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.


  • 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: I read this at a con­fer­ence so there’s also the power­point ver­sion here:

  • 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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