Friday, February 27, 2009

Theology and History behind Anglican liturgy (2)

We could say that behind the first phase of Anglican liturgy lies the life of the earliest Christian churches birthed in synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem and then, as Gentile converts were made, in the practices of Roman and Greek temples and shrines. From this background was a disposition to perform a formal act of corporate worship, to meet together for purposes of mutual benefit in the journey of faith, and to pray and to read and explain Scripture, with some singing of psalms and hymns thrown in.

Eventually, distilled so to speak from several streams of influence, two great Christian liturgical rivers emerged. One river was eucharistic worship, daily or weekly enactment of the Last Supper of Jesus, incorporating prayer and Scripture reading; the other river was (for want of a better term) non-eucharistic worship, services in which psalms were said, Scripture was read and prayers were said. Such services were held several times a day in monasteries, twice daily or daily or weekly in homes and in churches. Anglicanism, more I suggest than any other Christian church, has embraced both in its parochial and in its monastic expressions both rivers as core contributors to the water of liturgical life in the church.

Phase Two of Anglican liturgy involved a refining as well as a theological reforming of these two liturgical rivers. The complexities of the multiple daily office services of the medieval church were refined into just two services - Morning Prayer (Mattins) and Evening Prayer (Evensong). Phase Three has been both a refinding of the best parts of Phase One, acknowledging that the refining might have been too stringent, and a reformulating of liturgy, not only to re-incorporate ancient 'best practice', but also the good insights of the post-Reformation church, including the insights of Vatican II, that great conciliar reforming of the modern Roman Catholic church which included a liturgical revolution.

Interwoven into this necessarily summary version of liturgical history has been theological rationale, though at times this rationale has been obscured. In my next post I will attempt to say more about this rationale.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Theology and history behind the Anglican liturgy

"I am really interested in teaching myself and the parish more about the theology and history behind the Anglican liturgy. Over this year I want to explain all aspects of the Anglican service - from the initial greeting to the final blessing."

Where to begin with the task of assisting this exciting teaching project? I cannot think of a book which would do this with respect to the key word 'explain' ... can you? Let me know, please. (One book which is very helpful on the 'how' and 'why' of each aspect of the Anglican service is Bosco Peter's, Celebrating Eucharist, which is available electronically here).

Here are some thoughts and sharing of knowledge gleaned here and there over the years.

First, I find it helpful to think about three phases in the history of Anglican liturgy.

Phase One: between the establishment of Christianity in England (Roman [military], Celtic, and Saxon spreadings of the gospel) and the Reformation, liturgies develop which reflect developments in the wider world of Western and Eastern Christianity since the time of the apostles.

Phase Two: the English Reformation brings (a) one Book of Common Prayer (b) services in this book which are revisions of daily office services and of missals, generally simplifying a complex set of services available for use in Phase One. Of particular note is the Holy Communion service, largely Cranmer's doing, which not only revises wording, but also order of prayers, in order to undo centuries of Romanizing eucharistic practice and to cement in its place a new Protestant understanding. To give just one example: the Offering is taken up well before the eucharistic prayers themselves in order to dissociate any sense of the the people offering up a sacrifice to God (and, to reinforce the point, the prayer in which mention is made of a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is placed after the Lord's Prayer, after the distribution of Communion.) This phase begins with the 1549 and 1552 prayer books of Edward VI, is established almost permanently with the final revisions in 1662, and continues more or less till the 1960s (till 1966 in NZ), though the rumblings of change began with the 1928 (modest) revisions which the British Parliament did not accept, but which the Church of England hierarchy authorised for use.

Phase Three: in most Anglican churches liturgical revision has taken place through the twentieth century, especially since 1950. No one prayer book dominates the Anglican Communion like the Book of Common Prayer once did; and for most services in most prayer books there are alternative forms authorised for use. Too much variation some would say. But we should not be fooled into thinking that no commonality exists across these liturgical revisions. One common factor is a reversion to the 'shape of liturgy' before Cranmer's bold revision of the shape (or order of the liturgy). This reversion acknowledges the ancient liturgical traditions of the undivided church. Another common factor is the use of English texts for important prayers which are common to Anglican and other churches such as the Roman Catholic church. (This is part of the reason why Catholics visiting Anglican churches and vice versa come away saying, 'their service is just like ours'). In ACANZP our 'red prayer book' is a Phase Three prayer book.

That's enough for now. Another post soon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The sum of its parts

The other day a good question was raised about the eucharistic prayer: is it a bit repetitive? For example, in the NZPB, on p. 423, the paragraph beginning 'Therefore loving God' repeats (or appears to at first glance) much of pp. 421-422. The raising of that question is the background to a quick outline of the component parts of (most) Anglican eucharistic prayers. Most terms are traditional, and I follow Bosco Peters' terminology in his book Celebrating Eucharist. In what follows I am using the eucharistic prayer for the service which begins on p. 404 as the 'standard model'.

The Introductory Dialogue (The Lord is here etc)

The Preface (It is right indeed etc)

Sanctus and Benedictus (Holy, holy, holy ... Blessed is he ...)

Institution Narrative (... on the night before he died ...)

Memorial Acclamation (Glory to you Lord Christ etc)

Anamnesis (Therefore loving God, recalling etc)

Oblation (Accept our sacrifice of praise etc)

Epiclesis (Send your Holy Spirit etc)

Doxology (United in Christ etc)

So, yes, there is an element of repetition. For example there are repeated items of praise and adoration to God. The part raised by the questioner, the Anamnesis, is indeed repetitious in the sense that it is a 'recalling' or 'remembering' and acts as a summary of the grand narrative told through the Preface and the Institution Narrative. But none of this is burdensome, or should not be, since it all takes us closer to the heart of God!

Nevertheless, our prayer book varies the number of words assigned to each part through its several eucharistic prayers. If you have a few moments you might do a comparative exercise, noting how some prayers offer (say) the Anamnesis in about half the words used on p. 423!

A final point here: any eucharistic prayer, brief or long, is intended to be a unity. It is inappropriate to shorten a long eucharistic prayer by omitting one of its integral parts. Better to turn in the prayer book to one of the shorter forms ...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What’s a presiding priest doing on a lay preacher’s blogsite?

A much noticed practice these days involves the combination of presiding priests and lay worship leaders. Let me explain. In many services in our diocese the sharing of upfront leadership roles means that the presiding priest does not need to be standing before the congregation for the whole of the service. Consequently we often find the presiding priest sitting in the front row of the church while a lay person is leading worship or preaching the sermon. This is a natural thing to do in our egalitarian church. But is it the right thing to do? Increasingly I am of the conviction that the ‘presiding priest’ is not simply the person who moves forward to lead the Eucharistic prayer, and, by extension, pops up at the right point to say the Absolution, but is, or should be, the person who ‘presides’ over the whole service as a meeting in which the believers gather together.

If the image of the ‘chair’ of a public meeting comes to mind – the one who steers proceedings along, who remains seated on the stage or podium through the meeting even when another is speaking – then I think that not a bad image to connect to an enlarged understanding of the role of the presiding priest.

Most if not all Anglican churches have space at the front of the church for a seat or stall for the vicar (and another for the bishop when present). I suggest the presiding priest should be seated there when not standing to lead this or that part of the service. I would go further. I think the presiding priest should welcome people at the beginning and commence worship (e.g. by announcing the first hymn), and conclude the service at the end with the announcement of notices and the dismissal (though I accept the variation that in some quarters the tradition is to make any deacon present the voice for the dismissal).

This enlarged role for the presider would diminish little of the roles of the lay worship leader(s) of the service. It would add to a sense of continuity and unity in the service around the Absolution and the Eucharistic prayer. Sometimes the former can be a disconnected part and the latter an add-on at the end of ‘the real stuff’.

It’s appropriate to offer these thoughts on this particular site as a change in direction in our parishes should be both a welcome from lay leaders to a different way of being the presiding priest and an initiative from the priests who preside.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bits and pieces

Please keep in touch with Bishop Richard's blog while he walks the diocese (link across to your right on this page). He will post whenever he has a phone link, which will be most days, excluding his walking on the Heaphy Track!

Yesterday I heard a lovely sermon by Eric Sears which explained the sequence of Sundays known by unusual names: Septuagesima, Sexuagesima, Quinquagesima. Eric made a very fruitful observation: the sequence of themes our church provides in the prayer book (i.e. according to the 2 year and not the 3 year RCL cycle of readings) tells the gospel in a nutshell: creation, human frailty, redemption.

It was wonderful to be part of the Diocese's second of three parts of 150th anniversary celebrations. Yesterday was the celebration of the arrival of our first bishop, Edmund Hobhouse, together with the Letters Patent making Nelson the village into Nelson the city. Of all the many stalls promoting or selling this and that, only two I could see were devoted to the Christian faith (our diocesan one and Atawhai-Hira's one for 'Christianity Explored'). Sadly many people walked by on the other side. It's a reminder that, notwithstanding our gospel analysis of the ultimate despair of a world entrenched in sin, many people in a lucky country like NZ are not desperate to find God and salvation.

That's a challenge for us, is it not!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

What do we do with our bodies in worship?

One thing I am noticing is that there is less and less uniformity in our Anglican congregations over what we do with our bodies in worship. Standing for the gospel reading in a Communion service, for example, is no longer uniform. The situation is not helped by options being allowed by prayer book rubric: for example congregations may sit or stand for the eucharistic prayer.

I suggest worship leaders should themselves be clear about the what and why of body posture in worship. Without this clarity leaders may forget to ask people to stand, sit, or kneel as appropriate for a particular part of the service.

The principles are fairly straightforward.

We stand to make declarations of truth, praise and thanksgiving.

We stand in order to honour God.

We kneel to symbolise our humility.

We sit to listen.

Thus we stand for the creed, to sing songs and hymns, and for the eucharistic prayer.* We also stand at the beginning of the service to honour God at the beginning of this consecrated time of worship, and for the gospel reading to honour our Lord who is the subject and centre of the Gospel.

Then we kneel to confess our sins and to make our intercessions; also to receive the nourishment of God through the bread and the wine.

Pretty much every other part of the service involves us listening (readings, sermon, notices), so we sit for these parts.

*As a concession to infirmity we may sit as an alternative kneeling; and we might change from standing to sitting in the middle of the eucharistic prayer.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Preachers like Waiters at a Banquet

(Drawn from an article in Wel-Com, monthly newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington, featuring the insights of Sr Barbara Reid, a Dominican Sister. The Dominicans have traditionally been the foremost exponents and proponents of preaching in the Roman Catholic church).

"Whether in fast food restaurants, internet cafes, or intimate dining rooms the preacher in love with Holy Wisdom hears and responds to her persistent invitation, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of my wine" (Prov 9:5)."