Archive for the ‘Prayerbook Worship and Life’ Category

What is Liturgy — Part 2: Liturgy Narrowly Defined   4 comments

Liturgy is not the Same as Order of Service

When most people think of liturgy, what they’re really thinking about is the order in which things are done in a worship service. The short-hand term for this is “order of service.”  This was the subject of the previous blog in this series on liturgy.

All orders of service are useful. They have a logic that’s important to know. I’ll discuss this logic in later blogs. But, for now, and for the discussion in these blogs on liturgy, I am using the term “liturgy” to name something different from an order of service.

Liturgy is communal

One person cannot do a liturgy for the same reason that one hand cannot clap. It takes two hands to clap, and it takes two or more people before one can “do” a liturgy. In other words, liturgy is communal.

But, there’s more than mere numbers involved here. It is possible to have a great number of people assembled in one place without a liturgy “happening” or “being done” by them.  Two more things are required besides numbers.

First, all the participants in a liturgy must be doing the same thing. Second, all the participants in a liturgy must be doing that same thing together. It’s important to distinguish between these two things when trying to understand liturgy. Let’s conduct a thought experiment from the realm of dancing.

Liturgy and Dancing are Alike

Can a single person dance? Of course.

Can two or more people dance? Again, the answer is obviously “yes.” But, to say “yes” overlooks something significant about dancing when it’s a group of people doing it. So, let’s imagine several different kinds of dancing that can take place when a group of people are dancing.

Individuals dancing individually: This is the sort of activity you’ll observe at parties, school dances, holiday gatherings where a dance band is featured, and so forth. The dance floor may hold dozens of people at the same time. Every person on the floor will be dancing. But, the only thing shared by these people is time, venue, and activity.

This is quite a lot of things shared, of course. But, consider: the activity of each person is no different (or not significantly different) than what it would be if he were alone in his bedroom, dancing to the music pouring out of the iPod stuffed into his ears. And (back to the dance floor), though the dance floor at the party is composed of couples (mostly), each member of the couple is still dancing to his or her own notions of the moves, rhythms, and embellishments that are deemed by that dancer alone to be appropriate, desireable, and expressive. The “partner” is actually nothing more than an audience of one. “Let’s watch each other dance while each of us is doing his own dance” pretty well describes what goes on out there on the dance floor.

Individuals dancing in pairs: with this kind of activity we  move a thousand leagues toward something that is truly comparable to liturgy. And, what we consider now is something like you see on a ballroom dance floor, where everyone is dancing in pairs (as before) but now they are doing specific dances: foxtrot, walz, polka, quick-step, tango, samba, rhumba, or pasa doble.

Think, for a moment, about how these ballroom dances differ from the “everyone doing his own thing” sort of dancing described previoiusly. When individuals are dancing ballroom dances together in pairs, they dance to prescribed and predetermind steps, using specified rhythms, movements of the feet, often movements of the arms, and specified postures toward the partner.

And, here is a fascinating paradox: while ballroom dances – compared with individual free-style dancing – has far less “freedom,” it is usually a lot more fun to do and certainly a lot more fun to watch.

It is NOT true that the pre-specified features of a ballroom dance detract from the beauty of the dance. Moreover, when a couple are dancing a walz, we no longer have two dancers dancing at the same time. No, we have a couple dancing together. And those two individuals, dancing as a couple, create a “dancing entity” that is more than the mere addition of the parts. A couple may be two people, but a couple dancing is more than two people dancing. The individual dancers are still “there.” They are still distinguishable, but the individual dancer is no longer dancing – or perceived as dancing – as an pure individual. He and she are parts of a whole greater than the mere sum of them.

Perhaps it is ice-dancing that affords the greatest range of possibilities for a couple to unite as a pair in dance. To see what I mean, revisit Torvill and Dean’s unsurpassed ice-dance to Ravel’s Bolero at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

So, what’s the next stage in this thought experiment? We’ve considered individuals dancing as individuals, individuals dancing together in pairs; what’s next?

Individuals all doing a single dance together: here we no longer have couples considered only as couples. Certainly, this kind of dancing is not the “every one doing his own thing” sort of dancing. No, in this sort of dancing, more than one, more than two are dancing the same dance.

Sometimes these sorts of dances are very simple, and the best example is any of the so-called “line dances.” These dances are composed of lines of dancers or pairs of lines, which the Wikipedia describes as “dancers facing each other, or a line formed into a circle, or the line follows around the dance floor. The dancers may hold hands with their neighbors, or use an arm-on-shoulder hold, or hold their neighbor’s belts.”

These sorts of dances are quite old, originating in folk dancing at community festivals and celebrations. English Country Dance is an old version that is still done today. More commonly known are square dancing, or contra dancing. Cowboy-style line dancing includes things like the cotton-eyed joe, boot-scootin’ boogie, and tumbleweed. Here’s a You-tube video of a large group of people doing one form of line dance that combines both Irish and Cowboy elements:

Here’s an example of four couples doing a folk dance called  the Brandy Frotte.

And, here is one more You-tube video showing amateur dancers having fun with what is called contra dancing:

The most elaborate form of group dancing is the ballet. What’s important for us to consider here is this: a ballet (e.g. Swan Lake) is a very complex “liturgy” that organizes and directs many dancers and also a full orchestra at the same time.

Liturgy and an Orchestral Performance Are Alike

May an individual play music? Of course. May more than one play at the same time? Doh.

But, as we saw in dancing, so also in instrumental performance of music. A string quartet is NOT simply four musicians playing music at the same time. A band is NOT simply 30 or 50 or 150 musicians playing the same number of individual musical performances at the same time.

No, a band or an orchestra is a thing. It’s a thing comprised of many individuals, but the individuals are not nearly so important or prominent as what they create when unified.  That u nity is is larger than the individual selves added together.  And, what this thing (which we call a band or an orchestra) does is to play a piece of music called a march or a symphony. Even if a concert hall performance features one intrument in a highly “visible” role – say, for example, a Rachmaninov piano concerto – the pianist’s virtuosity is embedded in a matrix composed of himself and the rest of the orchestra. If we were to hear only the piano part of a Rachmaninov piano concerto, it would sound unbelievably weird. We would not be hearing the concerto at all, of course. The concerto is something we hear ONLY when the piano and the many-membered orchestra are all playing together as prescribed in the musical score.

What, then, is a liturgy?

The “plans” or “rules” or “steps” are what constitute a corporate dance. The technical name for all these things is the choreography. The orchestral or band score are what constitute a performance by a group of musicians. A choral score is the sum of all the vocal parts – words and notes – that welds a group of individual singers into a choir or choral ensemble.

And, so, what is a liturgy? It is all the prescribed actions and words that weld a group of individual worshipers into a single worshiping body, which as a body offers worship to God.

When is liturgy “happening?”

With the above notion of liturgy, it is now easy to identify when and how liturgy is happening in a worship service.

Worship where singing is the only liturgy: In the church of my cradle faith, only one thing was liturgical: the congregational singing.

How so? Well, when hymn singing is happening in a worship service everyone is singing the same song. Everyone is singing the same words, to the same tune, at the same time. The stanzas and music lines in the hymnbook are what weld all the hymn singers into a body which as a body sings the hymn. No one who hears the song pays any attention to any individual singer; what any listener hears is the group. In fact, if you CAN hear a single singer in the crowd of singers, it’s likely distracting. A singer in a congregation who “pokes out” of the crowd is like a single member of a marching band who hops up and down while everyone else keeps in step.

Worship where everything is liturgy: On the other end of the liturgical spectrum are Christians whose entire worship service is a liturgy. It has an order – that is, there are a sequence of parts, and the sequence has its own “logic” and meaning. But more than just an order, a worship service that is entirely liturgical has “parts” which every person present “plays” at the appropriate time, in the appropriate way.

The worship service that is completely liturgical is like an orchestral score, or the choreography of a complex ballet. A worship liturgy is likely less complicated, because the “actors” or “performers” in the liturgy are fewer. Sometimes they are no more numerous than “The Officiant” and “The Congregation.” There may be other minor “actors” or “performers” such as an acolyte, or someone who collects alms, or musicians (an organist, or pianist, or choir members).

Still, a completely liturgical service has a place for everybody present, and everybody has a part to play as he participates in the liturgy.

To sum up: a liturgy is a script of actions and words, assigned to individuals assembled for worship, so that they are unified by their actions and words into a body which offers worship God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is a lot packed into this definition of liturgy, and it will be unpacked in stages in later blogs. Stay tuned.


Posted October 14, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Liturgy, Prayerbook Worship and Life, Proper piety

That Wasn’t Your Grandmother’s Prayer Meeting   1 comment

My fellow presbyter Ryan keeps on serving up stuff for me to blog on. His latest is this quote from Tertullian’s Apology, chapter 39, in which he defends Christians against the slanders of the Jews and pagans of his day:

We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.

That sentence alone could really use some unpacking in the modern Christian context. I include it here to stimulate some of you to ponder how/why such a statement could (or could not) describe Christians today.

But, what really got my attention is this part:

We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This violence God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation.

Several observations, as they bear on modern Christian practice along with some notes on why I’m grateful to worship in an Anglican context.

We meet together as an assembly and congregation …

In modern terms, this means that what Tertullian describes here was not the Wednesday night prayer meeting. Rather, what he describes (as you can easily see when you skim through this chapter of his Apology) is a whole-congregation worship service which includes what moderns would call a “prayer meeting.”

So what?

Well, here’s what …

Prayer then (as it should still be today) was the exercise of the congregation’s priestly ministry. Priests — by very, very long precedent and pattern under the Old Covenant — are those who intercede for others with God.

I could go off on a long tangent here about contemporary agendas for the ordination of women and how off-base they are to suppose women do not have (or never had under the Old Covenant!) priestly functions. They do and always have had such functions in prayer.

But, back to Father Tertullian — notice how he speaks of Christians’ prayer as a corporate activity, not something essentially individualistic. It is the congregation’s ministry, exercised in its gathering for worship. That’s why I like being an Anglican (though other Christian communions share this feature about their ministries of prayer).

In the communion which first shaped my Chritian sensibilities, prayer was either (1) something individuals did alone, or (2) something which a few individuals (mostly old people and women) did on Wenesday evening.

No, Tertullian has it correct here, because he’s reporting how Christians in his day are following well-worn paths of Biblical pattern and precedence: prayer is the activity of the corporate body, and it occurs within a gathering convened for worship.

… that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications.

Wrestling with God as we pray. Abraham comes to mind, “bargaining” with God for the lives of Lot and his family who live in Sodom, which God is about to destroy. A great many of the Psalms have this feature: bargaining, pleading, cajoling, offering vows to do this or that (usually to offer public praise at the Temple) if God will just do this or that first.

This violence God delights in.

This bit of hyperbole is typical of Tertullian, who was a martial sort of fellow. Legend makes him the son of a Roman Centurion who was an aide-de-camp in the Roman Army in North Africa. Tertullian was also well trained in Roman law and may have been a lawyer as well. His ministry was certainly a combat against the slanders and libels of both pagans and Jews in North Africa.

So, no contemplative prayer for him! If prayer was the activity of a united host, its prosecution was as martial as an army on the march. It was a struggle, to wrest from the Almighty what pleased Him to grant, because the petitioners were adamant and persevering in their petitions.

Sound like any prayer meeting you’ve ever been to?

We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, …

Here, Tertullian is echoing the very words of Paul, who instructed the Church in his letter to his disciple Timothy with this charge:

1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

This is one of the first things I noticed when I attended my first Prayer Book worship services: There was a section of the service devoted exclusively to congregational prayer, and the first part of that section of the service was this prayer:

From the Order of Service for the Holy Eucharist, 1928 BCP:

We beseech thee also, so to direct and dispose the hearts of all authorities in this and every land, that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.

From the Order of Service for Morning Prayer, 1928 BCP:

O LORD, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favour to behold and bless thy servant THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and all others in authority;

From the Order of Service for Evening Prayer, 1928 BCP:

Have mercy upon this whole land; and so rule the hearts of thy servants THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, The Governor of this State, and all others in authority, that they, knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek thy honour and glory; and that we and all the People, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honour them,

We pray, too, … for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace,

As noted above, Tertullian reports that the Christians were asking for the things that Paul teaches the Church to ask for.

We pray, too,… for the delay of the final consummation.

Now this is the first thing I notice that I’ve seen almost nothing about, either in modern prayer ministry of any sort, or in reports of prayer “concerns” in any other times and climes (I could simply be not getting out much on this point, of course). Here’s an amazing thing, though — the ones Tertullian reports to be praying for a delay in the coming judgment are the ones who are enduring fierce persecution at the hands of the Romans. Indeed, they’re enduring persecution by just about everybody who’s not a Christian, who are happy to plunder Christians, knowting the Roman government won’t do a thing to stop them!

Truly, the priestly qualities of these Christians, to endure great suffering for the sake of those who are going to believe .(cf. 2 Peter 3:9) —well, it’s amazing.

What has always impressed me about Prayer Book worship — and, it still impresses me after 20 years — is how efficient and comprehensive the set prayers of the Prayer Book are. If you’ll scan these set prayers — either from the order for Morning or Evening Prayer, or from the order for the Holy Eucharist— in just about any but the most modern Prayer Books, you’ll see that tall of them contain well crafted, focused, and marvelously pithy prayers that fulfill the commands in the New Testament concerning what Christians ought to be praying.

When I first noticed this about Prayer Book worship, calesthenics came to mind. Calesthenics and the set prayers of the Prayer Book have many things in common — both as to their value and as to the criticisms leveled against them. Chiefly, the commonalities in their value is this: they cover all the bases. If you pray the set prayers of the Prayer Book, if you do a full compliment of calesthenics routinely — either way, you’re going to do all the basic things that promote your health, whether bodily or spiritually.

“But, calesthenics are so boring!! They’re just vain repetition!!”

Which is pretty much the criticism leveled against set prayers of any sort. In another blog, soon, I’ll take that criticism on and show how Jesus explicityly refuted it. But, for now, the repition of set prayers is no more deletorious than daily sets of pushups, setups, and deep-knee bends. And, unlike calesthenics for the body, spiritual calesthenics contain a powerful resevoir of novelty — that’s right; new stuff! — that calesthenics for the body can never have.

For now, I’m encouraged when I compare the exhortations to praying in the New Testament with Tertullian’s report of Christians in the immediate post-Apostolic period, and then note the congruence of both with Prayer Book praying. They all cohere in a way that makes me grateful I worship in an Anglican setting.

What is Liturgy — Part 1:Order of Service   1 comment

First Lessons in Liturgy From Baptists

My first lessons in liturgy came from the Baptists in the middle of the 20th Century.  But, before I explain how that happened, I need to make a few disclaimers, so no one misunderstands my attitude toward Baptists in this essay.

1. I came to saving faith in a Baptist context. It was the Baptists who taught me the simplest version of the gospel, who taught me who Jesus is, why he came into the world as a true human male, what he was doing on the cross, and how his sacrifice there atoned for my sins. They taught me how his work on the cross redeems me from all my sins, and that his resurrection is a pledge of the resurrection which awaits me at his return to the earth. They baptized me in water (by immersion, of course) in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In all of this, the Baptists were (and, for the most part, continue to be) good catholics, though most of them would cringe at hearing this said about them!  And while we’re on the topic of catholics, you must never overlook the capitalization or lack thereof when I use this word. I know what I’m writing, and I know how to write it. You should take care to note what you’re reading.

2. I kept my Baptist treasures, for they are (as far as they go) the treasures of catholic Christianity. When I departed Baptist ecclesiastical culture for other climes, I was not running away from something evil or perverse; and – this is very important to keep in mind as you read what follows – I took most anything of spiritual value with me when I departed. I needed and sought something that was not found among my Baptist ancestors; but, that says nothing about the good things found among them then (and now as well).

Are Baptists Liturgical?

So, how do I come to point to my Baptist beginnings as containing the earliest roots of sacramental spirituality and liturgical worship which now characterize my Christian faith? Aren’t the Baptists known for eschewing these things? For repudiating these things? Aren’t Baptists as liturgical as Communists are capitalist?

Well, yes and no.  It all depends on how you use that term “liturgy.”  And, liturgy is a term that is sort of fuzzy in its meaning.  In this blog, I am going to use the word liturgy in a sense more precise than what you will likely find in the dictionary.  So, first of all, let’s start with how the dictionary uses the term liturgy and begin to tweak that.

What is Liturgy?

The problem in understanding these things comes from a fuzziness in what we mean by liturgy. gives the following definitions of the word:

  1. A prescribed form or set of forms for public religious worship.
  2.  The sacrament of the Eucharist.

The second definition is pregnant with unmentioned details which could be elaborated – the kinds of things you’d see, hear, touch, smell, and taste if you participated in a routine Anglican, or Roman Catholic, or Orthodox Eucharistic celebration. And, none of this, certainly not in the forms you’d find in those communions, would ever appear in a standard Baptist worship service.

The first definition, however, “works” just as well for a high pontifical mass as it does for the closing service at a revival at First Baptist Church in Needles, California (where I saw a number of such services as a boy). In this sense, Baptists  have a liturgy.

Liturgy and Order of Service

All liturgies, from pontifical high masses to Baptist Sunday morning services, will have “a shape” – an overall order. Inside this order, there may be small variations depending on the season of the year, or some special event (e.g. a baptism, or a special civic holiday (such as Mother’s Day, when a rose might be handed out to every mother present). But, the “bones” of the service remain the same from Sunday to Sunday, throughout the year.

All bets are off, of course, if we’re speaking of so-called “contemporary worship.” Many of these will follow an order of service every bit as rigid as a high pontifical Mass at the Vatican on Christmas Eve! But, in other worship serivices – especially those heavily influenced by the American style of Pentecostalism – you will not have a clue as to what’s going to happen next. In these there will be no order at all. What happens next is totally unknown until it happens.

For the purposes of this discussion, therefore, we are going to distinguish between two things: order of service, on one hand, and liturgy on the other hand. These two are often considered to be synonymns of one another. But, it helps us to understand liturgy better if we distinguish order of service from liturgy, which we’ll define more narrowly in another blog.

To sum up for now: A worship service either (1) has a “shape,” by which we mean a general, over-all order of elements that is distinctive for Christian community that uses it, or (2) has no shape at all, by which we mean that every worship service in that Christian community is totally indeterminate as to what happens inside it on any given occasion.

When a Christian worship service has a shape, we call this an “order of service.” And here’s the key thing to remember at this point: a worship service that has an order may or may not contain liturgy, that is liturgy in the narrower sense we are going to mean when discussing liturgy later on down the road.

An Old Baptist Order of Worship

Here’s the order of service at First Baptist Church of Needles, California in the late 1950s, drawn from my boyhood memories:

  • Opening music, played on the piano, as people gathered in the pews
  • Song leader summons everyone to attention, while the pianist segues into a hymn, which the song leader bids us sing while we are standing, thus allowing late-comers to get into the pews.
  • Welcome to visitors, bidding them to fill out cards found in the pews.
  • The Sunday School Report (how many in SS, how many visitations the previous Wednesday evening, and sundry other attendance statistics for the week)
  • Another Hymn
  • Announcements, followed by Prayer before the Offering
  • Special Music (a vocal solo or duet) while offering is collected
  • Scripture Reading and Prayer (done by Chairman of Deacons, or Pastor)
  • Another Hymn
  • Pastor’s Sermon (always evangelistic in purpose, concluding with …)
  • The Invitation (an appeal from the Pastor to respond to the sermon, while everyone stands, singing an invitation hymn, cycling through the lyrics as often as the Pastor deems needful)
  • Another Hymn
  • Announcement of the Response to the Invitation (new members, those rededicating their lives, those professing faith in Christ for the first time)
  • Pastoral Prayer of Benediction
  • Final Hymn

Now, this order of service was invariable all throughout my boyhood in that town. Moreover, when I moved to Texas, I found that Baptist churches I attended almost always followed this very same order of service. The only Baptist Church I can remember that departed from this order was First Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas, and in those days it was (I was later to learn) “going liberal,” by greatly shortening the invitation or, sometimes, eliminating it entirely.

For an example of an order of service from the early period of English Prayer Book Worship, see the following Order of Service for the Holy Eucharist.

If you want to see a really startling order of service, check out The Ordeal of Boiling Water from the 12th or 13th Century.

In modern terms, an order of service is a sort of program found in a church worship bulletin that someone would hand you when you show up at a church on a Sunday morning worship service. The list of things done in the order in which they are done is the Order of Service for that Sunday.

An order of service is not the same thing as a liturgy, at least not in this blog. By “liturgy” we are referring to something else. Check out additional blogs in this series to learn what we mean when we use the term liturgy.

Hello world!   Leave a comment

Welcome to the WordPress home for St. Athanasius Anglican Church in Waxahachie, Texas.  Have a look around, especially if you don’t have any idea of the heritage North American Christians have in the English Reformation, as it comes down to us today in the patterns of worship found in the Book of Common Prayer.  As this website expands (Lord willing), you will find posts explaining catholic worship (please note the small “c”) and its power to mature and maintain the faithfulness of Christians in their belief and life in the Lord Jesus.

Be sure to check out the “About St. A” link above.

Posted September 23, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Prayerbook Worship and Life

Tagged with , ,

%d bloggers like this: