March 11, 2016 by Worship, Community, Formation
How not to talk about liturgy….
There was a particluarly knobby outbreak on a priest’s Facebook page recently, about how simply dreadful it was of a colleague to select All Creatures of our God and King to sing during Lent – a hymn with the word ‘Alleluia’ in it.
I didn’t see this frenzy of sanctimony though, as I give up Facebook for Lent. If I had seen it, I wouldn’t feel able to comment on it here. As it is, I have no idea who was snooty and who was not. I only know about the conversation at all because I sat a couple of days later with someone who had seen it, and who was confused, even hurt, that this was the way that Christian leaders chose to talk about each other in a semi-public space. He felt that he, too, could easily fall foul of such derision; but what he minded more was that other Christians, less robust or confident, people he supported and cared about, could also be hurt by it.
So all of that was already with me when I sat in a strange church on Sunday, thinking what a shame it was that we had to sing the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps if I wasn’t off Facebook for Lent, I too would have wanted to post a ‘how awful’ post on there too.
The hazards of being interested in liturgy
This is one of the dangers of a passion for liturgy. Those of us who care about it can so easily turn it into rules. In particular, rules that seem fussy, pointless, even petty and exclusive.
Luckily the gospels are full of stories of Jesus standing up for the ordinary person against the rules of the Pharisees, stories that ring little alarm bells when we do such a thing, to remind us that we’re starting to lose our humanity and our Christianity.
Of course, the people posting on that priest’s timeline were right. There are good, meaningful reasons not to sing a song with Alleluia in it. During Lent we imagine that God is somehow not quite with us, as we also do in Advent. These are times of looking forward. In advent it is because we are waiting for the arrival of Jesus. In Lent, it’s we are look forward to the resurrection.
Our liturgical ‘rules’ have good foundations, and we keep them for strong reasons. But they are matters of imagination, faithfulness and hospitality, not righteousness. Despite centuries of tradition, nothing drastic is going to happen if we do, for a day, imagine God is with us for some particular reason during Lent. God gives us no reason to be caustic about those who have not yet learnt the subtle joy of restraining from ‘alleluia’; nor of those who understand it but choose to set it aside for some reason.
How to speak about liturgy…
Liturgy is important. Whoever was being snotty, on that page, presumably feels as I do that liturgy is too important to do badly. If that’s the case, then it’s also too important to talk about carelessly and hurtfully. If people are making mistakes in a way that we think matters either to the worship of God or the formation of those who worship, then we need to speak with the person who’s getting it wrong: not everyone else.
That’s harder though, than talking elsewhere. When we do remember to speak to the right person, we also have to think about how to speak kindly and hopefully.
I prefer to speak rather than sing the Lord’s Prayer. I find that when I can’t sing the Lord’s Prayer, I can’t join in, so I feel I’m excluded from the prayer as well as the song. As a visitor – and as someone who thinks about others visiting – it’s important to have a place where visitors can still participate fully in a central moment in our shared liturgy.
This is what teachers now call ‘point; evidence; explain’. Make your point; back it up, spell it out in detail. Even if you’re only using your own experience as evidence, at least it helps the hearer to weigh up the value of your contribution.
If you really care about liturgy, you want to educate those who are doing it wrong, and understand those who are doing it differently. Nobody is going to learn if you talk about them. Even if you do it out of their hearing, it just makes everyone wonder whose turn it will be next, as my friend’s reaction demonstrated.
Talking to them? Well, that requires faith, hope and love.
Faith in yourself that you can speak wisely; in them, that they can respond graciously; in God, that the Spirit can guide your discussion.
Hope, that despite what you have begun to believe about this person, the two of you still share a common passion for the mission of God and a Christian good nature that will get you through a little conflict.
Love, that you can hear where this person’s views and sensibilities in the matter concerned, over your own voice.
Which is the greatest of these, you will already know.
After such a reflection, if you can’t talk to them, then at this moment you are lacking in these, the three great Christian virtues. In that case, you have far more pressing problems than other people’s liturgical choices to consider. No problem, though, as long as we have a God willing to hear our confession and remind us that our sins are long since forgiven. Go and pray.