Thinking allowed

Liturgy Matters

Does liturgy matter?

I recently participated in a ‘course’ intended for those considering for the first time questions of spirituality and religion. (I won’t name names, but it probably isn’t a course you’ve heard of.) I wasn’t able to be involved in very many of the sessions, but what struck me was that the content was about me — what I think, what I believe. Maybe that is a good way to try and approach people with little or no experience of Christianity.

But it is quite a long way from what Christianity is. Although much is made of what Christians should or should not believe, at its heart Christianity is about what we do.

In that phrase both the pronoun and the verb are important: the ‘we’ and the ‘do’.

We intend through this blog to explore the ‘we’ and the ‘do’ in the context of liturgy — not because liturgy is necessarily the most important thing that we do, but because it is part of what we do.

And we shall consider liturgy in the context of how we as Christians live our lives. That’s a collective thing, as our worship transforms the community in which we belong — and also as our community transforms our worship. We shall consider the view that we are engaged in a public theology, that is, debate and engagement in the public space with those who are inside the Church, those who are on the fringes — and those, if they care to join us, who consider themselves as outside. In taking this view we are following the example of Jesus, for whom public ministry and public theology were at the heart of all that he proclaimed. Living as a public figure, and dying the death of a public criminal, a primary form of his ministry was at the table. For Jesus, this radical table ministry became the means by which he not only preached but also lived and exemplified the kingdom of God. And ultimately — as Robert Karris wrote — ‘Jesus got himself crucified by the way he ate’.

It is perhaps paradoxical, at first sight, that the continuation of Jesus’s table ministry lies at the heart of our worship. The Eucharist is in many places an act of great miracle, great symbolism and doctrinal significance, and great personal devotion. Yet when we break bread together at the Eucharist, we are sharing that table fellowship which he began and which has been continued by his followers. Overlaid with other meanings and theologies though it may be, this is central to our liturgical life. Because when we break bread together in this way, we recognize the presence of the risen Christ among us, once again.

There are lots of subtleties and theological ideas to consider in among all that — and we intend to look at some of them in this blog — but fundamentally we intend to explore the continuing relevance of that table ministry in the Church today, how it relates to our eucharistic worship, how it relates to our mission to the world, how it meets (or doesn’t meet) people’s spiritual needs and how it relates to the proclamation of the kingdom of God, with its call for mutual reconciliation and for social justice.

In addition, liturgy should be worthy of offering to God; and it should inspire and fulfil us, refresh and enthuse us, and help form us and others to live that life in all its fullness which Jesus preached. We will look at all that too.

We shall try not to be overly concerned about doctrine and dogma. Doctrine and dogma have their place; but here we want to think about what we say and what we do, and how by saying and doing, both in worship and in life, we proclaim and live where God’s kingdom is at hand.

Yes, liturgy matters.

3 comments

  • Su Reid says:

    The Foodbanks give poor people the chance to put their plight into words inside a church. How often does our liturgy do that? – ‘Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit …; give them courage and hope in their troubles; and bring them the joy of your salvation.’ As we speak these words, however faithfully, we distance ourselves. Are the poor in church with us?

  • H. E. Baber says:

    Ah well, I’m an obstructive curdmudgeon when it comes to liturgy. Here are some comments: http://home.sandiego.edu/~baber/research/parties&performances.htm I read this at a conference so there’s also the powerpoint version here: http://home.sandiego.edu/~baber/research/parties&performances.pptx

  • Liturgy clearly matters enormously to some people but not at all to others. As a member of a Society with no detectable liturgy whatsoever in the normal sense (unless you count the elders’ handshake to close Meeting for Worship as “liturgy”) I get along very happily without it.

    But I guess it depends what you mean by “liturgy”. As Harriet Baber implies, there’s a profound interior difference between taking part in some kind of historical re-enactment and taking part in an act of worship. Just sitting in a silent room with other people doesn’t feel remotely like sitting in a Quaker Meeting for Worship. So maybe that’s some kind of “liturgy” after all.

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