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Too Many Words

Too Many Words

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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8 thoughts on “Too Many Words”

  1. Jonathan Streeter

    I have often felt that as we draw nearer to the time of taking communion, the liturgy of words starts as a drizzle, turns into a steady rain, and ends as a mind-numbing deluge (per your image above). [At least in the American church I see very little ever getting cut out.]

    We are a liturgical communion and these things we say (or which the celebrant mostly says) are indeed important to us historically, culturally, and spiritually. But I occasionally find myself exhausted. “Just give me my bread and wine!” I think to myself.

    By contrast, I enjoy the liturgy of the compline service which keeps readings to a minimum while still developing a rhythm and establishing a sense of the divine. But of course, no communion.

    I can’t see how our current forms will serve us another 25-50 years.

  2. The most compelling services I have attend have been short! There was a vigil service at the local catholic church some years ago that was 35 mins – no singing and bare bones liturgy and with a powerful coherence. The other experiences I have had like this have been daily services with in various ‘religious communities’ – often less than 20 mins, but still complete and powerful.
    Nowhere in the Prayer Book does it say the service must start on the hour and finish on the hour. So why not cut out the extras and have more time for meeting and greeting before and after.

    1. Thanks, David. The lengthy, dragging out of services is another, though parallel discussion. I regularly preside at a Sunday morning Eucharist which would take 35-40 minutes. We sing 3 hymns and sing the Eucharistic settings; readings, sermon, prayers; communicate around 100 or so; and have a silence after the sermon and after communion. It is reverent and not rushed. With the choir, two choir pieces, and communicating significantly more, the time increases to about 50 minutes. Easter Season Blessings.

  3. I think the problem is we have kept the word and lost the action unlike continental Europe the illustration should show us singing and dancing in the rain

  4. Paulina Evarts

    If you want to criticize the words in the COE Liturgy, go to a Charismatic or Pentecostal style Church, You’ll have much more words with cries and shrieks which make you wonder is this was what God expected. Its not the volume of words, Its how your heart turns those words into worship that really matters, because in true worship words are not enough to express gratitude for what the Lord has done for us.

    1. Thanks, Paulina. I agree with you – words are not enough. I am especially emphasising here: actions (and silence). I’m sorry if I appear to be criticising the words in CofE liturgy, that was not my intention. I was thinking of NZ Anglicanism of which I have more experience – but I think the critique is more widespread. If it is useful, use it. If not, ignore it. Easter Season Blessings.

  5. Chris Malcolm

    Thanks,Bosco,for your comments. Sadly, when it comes to the Triduum, many of our parishes haven’t got much of a Liturgical tradition there to abandon, or whatever happens then is at the whim of the latest Vicar. In that case a ‘nod to the NZ idol of “creativity”,’ is often appreciated rather than dry and dusty words recycled from last years “liturgy”(i.e. words not actions). This year our parish’s Good Friday liturgy was words, words and more words (borrowed from some reputable source), said or sung in front of an empty cross. No reflective music, candles for veneration or even movement. I’m all for getting some more light and shade, action and drama, and gems from some of our inherited traditions back into the Triduum.

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