Liturgy is an anchor — don’t brush it aside

May 3, 2019 by

by Ines Hands, Church Times:

IN MANY Anglican churches, liturgical worship and close observance of the Christian year are rapidly falling out of use. The lectionary is replaced with sermon series; communion is not celebrated weekly, with the preferred eucharistic prayers being those that are linguistically simpler; days such as Ash Wednesday are afforded ever less importance.

The aim is to make church contemporary, relevant, accessible. Given the nature and speed of these changes, it is urgent to reflect on whether they are effective and whether they are sustainable, and to pause and consider the value of what is being set aside.

DISPENSING with set forms seeks to make visitors feel included. But I have observed quite the opposite. Families who do not habitually attend church, but who have brought their child to be baptised, frequently appear perplexed and alienated by deconstructed forms of worship. Without a printed order of service (everything is projected, often out of sync, on to a screen), visitors are unable to orient themselves. The progression through praise, penitence, absolution, instruction, intercession, thanksgiving, and blessing is blurred.

Liturgy, in contrast, evolved with participation and clarity in mind. It acts as an anchor of familiarity and universality. The words, often repeated, become a touchstone even for infrequent worshippers. They ensure accuracy and economy of language. They are a repository of scripture, a tool of instruction.

Current trends have reduced the number of days to which special importance is ascribed. What seems to underlie this is a suspicion that rites associated with these days no longer hold meaning. Last Ash Wednesday, I was shocked at the sparse attendance at the service. Has the imposition of ashes ceased to be eloquent of our mortality? Has the stripping of the altars ceased to be moving, midnight mass and dawn resurrection services ceased to be joyful and numinous?

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