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Liturgy as Sacred Soap Opera?

Soap Opera

There is a tendency to treat liturgy as mimicking Jesus’ earthly life – acting it out, pretending we don’t know what happens next, making believe that we live in another time and place…

This is called mimesis μίμησις, the Greek word connected to our English word “mimic”.

But the older and deeper understanding of liturgy is anamnesis ἀνάμνησις, the Greek opposite to our connected English word, “amnesia”.

Jesus’ incarnation, life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit are events about 2,000 years ago. The purpose of the liturgical year is not pretending they haven’t happened yet. Christ does not die again – we die a little more. Christ is not incarnated yet once again – we are divinised more. The purpose of the liturgical year is to provide a template by which our lives are shaped. Our life is moulded and transformed to participate in Christ’s life.

The confused solely-mimetic understanding of the liturgical year cannot understand why we would celebrate the Eucharist at Christmas. For them we are just pretending little baby Jesus is being born, and no crying he makes; why would we at the same time pretend also that he is dying, they wonder?! This confused solely-mimetic understanding balks at reading the Passion story on Palm Sunday. For them we are just pretending that Jesus is entering triumphally into Jerusalem (complete with donkey). Already revealing that it doesn’t end well is a spoiler to their fantasy. This particular mimetic confusion comes complete with the false Chinese whispers that we are only reading the Passion on Palm Sunday because we don’t expect people to come to church on weekdays (ie Good Friday) anymore (that day, for them, is the only proper day to read the Passion)!

George Weigel (H/t Peter Carrell) is a typical example of this confusion in his advocating that we abandon Ordinary Sundays and instead number Sundays after Pentecost:

St. Augustine’s sermons “de Ascensione Domini,” in which the learned Bishop of Hippo takes as his text Colossians 3:1-2: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated, at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

A familiar enough text, right? But then Augustine, as is his wont, gives it a striking twist: “For just as he remained with us even after his Ascension, so we, too, are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies. . . . While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity; but in him, we can be there by love.”…

There are many reasons to deplore the change in liturgical nomenclature for the weeks after the Easter Season, from Sundays “after Pentecost” to Sundays “in Ordinary Time.” As has been noted previously in this space (perhaps to be point of reader-tedium!), there is nothing “ordinary” about time after the Resurrection and Ascension. For, as that Colossians text suggests and Augustine makes explicit, human “time” has now been drawn into the divine life through the mystery of Christ’s return to the Father and his being seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3) as Lord of history. History, in that sense, is “inside” the Godhead.

While his quote from Augustine is certainly worthy of deep reflection, George Weigel is confused about its application. Our celebration of Christmas is after the historical Pentecost. Our celebration of Lent is after after the historical Pentecost. Just as our celebration of Good Friday is with and in the presence of the risen Christ.

To add insult to injury, George Weigel claims he is lapsing “into a relevant bit of liturgical antiquarianism” but does not bother to explore what St Augustine himself would term these current Sundays in the church’s year. You may be able to tell me more, but the best information that I have been able to obtain is from The Liturgical Year by Rev. R. Henry, S. M. (H/T Prior Aelred)

At one time the Sundays belonging to the second half of the liturgical year were arranged in groups attached to some leading feast: Sundays after SS Peter and Paul (June 29) Sundays after the Feast of St. Laurence (August 10) Sundays after the Feast of St. Michael (September 29)

This is confirmed by my e-friend Fr Daniel McCarthy OSB (Institutum Liturgicum) that as early as 400 in Rome the individual mass booklets of the Verona collection began to be produced. These were bound together between 561-574. Thus, for the period of Augustine’s life and episcopate in Hippo, Rome had no bound liturgical book, only the gradual development of individual mass booklets. As one example: the Verona developed the Papal tradition. The Tridintinum (Papal; left Rome around 685) and Padua (Papal adapted for use at St Peter’s; left Rome around 670-680) have: 5 numbered Sundays given after Pentecost; 6 after the feast of Sts Peter and Paul; 5 after the feast of St Lawrence; 9 after the feast of Michael the Archangel.

So, far from Augustine thinking in terms of “Sundays after Pentecost”, most probably he would have thought of this coming Sunday as “The First Sunday after the feast of Sts Peter and Paul”! George Weigel’s attempt to lapse “into a relevant bit of liturgical antiquarianism” actually wades into his own anachronism.

There is little excuse for educated Christian leaders to be unable to recognise and teach about the homonym “Ordinary” in “Ordinary Time“. Furthermore, those who want to continue the falsity that Christians didn’t read the Passion on Palm Sunday until these recent non-Good-Friday-attending times, should check here and here and begin to realise that reading the Passion on Palm Sunday is a very ancient tradition.

Now do go back and read the wonderful concepts in St Augustine’s sermon, and realise that it applies to all our worship, and all our lives – not merely a few weeks between the Day of Pentecost and Advent:

…For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies. … While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity; but in him, we can be there by love. He did not leave heaven when he came down to us nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven….


Reflecting on Holy Week

Holy Week

Some time this week or next week most will be reflecting back on Holy Week and the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil), and writing up notes for improvements next year.

Holy Week and Triduum online

A friend of mine wanted to go to an Anglican church for Easter. She looked up the diocesan website and found reference on the front page:

Experience Easter at Church

We invite you to spend some of your Easter in a church near you….

Find a Church near you where you can experience Easter
Check out the Easter at Church website

She clicked on the “Easter at Church website” link. Nothing happens. The link is broken! Whoever updated that site did not check if it worked (at least that diocese gets points for coming up with the idea, and for showing that it can be done – if you check it once “done”). My friend did not get to an Easter service.

This made me check the 7 NZ Anglican diocesan websites. In fact the website my friend visited is the only diocesan website that mentions Easter on the front page! One site just has the words, “It works! This is the default web page for this server. The web server software is running but no content has been added, yet.” [It’s great if you are updating your website – but do this offline. Just switch over to your new website when it is ready – keep the old one running until then!] One site was dominated by a photo as its header with older, dour, unsmiling men in 17th century black preaching scarves (those considering coming to church might hover over this picture and discover this is a photo of “a collation service for the new Vicar-General…”, words the majority of Anglicans would probably not be able to explain…) One diocesan website describes itself as “evangelical” (a word I would have taken to mean keen to share the Easter Good News…) Again, no mention of Easter. There is an advertisement if you want to be a vicar in that diocese. And when you go to parishes on that site, they have no website, and just give regular Sunday services – not Holy Week special services [If you are not using WordPress and updating your site regularly, and if you do not run a community facebook page, you are doing it wrong!]

Roman Catholic diocesan websites have Holy Week and Triduum services clearly indicated.

Holy Week and Triduum in newspapers

Our diocese of over 70 parishes had 6 of those parishes with an advertisement in the newspaper. As befitting the Anglican Church of Or, amongst those 6 you could choose from: “A commemoration, of the Last Supper with footwashing”, “Eucharist of Lord’s Supper”, “Maundy Thursday service”, “Devotional Service”, “Tenebrae Service of extinguishing the light”, and nothing… If anyone wants to do a doctoral thesis that Baumstark was wrong in his “law” describing the organic evolution of the liturgy over time: that primitive and ancient customs are maintained with greater tenacity on the more sacred and solemn days of the liturgical year, then the Anglican Church of Or is your place of research. Here, as demonstrated, nothing is assured from one year to the next, and certainly there is no common prayer from one community to the next… [Please credit me in your thesis]. Congratulations to the parish that advertised on several different days in the newspaper, in a local newspaper, and has a clear, friendly, up-to-date website.

The prize is won by the Anglican Church that advertised an Easter Service in a regional newspaper. In that newspaper the service is described:

While because the event is being held at Easter it therefore has Christian overtones, the actual ceremonies won’t be particularly religious.

A couple of memes to disprove…

Reading the Passion on Palm Sunday is giving in to “the world”

Regularly those who want to remove the reading of the Passion Gospel on Palm Sunday claim that this is a new innovation made because contemporary church-goers are lazy and don’t come to church on weekdays (including Good Friday) and so they contend that reading the Passion on Palm Sunday is giving in to contemporary, lazy worldliness:

it is almost certainly the concern that many worshippers will skip mid-Holy-Week services that has dictated that the whole Passion Gospel be read on Palm Sunday.

It’s a concession to some people’s choice not to walk Holy Week enabling them not to “miss out” before Easter.

This is clearly, demonstrably false. Chinese whispers. Prior to Vatican II the historic Western lectionary on Palm Sunday read the Palm story (Matt 21:1-9) and then, a bit later in the service, Matthew’s Passion story (26:1-75; 27:1-66). The reform of the lectionary at Vatican II only changed the reading of the Passion story on Palm Sunday by rotating through Mark’s and Luke’s in different years of the three year cycle. Other denominations, taking on the RC post-Vatican II lectionary as the basis for their own renewal, incorporated this tradition into the Palm Sunday rites.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Misinformation and Confusion

IshtarOnce again the image on the left is doing the rounds on facebook from The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Misinformation and Confusion.

The claim is that the Dawkins Foundation has retracted this collection of error – well it hasn’t. Since when has Dawkins’ straw-man approach to religion got in the way of promulgating nonsense?

The error has 73,761 likes, and 192,079 shares. Even snopes, though, disagrees!

Here’s my previous post on this.

So here is the corrected image:


You can share the image on facebook here.

The HTML for adding the above badge to your blog or website is:

In Conclusion

I was privileged this Triduum to be with a community that celebrated Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Easter Vigil as one service with breaks – without dismissal on Thursday, and without greeting or dismissal on Friday, nor greeting at the Vigil. A simple explanation was all that was needed, such as on the Good Friday sheet:

There is no dismissal as the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday Evening at [time] completes this Liturgy…

Add your own reflections on Holy Week, Triduum, Easter Day in the comments…

Today is the Fourth Day of Easter.


Holy Week Resources

Holy Week

Here are some resources for Holy Week (and beyond). You can add further ideas and suggestions in the comments: Palm Sunday Service Outline Palm Sunday Collect Reflection Holy Week Collect Reflection Maundy Thursday Service Outline Good Friday Service Outline Easter Vigil Service Outline Easter Collect Reflection Easter Season Services Ideas Easter Season Reflection What hymns,… Continue Reading


How Do You Celebrate Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday

Through people contacting me, asking for an explanation of the entry in our lectionary booklet for Palm Sunday, I am becoming aware that there are communities that celebrate Palm Sunday without reading the Passion story. These, hence, struggle to make sense of the lectionary entry which does not provide a set of readings that just… Continue Reading

Great and Holy Week

Great and Holy Week

Great and Holy Week

Our Orthodox brothers and sisters are in the Great and Holy Week leading up to Eastern Easter on Sunday. This video is from the vibrant Holy Cross Orthodox Church, which serves the Piedmont Triad (Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem). Services are entirely in English. The Palm Sunday procession is inside because it is raining. We join… Continue Reading


Palm Sunday Collect reflection

Palm Sunday

Let us pray (in silence) [that through this week we may share in Christ’s dying and rising] pause Almighty everliving God,           [or God of transcendence] as an example of humility for the human race, you sent our saviour to become incarnate and to submit to the cross, grant us the grace to learn from this… Continue Reading


Lent resources


I’m collecting links here to resources for Lent. Especially for those who are not regulars here. Please remember to click on the different tabs on the menu above; hover over them to see sub-menus, use the search box in the top right to find what you are looking for. Please add other resources, including your… Continue Reading