Thinking allowed

worship or performance

This week’s edit­or­i­al at Anglic­ans Online pon­ders the ques­tion When is a ser­vice wor­ship and when is it per­form­ance?.

Our friend enjoys the cleans­ing end-of-the-day, begin­ning-of-the-week feel to Com­pline on Sunday even­ings. She, like us, views the ser­vices of the Daily Office as wor­ship­ful expres­sions of our beliefs and faith. Ima­gine her sur­prise when she sat down with the pew sheet: The second word on the inside cov­er was ‘per­form­ance’.

Com­pline as per­form­ance? She brought us the pew sheet. We read it through. Unfor­tu­nately, this time the sung ser­vice of Com­pline seemed to be replaced with a con­cert based on Com­pline. Soloists were named, a long bio­graph­ic­al sketch of the con­duct­or was included. No men­tion was made of the his­tory or role of Com­pline in the wor­ship life of our tra­di­tion. No men­tion of wel­com­ing the con­greg­a­tion to a time of pray­er. Per­haps we are being too picky. Per­haps it is enough the ser­vice is being offered no mat­ter the circumstances.

We were left to pon­der: When is a ser­vice wor­ship and when is it per­form­ance? Does it mat­ter? Should it matter?


  • James A says:

    Surely, Simon, liturgy IS a per­form­ance. The real dicho­tomy is not wor­ship or per­form­ance, but wor­ship or enter­tain­ment. If the ques­tion is framed like this, then yes it does mat­ter; and it is the all-per­vas­ive tend­ency to con­fuse wor­ship with enter­tain­ment which is hav­ing such a cor­ros­ive impact on the qual­ity of the C of E’s liturgy gen­er­ally. Too many clergy do not under­stand what makes wor­ship dis­tinct­ive and an encounter with the liv­ing God is the last thing they expect.

  • James Morgan says:

    I have atten­ded ‘Com­pline’ sev­er­al times at a loc­al Epis­copal par­ish. The ‘con­greg­a­tion’ sat in pews, the ‘per­formers’ or ‘offi­ci­ants’ stood in the rear of the church. No candles were lighted on the altar.
    At the abso­lu­tion, the priest sit­ting in the pews did not par­ti­cip­ate. The abso­lu­tion was chanted by one of the lay chor­is­ters (not very ‘litur­gic­al’ eh?
    The singing was very nice, but no one in the pews respon­ded in any way except sit­ting. When it was over, every­one just walked out.
    This was a great con­trast to the many times I’ve atten­ded Com­pline in a mon­ast­ic set­ting where there was no ‘per­form­ance’ at all, just the last office of the day before sleep. 

  • John Scrivener says:

    I agree with James A – there’s noth­ing wrong with using the word ‘per­form’ of liturgy. The OED has a sev­en­teenth-cen­tury example, refer­ring to ‘four churches where divine ser­vice is per­formed but once a year’. Of course one ought to avoid con­texts sug­gest­ing the more ‘the­at­ric­al’ end of the spec­trum of meanings. 
    Pope Bene­dict wrote that ‘wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy … it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally dis­ap­peared, and been replaced by a kind of reli­gious entertainment’.
    So I agree too that ‘enter­tain­ment’ is the rel­ev­ant word, not least in a soci­ety in which the media con­vert everything into entertainment.

  • Geoff Jones says:

    I’ve just returned from Solesmes, the Bene­dict­ine Mon­as­tery near Le Mans in France. In their ser­vice book­let there’s also anoth­er won­der­ful quote by Bene­dict XVI about the mis­use of the sign of peace and the need for an eco­nom­ic­al ges­ture which is primar­ily sym­bol­ic. It’s a won­der­ful anti­dote to the chaos which breaks out and dis­rupts the flow of the liturgy for 5 minutes in most Eng­lish par­ish churches (Roman and Anglic­an). Again, it has become uprooted from its ancient roots and become anoth­er mani­fest­a­tion of a socially-ori­ent­ated liturgy.

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