Liturgy has a bad name.
Liturgy is a bit like “Pharisee”. It doesn’t have a great image (we easily forget that both Jesus’ and St Paul’s basic beliefs were those of the Pharisees).
I belong to a Christian blogging network where the intention is that people support each other in their blogging. Admittedly, most members would call themselves “Evangelical”, but I commented once, within the group, that I very rarely received feedback or even acknowledgement within the group. The response from the leader of the group was telling. She said I should write about something other than the liturgy from time to time. It became evident she had not visited my site when I listed off some recent posts (they were as varied as recent ones which have included a discussion on the nature of truth, mindfulness, and ways of helping our inner life…).
So, it’s the word “liturgy” that is off-putting. Like the words “God”, “evangelism”, “creation”, “gospel”, “Christian” – these words are often seen through disparaging lenses.
People use the word “liturgy” to refer to the words we’ve agreed together to use in a service (yes – it’s usually the words that the pejorative attitude applies to – they barely notice that we have agreed actions, agreed signs, agreed symbols…).
But “liturgy” isn’t limited to what we have agreed to (vowed to!); “liturgy” refers to the whole service – all the agreed (required) parts, actions, and symbols and all the informal stuff, the hymns and other musical pieces, the sermon and prayers – the majority of the service, in fact. [Would the required parts make up any more than 5 or 10 minutes of a 75-minute service?!]
We reinforce the derogatory attitude to “liturgy” (even clergy do this!) by not having the agility to move comfortably between the agreed (5-10 minutes) and the rest of the service. The agreed material then has the feeling that we only do this “because we have to” (or we will get into trouble). And the impression is given, if we were left to our own devices, we would omit this unhelpful “liturgical” stuff. Clergy (or other worship leaders) debase the agreed material by, as it were, hiding behind it and peeking out from behind it with the real stuff from time to time.
Clergy even verbalise stage directions to themselves aloud! “And now I’m going to…” Or worse: “…now, in the words of the liturgy,…”
The word “liturgy” originally (ie. outside of its church context) meant the service that was done to keep society (our life together) functioning. It was the work we did together. It was the work we did for each other.
So “liturgy” means “service” [we still call a church’s liturgy, as I just have been above, a “service”].
“Liturgy” also became a synonym for “the Eucharist” – the Greek word for “thanksgiving”. Gratitude.
Could we get more positive than this? Liturgy: service and gratitude.
Sure, we can abandon a word once it is tainted. We’ve had to abandon the original meanings of “awful” and “prevent”. Do I really want to abandon the words “God”, “evangelism”, “Christian”, and “creation”? And “liturgy”?
What do you think?
- Why common prayer 2?
- contemplative community
- Spirituality that Works for People
- Abandon the lectionary?
- What is Liturgy?