Liturgy Matters - Part III

Last month I left us having simply come together as a community to worship God: we got as far as the opening words, the greeting! This is all part of the first movement in our liturgy, which is called The Gathering, but there is more to this section than simply that. There is much about us that needs gathering in. It is Timothy Radcliffe, of the Dominican Order and who lives in Oxford, who has written in his book, Why Go to Church, The Drama of the Eucharist:

'We come to church with our fragile identities, often enough constructed over and against each other. We come as people whose sense of self is sometimes grounded in competition, striving for superiority or struggling with a sense of inferiority.'

There are things to be put right: we are in need of being put right, and so we begin with preparing our hearts and confessing our sins, and being absolved from them - assured that we are forgiven - so we can be properly gathered together and free to worship God. But the context of recognising our sin is not to merely plead forgiveness, but to recognise God in his mercy loves us with unconditional love, and already has forgiven us. So the prayers of penitence should enable us to be reminded of God's amazing love for us, for which we give thanks. Radcliffe goes on to describe this as coming home, like the prodigal son, back to the family of God, where we realise,

'We come home to the whole Church, the communion of saints and the people beside me in my pew, my family. This is part of being freed from the lonely and glorious exile of being the hero in my private drama and waking up to our family in God.'

In other words, we come with the personal preoccupations we are wrapped up in, but recognise in church we are together in our difficulties and our weakness. We sometimes pray, 'We confess to you, before the whole company of heaven and one another..' and recognising we are willing to admit our faults to one another (not just to God) is where humility and togetherness can be allowed to foster. The silence allowed between the invitation to pray and the prayer itself, is to call to mind where we have fallen short, before together we offer these words to God. Sometimes the Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy) is said separately; sometimes it may be used to form the prayers of penitence with seasonal sentences in between.

Apart from in Advent and Lent, when we omit it, we now say or sing The Gloria, usually on Sundays or festival days. It is an ancient Christian hymn of praise from the fourth century, and in part the song of the angels rejoicing at the birth of Jesus.

The Gathering culminates in 'The Collect' which collects up all the prayers we have offered, with a different one for each Sunday, which usually brings in the theme of the Gospel or that particular Sunday's theme, in order to lead us on to being ready to hear God's Word. It is that second movement, the Liturgy of the Word, to which we will turn next time.

Helen Bailey