Sunday, January 20, 2013

"New and beautiful liturgies...."

Derek's just posted a PDF of the minutes from the November 2012 meeting of the Episcopal Church's Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music.  Here's a quote from the section titled "Discussion on the Nature of Common Prayer":
Ana raised the issue of how we issue permission and encourage people to create liturgies without making them jump through hoops. How do we encourage beautiful new liturgies? Steven replied that it happens in conversation with the bishop. The prayer book is like jazz—you have to know the scales first before you can improvise. More people want to shape the church than to be shaped by Jesus and the church. There will always be local experimentation, but we’ve not always accomplished the necessary prior work of formation. Ana noted that wasn’t always the case though. Louis offered an experience where an agenda-driven experimental service after a pastoral crisis made things even worse. Ana concluded by reminding us of the need to remain open to the movement of the Spirit.
I have heard about "the wonderful liturgies of the future" numerous times now; this is another item that seems to be just out there, somewhere, for the moment beyond our grasp but nonetheless very close - tantalizingly close.  I've heard that there are "new liturgies waiting to be born" - that's a direct quote - but once again, nobody seems to have any idea about what these liturgies actually consist of.

This suggestion's a bit different, in that it also implies that we are all somehow suppressing these unborn liturgies; that if people didn't feel they had to "jump through hoops," they would without a doubt write up these beautiful new liturgies tonight and be ready to hand them off to the printer tomorrow.  (I do like the responses here, I have to add; it's all too true that "More people want to shape the church than to be shaped by Jesus and the church."  And I like the "agenda-driven experimental" service anecdote, too; I'm not too surprised at the outcome there.  I belonged to a parish that did home-made liturgies, too;  I can't even remember a single line at this point - and in fact, I left that parish for a Prayer-Book parish (Rite 1!) where the worship was much, much better.  Some people at the homestyle-worship parish did write some very nice music, though.)

The thing is:  TEC already has "Rite 3" - AKA "An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist" (it starts on page 400) - that's a basic outline of the service.  It includes rubrics like "The proclamation and response may include readings, song, talk, dance, instrumental music, other art forms, silence." And "The Celebrant gives thanks to God the Father for his work in creation and his revelation of himself to his people; Recalls before God, when appropriate, the particular occasion being celebrated; Incorporates or adapts the Proper Preface of the Day, if desired."

Sounds like a perfect chance to create "beautiful new liturgies," to me - or, at least, "new liturgies."   It does note that the service requires "careful preparation by the Priest and other participants" - but that sure doesn't sound like "hoops," to me.  In fact, it's really very generous - and if people want these things, I don't see how it's up to anybody else to provide them.  This is a DIY era, after all - so do it!   Get people together, study, work out some stuff, and do these liturgies weekly in public for a couple of years - at, literally, anytime other than at "the Principal Sunday service."  Go for it.  Get back to us with the results.

This is what's known as "Open Source."  If people who are part of a project see a need, they just go ahead and create something that fills that need.  This doesn't mean they get to put their own stuff out there under the project's imprimatur without any development or testing, though; testing is one of the most important phases of the project, in fact.  It's key.  Not least because many other people are involved in the project, and also have a stake in the thing. 

Here's the really odd thing:  we have a liturgy that's already been use-tested - for two thousand years.  The Prayer Book is full of stuff that people in far harder times than ours have used for strength, support, inspiration, day-to-day spiritual health, delight, enjoyment, and even to as a way to find enlightenment.  Monastics (and others) throughout the centuries have, in their hankering after mystical experience, given us, free of charge, a wealth of prayer and worship practices; these are in that Prayer Book in the pew racks.   (And if you're not a monastic, there's wonderful music from all over the world you can use to enhance it; you can sing the service, chant it, say it, use multi-media, country-rock it, or Mozart-mass it; nobody's stopping anybody from doing any of these things, if they want them.  If you want props, use candles, use incense, use soap bubbles, use feathers, or use Super Soakers for the Asperges, if you want; it's your call entirely.)

Individual groups of religious folks may have added some little thing to the collection of stuff they inherited - but I doubt they ever proposed that the church adopt a set of "beautiful new liturgies," sight unseen.  That's because people found that most of what they'd inherited worked; it had the desired effect, if people actually practiced it.  (And is the "Holy Spirit" only working now, BTW, and in the future?)

Is anybody hankering after enlightenment, or after mystical experience, these days?   If not, I really don't see what the church is actually for.  And if so:  I'd really suggest going the usual route - the one people have taken for centuries.  Go see an adept, ask them what they did, and follow that procedure;  in the Christian Church the adepts are called monastics.  

I think maybe this is what's different these days, actually; people aren't really looking for mystical experience or enlightenment - or even for beauty, or to learn or be formed for a better way of life.  But from my point of view:  why belong to the church at all, if not for those things....? 


Toni Alvarez said...

Hear, hear. Very well said.

bls said...

Thanks, Toni....