Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Acts" in the Liturgical "Play"

Since I discovered "liturgy" at Gettysburg Sem (thanks in major part to my late mentor, Leigh Jordahl, of blessed memory), I have been bemused by the efforts to define the liturgical action -- by which I mean the full eucharistic liturgy, or "mass" -- around a certain number of "actions." There seems to be a real need to "organize" what happens in the liturgy into (perhaps interrelated, but) separate scenes or acts: Perhaps hope springs eternal that we can interpose intermissions into the mass, I don't know.

In my training, Dom Gregory Dix, the great British monk who wrote The Shape of the Liturgy (which at least used to be the single-source reference that all people serious about liturgy had read and stored on their shelves -- even seminarians like me, who had to shell out it seemed like a thousand dollars to get a new copy of the British-published book) set the stage (to continue the metaphor): He defined the liturgical action around the institution narrative of the eucharist -- viz., Our Lord took (bread/wine), gave thanks/blessed (it), broke it, and gave it to his disciples.

More recently, we have sought to structure the liturgy around another great four -- gathering, listening (to God's Word), communing, and leaving (for service to the world). I think that this arrangement rather trivializes the matter by being so painfully obvious. Of course, we must gather -- and I grant that such is a liturgical action. (My liturgical guru, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, of most revered memory, convinced me that the first act of worship on Sunday is getting out of bed as preparation for going to mass.) But gathering is a rather pedestrian phenomenon when set side-by-side with communing, isn't it? And hearing God's word and communing are not actually separate experiences -- no matter how much Lutheran congregations think they can do one (especially the "Liturgy of the Word") without the other (the so-called "Liturgy of the Meal").

Now comes to my attention this meditation on the mass by a pious Roman Catholic woman in Milwaukee (a beloved town in my life): I don't know why exactly, but I'm quite taken with it. And I think it would be a helpful model by which congregations could develop a resource for inquirers, catechumens, and others who wonder what we're doing when we "worship."

The author identifies six stages -- or movements -- to the mass, which I think is a more reasonable number, though I wonder if we can't somehow get seven or eight to make it more biblical. And she is rather heavy on the priest/bishop language -- which will not be all that familiar to protestants. And I can hear Lutherans screaming protest about all the attention to the offering/collection. (The ur-Lutheran Oliver Olson, with whom I have discussed liturgy to the satisfaction of neither of us, will have a stroke over this.) But I think such complaint betrays a lack of perspective on history and liturgy -- or an oversensitivity to Lutheran formulae. And I'm not sure about distinguishing praying the Great Thanksgiving from the communion is right: I'd prefer attention to the intercessions (which get short -- virtually no -- schrift here). (Of course, while the Roman tradition does have a separate section of the mass for intercessions -- prayers of the people -- it also includes them in the Great Thanksgiving. So maybe that's the issue for the author.) But I did call this a model, not a reprint, eh?

The "shape" of the liturgy is important, but for me the greater issue is the integrity of the mass: It's one action, with many parts -- sort of like Shakespeare's "seven ages of man" which highlight the developmental stages of human growth, but place them in the context of the integrity of the one person's life.

I think this meditation helps balance things nicely. When I retire, maybe I'll try to write my own.


Daniel S. said...

Interesting. Having spent time working for the "One True Church" I am sympathetic to her dialogue.

You bring up an interesting, if unfortunately all-but settled point. Like a variety of liturgical innovations, everyone likes to get on board right away, and as soon as WOV came out, everyone was talking about Gathering/Word/Meal/Sending. I remember my first reactions to this all in 1995 (I was even a suspicious, if only under-informed liturgi-freak then), and at the very least I thought these one-word synopsis' of the liturgy were hokey. The "Gathering" is more than a touchy feely circling in of the brood. In the Entrance Rite (as the LBW, of blessed memory, calls it) it is understood as the entrance of Christ into the assembly (hence processions with cross and Gospel book, and presider-IPC). We've all gotten to the church, parked are car, hung up our coat, browsed through the pamphlets, chatted with the usher and listened to the prelude. We've been quite gathered already, thank you very much. What this subtle, but potentialy damaging change in verbage is the emphasis (yet AGAIN) on US, the people. Look at us! WE are Gathered! We're singing the GATHERING Song, because it is by SONG that we are Gathered. Bull-cookies.

I could go on like this with the rest of the Augsburg Fortress imposed liturgical reforms first posited in WOV and then soon to be ensconced in the ELW, but I won't. I'm still getting warmed-up to tackle brother Dwight's charge to do a Renewing worship/ELW critique. (I Haven't forgotten. There's just so much to write!)

You'd be interested to note that the AF people have imposed a four-fold structure on the three daily offices to appear in the new book. The "headings" for each section of Morning, Evening, and "Night" prayer are: Opening, Psalm and Song, Word, Prayer. This is dumb. The offices have never been thought of in this way - with an overarching four-fold structure. There's too much to unpack here with the four-fold Mass, let alone the offices.

What I think is at the heart of this all, and in all honesty I believe the Augsburg people have a good heart with regard to all of this (none of this is done out of sinister aims), is that they are trying to simplify, simplify, simplify and organize, organize, organize. The "outline" type format for all liturgies is an attempt to perhaps get the majority of ELCA clergy who don't have a clue about ritual to actually think about the shape of the mass and to pay attention to it. Also, that it has a structure (whether with labels or not) and that this structure is good. I think it is a dumbing down for our mostly ignorant clergy (and musicians) about matters liturgical. This may be a back door entry for the church to achieve some sort of liturgical common understandings and renewal, and in the end - for this reason alone - may be a good thing.

Either way, I think they still smack of touchy-feely hokey-ness.

Daniel S. said...
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