Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendour.
Liturgy gathers the holy community as it reads the Holy Scriptures into the sweeping tidal rhythms of the church year in which the story of Jesus and the Christian makes its rounds century after century, the large and easy interior rhythms of a year that moves from birth, life, death, resurrection, on to spirit, obedience, faith, and blessing. Without liturgy we lose the rhythms and end up tangled in the jerky, ill-timed, and insensitive interruptions of public-relations campaigns, school openings and closings, sales days, tax deadlines, inventory and elections. Advent is buried under 'shopping days before Christmas.' The joyful disciplines of Lent are exchanged for the anxious penitentials of filling out income tax forms. Liturgy keeps us in touch with the story as it defines and shapes our beginnings and ends our living and dying, our rebirths and blessing in this Holy Spirit, text-formed community visible and invisible.When Holy Scripture is embraced liturgically, we become aware that a lot is going on all at once, a lot of different people are doing a lot of different things. The community is on its feet, at work for God, listening and responding to the Holy Scriptures. The holy community, in the process of being formed by the Holy Scriptures, is watching, listening to God's revelation taking shape before an din them as they follow Jesus, each person playing his or her part in the Spirit.
Believers should be open to and encourage the Spirit's moving within each one, including the spontaneity from individual initiatives when gathered together. Believers need to be vigilant to prevent formality of liturgy where the Spirit is stifled, and individual initiatives are not allowed.
The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action.
Similarly, when we denigrate our bodies—whether through neglect or staring at our faces and counting up our flaws—we are belittling a sacred site, a worship space more wonderous than the most glorious, ancient cathedral. We are standing before the Grand Canyon or the Sistine Chapel and rolling our eyes.
We throw ourselves down, as Jesus did, before the mystery of God's power present to us, knowing that the Cross is the true burning bush, the place of the flame of God's love, which burns but does not destroy.
...how are you sacred to me? your lines are golden threads - your patter, my patten - I explore the liturgy of your words...
But if roteness is a danger, it is also the way liturgy works. When you don't have to think all the time about what words you are going to say next, you are free to fully enter into the act of praying; you are free to participate in the life of God.
Sure, sometimes it is great when, in prayer, we can express to God just what we feel; but better still when, in the act of praying, our feelings change. Liturgy is not, in the end, open to our emotional whims. it re-points the person praying, taking him somewhere else.
The author chuckles at the resistance to using a prepared, written liturgy in prayer. He compares it to being unwilling to dress in any clothing we did not make ourselves, or being unwilling to drive a car we did not construct entirely by ourselves.
The music, the prayers, the bowing and rising, the incense--all of it was breaking down my defenses. That's what good liturgy does. It breaks your heart open and turns you toward God.
What it leads to is the mischief of confusing liturgy with magic -- of imagining there are only a handful of properly effective formulas for conjuring up the mystery, when in fact the mystery is always at work, independent of any formula whatsoever.
Like a great waterwheel, the liturgical year goes on relentlessly irrigating our souls, softening the ground of our hearts, nourishing the soil of our lives until the seed of the Word of God itself begins to grow in us, comes to fruit in us, ripens in us the spiritual journey of a lifetime. So goes the liturgical year through all the days of our lives. /it concentrates us on the two great poles of the faith - the birth and death of Jesus of Nazareth. But as Christmas and Easter trace the life of Jesus for us from beginning to end, the liturgical year does even more: it also challenges our own life and vision and sense of meaning. Both a guide to greater spiritual maturity and a path to a deepened spiritual life, the liturgical year leads us through all the great questions of faith as it goes. It rehearses the dimensions of life over and over for us all the years of our days. It leads us back again and again to reflect on the great moments of the life of Jesus and so to apply them to our own ... As the liturgical year goes on every day of our lives, every season of every year, tracing the steps of Jesus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, so does our own life move back and forth between our own beginnings and endings, between our own struggles and triumphs, between the rush of acclamation and the crush of abandonment. It is the link between Jesus and me, between this life and the next, between me and the world around me, that is the gift of the liturgical year. The meaning and message of the liturgical year is the bedrock on which we strike our own life's direction. Rooted in the Resurrection promise of the liturgical year, whatever the weight of our own pressures, we maintain the course. We trust in the future we cannot see and do only know because we have celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus year after year. In His life we rest our own. ― Joan D. Chittister, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life - The Ancient Practices Series
The liturgy is the place where we wait for Jesus to show up. We don't have to do much. The liturgy is not an act of will. It is not a series of activities designed to attain a spiritual mental state. We do not have to apply will pressure. To be sure, like basketball or football, it is something that requires a lot of practice--its rhythms do not come naturally except to those who have been rehearsing them for years. On some Sundays the soul will indeed battle to even pay attention. In the normal course of worship, we do not have to conjure up feelings or a devotional mood; we are not required to perform the liturgy flawlessly. Such anxious effort... blind us to what is really going on.We do have to show up, and we cannot leave early. But if we will dwell there, remain in place, wait patiently, Jesus will show up.
Mystical experience needs some form of dogma in order not to dissipate into moments of spiritual intensity that are merely personal, and dogma needs regular infusions of unknowingness to keep from calcifying into the predictable, pontificating, and anti-intellectual services so common in mainstream American churches. So what does all this mean practically? It means that congregations must be conscious of the persistent and ineradicable loneliness that makes a person seek communion, with other people and with God, in the first place. It means that conservative churches that are infused with the bouncy brand of American optimism one finds in sales pitches are selling shit. It means that liberal churches that go months without mentioning the name of Jesus, much less the dying Christ, have no more spiritual purpose or significance than a local union hall. It means that we -- those of us who call ourselves Christians -- need a revolution in the way we worship. This could mean many different things -- poetry as liturgy, focused and extended silences, learning from other religious traditions and rituals (this seems crucial), incorporating apophatic language. But one thing it means for sure: we must be conscious of language as language, must call into question every word we use until we refine or remake a language that is fit for our particular religious doubts and despairs -- and of course (and most of all!) our joys.
Liturgy is the means that the church uses to keep baptized Christians in living touch with the entire living holy community as it participates formationally in Holy Scripture. I want to use the word 'liturgy' to refer to this intent and practice of the church insofar as it pulls everything in and out of the sanctuary into a life of worship, situates everything past and present coherently as participation in the revelation written for us in Scripture. Instead of limiting liturgy to the ordering of the community in discrete acts of worship, I want to use it in this large and comprehensive way, the centuries-deep and continents-wide community, spread out in space and time, as Christians participate in actions initiated and formed by the words in this book - our entire existence understood liturgically, that is connectedly in the context of the three personal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and furnished with the text of the Holy Scripture.
The task of liturgy is to order the life of the holy community following the text of Holy Scripture. It consists of two movements. First it gets us into the sanctuary, the place of adoration and attention, listening and receiving and believing before God. There is a lot involved, all the parts of our lives ordered to all aspects of the revelation of God in Jesus.Then it gets us out of the sanctuary into the world into places of obeying and loving ordering our lives as living sacrifices in the world to the glory of God. There is a lot involved, all the parts of our lives out on the street participating in the work of salvation.
It is useful to reflect that the word 'liturgy' did not originate in church or worship settings. In the Greek world it referred to publish service, what a citizen did for the community. As the church used the word in relation to worship, ti kept this 'public service' quality - working for the community on behalf of or following orders from God. As we worship God, revealed personally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our Holy Scriptures, we are not doing something apart form or away from the non-Scripture=reading world; we do it for the world - bringing all creation and all history before God, presenting our bodies and all the beauties and needs of humankind before God in praise and intercession, penetrating and serving the world for whom Christ died in the strong name of the Trinity.
Liturgy puts us to work along with all the others who have been and are being put to work in the world by and with Jesus following our spiritually-forming text. Liturgy keeps us in touch with all the action that has been and is being generated by the Spirit as given witness in the biblical text. Liturgy prevents the narrative form of Scripture from being reduced to private individualized consumption.Understood this way, 'liturgical' has little to do with choreography in the chancel or an aesthetics of the sublime. It is obedient, participatory, listening to Holy Scripture in the company of the holy community through time (our two-thousand years of responding to this text) and in space (our friends in christ all over the world). High-church Anglicans, revivalistic Baptists, hands-in-the-air praising charismatics, and Quakers sitting in a bare room in silence are all required to read and live this text liturgically, participating in the holy community's reading of Holy Scripture. there is nothing 'churchy' or elitist about it; it is a vast and dramatic 'story-ing,' making sure that we are taking our place in the story and letting everyone else have their parts in the story also, making sure that we don't leave anything or anyone out of the story. Without sufficient liturgical support and structure we are very apt to edit the story down to fit our individual tastes and predispositions.
The most carefully crafted language in our culture tends to be poetry. And poetry at its finest moments subverts our best attempts at hiding from reality...The poetry of liturgy has just this power. The liturgy contains words that have been shaped and crafted over the centuries. It is formal speech. It is public poetry. As such it reaches into us to reveal not only the unnamed reality of our lives but the God who created us...But even when the words of the liturgy are not literally biblical words, the words, like all truthful words, work on us over time, like a steady, unrelenting stream slowly reshapes the banks of a river. The words do something to us even when we're not paying attention.
Worship, then, needs to be characterized by hospitality; it needs to be inviting. But at the same time, it should be inviting seekers into the church and its unique story and language. Worship should be an occasion of cross-cultural hospitality. Consider an analogy: when I travel to France, I hope to be made to feel welcome. However, I don't expect my French hosts to become Americans in order to make me feel at home. I don't expect them to start speaking English, ordering pizza, talking about the New York Yankees, and so on. Indeed, if I wanted that, I would have just stayed home! Instead, what I'm hoping for is to be welcomed into their unique French culture; that's why I've come to France in the first place. And I know that this will take some work on my part. I'm expecting things to be different; indeed, I'm looking for just this difference. So also, I think, with hospitable worship: seekers are looking for something our culture can't provide. Many don't want a religious version of what they can already get at the mall. And this is especially true of postmodern or Gen X seekers: they are looking for elements of transcendence and challenge that MTV could never give them. Rather than an MTVized version of the gospel, they are searching for the mysterious practices of the ancient gospel.
...small bits of our day are profoundly meaningfulbecause they are the site of our worship. The crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines.
Once more, the joyful character of the eucharistic gathering must be stressed. For the medieval emphasis on the cross, while not a wrong one, is certainly one-sided. The liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him into the bridal chamber. And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole 'beauty' of the liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful.Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the 'necessary.' Beauty is never 'necessary,' 'functional' or 'useful.' And when, expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love. And the Church is love, expectation and joy.
Thus [the altar] brings heaven into the community assembled on earth, or rather it takes the community beyond itself into the communion of saints of all times and places. We might put it this way: the altar is the place where heaven is opened up.
Good Christian liturgy is friendship in action, love taking thought, the covenant relationship between God and his people not simply discovered and celebrated like the sudden meeting of friends, exciting and worthwhile though that is, but thought through and relished, planned and prepared -- an ultimately better way for the relationship to grow and at the same time a way of demonstrating what the relationship is all about.
Creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God wants to make with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man.
It was evangelicals' sense of rudderlessness - their desire for an authority to guide them in questions of dogma, life, and worship - that led them to rediscover liturgy and history in the first place. The irony was that in their smorgasbord approach to non-Protestant tradition, in their individualistic rejection of the rules of any one church in favor of a free run of the so-called church universal, in their repudiation of American nationalism in favor of cosmopolitanism, young evangelicals were being quintessentially evangelical and stereotypically American, doing as they pleased according to no authority but their own. The principle of sola scriptura was far clearer in theory than in practice. No matter evangelicals' faith that, with the 'illumination of the Holy Spirit,' 'Scripture could and should interpret itself,' too many illuminated believers came to different conclusions about what the Bible meant. Inerrantists who asserted their 'literal' interpretation with absolute certainty could do so only by covertly relying on modern, manmade assumptions. Other evangelicals were now searching for similar assurance in the authority of church history and the mystery of worship.
Sometimes, late at night, the words are only whispers– Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. The quiet is kindness and gratitude and calm–Have mercy on me, a sinner. And I fall asleep like that, the words of the Jesus Prayer melting from English to Greek– Kyrie Iesou Christe. Floating around me– Yie tou Theou. Swimming apart from me– Eleison me.