholics? Are the Orthodox also becoming alienated? Is it merely because they have television and other electronic gadgets to spend their money on? I use a computer, drive a car and have a mobile phone – but that doesn’t make me an atheist!
I hope there will be some comments on this posting, because it would be good to have some input from lay people who believe in God and pray, but who feel alienated from the liturgy. Obviously, Protestant-minded people would say that the liturgy encourages “Christian paganism” and idolatry, and that iconoclasm, whitewashed preaching barns and dreary sermons are the way . Perhaps those with a more moderate or “mystical” mindset might be able to give valuable insight.