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Christian Worship Is Earthy

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Principle 4: Christianity and Christian worship is earthy, not esoteric

The fourth principle, above, comes from Celebrating the Eucharist by Patrick Malloy (The first principle is here, the second principle is here, the third principle is here).

…The wonder of the incarnation is that the most earthly and earthy of realities are not only tolerated by God but are chosen and embraced by God as vehicles of grace.

The Eucharist is not about a sanitized or other-worldly event, and so it is not a sanitized or other-worldly event. What the world saw in Christ was not layered over his humanity or buried under his humanity…. When the church rejected Docetism, it rejected the belief that God only seemed to be human in Christ. It affirmed that God was in fact present in the very humanity of Christ.

In what was most human in Jesus, the world saw what was divine. In the liturgy, the presence of Christ is revealed in the same way: in what is most human and earthy and basic. In human touch and oil lavished on; in bread broken and wine poured, in a meal eaten and drunk; in wather washing over the one being made new;… The message of the incarnation is that in the very ordinariness of things God reveals the Divine Self…

The power in the liturgical symbols is in the strength and integrity of the symbols themselves. The scandal of Christianity is that in humanity there was divinity, and in the earthly there is the heavenly.

There is a tendency, rather than letting symbols speak for themselves, of minimising symbols and of covering and cluttering things with esoteric signs. Bread is kept in a vessel from which one would normally drink, and it is distributed with yet another fussy, minimalist crossing which is easily mistaken for shaking off crumbs. And for good measure the wafer is stamped with a mini cross. In fact everything is covered with crosses, IHSs, and PXs – stoles, chasubles, chairs, altars, lecterns, cruets, fonts, doors, doorhandles, vases, flower-stands,…

Once again, there is much on this site (eg. “just a symbol“) and in Celebrating Eucharist (eg. Chapter 1).

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6 Responses to Christian Worship Is Earthy

  1. Christian Worship Is Earthy

    Not so. Christian worship should be earthy, but the inability of the church (most of all the liturgists and hymn writers) to translate abstract conceptual thinking into realities people can see, hear, smell, touch or taste with their senses working overtime (sorry, forgive the XTC) is both blatant and terrifying.

    The fact that in the UK the church is now very largely the preserve of the middle classes reflects this. The real argument about the new baptism service shouldn’t be about the presence or otherwise of the devil, but the way it doesn’t earth what it means to turn to Christ or to renounce evil.

    • Thanks, James. About baptism: I was recently talking to a group of clergy and about how baptism is about water, a LOT of water. I was joking about how I see baptisms with a tiny sprinkling of water which is immediately wiped dry and away with a purificator. The reaction from some (many/most?) was astonishment – that was the only way they had ever seen it/been taught it in our denominational context… As you indicate, we turn liturgy into a discussion about words. Blessings.

  2. In passing I have read the aramaic word for rejoice also covers dancing. i don’t see a lot of that among all the words.

    • In the rubrics of one of the rites I have from Africa, Brian, it has the clergy and worship leaders dance around the altar while those in the congregation dance in their place! Blessings.

  3. Yes, earthly, you’re right!

    I like very much that sentence of the BCP: «it shall suffice that the Bread be such as is usual to be eaten; but the best and purest Wheat Bread that conveniently may be gotten.»

    I feel so sorry when I see little prefabricated and prebroken wafers, and so deceived when I see at the Eucharist the worse industrial bakery, which in my house can’t even be called «bread».

    I also feel disappointed when I see ostensories with golden beams. If he had wished beams, Jesus would have produced them by himself; instead, he would the humble bread.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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