Liturgy as language (part 5)
There are those who look at thriving, fruitful, vibrant worshipping communities, see they are not “using liturgy” and suggest comments like, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, or “introducing liturgy will destroy this – you will be on a hiding to nothing.”
First let’s clarify. Liturgy, by definition, is doing worship together. Each of those words is important.
- doing – liturgy is an activity. People too quickly associate liturgy with set words, books, etc. Liturgy is action – often accompanied by interpretive words, yes, but liturgy is action – “the work of the people”.
- worship – is an active verb. It is not passive. Liturgy is not a spectator sport. We are a gathered congregation, an active assembly – not spectators or an audience. It is not watching an orchestra – it is being the orchestra.
- together – liturgy is a community event. It is not individualism. Not even congregationalism. Most liturgical texts are plural, “we confess… we believe… Our Father…”
People sometimes use the term non-liturgical worship. Generally that is an oxymoron. Like saying a non-marriage wedding. Liturgy is doing worship together. Non-liturgical worship might be worshipping alone – but even when we worship alone that is done as part of the church, the body of Christ, with Jesus – even alone we can still pray “Our Father…”
So we have this thriving, fruitful, vibrant worshipping community. I believe it can only be enriched by incorporating the insights from the series Liturgy as language:
Where do we start?
In fact working with a thriving, fruitful, vibrant worshipping community may even be a better place to start than trying to get an unsuccessful, dry, colourless, dour, individualised community, that is going through the motions of liturgical texts, to move forward to some vibrancy.
Where might be some places to start? Well if there is some dialogue between leader and assembly, for example as the service starts, that might be energetically channelled through some biblical greeting and response. The deep sense of prayer might be enriched by the leader, early in the service, suggesting a general point for prayer and the whole community praying for a good period in deepening silence, and then the leader collecting this gathering silent prayer by proclaiming a collect to which the now-fully-gathered community responds heartily with the biblical “Amen.” The readings can be drawn from the Revised Common Lectionary - with people growing in a sense of belonging to the world-wide Christian community and made aware of the many many resources that come with this enriching their lives not just at the service but throughout the week. Some communities will be stretched as they risk just listening to a reading, God’s Word, “neat” – without every text being filtered through the leader’s interpretation. If communion is celebrated the community might be enriched by using the biblical tradition of blessing by thanksgiving and using the great Jewish-Christian prayer structure going back to Jesus’ prayer at his last meal and beyond. There are many many excellent Eucharistic Prayers and outlines that cannot but enrich a thriving community’s life.
These are but some suggestions. Readers may have other insights, even from their own experience of deepening and enriching the worship life in a community.