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.

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