Saturday, 3 January 2009

A Liturgical Christmas

Christmas is the time of year when, due to various bits of travelling and visiting, I get to sample services in churches I don’t otherwise attend. Over the past three or four years during the last week in December, I have attended services in places like Santa Barbara, London, Hull, Mullingar (Ireland), and others, and the denominations have included not just Anglicans, but also Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and Roman Catholics; in addition to my own ‘home’ parish of the St Bartholomew, Dublin, where I will always be for the Midnight Mass (which indeed is so described, unusually for Ireland).

In these visits, I have been able to observe two things. First, there appears in some clerical circles to be a growing level of discomfort with the Incarnation — one member of the clergy suggested in a sermon that the Incarnation as a theological concept is ‘a disaster’. I might be tempted to explore that a little further, but perhaps that is for another time.

My second (and for this piece main) observation is that the idea of a liturgical church is under threat. And no, I am not talking about the Methodists and Presbyterians particularly, but the whole experience across the denominations. Of course, as my own wandering attendance around Christmas shows, services at this time of year tend to have an above-average number of visitors and strangers in the pews some of them on a break from their normal places of worship like me, and some making their annual or suchlike visit to a church, any church. It is quite possible that clergy faced with such congregations feel that they must offer them more easily digestible fare. At any rate — server and liturgical pedant that I am — I have tended to find plenty to make my hair stand on end.

Of course the polite thing to do is to show no sign of noticing anything untoward, and that’s the route I follow. But I nevertheless find myself sinning gravely by allowing my mind to drift into a state of irritation. I need to get a hold of myself.

But I do wonder whether the idea of Anglicanism as a liturgical movement is coming to an end. The movers and shakers of the new fundamentalist Anglicanism growing out of places like Sydney do not, I think, bother their heads much about liturgy. And every so often when, in various discussion groups, I raise liturgical issues, someone will invariably pipe up and say that liturgy simply does not matter when set against hunger, starvation, dictatorship and other evils. It is, I have to admit, easy to be bullied into submission at such moments.

And yet, it seems to me that liturgy matters. It is there at the moment where we come to worship God, and how can we say that how we address and speak with God doesn’t matter. It is how we in part express our faith, and it is how we allow God to touch us. And when it ceases to be familiar to the people, a lot of what we believe in theology can also become distant.

When I first became a liturgical Anglican, it was universal in churches I would attend for Christmas to bow, genuflect or kneel at the ‘incarnatus’ in the creed. Right then, it is a meaningful way for us to express something about the Incarnation. But, it seems, not so much any more. I notice that fewer and fewer people do it, even amongst the clergy.

Maybe I am just too old-fashioned. Or maybe, we are losing our way just a little.

Posted by Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 8:27am GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

As an organist, I’ve long concluded that good liturgical experiences can be few and far between. When I was doing some work playing for chapel services in a theological college a few years ago, the lecturer in liturgical studies was preaching one week. I remember being struck with a sense of relief when he said "liturgy without a burning desire for social justice is ready for the museum, because it has lost its reason to be. All the social outreach projects in the world will convert no-one without good, beautiful and poetic liturgy. Never oppose the two, because they are both equal halves of our mission."

Without wanting to defend the Jensenites, I don’t think the worst enemies of liturgy are from Sydney. What about the weekly atrocities committed by liberal high-church clergy? The type who will happily slouch around in the sedilia in a cassalb, chop out half the verses of hymns without regard for the meaning of the poetry, make up their own collects -- or Eucharistic prayers, for that matter -- and tend to regard the whole service as an opportunity for excessive verbosity. The worst expression of this is where the sermon is taken to be the most integral element of the service, and everything is tailored to ram the message home at every turn. In spite of declarations of commitment to excellence in the sound of liturgy they rarely sing and are surrounded by a forest of amplification, which simply makes the liturgy excessively noisy.

The idea that art may have something to contribute without being ‘explained’ is one that I have argued from pillar to post with a lot of clergy of this persuasion. They can be extremely wary of the incarnational implications of art (especially organ and choral music). They frequently come across as uneasy in any ritual that draws attention away from themselves. The idea that the liturgy is a corporate effort is equally challenging, as can be seen in the frequent lack of servers. Salvation is not an individual affair. Perhaps this is where uneasiness with the Incarnation might come in. If the whole point of liturgy is to participate in the heavenly banquet, it’s probably a bit hard to do if you always have to dominate the table.

I pray for the day when all ordinands are taught the value of liturgical silence, starting with themselves.

Posted by: kieran crichton on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 10:25am GMT

I think there's "liturgy" and then there's "outward display". To me, "liturgy" is the words we say, not the things we do while saying them.

Even when I was RC, I never kneeled or bowed at the incarnatus, or at every mention of Jesus' name in the Mass as many do. To me, it smacks of the pious Pharisee, showing off how reverent he is. I know...and God knows...how I revere Christ--I don't have to publicly display it by little gestures.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 12:16pm GMT

The other argument I keep hearing is "we need to attract young people, and they don't like liturgical worship". This is invariably said by someone in his or her 60's or older, of course.

Posted by: Aaron Orear on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 2:02pm GMT

"To me, it smacks of the pious Pharisee, showing off how reverent he is."

Better to work on the inward stuff, then. You know, stuff like : "Judge not , lest ye be judged."

Pharasaically yours,

BillyD

(Now that I think about it, though, in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18, the Tax Collector beats his breast, a conventional Jewish (and Catholic) liturgical gesture showing repentance for sin. Evidently "outward display" has its place. Huh.) ;-)

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 2:53pm GMT

This is something of a reflection as I am retiring tomorrow.
I am convinced of the value of liturgy and believe that the appropriate liturgical apparel is helpful. Liturgy well done, and we have some of the best available to us in Prayer Book worship is expressive of the mystery that draws us to Christ and His Church. There is that sense of "otherness" which is engendered by proper use of liturgy. Hopefully we are not there to be seen by others! There is a sense of private engagement as well as corporate that makes sense of our personal ways of behaving - crossing oneself, bowing, beating the breast, genuflection, standing, kneeling etc,.

Liturgy is not about liturgy as an idol but as a means of ascending to the heavenlies. I am not convinced of the need to abandon liturgical practices but as a pastor to use them as appropriate. At the church from which I am departing we have different liturgies at different times that connect with different parts of the community.

Music as a part of liturgy is sometimes absent and sometimes an integral part. Music is in itself varied - organ and choir, Taize, folk, jazz, contemporary and traditional. God has given us a gift in our tradition, prayer books, that is to be used and translated as the needs of the community require. Yet we should also understand that we are under liturgical authority of our bishop and Anglican Province.

Tomorrow I shall don my alb and stole and say farewell using the liturgies and lectionary that are prescribed. The bishop will be present and all will be in order. God willing in this emotional time the liturgy will make Christ present in word, sacrament and community.

Posted by: Ian Montgomery on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 3:22pm GMT

"This is invariably said by someone in his or her 60's or older, of course."

Oddly enough, many of those in the pews today, especially the 60s and over, came to the Episcopal Church from something else, some other kind of liturgy (and other churches have "liturgy" even though they may not call it that or experience it in the same way) that didn't touch them the way the Episcopal liturgy did. It is those people who fight to maintain that liturgy that drew them in and who know it still draws people in, even young people who can find something different, something out of the ordinary that they can't find elsewhere. There are young people who want something that doesn't just imitate what they see and hear out in the secular world. Some actually want the feel of permanence that comes from a tradition that has lasted more than a decade or two and words and gestures that have a symbolic as well as literal meaning. And us old folks who found that very thing years and decades ago are more than pleased to share what we found and love.

Posted by: L. Ryan on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 4:01pm GMT

In part I come from a tradition that was largely liturgical in practice but where liturgies were revised and with choices; a motivation for evolving them was changing beliefs and the individualism of belief. In the end that individualism undermined any possibility of a set collective words, words that became too ancient and divorced from actual belief. Then a good service became more themed, the material chosen or made by the preacher (I made much of mine) and the whole being a package. On the other side, I would write and choose material with which others could join in) but then others were saying my words.

The value of a set liturgy, then, is that it decentres from any one person present, and offers a regular source for a spiritual pathway: the problem with it is if it becomes strained from what people actually believe, when it is full of clutter and material belonging to a feudal society and outlook. Translating into modern English can make this worse.

I haven't got a solution for this, other than perhaps variety - the olde worlde in one service and something newer and themed in another.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 4:53pm GMT

I always think that the liturgy is designed to protect the congregation from the eccentricities of the clergy. Doesn't the preface to the 1662BCP say something similar?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 6:03pm GMT

"I know...and God knows...how I revere Christ--I don't have to publicly display it by little gestures."

But, it's not about making a public display, it's about worshiping with all your being, not just your mind. That is something I have to be mindful of when I am in an Evangelical church and see all these people waving their hands in the air or dancing about like children at 10:00 on Christmas Eve. Are they trying to attract God's attention, or show off that they are there, or are they actually worshiping with more than just their minds? I rarely decide on the latter, much to the harm of my soul. It's really difficult when it's done to the strains of "Here I Am To Praise You". I expect to hear a loud voice saying "Yes, I know. Will you just settle down!"

Posted by: Ford Elms on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 6:04pm GMT

When I was at college, there was a compulsory, non-credit tutorial in the third year, affectionately and unofficially known as Priestcraft. This was the point when we were taught "how to say mass."

Fr. Buchner was very clear that he was offering us a basic framework. Throughout our ministries, we would eveolve our praxis from what we had learned in this tutorial. The central principle seemed to be that things should be done for a reason.

I was a little shocked to discover, a couple of years later, that the more near-by college, from which most of our diocesan clergy graduated, had no such tutorial. I ended up being the priestcraft tutor for a small number of those graduates.

And, indeed, I was and am deliberate about what I do when I preside at liturgy. The actions need to make sense.

On one occasion, it led to being summoned to meet with the bishop and with the priest who had followed me at a certain place. One of the grand dames of the parish was upset with Jim.

Hardly a surprise. Like many parochial grandees, being upset with the incumbent seemed to be something that gave them pleasure - a little reward for their religious devotion.

But she was upset because Jim didn't "touch the wall." Malcolm had touched the wall, but Jim wasn't touching the wall.

This was a surprise, since the grand dame in question had never seemed to like the way I said mass. But what on earth did she mean about touching the wall?

After some consideration, we nailed it. We had renovated, adding a plush carpet in the sanctuary. I had discovered, by chance, that there was some sort of electrical cable behind a particular bit of wall. It was a useful place to discharge the build-up of static before holding a silver chalice to an unsuspecting lip.

Thing is, Esther knew that if I did something, I did it for a reason, so it must be important. And it was - though for reasons practical, not liturgical.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 8:06pm GMT

Before one can honour customs such as bowing at the "Incarnatus" one must know or be taught that such customs exist. In the twenty-three years since I became an Anglican I have not once seen anyoneone bow at this point in the creed.

Posted by: Brian McKinlay on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 9:51pm GMT

I think there is a lot of truth in what Ferdinand says above. However, I think there is a change happening: the 60s generation tended to be concerned with "living down" their inheritance in liturgy, aethetics, etc, whereas I suspect my generation is more inclined to live it up. After all, if we go to church at all, we are well aware that we are, ipso facto, weird, so some stylised language and posture hardly add to the sum total of weirdness. The dumbing-down of the sacred practised by the bearded sandal-wearing type which was all the rage in 1974 doesn't appeal to anyone nowadays, surely?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 10:06pm GMT

I came to the Anglican church as an adult and by choice, and one of the major attractions was the liturgy. It created a balance between verbal and non-verbal worship, which I found lacking in the presbyterianism from which I came. The emphasis was not limited to the meaning of the spoken (or sung) words; but seemed to be equally shared by verbal meaning and non-verbal worship. A well-done liturgy is a beautiful thing; it contributes to the sense of sacred space, without which worship is impoverished.

Posted by: Rhiannon on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 11:12pm GMT

Pat O'Neill wrote:

'To me, "liturgy" is the words we say, not the things we do while saying them.'

Well, that's very arguable. I quite like this explanation from a Jewish website:

'In some ways, liturgy translates the Hebrew term avodah עבודה, which means worship (or work). Liturgy is, broadly, a description of the drama of worshipping God. Liturgy is not just the words that are recited, whether fixed or spontaneous, it also includes the actions, the occasions for the worship, and the gathering of the participants. Liturgy is in some ways akin to a screenplay, but just as screenplays have differing degrees of flexibility in the hands of different directors, so do different liturgical moments.'

Posted by: Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 12:09am GMT

Malcolm+ that has to rank up there with Dom Gregory Dix's parishioner who thought the manual acts included keeping the crab from escaping the altar.

I prefer modest, clear gestures, and I've always bowed at the Incarnatus, kneeling during Christmastide. I make a point about putting a note in the bulletin at this time of year. People can join in if they choose, or not.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 12:20am GMT

I am a frequent visitor to Anglicanism by way of The Episcopal Church. Years ago, in a spiritually low moment, I found myself in a small Episcopal church in Denver run by a few monks, sojourned there, and was uplifted. I'm not officially Episcopalian. I don't believe in a central key tenet. But the priest of that church described worship there as "conservative in liturgy and liberal in theology". For me, that formula works wonders. I love the ceremony, the music (I now sing in a church choir), the "smells and bells", the garments, the motions. For me, they add immensely to the spirituality of the service, they help bring me closer to God.
Malcolm+, I love your story about touching the wall. How many symbols of the current-day liturgy once had a practical purpose, like the pall, and are now mostly ceremonial?
Liturgy is a way of taking the practical and making something holy out of it.
I've been to church services where the service, down to the readings, seemed totally on-the-fly, at the desire (whim) of the church's preacher. It obviously met the needs of that church's faithful followers, but it isn't for me.
There's a reason for the liturgy, the order of the lectionary, the pattern to the Euchraist/Mass.

Posted by: peterpi on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 12:22am GMT

Tomorrow I shall don my alb and stole and say farewell using the liturgies and lectionary that are prescribed. The bishop will be present and all will be in order. God willing in this emotional time the liturgy will make Christ present in word, sacrament and community.

Posted by: Ian Montgomery on Saturday, 3 January 2009 at 3:22pm GMT

Best wishes for the future. God speed.

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 2:08am GMT

Let's not forget we are all different. We find different things meaningful or devotional or helpful. Also this may vary at different times of our life too.

Sometimes the energy just goes out of something we once practiced with devotion, loved even.

In the course of my life (almost 60 years)I have gone from no communion service(in childhoood and early teens), to weekly Communion, to daily Communion; and now I prefer other services (can be hard to find) and communicate about once or twice a year. I notice the BCP seems to envisage this kind of practice, but how I act and feel is not down to 1662,

Similarly, I no longer sem to find myself crossing myself or bowing much; and when I give the Blessing these days, I simply raise my motionless hand in the air. Thus (unitentionally)mirroring the clergy of my childhood. I don't quite know why these changes have come over me -somewhat to my surprise.

It may be linked with a *disillusionment* with the Anglo-Catholicism,I practiced for years, but I'm not sure. And as I say, it is not part of any conscious program of mine. (I don't have one).

*It seemed to say No to many creative things, to ape Rome mindlessly & be dishonest about the gay issue.*

I am glad there is room for so many of us in this Church, including those who come once a year, or once or twice in a lifetime.

Yes, we are all different -- and very human & lovable beneath our dogmas and practices !

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 2:27am GMT

"I think there's "liturgy" and then there's "outward display". To me, "liturgy" is the words we say, not the things we do while saying them. - Pat O'Neill -

Pat, my definitioon of 'liturgy' from the Greek, is derived from the idea of 'the people's work', which might be rather different from just 'what
people say'. I have always understood that good liturgy, like an ikon, is a representation of the value we give to the object of our worship.

It has been said that in order to preach well, one should use words if necessary - in other words, how we present and participate in the liturgy ought to evoke worship of the God who is alive to us and who is attentive to what we are doing to honour God. Good liturgy can do the work of a hundred sermons, if done reverently and with an understanding of whom it is we are honouring.

All churches have some sort of 'liturgy'. Some have what might be called a 'hymn sandwich', which majors on evangelical preaching with songs in between. Others major on popular choruses - usually a hit with the young people who want to paly some sort of musical instrument, interpsersed with the occasional 'alleluia' and the waving of hands and enthusiastic hugs.

Liturgy badly or sloppily performed can be detrimental to the purpose of its objective, which is to honour God and not the Vicar.

I've yet to find anything more worshipful than a well-ordered liturgy with a sanctuary full of dedicated servants of God (of all ages, male and female) who are all intent upon the business of presenting the Eucharist, with music, lights and incense, to the highest possible standard. Music, too, is very important, and clergy who sing parts of the service ought to be well practised in the art, as well as conscious of the need to not dominate the proceedings. In my experience, many a server has found a vocation to the priesthood.

Preaching, too, has a special place, and ought to engage the minds of the congregation with the theme of the scripture readings - while applying them to the practical business of daily life. Social justice must be given its propoer place in the preachment, but must never dominate the agenda to the impoverishment of the essential object of worship, which is to honour God.

Good liturgy needs both word and worship, so that the two elements might complement one another in ways that will inspire the congregation to know that the God they are worshipping is both holy and loving. When these arer properly presented in worship, people are both fed and nourished, not by a pantomine activity, but by true worship.

"It is well seen O God, how thou goest, how thou, my God and King, goest in thy sanctuary, Alleluia!"

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 8:43am GMT

"Malcolm+, I love your story about touching the wall. How many symbols of the current-day liturgy once had a practical purpose, like the pall, and are now mostly ceremonial?"

I love it too.

But a question to all the priests who posted here: how often and how carefully to you explain the liturgy and the gestures to your congregations?
In all the churches I have ever been in, I have never heard an explanation for any of it. Astonishing, if it really should be so important.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 10:07am GMT

Tobias Haller: "... that has to rank up there with Dom Gregory Dix's parishioner who thought the manual acts included keeping the crab from escaping the altar."

I don't have a copy of his book to hand but I think you'll find that it was the great Dom Gregory's grandmother.

Fr. Mark, take care! There's at least one "bearded sandal-wearing" bishop who is a regular contributor to this list and he's not much in to dumbing down.

Posted by: RPNewark on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 4:53pm GMT

RPNewark: I know the bishop to whom you refer, and think he's a Good Thing. But beards are not part of the Latin tradition (except for missionaries in the tropics, of course)... and sandals, well next thing we'll all be looking like Jesus (and/or Rolf Harris), and then maybe acting like him (and/or him) too, and then where would the Church be? Harrumph.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 6:18pm GMT

"Astonishing, if it really should be so important."

Isn't it, though? We have had an Instructed Liturgy a couple of times at our place, people found it very informative. But nothing important in the Church is ever explained by the clergy. I have often stated how OOW was never explained in Canada, isn't now, even. Liturgical reform was never explained either, we were just told that people couldn't understand the old language and if we didn't like it, we were just being conservative fuddy duddies and should get with the times. Neither is acceptance of gay people explained. This unwillingness to explain change, or anything else, causes a great deal of problems, since people will resist change for which they see no reason, will reject what they see as mindless (and look at the things people are saying here about liturgy. That's tame compared to some)and it certainly lends an air of arrogance to those trying to make the changes. "We don't need to explain ourselves, you just have to agree with your betters." Well, they're not my betters, and their dropping of the ball is shown, to me at least, by the fact that I had to find out on my own the reasons for liturgical reform and OOW, and am still working out, for myself, the issues aroung gay acceptance. And our clergy are supposed to be shepherds? What kind of shepherd lets the individual sheep figure out on their own where the grass is and where the wolves are waiting?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 6:45pm GMT

What I've done with my life? Lord, in accordance with your calling I was duly concerned about whether bishops wear beards or not, and what impression they might give in sandals.

I have been faithful in observing all the rituals we have instituted and I have spent time on the Internet assuring everyone of how important they are.

And I have made sure that everyone knows that the Evangelicals/Catholics/Anglo Catholics...insert your own favourite.... worshipped in a way that is surely tedious to you.

That WAS what you wanted from me, wasn't it?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 7:22pm GMT

Ian Montgomery wrote: Tomorrow I shall don my alb and stole and say farewell... May God bless you in your future journey.

I also became an Anglican from a 'less liturgical church' and it was the liturgy including the vestments, bells and smells of a (1928 BCP) Midnight Mass that called me home. On the other hand I was involved in creating a 'fresh expression' using simple eucharistic liturgies which brought back many who had stopped attending more traditional services. Room for all in God's mansion.

Posted by: Fr Paul on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 7:27pm GMT

"That WAS what you wanted from me, wasn't it?"

God, I thank you that I am not like other people: conservatives, misogynists, homophobes, or even like this Anglo-Catholic. I read (and comment on) progressive blogs twice a day; I give a tenth of all my income to Medecins sans Frontieres...

Posted by: BillyD on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 8:08pm GMT

Ford Elms' comment on 4 Jan at 6:45 pm is close to my heart. He reminds me of a parishioner in the first congregation for which I was rector. She was known as cantankerous and hard to get along with. After nearly every Sunday service she would ask me a question at the church door and I would answer her, she'd thank me and off she went.

One day after her question and my answer (this time it was "Why do you hold your arms out during the Eucharistic prayer?"), she thanked me and added, "I just want to know why you do these things". Of course she did. She wasn't a trouble maker. She just wanted to know.

I really valued that woman and her questions.

Also, regarding
"This is invariably said by someone in his or her 60's or older, of course."

Actually, it is usually said by someone my age or older (63), not for themselves, but because they think this is what young people want and hope a "contemporary" service will draw new blood to the church. I found at the Wyoming Episcopal Youth Event that teens did indeed like a rock band playing, but the band was playing standard hymns from the current hymnal. In fact, they liked a variety of music, including a string quartet. I think a church that wants to create a "contemporary service" to attract young people would do well to gather some young people and have them design the worship, with respect for their input, and with the guidance and teaching of the liturgist.

I'm the chief liturgical officer. I sometimes do new things. I usually write about what I'm going to do in the newsletter, and talk about it during the announcements in church. But there will always be people who don't read the newsletter or come often enough to church to get the announcement. And sometimes I forget to explain. So ask me. Please. I love to explain what I'm/we're doing!

Posted by: Rev. Lois Keen on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 8:20pm GMT

Erika: I wonder whether you might have invested my comments on beards and sandals with a seriousness which they were not intended to merit...

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 8:52pm GMT

"This unwillingness to explain change, or anything else, causes a great deal of problems, since people will resist change for which they see no reason"

But isn't it also true, Ford, that change is *perceived* in the eye of the individual beholder (but some individuals go out of their way to make sure as many as possible can be *induced* to perceive "change", exactly as they do!)

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 9:53pm GMT

Speaking as just another crank in the pews, I've always loved liturgical worship. The Protestant worship of my childhood was very word centered and deliberately barren. It was very intellectual and rationalizing for all the happy and the clappy. When it tried to be "feeling," then I always got the sense that I was being sold something, or that I had to be persuaded of something.
I've always thought of liturgical worship as worship with the hands, and not just with the tongue. It's about doing and touching as well as speaking and singing. Our thoughts during these services remain our own as we share a common ritual. Understanding and belief is implied in shared actions.
I've observed, especially in guests and new visitors to our church, that when we take our liturgy seriously, then people feel that we take them seriously too.

How remarkable that this comes up during the Feast of the Incarnation. Liturgy might also be a reminder that our faith is more than a book or set of doctrines. It is a long complicated relationship with a Person. What could be more truly liturgical and sacramental than "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."?

Posted by: counterlight on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 11:15pm GMT

I rarely look at blogs especially the rather boring and repetitive ones from obsessive fundamentalists (especially fundamentalist atheists!) However, I appreciated this courteous discussion of liturgy enough to print it out in full and appreciate very much some of the points people have made.

As a now retired, former Rector of a working class parish in Sydney Diocese, I now go by train or coach about once a month - as a parishioner - to the historic S.John the Baptist's, Canberra, 200 miles from Sydney, for BCP Holy Communion and especially for BCP Matins. Morning Prayer, carefully presented in various, pastorally sensitive ways, I suggest, could cater for at least some of the great majority of Anglicans in Australia or the U.K. who are not in church, - the kind of C.of E. people that as an honorary hospital chaplain I meet in large numbers every week, some former attenders but most unconfirmed, some on the fringe of the Church, some not sacramentally minded, some half-believers unwilling to make the commitment involved in Holy Communion - but still usually welcoming their Church's ministry. (Over 22 years, I think our parish's favourite service was Matins - as the Ante Communion, and Holy Communion, quite formally on one Sunday, less formally on another.)

As a keen member of the Prayer Book Society, and certainly culturally conservative, I greatly regret the absence today of anything resembling Anglican liturgy in most parishes in our vast, wealthy and what has become in recent years an almost monochrome Diocese. Though I must confess that, at the same time, as a liberal Christian, I belong both to the Modern Churchpeople's Union and to the (unitarian Christian) King's Chapel, Boston.

There needs to be room for varieties of flowers in the Anglican garden but some at present would be endangered species if not for the unquenchable Spirit of God and there are perhaps weeds that we could do without.

With thanks and with best wishes for tomorrow's joyful Festival of the Epiphany.

Posted by: John Bunyan on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 2:12am GMT

I believe that liturgy can get in the way of sacramentality. Sacramentality (and I believe I am paraphrasing Augustine here) is that notion that anything that is always true everywhere must be recognized at least sometime, somewhere. I gather with my parish for liturgy to remind myself that God is present always, everywhere. I gather for liturgy to remind myself that I am in communion with the Church and with the mystical body of Christ. I believe that it is possible to become some focused on the rubrics that we miss the miracle of God's grace that is the key to sacramentality.

I also attend liturgy to remind myself that I am a tabernacle, that I carry Jesus Christ with me and that I am to be the true presence of Jesus Christ to others. Christ is present to me in four ways during the liturgy: the assembly of the faithful, the proclamation of the Word, the person of the priest, and in the blessed sacrament. Certainly if someone is distracted by the liturgy they neglect to recognize Christ's presence in these ways. But I do not believe that any nuance in liturgical practice in any way prevents Christ's presence.

I believe that liturgy is literally "the work of the people" and that "the people" in this case is larger than me. Therefore, I feel closer to Christ and more in solidarity with the Church when me and my fellow worshipers agree upon and act in an agreed upon way.

Posted by: Israel J Pattison on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 4:01am GMT

"But isn't it also true, Ford, that change is *perceived* in the eye of the individual beholder"

If I understand what you're getting at here, it's that people can react to small changes as though they were earth shattering. Which is another reason changes need to be clearly explained. How many "Prayer Book Society" people, for instance, actually understand that modern liturgical forms are actually far more traditional than Cranmer's brush with Calvinism? Granted, most modern liturgies are unspeakably ugly, but liturgical ugliness was no reason to go into schism, like some did, and might not have had they gotten good catechesis at the time as to what the changes were and why they were necessary.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 11:53am GMT

Wasn't there something about the rubrics and the prayer book in general checking one's ego in worship? And although we call ourselves a liturgical "church" (communion?), it is often the variances in it that cause both amusement and rare concern.

There was a previous letter on this thread about crossing oneself at the beginning of the Magnificat. I had observed a friend doing this during an evensong out on the east coast (U.S.), and had never known of it before. Now, if my mind isn't concentrating on the music, I'll glance up towards the congregation at our cathedral's evensongs to see if this happens, and well occasionally see it in a few. Funny how you keep learning of the various ways of worship throughout your life.

Liturgy for me seems to be the infusion of art into worship. A good example of opera, ballet, and visual art combined, hopefully focused on Somebody other than ourselves.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 2:21pm GMT

"Now, if my mind isn't concentrating on the music, I'll glance up towards the congregation at our cathedral's evensongs to see if this happens"

For me, it's not whether or not anyone else is doing it, but that if I DON'T do, it feels like there's something missing. I try to be discreet, since in some places the Sign of the Cross is at best something to be suspicious of. But I really don't care if others do it or not, they can worhsip in their way, I'm sure Our Lord doesn't mind that sort of thing! :-)

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 2:46pm GMT

What a wonderful post and what wonderful comments.

I believe that what "young people" and old people want is continuity. That is found in the BCP and well executed ritual. It will always be there like a loving mother to wrap her arms around us and hug us in our good times and our bad times and when we are absolutely miserable. A hug from someone who says she's mum, but doesn't look or smell like our mum, is not a hug from mum at all.

"Change" and "adaptation" are good and necessary or we would still be worshipping in Aramaic, but the people must be prepared for change. They want to know if this is going to be permanent or if it is a fly-by-night whim of the priest who will be on to something else next week.

I found my way to Anglican Christianity (via the Episcopal Church) when I was rather young. It was just a simple week-day Eucharist; but the liturgy was performed in a dignified way and it reached out and embraced me and I have never been the same since that day in July.

I also agree with the organist who comment on prieses chopping out verses of hymns to shorten the service by 25-seconds. I knew a priest who always cut the last verse of a hymns, no matter what and refused to have a post communion hymn as "it makes the service too long." One Easter day we sang "were you there" during communion. That Easter the last bit of music was Jesus dead in the tomb as the last verse had to be cut to save time.

One of the "dragons at the door" asked him to please send her a copy of his sermon each week before he preached it. She said the service was too long and she would need to cut bits and pieces of the sermon to save time. He was not amused.

Now, would someone please tell me about Dix and the crab on the Altar?

Posted by: James on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 4:09pm GMT

Maybe it's just my parish--but I have experienced it elsewhere--but the problem with the length of hymns in many Episcopal churches isn't the number of verses sung, but the tempo at which they are played.

I'm sorry, but the "Ode to Joy" is not intended to be funereal in tone and Cat Stevens had the right tempo for "Morning is Broken"--anything slower sounds like the singer is struggling AGAINST waking up! And in the season just passed, "Adeste Fidelis" is a triumphant march, not a slow trudge to the manger!

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 5:41pm GMT

"That is found in the BCP and well executed ritual."

Pick me as someone who wants continuity. I felt the same way about the BCP till I read some Liturgics. There are problems with the BCP rite. The Liturgical Reform movement grew out of a realization that Eucharistic liturgies had deviated significantly from the originals in structure and intent. It was a movement to return to the traditional Eucharist, so, in an odd way, the new rites are more traditional than the BCP. For someone who used to be something of a Prayer Book fundamentalist, I no longer find the rite all that satisfactory. We use the Canadian "New rite in traditional language" at our place, and I have no problems, but I do find there to be something missing from the Consecration prayer. It was actually quite an eye opener for me to find out just how far our rite was from the traditional pattern, and why it was we needed to change. Now, I still refer to the Canadian Book of Alternate Services as the Book of Abysmal Services, since it is breathtakingly ugly and its compilers seem to have taken the attitude that change for the sake of change was admirable, but the rites themselves, for all their ugliness, are far more theologically satisfactory.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 5:44pm GMT

Yes, you go to a lot of trouble JB to follow your religion. Inspiring.

Yes, to my mind we ( / I) could do with more mattins type sunday worship

'As a keen member of the Prayer Book Society, and certainly culturally conservative, I greatly regret the absence today of anything resembling Anglican liturgy in most parishes in our vast, wealthy and what has become in recent years an almost monochrome Diocese. Though I must confess that, at the same time, as a liberal Christian, I belong both to the Modern Churchpeople's Union and to the (unitarian Christian) King's Chapel, Boston.

There needs to be room for varieties of flowers in the Anglican garden but some at present would be endangered species if not for the unquenchable Spirit of God and there are perhaps weeds that we could do without.'

It is also good to hear mention of the unitarian chapel

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 6:46pm GMT

Now, would someone please tell me about Dix and the crab on the Altar?

Posted by: James on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 4:09pm GMT

Yes, its in The Shape of the Liturgy(Dom Gregory Dix) --can't remember which page !

The old woman made what she would of the various ceremonail acts of the Old Rite , including the Elevation(s) of the Host.

What she made of it was that a lobster (yes it was a lobster!) from a lobster pot and it would leap in the air and the priest would catch it and bring it down ! Priest with back to congreagation, of course.

choirboyfrom.... ( I think) Yes, some cross themselves at the Benedictus too.

The idea is that those who greet the gospel at Communion by the third-fold crossing of head, lips breast, welocme these gospel cantciles by crossing themselves but as less solemn than at eucharist, just once.

Live and learn.


Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Monday, 5 January 2009 at 6:57pm GMT

"Maybe it's just my parish--but I have experienced it elsewhere--but the problem with the length of hymns in many Episcopal churches isn't the number of verses sung, but the tempo at which they are played."

Absolutely. As a musician, my constant task is to try to speed up the music. You have to understand, though, that the organist is not entirely free to do whatever s/he wants.

There is a cultural problem (expectations), of course.

But the main culprit in most Anglican churches I know is the length of the nave. I'm fortunate ... I play (and my orchestra plays, and my chorus sings) in a room that is almost square, with concrete block walls and a tile floor and a high ceiling and hard chairs and a congregation sitting in a circle. BUT, I've played in the local cathedral (not for a service, just to check the acoustics) -- we are speaking of a building somewhat larger than a standard English parish church, but not a lot larger -- and the interval means that taking any music at any decent clip leaves the sound in the most dreadful muddle and a congregation without any musical lead at all.

Added to which, the organ is really not a good accompaniment instrument for a congregation, unless the place is nearly full to capacity, the pipes (or speakers) are at the back and not too high above the congregation, and you have an A1 quality choir to help the congregation out.

And, in many places, the organist cannot hear the congregation because of where the console is located.

Lots of places have an impossible building, with an organ and congregation that don't work together acoustically well at all. Have some pity on the poor organist who is trying to play at a pace that is at least intelligible, with a congregation that can barely be heard where s/he is sitting.

Posted by: John Holding on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 12:22am GMT

As an organist, I had the opportunity to play in some of the various denominations present in Western PA. My other half goes to a very liberal Presbyterian church as do many of my friends. As much as I love them, I find saying three or four prayers and listening to a 40 minute sermon a bit tough. It reminds me more of some of those college lectures without note taking.
I don't like having people bring communion around to me and sitting at gospel (which several Protestant denominations do).

I think our liturgy has a good balance between that which is clergy generated and what we're called to do (readings, peoples prayers, ushers, collective singing and praying). We don't focus the majority of our service on a sermon.

Besides, in churches who focus on sermons what happens when the pastor/preacher is less than dynamic speaker? Many people don't have the gift of gab but have wonderful pastoral skills (a great listener?). Finding someone who has good administrative skills, is a great speaker and has good pastoral skills can be very difficult.

Bottom line is, there is something for everyone. What works for one doesn't have to work for everyone.

Posted by: BobinSWPA on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 12:32am GMT

As a fellow student of Fr. Buchner's at a different time, I have had the same experience of being one of the seemingly few Anglican clergy with some liturgical training. The actual celebration of the Eucharist was taught at Trinity to our class by Fr. Warren Eling, who gave us the full ceremonial with gestures, etc. he said that it was easier to take some of it away than to add on. it is interesting that the Trinity grads,myself included, have often been approached by clergy with other backgrounds to show them how to celebrate. In my Diocese, the Trinity clergy are usually the ones approached to plan diocesan events and to give advice.

Posted by: superanglican on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 1:14am GMT

I think the issue of appealing or meaningful liturgy has less to do with the use of Elizabethan or English than it has to do with liturgy done well and liturgy done poorly.

I've seen majestic Book of Alternative Services liturgy that leaves no doubt we worship in company with heavenly choirs. I've see botched Book of Common Prayer liturgy that leaves one wanting to slit one's eyeballs.

Liturgy deserves to be done well, whether one it is high mass at an Anglo-Catholic shrine or U2charist or a youth group camp out or a simple Sunday morning. Liturgy done poorly or sloppily is an insult to the congregation and to the Lord of us all.

Rubrics should be honoured and understood, but one also needs to know when to relax. (I recall once, at that same parish, walking over just before the Eucharistic Prayer to pick up a small child in danger of falling down some steps. I said the canon one handed, with my left arm bearing the child and my right hand performing - or occasionally approximating - the manual acts as per Ritual Notes.)

Do liturgy as though it is intended to honour God and to feed God's people, and it will be good liturgy that communicates the Gospel.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 6:17am GMT

On the matter of BCP v BAS, I fail to understand how Eucharistic Prayer 6 (based on the Basilian canon, also Eucharistic Prayer D in the American BCP) can possibly be called ugly.

It is an established Anglican principle that liturgy should be in "a tongue understanded of the people." As pretty as the Prayer Book Elizabethan is, it is not such a tongue. I do not recall Howie Meeker ever saying: "Verily, Gretsky doth shoot! Lo, he scoreth!"

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 6:22am GMT

Malcolm wrote: 'It is an established Anglican principle that liturgy should be in "a tongue understanded of the people." As pretty as the Prayer Book Elizabethan is, it is not such a tongue. I do not recall Howie Meeker ever saying: "Verily, Gretsky doth shoot! Lo, he scoreth!"'

Well, yes and no. The Anglican principle is 'understanded of the people', not 'as the guys talk, like, know what I mean?' No liturgy that I know of (or would have much truck with) uses popular language in the strict sense, and there is plenty of evidence that worshippers react better to poetic and epic language. The traditional rites tend to deliver that, in part because some of the liturgical revisers landed their efforts somewhere in between poetry and the market place, and often it just didn't work. The English ASB was a good example.

However, I think liturgical reform has got better, and newer prayer books are much improved. But it's still OK to leave some room for traditional language rites.

That said, I do agree about 1662 - it's strongly defective in theological terms.

Posted by: Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 11:37am GMT

"I fail to understand how Eucharistic Prayer 6 (based on the Basilian canon, also Eucharistic Prayer D in the American BCP) can possibly be called ugly."

We can all find individual examples of things that are not ugly about the BAS. I am fond of one of the blessings of the font at baptism. Nor am I making an argument for Elizabethan English, though I do believe the scorn heaped on such language at the time by those who promoted reform was completely uninformed. Look at Common Worhsip, a far better put together book, and far more pleasant to the ear as a result. There's a piece in one of the prefaces to the BAS in which it is actually implied that modern English is not a attractive as Cranmer's, and, besides, the poetry of our time is more spare, which is just an excuse for the fact the compilers had no poetic talent. Modern English can be quite beautiful, the English of the BAS is not, overall. As to change for the sake of it, when did our nights cease to be silent and and our world cease to be fleeting? Those words were dropped from the that lovely old night collect, and, other than modernizing the pronouns, that's the only change. What possible reason can be given for that other than change for the sake of it? And perhaps soullessness and lack of appreciation for how to put together a good piece of liturgical prose. The BAS is well thought out and poorly executed, and while individual parts of it may be quite nice, overall, it is a linguistic dud, far below Common Worship in most aspects, and don't even get me started on the mish-mosh they made of the Offices!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 11:51am GMT

I forget which one it is, but my fave Eucharistic prayer is the one teasingly called the "Star Trek" prayer among Episcopalians...the one with references to the stars and planets and Earth as our "island home". To me, it combines majestic language with a modern understanding of cosmology.

Back to the music question I brought up...I understand the acoustical problems. I come from a theater background and know all about the sound delay, etc. It still seems to me that we manage to make everything sound like it's too early in the morning and we're all sleepy yet.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 12:17pm GMT

"I forget which one it is, but my fave Eucharistic prayer is the one teasingly called the "Star Trek" prayer among Episcopalians..."

Eucharistic Prayer C. I remember hating this as unbearably corny when I was a teenager, but I recently re-read it and found that it wasn't nearly as hokey as I thought thirty-odd years ago.

Posted by: BillyD on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 5:09pm GMT

Pat: I too enjoy the "Star Trek" Eucharistic prayer except for the "we turned away from you in sin," part (I'm not real big on the brokeness of the world and sin. My parish was overun by evangelicals).

Posted by: bobinswpa on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 5:44pm GMT

"I forget which one it is, but my fave Eucharistic prayer is the one teasingly called the "Star Trek" prayer among Episcopalians..."

And Loud Boiling Test Tubes....

Kudos to kieran crichton, many of the liturgical problems seem to come from those who are always wanting to "re-invent the wheel". Perhaps we ought to turn those altars back around.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 5:52pm GMT

"I'm not real big on the brokeness of the world and sin."

Can you elaborate on this? The brokenness of the world, aside from being evident, as far as I'm concerned, is pretty basic to the whole Christian mythos. So is sin, for that matter, none of us can say we're perfect, after all. Now, I'm not much into using sin as a club to force people into conformity, and my attitude towards PSA is not exactly something I keep to myself, and I don't think we do ourselves, our souls, or the Gospel much good wallowing in how sinful and unworthy we are, but surely acknowledgement of our own failings, our own imperfections in the face of God's Perfection, our unworthiness of the gifts He so freely gives us, and the ways we don't follow the Gospel, combined with repentance and resolve to do better are good things. If it's not too much, or too much of a derailment, could you expand this a bit?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 7:46pm GMT

"Perhaps we ought to turn those altars back around."

Yes, indeed, let's put an end to what one priest I know refers to as "Spiritual Bartending". He is sometimes tempted to replace "The Gifts of God for the People of God" with "Belly up to the bar, boys!"

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 7:53pm GMT

I'm with you BillyD, Eucharistic Prayer C is a favorite of mine as well. Why not incorporate modern science's understanding of the almost incomprehensible size and grandeur of God's Creation? Religion and science can inform each other.
To the broader point, liturgy does not have to lose anything if performed in the modern tongue. Having said that, I make at least one exception. At the TEC church I attend, we have a Rite I and a Rite II Eucharist service every Sunday morning. However, both services use the older form of the Lord's Prayer. As a pundit, whose name I've forgotten, once noted, "Save us from the time of trial" sounds like a lawyer's oral argument in pre-trial proceedings. The Rite II Lord's Prayer is too sparse for my taste.

Posted by: peterpi on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 9:06pm GMT

For those of you who have never heard of, or encountered, 'A New Zealand Prayer Book', I would recommend you tap into a New Zealand web-site hosted by Fr. Bosco Peters at -

www.liturgy.co.nz New Zealand

I'm not certain whether this address will enable contact with the site, but if you Google New Zealand Liturgy, you will find Fr. Bosco's site which is well worth exploring - for an historical and contemporary take on good liturgical practice

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 10:36pm GMT

...speaking as an organist with experience of accompanying hymns in large resonant buildings, all I can say to John Holding is that it is very easy to get a hymn to click along at a brisk tempo in a muddy acoustic. I used to have to push a congregation that was dominated by a particularly loud individual (who always wanted to slow down, hold on to high notes, or anything that contained the word "Jeeeezuuuuus") by playing with more articulation, and liberal staccato lashes of the Open Wood, all in the name of keeping a steady tempo. British cathedral organists always seem to play hymns very fast -- I attended a non-choral service at one of those places last year and the tempo of the hymns was fierce!

One thing I left out earlier is that the clerical type I'm describing always protests his/her loyalty to the liturgy. They have a strong *philosophy* about how it is to be done, which seems to amount to a narcissistic focus on themselves. Hymns are an unfortunate concession that have to be made in order to "give the congregation something to do." Hymns need to be gutted in order that the priest not loose his/her congregation's complete attention; some prefatory remarks go longer than the shortened hymn. It always seems that these clergy can't let anything happening without outlining the "rationale" before doing, and then back-announcing -- just in case anybody missed out on whose show it is!

choirboy -- I've never seen a versus populi mass celebrated really well. Perhaps there's a strong argument for a more widespread returning to eastward celebration.

Posted by: kieran crichton on Wednesday, 7 January 2009 at 1:12am GMT

"Spiritual Bartending"

W/ complementary w(h)ine and crackers. Live entertainment. Group Therapy. Keep coming, it works!

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Wednesday, 7 January 2009 at 4:05am GMT

k crichton: I've figured out the best organists keep strict time on the hymns. If the congregation (and choir) get behind, they'll figure it out eventually. It has been a never ending battle to get the choir to sing AHEAD of the beat during recessionals, or singing in the back in a narthex, ambulatory, or the like. And yes, priests beware, we in the choir do time your sermons.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Wednesday, 7 January 2009 at 12:01pm GMT

"both services use the older form of the Lord's Prayer."

One of the main reasons given for liturgical reform here in Canada was that people didn't understand BCP language. I found out years later that it had little to do with it, and the real reasons for liturgical reform, with which I agree entirely, were never actually mentioned here in Canada at the time. Which is why I disagreed with liturgical reform at the time and am now an ardent supporter of the newer rites. Except of course that in this country, they tend to an irredeemable ugliness, made worse by the pathetic attempts of the compilers of the BAS to justify that linguistic ugliness. But isn't it interesting that whenever you get a group of people in public praying the Lord's Prayer together, they immediately go into the language that we were sincerely told years ago they don't actually understand? How odd(said he sarcastically)! Might this whole language thing actually have more to do with clerical pomposity and disrespect for the intelligence of the lumpen proletariate? "We'll tell them they are being hard done by because they don't understand what's being said, and if they protest, especially if they insist they actually DO understand, we'll mock them as unenlightened traditionalists". Better that than actually do a bit of catechesis. I was talking to a friend of mine a while ago, younger than me by ten years, about Church stuff, and he made the comment that he got away from going to Church for a number of reasons, none of them to do with anger or anything, but that "It just wasn't the same after God became 'you'. God isn't one of Da B'ys."

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 7 January 2009 at 2:27pm GMT

"It has been a never ending battle to get the choir to sing AHEAD of the beat during recessionals"
I know a choir director who would agree with you about recessionals, ... and processionals, and anthems. It's a universal, non-denominational complaint shared by many directors, I'm sure.

Posted by: peterpi on Wednesday, 7 January 2009 at 6:53pm GMT

I've long hated recessionals -- what a contradiction to say "go in peace to love and serve the Lord" only to have to pick up the hymn book and sing another hymn. I went to a service recently where out of about 25 in the nave, probably 4 plus an organist and cantor (it's holiday season here in Australia). The priest had felt duty bound to wait at the door until the last people left -- which was sweet -- but I got the impression that singing a hymn was the last thing the catering guild, op shop attendants and various other parish volunteers really wanted to do.

In the old Roman rite, as well as in the English Missal, the recessional hymn covered the last gospel and whatever "final" devotions the priest was making before leaving the sanctuary, or as a bridge to cover movement to where the Angelus was to be recited. In a ritual world where these things no longer happen, one has to question why the recessional hymn lingers on...

Posted by: kieran crichton on Wednesday, 7 January 2009 at 11:17pm GMT

"It's a universal, non-denominational complaint shared by many directors, I'm sure."

And not just choir directors. Talk to any marching band director, or the orchestra conductor for a musical play...

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 12:38am GMT

"I've long hated recessionals -- what a contradiction to say "go in peace to love and serve the Lord" only to have to pick up the hymn book and sing another hymn."

In our parish, the priest gives the final blessing at the altar, the organist strikes up the recessional, all the people on the altar (priests, servers, choir) recess to the back of the church and then, from there, the priest announces the dismissal: "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!"

Makes sense to me!

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 11:27am GMT

Pat -- that seems like a more elegant approach to the problem. But if you've already had a communion hymn within the previous 10 minutes wouldn't you think that's a lot of one type of singing in a very short space? For example, last Sunday I played for a mass where the transition between the communion and recessional hymns was the time it took to cancel the registration, put the music for the postlude on the music desk, find the number of the next hymn and set up the introductory registration. That's roughly 70 seconds on an organ without general cancel or useful pistons. The priest had gone into summer mode and left out a stack of optional prayers and cut straight to the blessing and dismissal. From the beginning of the communion improvisation to the end of the postlude that was roughly 15 minutes of more-or-less continuous organ playing, including two hymns in very quick succession.

To me, having a hymn to cover walking out really seems like the solution to having an organist who can't cook up a postlude. I don't think it's a good use of hymns. Call me old fashioned, but it really makes better sense to use hymns in the order of the Proper -- introit, gradual/sequence, offertory and communion. It makes instinctive sense, and connects with the structure of the liturgy in a far more convincing way. Still, recessional hymns are probably still superior to the advice of Harvey Grace, Marmaduke Conway and others of that ilk when they suggested that the organist should provide a quiet voluntary to allow the choir and clergy to withdraw to the vestry before bursting into any postlude that might cause feet to tap....

Posted by: kieran crichton on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 1:24pm GMT

"In a ritual world where these things no longer happen, one has to question why the recessional hymn lingers on..."

Easy: such a closing hymn rounds off the service, accompanies the beginning of the departure from church (starting with the sanctuary party), provides a final opportunity for praise of God, with the bonus of a memorable tune to take along, and gives the clergy time to get in place to greet the faithful as they leave.

This is one of those issues that in many places is not an issue. The Dismissal is given, and we begin to depart as we sing a final hymn. Or must we take "dismissal" literally now, in which case we should really be ready to bolt for the door and run as soon as we're dismissed?

Before or after the dismissal, a closing hymn doesn't pose a problem. This is a recurring "issue" that I contend is a personal preference that gets some people in a knot.

Posted by: Scott Knitter on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 4:14pm GMT

"one has to question why the recessional hymn lingers on"

Well, in the best traditions of pedantic liturgists, it needs to be said that there is no such thing as a 'recessional hymn', or rather, if there were one, it would either involve everyone walking out backwards, or else it would be a hymn to mark an economic downturn (perhaps appropriate right now). There is, however, the possibility of having a hymn to accompany the procession our of the church at the end of the mass; which I agree, is not always the best idea.

Posted by: Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 4:53pm GMT

"In a ritual world where these things no longer happen..."

Well, in my parish I assisted at three Masses in the past few weeks that included the Last Gospel - two times it was read at the altar, and once by a priest at a weekday Mass as he followed the server back to the sacristy (which was, I believe, the way that bishops used to do it). I understand that it's a late accretion, and doesn't fit in anywhere in Dix's "shape of the liturgy," but I appreciated it as a way to emphasize and honor the Incarnation during Christmas. I wouldn't object to it being done all the time - the Incarnation could use a little emphasis these days, judging from the ecclesiastical press. ;-)

Posted by: BillyD on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 5:43pm GMT

kieran, I would mostly agree with you, as the quiet voluntaries played during evensong processions are much more stately and allow some de-compression at the end of the service, but with priests urging more congregational participation, the "recessional" hymn gives them that chance. And for the long run fight, taking away more music just results in less music. We could give them an Orison (and have in the past for both communion and matins), but the ministers would probably yap about that as well...

And also agree FvP, "recessional" is a silly term, and it's a thing we joke about in the choir. We're now calling it the closing processional. Whatever..

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 5:46pm GMT

At my church we often call the formal exiting of the clergy, choir, etc., after the service "processing out", which to me sounds ghastly.
I always assumed that in a church setting, "recession" was the opposite of "procession" -- "procession" was the entrance, "recession" was the exit. Am I wrong? Is both the formal entrance and the formal exit a "procession"? Or does it depend which side of the Pond we're on? :-)

Posted by: peterpi on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 6:31pm GMT

Peterpi writes:
"At my church we often call the formal exiting of the clergy, choir, etc., after the service "processing out","

A pedant replies:
"Process" in this meaning is a back-formation from "procession", which itself is really formed from the Latin root of "proceed". (e.g. The versicle "Let us proceed in peace" at the start of a procession in days of yore.) A bit like "injunct" in legalese - a back-formation from "injunction", where the verb should really be "enjoin".

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 7:26pm GMT

Kieran:

Our parish has a strong musical tradition and what might seem like an excess of singing to some is quite the right thing for us. A lot depends on how exactly we do the communion hymn that week. Often, the choir does an anthem (either together or with a soloist) as the priest does the ablutions following communion. Even if it's a hymn sung by the choir and congregation, we usually do a short one there and during the ablutions.

Then there's the post-communion prayer and the blessing...and our rector and associate do fairly long versions of the blessing, frequently...and the recessional begins.

I've never found it to be "too much".

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 8:41pm GMT

Actually, in my parish, we actually list the recessional as the "post-communion hymn". The one before it is the communion hymn.


Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 8:43pm GMT

What's with all this mind numbing stuff about hymns - not even hymns, but their placement guys ?

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Friday, 9 January 2009 at 7:19am GMT

"What's with all this mind numbing stuff about hymns - not even hymns, but their placement guys ?

- Rev L. Roberts -

I suppose, Mr. Roberts, that this is a subject quite dear to the hearts of people concerned with appropriate liturgical observance. Hymns for most of us do matter, and their placement is somewhat important - to the flow of the proceedings, if for no other reason. This is why there was once the order of Introit Hymn, Sequence Hymn, Offertory Hymn, Communion Hymn & Post-Communion Hymn - all chosen for their content and form to enhance the appropriate parts of the Liturgy.

I guess, though, that if your favourite worship is Morning Prayer, rather than the Eucharist, you would not have the same structure on which to enhance your worship offering with hymns.

This is why, basically, the choice and placement of hymns within the most important worship service of the Church Universal is so important to anyone for whom the Holy Communion has a special and traditional place - as the Offering of God's people to God.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 9 January 2009 at 9:38am GMT

"...communion hymn..."

I don't like communion hymns. Lots of time they seem to be hymns whose words are appropriate as a preparation for communion, but we usually end up singing them after we've made our communion. I vote for a nice anthem, instead.

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 9 January 2009 at 1:39pm GMT

"what a contradiction to say "go in peace to love and serve the Lord" only to have to pick up the hymn book and sing another hymn."

How is singing a hymn after that contradictory? I can't carry a tune in a bucket. I love singing in church because it is one of the few times I actually CAN sing in public to my heart's content and not feel like I am making a holy show of myself. I make a point to sit as far as I can from others, and not sing too loud, so as not to put the better singers off. We sing from the old Canadian Book of Common Praise, a far better selection of hymns, less Bowdlerizing of hymns to satisfy some misbegotten sense of modernity and "sensitivity", no MPEPS, and I love Victorian schmaltz. I really don't understand this antipathy to MORE singing in Church. Now, it needs to be done in good order, we ARE Anglicans after all, we don't care what people believe or do as long as it's tasteful, but a "recessional" hymn, (and I love the comments about walking backwards!) is one more chance to sing something uplifting, or at least conducive to introspection. What's wrong with that?

"mind numbing stuff about hymns"

L Roberts, I get the impression that you don't respect the fact that for some of us, liturgical worship IS worship, that the doing of ritual in good order actually brings us closer to God, and that a more non-liturgical form of worship leaves us cold. I have been to Evangelical services where I have no doubt the congregation had a deep religious experience, but all this disorder and hand waving just damaged my soul, it feels to me more like worship of each other, or at least the minister, than worship of God. I certainly found no place on those occasions to listen for the "still small voice." As we say here, "All hands to their own fancy."

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 9 January 2009 at 3:27pm GMT

Rev Smith you do a lovely flounce ! ;-)

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Friday, 9 January 2009 at 5:59pm GMT

Not at all Ford , not at all.

I beleive in freedom of religion for all. And that was what I had somehow gotten into around funerals. That funerals are sensitive to people's feelings and needs, at a very difficult time. Choice.

I am glad you caan choose the l
formal liturgies you enjoy, and give the hand-waving rituals a miss !

No need to fel threatened by difference.

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Friday, 9 January 2009 at 10:29pm GMT

"Rev Smith you do a lovely flounce".
- Rev L Roberts (on Friday) -

Dear Rev, I'm intrigued by your comment here, whose origins I have just looked up in 'Chambers' Dictionary, thus:

1. flounce, v.i. to move abruptly. impatiently or disgustedly; n. an impatient or disgusted fling, flop or movement; adv. with a flounce.
2. flounce, n. a hanging strip gather and sewn to the skirt of a dress by its upper edge; v.t. to provide with flounces.

As you have accredited me with 'a lovely flounce', I suppose the nearest I can get to your meaning here, for me, is that I do have one particular alb with a band of lace attached to its lower extremities, which I wear on special Feastdays of the Church. In the Sarum Use, this is called an 'apparel'.

p.s. I'm afraid I'm getting on a bit now and I no longer have the ability to 'move abruptly' - even when disgusted or impatient. Slowly is good.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 9 January 2009 at 10:52pm GMT

Rev Ron thanks for taking my post in the (lite) spirit it was offered in..

I had no idea about definition 1. -- live n learn !

Thank you

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Saturday, 10 January 2009 at 9:13pm GMT

"No need to feel threatened by difference."

Absolutely! And there's nothing wrong with a little light hearted humour at one another's expense either! The Internet takes away from us the non-verbal aspects of communication that would ordinarily tells us when someone is joking. I have gotten myself in trouble with that before! Sorry to have been a little less lighthearted than I ought to have been.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 12 January 2009 at 1:47pm GMT

Don't worry Ford ! S all right.

i shoulda included a smile like this one ;- )

all the best from a non-flouncer !

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Monday, 12 January 2009 at 6:44pm GMT

I have to say that notwithstanding what I wrote it is easy to feel threatened by others' difference(s) from us. I know that feeling can sweep over one (me!) in flash, in a moment. Then i have to try to draw back and get a grip on my anxieties.

I regret this as I have a strong commitment to freedom of religon and thought (in theory). I ahve changed so much over the years myself, that it makes no sense for me to feel there's one right way !

I find the analagy of visual art very helpful in this proecss. As there is great respect for an individual makes and no one way their art must be (Dada, fluxus etc have made this possible I guess)....

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Monday, 12 January 2009 at 6:51pm GMT

"it is easy to feel threatened by others' difference(s) from us."

I believe we ignore the role of humour in dealing with this. We imported something of the troubles of Ulster to this part of the world, but it wasn't as bad by a long shot. Still, there was sectarian violence here, and into living memory there was a carefully balanced accomodation that extended even to the way our government was structured. But there was always the undercurrent of poking fun at that, and it has become quite prominent, thanks to satirical groups such as Codco. We CAN be different and poke good natured fun at one another, like that we Anglicans gave up our wings when we stopped blessing ourselves, or that the Uniteds pray "To whom it may concern", or that the Romans are "the Italian Mission". I haven't been all that kind to Evangelicals here, but wouldn't it have been better all those times that I lashed out if I had made a joke instead, provided the audience understood that? Simon would only have had to reject my overly verbose posts! It is a position that finds a home with Anglocatholics, who, not surprisingly, have a "bitchy queen" sense of humour, and who are the only ones I've ever found to laugh at the joke that one of the recent Popes, Pius XIII, I think, when asked by Anglicans to give them his blessing, would, in Latin, give the Blessing Over Incense: May you be blessed by Him in honour of Whom you will be burned. I think that's absolutely hilarious. My lapsed Roman friends trip over themselves to take offence on my behalf, and can't understand why it's funny.

Posted by: Ford ELms on Tuesday, 13 January 2009 at 2:31pm GMT
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