Liturgy Matters - Part I
For some time I've been toying with the idea of finding ways to explore together the liturgy we use as Anglicans in the service. This is partly because people have recently been very interesting in asking more about different aspects of the liturgy, and as I have responded to their enthusiasm and questions, it occurs to me that going on a journey together where we explore what liturgy in our worship is all about might be very productive. I was also very interested that a year ago, when I was reading the profile for this benefice, Minchinhampton described itself as a Eucharistic-based church. I was fascinated by that, and delighted by it. And in fact all our three churches in the benefice are Eucharistic-based. But what I want to throw back at the benefice is this: what does it mean to be Eucharistic-based? Over the next few months in the space of this regular feature, I hope that we can begin to explore what that might mean, and discover together the richness of what the Eucharistic service is all about.
Liturgy is potentially a powerful combination of word, silence, music, action and symbolism. How it works, how it is put together is important because liturgy holds both us and the space for all that happens in a worship service. A good worship service will have shape, movement, flow and coherence. Good liturgy should guide us through the movement, and help inform theological understanding of God. It provides a framework which creates space to worship. The Anglican framework has four movements to it: the Gathering; the Liturgy of the Word; the Liturgy of the Sacrament; the Dismissal. Again, we will explore what each of these is about.
Liturgy also has a bigger role: as we shape liturgy, liturgy shapes us, over a lifetime. George Guiver from the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, writes helpfully in his book on liturgy, A Company of Voices, about liturgy. He writes of liturgy and texts flowing around us like water which 'builds up deposits over a long time' working 'by accumulation over years', in the same way that one immerses oneself in a foreign language, then realises one can speak it.' It is precisely because liturgy is so fundamental to formation, to our growth in understanding of our faith and in how we live, that 'getting it right' is important.
It is true to say that the impact of liturgy in our lives is sometimes like the water flowing over a stone that Guiver speaks about. Whether we understand the liturgy or not, there is an unconscious effect upon our beliefs, our understanding, our concept of God and our worship of him. However, there are also times we need to engage with what the words we say and the actions we perform are intending, because there is much richness to be reaped in getting to grips with that. I do hope you find that as we explore the Anglican Eucharistic service in this way, you will find new aspects of the service reveal themselves to you, and help to make your experience of worship in this benefice a richer and deeper one.