The Reformers were reacting to the scandalous ignorance of the average Christian. For various reasons, the Roman Catholic clergy had failed in their responsibility to teach and instruct the Church. This is why people flocked to Protestant churches to hear a deluge of high-powered sermons, rich in humanistic scholarship and pastoral insight. However, the pendulum always swings too far the other way. In their eagerness to teach these starving sheep, the Reformers tended to turn liturgy into yet another didactic device, rather than a doxological path for worship. Gordon S. Wakefield comments on Martin Bucer’s liturgy:
“As one might expect, Strasbourg liturgy is verbose in the extreme. This was a danger of many Reformed rites, which is why Cranmer’s virtues shine so bright in contrast. It is due to the desire to make worship intelligible, to exlain everything so that it may be understood. This is a worthy motive, but it may be an affliction, evident today among those who cannot leave explanation to rubrics, or in some instances sermons, and who fail to realize that worship is not simply a mental activity and that liturgy has a symphonic, or poetic quality. It should itself carry the worshippers along into the heavenly places. The reaction against the mystery and secret of the Mass has gone too far.” (An Outline of Christian Worship, 75).
Today, I think the biggest area of temptation for churches is in the “pastoral prayer,” or in any other prayer. Sometimes we can tend to preach in our prayers. We forget who we’re talking to. This is why I find it helpful to pray the Psalms, read Puritan prayers, or Anglican, and even some Orthodox prayers. Prayer isn’t easy for me. I need help, so I’m not ashamed to learn from saints who have gone before me, and who excelled in prayer.
The Feast Goes On, by Jessica Snell, is a practical look at how the Church Year can inform our life at home.
David Taylor, writing in the March/April issue of Books & Culture, includes a penetrating quote from Bishop John A.T. Robinson: “But we are now being reminded that the church people go to has an immensely powerful psychological effect on their vision of the Church they are meant to be. The church building is a prime aid, or a prime hindrance, to the building up of the Body of Christ. And what the building says so often shouts something entirely contrary to all that we are seeking to express through the liturgy. And the building will always win–unless and until we can make it say something else.”
Taylor reviews two books which look helpful for those thinking through issues of church aesthetics and how a church building relates to the broader community: Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred and An Architecture of Immanence: Architecture for Worship and Ministry Today. Although my symphathies lie with the tradition of “transcendent architecture” (Gothic cathedrals and such) I can agree with Taylor: “No architecture–no building, no design–is ever neutral.”
Taylor also recently organized a major conference which I hope he can host again! Check out Transforming Culture: A Vision for the Church and the Arts! Although the conference took place last month, reading through the conference description would give any church leader lots to think and pray about.
Dr. George Grant has a fun new blog: Eleventary. We’re flattered that he includes us in his Blogroll.
Liturgical Art: A Distinction and Direction
Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond
“The arts help liturgical mystery to become visible and effective.” 
These words by Bishop Albert Rouet highlight an important distinction in liturgical art. This distinction is critical to both the assembly and to the artist. The misunderstanding or misapplication of this distinction will inevitably result in the artist, the liturgical art, and the worshipping assembly failing to achieve the purposes for which they were each intended. Without understanding and honoring this distinction, the artist fails, art is compromised, and the assembly fails to enter into the fullest experience of worship. Without this distinction, liturgical art loses its purpose and its power. Continue reading
We’re pleased to welcome another contributor to the site:
The Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a presbyter with the Anglican Province of America, has personal experience in a wide range of liturgical traditions: Roman Catholic (into which he was born and raised), Christian & Missionary Alliance (through whose outreach he was “saved”), Lutheran (the tradition in which he was originally commissioned), Baptist (with whom he served for many years), and Anglican (since 1986). The Rev. Dr. Richmond is the author of five books, most recently A Short Season in Hell: Meditations on Dante which is scheduled to be released by Forward Movement Publications. Rev. Richmond may be reached through e-mail at email@example.com.
I’m going to put the idea of working through the Liturgy Trap on hold. I can’t manage a big blog discussion, make progress on my dissertation, teach, and raise a family! Maybe someday …
I’ve known a couple people who have entered the Roman or Eastern churches, looking for the “Apostolic Church,” or some such thing. Like a good Protestant, I believe the Apostolic Church is the Church Universal (Catholic), which is founded on the teaching of the Apostles. Of course, the question of just what that teaching is remains controversial, to say the least. But, I’ve heard over and over again how becoming Orthodox leads you into the “unchanged tradition” of the church, or how the Roman church is “ancient” and all of that. Perhaps this is more of an emphasis in Eastern Orthodoxy (I’ll post more on that later), but I was pleasantly surprised to find an esteemed Roman Catholic priest and scholar admitting that the Church has, well … changed! Continue reading