Thinking allowed

The Study of Liturgy and Worship

Ben­jamin Gor­don-Taylor and Juli­ette Day The Study of Liturgy and Wor­ship Lon­don: SPCK, 2013 ISBN 978–0‑281–06909‑5. pp.272. £25.00 pbk.

Back in the day when ‘Liturgy’ was Dix and ‘Wor­ship’ was Under­hill, ‘Study’ ten­ded to focus on detailed ana­lys­is of increas­ingly nar­row top­ics. When those who stud­ied liturgy had been nur­tured on a Tri­dentine Mass or a Pray­er Book Com­mu­nion ser­vice, much could be taken for granted.

So a book that takes litur­gic­al study out of its strait­jack­et is highly wel­come. Here, in a single volume are 22 essays of roughly equal length, grouped under four head­ings. ‘Found­a­tions’ opens with essays on Wor­ship and Liturgy. The second sec­tion, ‘Ele­ments’, looks at Time, Space, Music, Lan­guage and Min­is­tries. The third sec­tion, ‘Event’, deals with spe­cif­ic occa­sions for liturgy, whilst the most chal­len­ging chapters are per­haps those of the fourth sec­tion of the book, described as ‘Dimen­sions’. Here, in the chapter on Eth­ics, Siob­hán Gar­rigan notes how at times ‘liturgy has failed to change, and might even have aided, some of the world’s greatest uneth­ic­al situ­ations.’ She notes that the Old Test­a­ment proph­ets were only too well aware of the need for wor­ship to be eth­ic­al. We neg­lect their warn­ings at our per­il (‘I hate, I des­pise your fest­ivals’ Amos 5.21 and ‘Do not trust these decept­ive words “This is the temple of the Lord”’ Jeremi­ah 7.4). She notes how Karl Rahner, at the Second Vat­ic­an Coun­cil, argued that ‘if you do not get life right, you can­not get liturgy right.’

Ruth Mey­ers in the fol­low­ing chapter reminds us of the place of wor­ship in form­ing people for Mis­sion, and build­ing a ‘Mis­sion-Shaped Church’. Philip Tovey’s chapter on Cul­ture reminds us of how slowly and grudgingly pro­gress has been made. The Second Vat­ic­an Coun­cil had raised the issue but going bey­ond ver­nacu­lar masses (which was a huge step), real change express­ive of dif­fer­ent cul­tures has been lim­ited. He also notes that The Anglic­an Com­mu­nion, with pray­ers for ‘us and for all men’ has been slow to adopt inclus­ive lan­guage and pro­duce litur­gies for occa­sions when a sig­ni­fic­ant pro­por­tion of com­mu­nic­ants are children.

‘Dimen­sions’ con­cludes with Myra Blyth’s chapter on Ecu­men­ism. She writes as a Baptist min­is­ter who spent many years at the World Coun­cil of Churches. Churches have moved from prid­ing them­selves on fine dis­tinc­tions and divi­sions to heed­ing Jesus’ pray­er that all should be one. The Lima doc­u­ment on Bap­tism, Euchar­ist and Min­istry was a real mile­stone. But, Blyth notes, there have been set­backs. She writes, ‘For Mar­garet Käss­mann, former Bish­op of Ber­lin-Branden­berg, the (2003) report and espe­cially the frame­work for com­mon pray­er, rep­res­ents a back­ward step on the ecu­men­ic­al jour­ney. It is “a doc­u­ment of fear which takes great care to estab­lish the bound­ar­ies that divide us”’.

The inclu­sion of these themes as equal has pro­duced a well-roun­ded study. But this has meant that much has had to be abbre­vi­ated and the valu­able list of fur­ther read­ing at the end of each chapter will need to be accessed in order to explore each top­ic in more depth. I might have looked for a longer chapter on ‘Euchar­ist’ but the chapters on ‘Ritu­al’, on ‘Pray­er’ and on ‘Sign and Sym­bol’ and ‘Word and Sac­ra­ment’ provide valu­able insights to add to what is found there.

The import­ance of ‘Word’ is also stressed in chapters on litur­gic­al lan­guage, and on Pro­clam­a­tion, which can bring us back to not­ing the import­ance of a chapter on Eth­ics. These dis­crete essays fit togeth­er superbly. The rich­ness and diversity of con­tent has meant that the review­er has found a great deal of import­ance bey­ond what might have been expec­ted; essays on Euchar­ist, Ser­vices of the Word, and those which mark mem­ber­ship and rites of pas­sage. The way the book is con­struc­ted means that no aspect can be treated in isol­a­tion, and the total­ity of what it offers will make a great con­tri­bu­tion to enabling those respons­ible for wor­ship to make it a trans­form­ing and enrich­ing experience.

Buy this book.


  • The Alcuin Club is so so well worth mem­ber­ship, it gives you as part of the mem­ber­ship a book like this each year :).…this I year it was this book i believe.…an excel­lent read 🙂

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