21 October 2005

"It simply mystified most worshippers."

Here in seminary world, this is an example of a recommended book. For most this little blue-and-white beauty has no meaning whatsoever, but for those of us on a road towards the other side of the altar, its food for thought. My disclaimer: some of it is boring. My exhortation: it may assist you in examining some of why you do what you do when you do the worship-thing. It is also one more step in my demystification process, and translation of Episcopalese into the vernacular. You know, the vernacular? The language people can actually understand, the language our churches fought so hard to use, and now leave at the door as they turn off their cell phones and take their last gulp of coffee. No giggling, please. We are now in the House of the Lord. Be sure to grab all 7 required worship books and the leaflet as you come in. Be sure to flip through them desperately finding your place while trying to have conversation with God. Be sure not to mess up because everyone is watching. In case you're nervous, here's what some guy says NOT to do...

Of Practices Not Recommended (page 62) :

In general, the ceremonial suggested in this book is less complex than that which became customary in many parishes over the last hundred years. Part of this is due to a deliberate simplification --in an effort to make the main lines of the liturgy stand out more clearly-- and part of it to recovery of more ancient practice, which often times amounts to the same thing.

The following practices are specifically not recommended:

a. The censing of the cross before the censing of the altar at the beginning of the liturgy, and the censing of the priest immediately after it. Instead, the oldest practice of censing the altar only is recommended.

b. The "offering" or lifting up of the bread and up by the priest at the offertory -- with or without the prayers which accompany this action in the Roman Missal. Our liturgy has recovered the tradition that it is the function of the deacon to prepare the table, and that it is the eucharistic prayer which offers the gifts to God.

c. Blessing the water to be added to the wine. This practice, which involves a "mystical" understanding of the purpose of the water, came into being after the original meaning --which was a gesture of temperance-- had been forgotten.

d. Joining the hands at every occurrence of the name of Jesus in the eucharistic prayer. The practice of bowing the head at the mention of this name does not necessitate the joining of the hands.

e. Extending, raising, and then joining the hands at the words which follow the Sanctus and Benedictus. This gesture dates from a period when the canon or eucharistic prayer was considered to begin at this point, and was deliberate attempt to indicate a new beginning. Today we have again learned that the prayer begins with the Sursum corda and preface.

f. Elevating the bread and cup after the words of institution.

g. The use of multiple signs of the cross during the eucharistic prayer.

h. Placing a small amount of the consecrated bread in the chalice (the "commixture"). Though retained in the Roman rite, its meaning is not self-evident, and can be explained in several ways. It simply mystified most worshippers.

i. Making the sign of the cross over the communicants with the consecrated bread before putting it in their hands.

j. Making the sign of the cross at the end of the Gloria in excelsis and of the creed, and at the words, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Unlike the sign of the cross at the beginning of the liturgy, and at certain other points, where it helps to explicate what is done and said, these three began as popular devotions. While there can be no objection to individuals crossing themselves when devotion prompts, the invariable use of these three by all present in the chancel suggests that they are required.
There is, however, more to be said about the use of the cross at "Blessed is he." The Sanctus (with Benedictus) is a part of virtually all Christian liturgies, both eastern and western. In no liturgy, save that of Rome from the 11th century, was a sign of the cross prescribed at this point. The reason for it, Roman scholars have determined, lies somewhere between superstitious fear in the face of Christ's presence under the forms of bread and wine and an outright misinterpretation of the text, the word "blessed" being applied to the worshippers rather than to Christ. The Roman rite has therefore dropped the signing at this point. It is suggested that Episcopalians do the same.

k. The wearing of a biretta during any part of the liturgy, including outdoor processions.

l. "Co-presiding" at the liturgy. This is a recently introduced practice, in which the presedential functions are alternated between two priests in such a manner as to allow each to proclaim an approximate equal amount of the liturgical text. Behind the practice one suspects a lingering medieval notion that a priest cannot be said to participate in a liturgy as a priest without being given words to say.
It should be noted that neither the rubrics (guidelines) of the Prayer Book nor the historic tradition of the church know anything of such a practice, nor do worshippers deserve to have their attention focused on guessing who is to speak next. The proper way for a second priest to participate in the liturgy as a priest is to function as a concelebrating presbyter.

These are just the opinions of the author for priests who are directing the liturgies of their parishes, but I thought they were good food for thought. Here at CDSP it is Reading Week (read: Fall Break, no classes for one week) and I am kicking it off by opening some of the books I've had to avoid the past few weeks. My favorite part of this section is: "It simply mystified most worshippers." I could use this is many worship situations in the Episcopal Church! We'll see how much I can overuse it before I'm ordained, and then how much after.


Blogger CJA said...

I am writing my Anglican Tradition paper specifically on how the Episcopal Church talks about these extra-BCP decisions in the liturgy. It's a careful balance between the removal of things that are confusing on one hand and the maintenance of things that actually enhance the experience on the other. After all, the people at Advent of Christ the King really, really like all that stuff. Anyway, enjoy reading week, sister Sarah!

11:45 PM  
Blogger writing_here said...

Thanks for making me actually stop and think about worship and the liturgy.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Mary Beth said...

I am a cradle Episcopalian and this is fascinating! I've gotta get this book!

Esp. as I have recently (1 year) joined what I consider to be my first "high" church, meaning that they use incense weekly. In my childhood, I never ever saw it, and my older relatives spoke of the use of incense as tantamount to nakedness in church!

Frequently, I watch the censing and bowing and think, "Next they're gonna sacrifice a live chicken!" :)

1:47 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

I found this a very useful book, and I love the title of this section "of practices not recommended. . ." Some practices are harder to kill off than others.

8:26 AM  

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