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Negotiation sml

Negotiating With A Liturgist


There is an old joke:

Q. What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?
A. You can negotiate with a terrorist.

I recently wrote about the negative view many people hold of the word and concept of “liturgy”.

In this current post, I want to make a comparison between “liturgy” and “grammar”.

Compare the negative joke above to the use of “Grammar Nazi” as a pejorative term for those concerned about grammar.

When comforting a Grammar Nazi, I always say, “There! Their! They’re!”

But pause for a moment to think about the heart of grammar. Grammar is concerned about communicating clearly.

1) I saw a man eating alligator.
2) I saw a man-eating alligator.

These two sentences are communicating VERY different things. Grammar helps us to be clear about our communications.

Sure, sometimes people obsess about grammar rules that don’t really make any difference to clarity. Joke away about that. But, as in my example above, taking care with grammar can often make a difference.

And so it is with liturgy. Firstly, just like grammar deals with the whole of our linguistic communications, so liturgy deals with the whole of a service of worship (not merely the bits we vow and sign to do).

Secondly – in grammar there are points that have an objective reality (e.g. nouns, verbs), and there are grammar points that are simply conventions, and doing things differently makes little difference to the communication. Similarly, in liturgy, there are some things we change at our peril, and some ways we do things that are simply conventions, and doing this differently makes little difference.

A native-speaker can generally communicate quite well without a lot of grammar rules in the forefront of his or her mind. Writing may need some practice and the help of someone who is trained in grammar.

Similarly, if you have been formed for years in good-quality worship, you may participate in the grammar of worship without much scholarly help. But if you are going to lead worship, it generally is beneficial if you do that with the assistance of someone who is trained in the grammar we call “liturgical studies”.

If you haven’t watched the following video, and if you want to reflect more on grammar as a model for worship, I encourage you to watch:

And what do you think?

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8 thoughts on “Negotiating With A Liturgist”

  1. Bosco, I think these posts about liturgy would be more meaningful (for me, at least) if we better understood the context in which they are made. Would it hurt to personalize these comments a bit more?

    I read what you write here, for instance, and ask myself, “So? Surely people see this, don’t they?”

    Are you suggesting the liturgical studies are no longer valued? Do they not feature greatly in seminaries? Do people simply pay lip service to the liturgy and go about doing what they please?

    What do you think?

    1. Thanks, Kevin.

      I wonder if particular contexts reduce rather than increase the point. In the previous post on this, all except one identified with the points. That included a Roman Catholic priest writing about a bishop’s use of “liturgy” as a pejorative word.

      As to liturgical studies being in seminaries – I am unaware of it being a paper offered in the theology degree for NZ Anglicans (I would love that be clarified). It was previously. Someone else might also know of its status in the RC seminary here – but my guess would be that it features more greatly there.


      1. I assume, probably incorrectly, that folks who don’t care for discussions about liturgy are just bored by it rather than opposed to it. It is a difficult subject, I think you will agree, and perhaps much of its discussion is too challenging for most. I don’t know.

        Hahaha! And then there’s the bickering…

        1. Or, Kevin, opposed to liturgy because they assume people are bored by it [the “it” being that by “liturgy” they mean the “formal”, “required” bits]. Blessings.

  2. Thank you. What are the top three books specifically on liturgy would you recommend (other than church manuals)?

      1. Thanks so much for this suggestion, Kevin. I have (relatively recently) acquired this series. You are encouraging me to get into them. Now just to find the time…


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