Too Many Words

A friend recently sent me a link: Liturgy for a missional church. This linked blog post criticised the Church of England’s Common Worship for its “complexity and wordiness.”

I empathise with the experience of too many words in liturgy. Particularly in Holy Week and the Triduum, when we are are essentially in one long service from the evening of Maundy Thursday to the Easter Vigil, we can end up drowning in words, words, words… oh – and more words…

It is often as if the leader of worship is lassoing God with an endless rope of words, tying God down – and hoping to catch us up in this.

As that post says, there may be some value in the “transcendent experience that is discontinuous with everyday life, through the use of profound and formal liturgy, often from the BCP.” Because the words are so different, they can wash over us – becoming like music (with which they are often accompanied). But when the words are contemporary and comprehensible, a service can often feel like sitting through an hour or an hour-and-a-half lecture – with an occasional short break when we sing more words.

The post rightly criticises the lack of dropping the options. The NZ Anglican Prayer Book has the majority of the options within the text, and my normal experience visiting around churches that use the Prayer Book is that options are not quickly dropped – beginning with several, often all, greetings, and proceeding through a recitation of page numbers and favourite prayers and Bible verses. By the time we get to hearing what the Spirit is saying to us from God’s Word, everyone is clearly so exhausted that the reading is reduced to a bare minimum. It is not in the book! I am informed, by those who know, that reading all three readings and praying the set psalm is the experience of few in NZ Anglicanism. So, by the way we are preparing to hear God’s Word, we become too exhausted to do so by the very wordiness of our preparation!

Liturgy is not about words.

Because there is poor education, training, and formation around liturgy in our Church, it is understandable that people abandon the inherited liturgical tradition and, with a nod to the NZ idol of “creativity”, construct services from scratch (de novo, ex nihilo). And, of course, our leadership allows it. And encourages it.

Even the post I am referencing seems to fall into the trap of identifying liturgy with the words. But liturgy is – or at least can be, should be – action accompanied by some words. Liturgy is action. “Do this to remember me.” And there is colour and movement and environment and so on…

The post I’m reflecting with, although titled “Liturgy for a missional church“, gives the impression that this is not about renewing liturgy so that Christians are galvanised and enabled for out-reach; the focus appears to be on making the words more accessible for in-drag (the very opposite of the missional perspective).

Seeing liturgy as primarily action, in thankful response to an acting God, energises and enables worshippers to go out and love and serve (in action), cooperating with the action of God that they perceive as happening in God’s world. That is being missional.

If you want to read more about this perspective, I encourage you to start with my book Celebrating Eucharist available freely on this site. If you appreciated this post, do remember to like the liturgy facebook page, use the RSS feed, and sign up for a not-very-often email, …

God in a Box

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