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The whole church

Entire Assembly Celebrates Liturgy

The whole church

Celebrating the Eucharist by Patrick Malloy begins with a number of “Principles for Making Liturgical Decisions”. I will be reflecting on these in a series. His first is “The entire assembly celebrates the liturgy”.

I involuntarily wince whenever I see the word “celebrant” as a term referring to the one leading a service. A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa consistently speaks of “presiding priest”, “presiding minister”, “presiding bishop”,…

If the priest is understood to be the celebrant, then others in the assembly may perceive themselves to be observers, or, at best, assistants to the one who is ‘up front.’… A key to inviting the entire assembly into assuming its active role in the church’s life is to allow it to assume its active role in the liturgy. For this to happen, the presider must conceive of herself or himself as a member of the assembly who is presiding over the actions of the whole, not an isolated actor celebrating in view of or in place of the assembly, whose only task is to observe, assist, and passively receive. (page 19)

This is very much the approach in my book Celebrating Eucharist, and a good example is in the chapter on presiding.

To pick up a recent discussion here, this affects church architecture, (see, for example, the community at worship).

Do you agree with these ideas?
What effect do they have on the way we do things?
What effect might they have on our architecture?
Any other ideas…

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9 thoughts on “Entire Assembly Celebrates Liturgy”

  1. I wince alongside you, Bosco. “Bishop X celebrated the eucharist…”? No. “Bishop X presided over the celebration of the eucharist…”? Yes, much better.

    All the baptized are the “living stones” from which a “spiritual house” is built to be a “holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

    Perhaps that’s why I prefer the ancient title “presbyter” over its more modern evolution “priest” — all God’s people in the Church, all baptized into Christ, are to be priests, not just the second order of the clergy among them.

    When it comes to the eucharistic assembly, I’ve always thought of the ministry of bishop, or that of his/her deputies, the presbyters, as one of coordination — like a conductor in relation to an orchestra. The conductor can’t make beautiful music on his/her own; he/she needs an orchestra to be present and active to make that happen. Conversely, the orchestra needs the conductor to make beautiful music, otherwise without coordinator, the symphony may turn out to be cacophony.

    “The entire assembly celebrates the liturgy.” Yes! Yes! Yes!

  2. Yes, I pretty much agree with this principle, but I’m not sure I would place it first. I would conceive that the first principle of liturgy has to be about its relationship with God. Worship is offered to God, and, like any gift, belongs to the recipient, no longer property of the giver. Yet, the Logos embodies the double reading, enacts the “wonderful exchange” whereby God gives of his grace, not purchased by the cost of liturgy, but a free gift of love. Only then do I think we are ready to move to the issue about the ones the assembly pushes to the front.

  3. Peter Gardner

    I was actually thinking today about the relationship between church architecture and congregational participation.

    Traditional Orthodox architecture puts the choirs just to the northeast and southeast of the iconostasis. In practice, there’s usually only one choir, and in the Russian tradition, at least, it usually winds up in the back. While this puts the choir director in a very bad position to see the clergy (which is often a problem), the people, at least, have a strong sound behind them, which can encourage uncertain singers.

    This weekend, we stopped by the local Greek church for their Greek festival. Their church has a very large ambo, which has the place for their changers to stand (as the Greeks use a lot more solo chant and less choir). Unfortunately, their arrangement turns the ambo into a stage.

    They also (as is unfortunately normal for Greeks) the bishop’s throne on the ambo. The Russians, more traditionally, set up a movable throne in the center of the church, whence the Bishop begins the Liturgy. This emphasizes that the bishop comes
    from among the people, as opposed to being brought out onto the stage to be shown to the people.

    Part of this also comes from
    pews, that terrible westernization, which make proper Orthodox liturgical use of space difficult. During Lent, it’s difficult to prostrate around them; for festal matins, when the Gospel is read in the midst of the nave, it’s hard to do it among pews. Pew use does tend to correlate with less serving of anything other than the Divine Liturgy, and maybe an occasional Vespers.

  4. If you prick me, do I not bleed?

    If we celebrate, am I not a celebrant? If we celebrate, are we not all celebrants?

    Yes, yes and yes.

  5. This conversation needs the voices of the “pew dwellers.” I have a number of thoughts about the liturgical experience, and I come at this from a good place, belonging to a parish that is serious about worship.

    1. I want the presider to take each worship event seriously. She/he gives voice to our prayer, and it drives me to distraction when the presider evidently hasn’t prepared the collect, and the line of thought in the prayer is unclear, and the praying unconvincing. I want the Table ministers vested carefully and mindful of their movements and body posture. These are little things that in aggregate communicate the importance of our common prayer.

    2. The Prayers of the People are more powerful when they come from the midst of the people. Our parish uses a bidding book, and people write their concerns and thanksgivings in the book, and they are read aloud by the bidding prayer leader. We’ve had endless debates internally about how time consuming it is, but so far the reading from the book continues. Halleluia!

    3. The liturgy needs breathing room, and the presider, as conductor, is responsible for pace. I attended a liturgy once at another parish, that sounded, and felt, like a very long run-on sentence with poor and missing punctuation. Horrible experience!

    4. At my previous parish, the Liturgy Committee ganged up on the pastor, and confiscated his watch for a couple of consecutive Sundays. He was not pleased, but it led to a great discussion, and he was able finally to hear the feedback we had for him. In the end, he not only agreed to leave his watch on the sacristy table, but encouraged the curate to do the same. We are (or should be) in Kairos Time, but concerns about Chronos (by the leaders) are a barrier to the power of ritual to do its work.

    6. Good liturgy has immense power. It starts with taking worship seriously and willingness to attend to the details.

    1. Thanks, Lou, and Amen. Presiding and leadership are important ministries and need quality training, study, and formation. And that includes not usurping the place of the assembled congregation. Christ is Risen.

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