Thursday, May 08, 2014

What Can I Do to Avoid "Thinking Liturgy"?

Via one of Facebook contacts I came across the news that the Thinking Anglicans website is starting a new blog titled Thinking Liturgy. They say that "[I]n this new blog we shall look at the link and explore how our worship can reflect the social justice that we have proclaimed, and at the continuing relevance of this in the second decade of the twenty-first century." But before that they talk about what does get done in church:
These things are intimately linked with what we do in Church. We gather around lectern and table to hear and receive the Word of God; we share forgiveness and peace with our neighbours, and eat with them, recognizing the presence of Christ as we do so. We are the body of Christ, not just in Church, but in the world. Our table fellowship is not just a symbolic table fellowship existing only within the confines of the church building; rather, all these things are one.
Anyone see what they left out? To be a little fair, they do mention "worship" twice; but let's go back to 1 Corinthians 11:26: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."

It's that whole anamnesis thing again. Worship of and communion with God is the center of the liturgy; this is why we repeat the creed, and why one of the crucial elements of communion is a recitation of Jesus' words and acts on that final night. I do not see how social justice figures in this, except as an excuse for messing it up or forgoing it entirely.

One of the Facebook respondents waspishly remarked, "Personally I'm very happy with my unthinking Liturgy." Personally I am too exhausted to be waspish, and can only manage raw denunciation, unfair though it may be to snipe at them before they have even really gotten started. In the name of Social Justice, which is to say, progressivist politics as practiced by the college-educated class, I can only expect Father-free liturgies and the kind of self-congratulation I encountered at Trinity, Copley Square. I expect a lack of real theological (much less political) engagement. I expect giant paper-mâché Calvinist puppets of doom. I do not expect to be taught even the most basic Christian dogma.

Meanwhile, in an Anglo-Catholic parish in slums on the banks of the Thames, the rector carries on the work of the church by reviewing the church school lunches to make them less institutional. Their ritual is arch-traditionalist, and their theology, age-old; I cannot imagine that they do not teach their children the basics of the faith, nor would I expect that the preacher stands in the pulpit at the major feasts and hedges on the gospel narrative. By contrast, my experience of social action liturgy is that it consists of making empty gestures whose effect is to reward the participants and even onlookers with the self-congratulation of having done something Significant.

Therefore I do not want liturgy that "reflects social justice". I want liturgy that recalls and recollects and repeats the age old acts, with dignity and solemnity, liturgy that acknowledges our own sins and not just those of others, liturgy directed to God in worship. I'll even settle for worship conforming to the rites of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America as they are recorded in the Book of Common Prayer.

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