Friday, 30 September 2011

C. of I. theologian robustly critical of Martin McGuinness’s presidential bid

The Church of Ireland Gazette in today’s edition [30 September 2011] carries the following photograph and half-page report on page 6:

C. of I. theologian robustly critical of
Martin McGuinness’s presidential bid

Canon Patrick Comerford, lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin, has taken to task Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin candidate in the forthcoming election for President of Ireland, Martin McGuinness, over Mr McGuinness’s recent blaming of “West Brit elements” in the Dublin media for daring to ask questions about his Provisional IRA past.

Writing on his Internet blog (http:// revpatrickcomerford. blogspot. com/), Canon Comerford says that the term ‘West Brit’ is usually used “pejoratively”.

Noting how Mr McGuinness now says his remark was off-the-cuff”, Canon Comerford asks: “Does someone have the gravitas and dignity for the office of President if they are taken aback during a planned interview, an interview pre-arranged and that has been agreed in advance, and makes racist and unacceptable ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks? How many other racist and unacceptable ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks is this man capable of?”

The outspoken theologian goes on to declare that if there is “no place in Martin McGuinness’s ugly new Ireland, for ‘West Brits’, the ‘Anglo-Irish’, those who speak Received Pronunciation English, those who enjoy cricket and rugby, those whose parents were born in Rathmines and Rathgar, those whose father or grandfather fought in the British Army in World War I or World War II, those who wear a poppy, those who received part of our education in England or worked there for a while, those who are proud of that part of our ancestry that is English (even if generations ago), or those who oppose 40 years of murderous violence on this island, then I hope his canvassers decide not to knock at my door during their electioneering.

Canon Comerford says he would like an apology, but adds that Mr McGuinness has “too many other and more obvious acts of violence and intimidation to apologise for.”

‘Global neighbours now local neighbours’ – Bishop Williams tells interfaith conference

The Church of Ireland Gazette in today’s edition [30 September 2011] carries the following photograph and half-page report on page 3:

‘Global neighbours now local neighbours’ –
Bishop Williams tells interfaith conference

Participants at the interfaith conference in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (from left): Bishop Trevor Williams, Fr Alan Hilliard and the Revd Dr Keith Scott (Photo: Canon Patrick Comerford)

By Canon Patrick Comerford

“We are responding to a changed society, our global neighbours are now our local neighbours, and if we fail to communicate there will be inevitable difficulties and trouble,” the Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, the Rt Revd Trevor Williams, told a recent conference on interfaith dialogue held in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin.

Bishop Williams was opening the conference – “Building Interfaith Relations in Ireland today” – organised by the Church of Ireland Interfaith Working Group and at which eight dioceses of the Church of Ireland were represented.

Bishop Williams said the “changed world we live in” was reflected in dialogue becoming part of the work and title of the Church of Ireland Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue and he hoped each Diocese would appoint an interfaith co-ordinator.

The Revd Dr Keith Scott of Rathkeale, Diocese of Limerick, who co-ordinated the conference, said the area of interfaith relations was still a new and uncertain one and people had to “explore today what is crucial to the future.”

He added that the way of openness is one of vulnerability and service and described building peace as being “crucial to our long-term futures.”

The principal speaker at the conference was Dr Phil Lewis of the University of Bradford, who is the Bishop of Bradford’s adviser on interfaith affairs.

Speaking on ‘Building interfaith and intercultural relations in urban Britain’, Dr Lewis – who has worked in a Muslim-Christian studies centre in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and is a former CMS mission partner – believed that the Churches in Ireland needed to think in a long-term way by looking at the next ten years, adding: “Now is the time to work at developing relationships; you can’t develop them in the middle of a crisis.”

He went on to warn of the danger of looking at Muslim communities through a narrow security lens, “post 9/11 or post 7/7,” saying that the same had once happened to the Irish community in Britain.

Dr Lewis identified the danger of the extremes of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘Islamophilia’, where all Muslims are seen as “bin Laden look-alikes” or Islam was romanticised as being all about peace. People had to walk a path between demonising and sentimentalising, he said.

The conference also heard contributions on a number of aspects of interfaith dialogue and relations from Garda Sergeant David McInerney, of the Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office; Fr Alan Hilliard, Roman Catholic chaplain in the Dublin Institute of Technology; and Abed Adalkar, Integration and Intercultural Officer with Doras Luimní.

At the end of the conference, the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, said that people lived today in a context of living history that was complex, fluid and toxic. People needed to develop respect for others, enabling others to respect one another, he said, adding: “In Ireland, we suffer more from religious indigestion than religious hunger.”

Thursday, 29 September 2011

How shall I sing that majesty?

Sir Jacob Epstein’s bronze statues of Saint Michael and the Devil on the wall outside Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Thursday 29 September 2011,
Saint Michael and All Angels, 8.30 a.m.,
Holy Communion:

Genesis 28: 10-17;
Psalm 103: 19-22;
Revelation 12: 7-12;
John 1: 47-51.

May I speak to you in the name of +the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last month, at the end one of my regular retreats in Lichfield, I had an hour or two to spare before catching a flight back to Dublin. And so I took time out to visit Coventry Cathedral.

For my generation, when it comes to church art and church architecture, Coventry Cathedral is one of the most influential Anglican cathedrals.

Facing the world ... the Gethsemane Chapel in Coventry Cathedral

Basil Spence’s cathedral symbolises new life and new hope in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust. It had profound and lasting influences. My old school chapel in Gormanston is a mini-replica of Coventry. Jacob Epstein’s sculptures, Graham Sutherland’s great tapestry, the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane framed by the crown of thorns, the Chapel of Unity, the unusual aisle windows, or the Coventry Cross of Nails, all had influences on spirituality, art and architecture that lasted for generations.

Even before you enter the cathedral, Saint Michael features prominently. As I approached the cathedral that Sunday afternoon, I was overlooked – overwhelmed again – by Epstein’s bronze statues of Saint Michael and the Devil on the wall.

When Basil Spence commissioned Jacob Epstein, some members of the rebuilding committee objected. They said some of his earlier works were controversial. And, although Coventry was at the centre of post-war reconciliation, some even objected, saying Epstein was a Jew. To this, Spence retorted: “So was Jesus Christ.”

John Hutton’s ‘Screen of Saints and Angels’ at the entrance to Coventry Cathedral, reflecting the ruins of the old, bombed cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The cathedral is entered through John Hutton’s “Screen of Saints and Angels,” with tall glass panels inspired by Basil Spence’s plans for the new cathedral, rising up from the ruins of the bombed cathedral, and by his vision of a new church rising through a screen of angels and saints, linking the old and the new.

Gazing at this screen, especially on a sunny summer’s day, picking out the angels and archangels, patriarchs and prophets, apostles and saints, you see a vivid reflection in the glass of the ruins of the old bombed cathedral behind you.

Inside, Graham Sutherland’s giant tapestry shows Christ in Glory, surrounded by four figures from the Book of Revelation, the four evangelists. Beneath Christ’s feet is a chalice with a dragon, referring to our reading from the Book of Revelation: “Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon … But they have conquered him by the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 12: 3, 11).

On the right, between Saint John and Saint Mark, the Archangel Michael is hurling down the devil. (Revelation 12: 7-9).

What is your image of an angel?

Is it fluffy little cherubs with white wings and pudgy cheeks, floating above the earth on white fluffy clouds?

Or is an angel for you someone like the angels in the screen in Coventry Cathedral, inviting you into the Communion of Saints, into a Church built on the past but looking anew to the future?

Is an angel some “new age” figure, easily dismissed because of those angel books on the “Mind and Spirit” shelves in bookshops?

Or is an angel for you like the Archangel Michael, depicted by Epstein and Sutherland, inviting you into the triumph of good over evil, to join Christ in Glory?

Is Saint Michael the patron saint of shoppers at Marks and Spencer and all others who have made the shopping malls their earthly cathedrals?

Or, like the Michael of Coventry Cathedral, does he challenge you to reflect on our values today?

For the name Michael (Hebrew, מִיכָאֵל; Greek, Μιχαήλ) asks the question: “Who is like El (the Lord God)?”

Where Michael is mentioned by name in the Bible, in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of Jude and the Book of Revelation, he represents reliance on the strength of God and the triumph of good over evil.

In today’s world, where angels and archangels are often the stuff of fantasy, science fiction and new-age babble, we need a reminder that angels are nothing more than – but nothing less than – the messengers of God, the bringers of good news.

Saint Michael above the main door into Saint Michael’s in Lichfield … what does this story say to you today? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Michael’s traditional virtues were standing up for God’s people and their rights, taking a clear stand against manifest evil, firmly opposing oppression, violence and corruption, while seeking forbearance and mercy, clemency and justice – virtues we must keep before us in ministry and mission as messengers of God.

In his hymn Ye holy angels bright (Irish Church Hymnal 376), Richard Baxter invites us to join the angels, the saints above and the saints on earth in praising God. We joined in that praise earlier in the Gloria, and that invitation is repeated again in the Great Thanksgiving: “And so with all your people, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you ...”

How shall I sing that majesty ... Coe Fen in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hymn, How shall I sing that majesty? (Irish Church Hymnal 468), contrasts God’s heavenly glory, splendour and majesty with our inadequacies and frailties. It emphasises the truth that when we attempt to sing of God’s glory, all our human efforts appear feeble and pathetic.

As I sing that hymn to one of my favourite tunes, Kenneth Naylor’s Coe Fen, I am forced to ask: “Who am I?” – the question we all ask when we first hear God’s call to mission and ministry.

I may not feel as powerful and agile as the Archangel Michael in battling for the world and confronting evil. But we do this in the company of the great heavenly host of archangels and angels, patriarchs and prophets, apostles and saints, martyrs and missionaries, strengthened by God alone. For we should always be prepared, like Michael and the angels, to ask and to answer the question: “Who is like the Lord God?”

And so may all we think say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted the ministries
of angels and mortals in a wonderful order:
Grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven,
so, at your command,
they may help and defend us on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect.
As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Michaelmas Eucharist in the institute chapel on Saint Michael’s Day, 29 September 2011.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Being presidential ... and hopeful ... on a sunny afternoon

Summer sunshine reflected in Saint Stephen’s Green in Dublin this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

It was a beautiful sunny, summer’s afternoon today. There were clear blue skies, and the temperature had risen into the low 20s. And it was a good afternoon for being very presidential.

No, I am not a candidate in any presidential election. But I was living up to my responsibilities as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND).

Three of us visited the Department of Foreign Affairs in Iveagh House on Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, this afternoon.

Dr David Hutchinson Edgar is the chairperson of Irish CND, and Ms Janet Fenton is Secretary of Scottish CND and Scottish Convenor of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). She was also in Dublin representing ICAN, the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, which opened a European office in Geneva earlier this year.

ICAN is keen to encourage a momentum for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and sees Ireland as a key state in moving the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on, or even moving beyond the NPT.

The United Nations General Assembly First Committee meets next month, and it was important before that to discuss a number of key issues, including:

● The Irish views on a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
● Progress on disarmament since last year’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
● Progress on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
●Progress on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
●The prospects for further, short-term developments.

Seeking signs of hope on Saint Stephen’s Green in Dublin this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Talks like this are important both for civil society and for government. It was difficult not to hold out hope and to be positive as we walked out from Iveagh House and back into the summer sunshine on Saint Stephen’s Green.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Liturgy 1.2: secular liturgy and ritual

Church and State have their own language, symbols and expectations when it comes to public ritual … so too with theatre, sport and domestic occasions (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 14:00 to 16:00, Mondays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 1.2: 26 September 2011

Ritual and symbol seen through the eyes of secular liturgy and ritual:

Evaluating experiences, e.g., drug culture, sports, theatre, &c.

‘Liturgy’ and our expectations

‘Liturgy’ and ritual in the world today:

1, Drama/Theatre (Plays, Opera, Pantomime).
2, Cinema
3, Sport (Soccer, Rugby, Golf)
4, Domestic
5, Political and secular

Five working groups:

1, Drama/Theatre (Plays, Opera, Pantomime)

The Theatre of Dionysus, beneath the slopes of the Acropolis, where the tragedies and comedies of Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles, were first performed ... theatre has its own language and rituals (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Special language:

• Shakespeare’s English, silence in Beckett
• Opera: Italian for Verdi or Puccini, German for Wagner
• Rhyming-slang-type names in Pantomime (Stinky-Pooh).

Special Movements:

• Off-stage directions and voices
• Dramatised swooning and dying
• Raising up a dagger
• The final bow and encore

Special clothing

• You know who is the good fairy and who is the wicked step-mother
• Period costume.
• Clothing in opera often a very different cut; this is especially so in ballet
• At the Opera, the audience often dresses very differently too.

Sacred space

• The pit for the orchestra;
• The wings and off-stage;
• Where would we be watching Romeo and Juliet without a balcony?

Where would we be watching Romeo and Juliet without a balcony? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Responsorial language

• An important part of drama and opera
• There is a special form in pantomime:
“Look out, he’s behind you.”
“Oh yes he is, oh no he’s not.”

Signs (what do they point to?)

• Curtains close for end of act
• End of scene/end of act differentiated with an inner curtain
• Throwing roses at the diva (smashing plates in Greece)
• Chekov: if a gun on the wall, not for decoration, but symbol of later drama
• Curtain calls symbolise the end, but also invite participation in applause


• Important to know who is who in a play.
• A programme will name the producer, the director, the lighting team, stage hands ... even if not seen.

Special food?

• Interval drinks?
• People take picnics to the opera in Verona

The Opera at Verona is popular and informal … but often people dress differently for the Opera (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

What is alienating for you as a participant, as part of the audience?

• It is important to see and to hear.
• If you are a child at pantomime, then you need to be engaged, to participate, to enjoy
• What if the programme notes are not good?
• If the lighting is bad?
• If the actors’ movements don’t match the roles they’re acting.

2, Cinema

Special language

• Certainly a special time, not go in the morning.
• But even language can indicate your generational approach:
• Are they films, or movies?
• Are they westerns or cowboys.
• Is it the cinema?

Special Movements

• The blackout has its own ritual symbolism
• The usher’s light
• There is a wonderful Rowan Atkins sketch the illustrates the ritual acts appropriate in a cinema when people are watching a horror movie, and they are quite different to the ones I remember as being appropriate for young boys watching westerns
• What about how people behave at The Rocky Horror Movie or Mama Mia?

Special clothing

• The usherettes in the past
• Special clothing and behaviour for watching The Rockie Horror Movie.
• Special glasses for 3D movies

Sacred space

• Don’t stand up between me, the projector and the screen.

Responsorial language

• Yes actually, watch outside when people are leaving a movie.

Signs (what do they point to):

• How to find the exit, the loo and the food sales point; they too make a difference.


• Not just the roles in the movie
• The ticket seller,
• The ticket checker,
• The usher,
• the projectionist
• Each has a role that is different from my place in the audience

Special food?

• Popcorn!

What is alienating for you as a participant, as part of the audience?

• If the lights come on at the wrong time
• If the advertising goes on too long
• If others stand up or talk during the sacred moment.

3, Sports (Soccer, Rugby, Golf)

Villa Park ... like many English football clubs, Aston Villa has its origins in local church activities … but football has evolved its own rituals and language

Special language:

• technical terms:
• I don’t know what a birdie or an eagle is
• “Fore!”
• What does love mean in tennis?
• The referee’s whistle is a special sign language, with different meanings in one or two pips, and a long sharp blast

Special Movements:

• special entrances and exits
• addressing the ball
• lining up the teams at a cup final
• Shaking hands with the President
• The hakka
• The Mexican wave
• Waving bananas

Special clothing:

• Players’ clothing is distinct from the referee’s as well as from each other
• Special kit for the goalkeeper
• Golf!
• Tennis and Cricket whites
• Soccer supporters.

Sacred space

• The umpires behind the wickets
• The penalty box
• The tennis umpire’s chair
• The goal line
• The side line
• For spectators, the difference between terraces, or Hill 16, or The Kop.

Responsorial language

• Football chants and slogans
• “The referee’s a …”
• Where is it appropriate to sing The Fields of Athenry or Ireland’s Call?
• The drums among French rugby supporters
• The Mexican wave?

Signs (what do they point to?):

• Again, the Mexican wave?
• Yellow card, red card
• The flag at the hole on the green
• The goal posts
• The circle, and the penalty box
• The scoreboard in cricket


• Umpires
• Goalkeepers
• Linesmen
• Ball boys
• Ticket sellers
• Waterboy

Special food?

• Certainly at American football
• Strawberries at Wimbledon
• How often play at a cricket match adjourns for tea
• Captain’s dinner in a golf club
• Champagne, and popping corks at Formula 1

What is alienating for you as a participant or part of the audience?

• Sitting among the wrong supporters, at the Kop, Hill 16 or the Canal End
• Ladies’ day in golf clubs?
• Fixing times of matches to suit television viewers (in China)?
• Flares are a real bugbear at Greek soccer matches.

Cricket has its own clear distinctions when it comes to language, space, roles, signs, clothing and food … Paul Darlington makes 40 for Lichfield Diocese in the Church Times Cricket Cup Final (Photograph: Richard Watt/Church Times)

4, Domestic

Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, name days, Sunday dinner:

At our dinner table, even on weekdays, we like to have flowers on table, usually candles, bread, wine, a salad … then we know the table is set and we can begin dinner. We serve each other the food, we raise glasses, καλή όρεξη, bon appetite.
Special language

• Congratulations
• Many happy returns
• Condolences
• Many happy returns

Special Movements

• Blowing out the candles on a birthday cake
• Candles and flowers
• Who carves the Sunday roast

Special clothing

• One of my sons at the age of six started saying he wanted us to dress for dinner.
• Party dress / little black number, and when inappropriate.
• Wedding clothes nothing to do with church tradition

Sacred space:

• The table for a wedding anniversary
• Our dinner table: flowers, candles, a salad, bread, wine, often candles too

Responsorial language

• “For he’s a jolly good fellow ...”
• “Hip, hip ...”

Signs and icons (what do they point to?)

• The birthday cake.
• Birthday cards,
• Clinking glasses

Special food?

• Birthday cake
• Champagne
• The Sunday roast, Yorkshire pud?
• Is Turkey inappropriate outside Christmas/Thanksgiving?


• You don’t initiate singing happy birthday to yourself
• You don’t pop the cork at your own birthday

What is alienating for you as a participant, in the audience?

• When others don’t sing.
• When others don’t respond
• When others forget your birthday, or gatecrash.

It is alienating when others behave inappropriately, using wrong language, songs, signs, and movements at the wrong times.

How many remember clips of Marilyn Monroe popping up and singing … “Happy Birthday.” But it was inappropriate. She was and still is the focus of attention. Who remembers how old JFK was then?

5, Political and secular

Special language

• The speaker calling the house to order
• Invoking points of order
• Giving way

Special Movements

• The state opening of parliament
• The Lord Mayor’s parade
• Judges processing into court, “Please arise”
• Sitting on different sides of the house (hence, left and right)
• Waving order papers
• Speaking from the dispatch box
• Swearing in the jury/or the jury retiring
• The house adjourning

Special clothing

• Judges’ wigs
• The speaker’s robes
• The way Black Rod or a court usher dresses

Sacred space

• Please approach the bench
• The speaker’s chair.
• At parades, the reviewing platform, and who is seated where.
• The press gallery

Responsorial language

• Order, order.
• Hear, hear.

Signs/icons (what do they point to?)

• The woolsack
• A Mayor’s chain of office
• The keys of the city
• A judge’s wig or black cap.

Special food?

• If you’ve been on a jury you may not like to recall that
• But draw on other ritual food, like birthday cakes, popping champagne, &c
• The members’ bar


• The court bailiff
• Black Rod
• The Gentlemen Ushers
• The tellers

What is alienating for you as a participant/or in the audience?

• Parliamentary procedures can be alienating
• But look at the number of people who queue up to visit the Dail or Westminster.
• There are people with positive experience of being jurors … justice was done, and they had a good day
• The state opening of parliament.


In all of these, body language matters.

If I put out my hand for a handshake and you refuse it, who feels bad?

Do you give each other a kiss? When is it not appropriate?

An example of misinterpreted body language is easily provided by Greek head movements for yes and no, and can have consequences if I am in the line for a loo.

We create ritual and liturgy in every walk of society.

We are alienated when we are counted out, when we fail to understand what’s going on, or when it loses meaning for us.

In all of these, there are essential ingredients to make sure it works, and they usually include:

• Special language
• Special movements (including body language)
• Special clothing
• Special place and space
• Responsorial language
• Meaningful and indicative signs
• Assigned roles
• Perhaps special food.

We are alienated when:

• the wrong language, signs, responses, movements, roles are used
• when the right ones are misappropriated
• when we feel counted out
• when we fail to understand what’s going on
• or when the ritual or liturgy loses meaning for us.

And a good understanding of these social uses of ritual help us to understand when and how good liturgy works for us and for others, and how and why bad liturgy can be alienating for us and for others.

Worksheet for seminar/workshop:

Space and sign, meaning and timing:

Special language

Special Movements

Special clothing

Sacred space

Responsorial language

Signs/Icons (what do they point to?)


Special food?

Manual/facial actions:

What is alienating for you as participant/audience?

Next week:

Liturgy 2.1
: The theology of space, and its implications for church buildings.

Liturgy 2.2: The use of church buildings in relation to the mission of God expressed through the Church (Seminar, based on readings from Richard Giles).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were shared in a seminar/workshop on the MTh module, EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on 26 September 2011

Liturgy 1.1: Introduction to liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 14:00 to 16:00, Mondays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 1.1: 26 September 2011

Introduction to liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language

Opening Prayer:

The Lord be with you:
And also with you

O Lord,
hear the prayers of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Our opening prayer is the collect of the Sunday after next, the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. It talks about both perception and knowledge. And this module on liturgy, worship and spirituality is about both knowledge and perception.

In our first hour, I hope we can have:

(a) Introduction to Liturgy;
(b) Signs and symbols in today’s culture;
(c) Introduction to the texts, readings and methodology.

In other words, I want to introduce us to the topics being covered in this semester and the methodologies used in this course; and in particular this morning to develop an understanding of liturgical space, place, time and structure, with a critical comparison with secular ‘liturgies’.

(A) Introduction to Liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language:

Some introductory remarks:

• Good and bad experiences
• Liturgy and our expectations
• Liturgy in the world today:

1, Drama (Plays, Opera, Pantomime).
2, The Cinema
3, Sport (Soccer, Rugby)
4, Domestic
5, Political and secular
[Full discussion of Point 5 later in 1.2]

• Liturgy not in the Book of Common Prayer:

1, Harvest Thanksgiving
2, Remembrance Sunday
3, Are these domestic/family, secular/political, folk/religious liturgies?

Not all liturgy in the Church of Ireland is to be found in The Book of Common Prayer.

Examples include:

• Harvest Thanksgiving
• Remembrance Sunday
• Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
• Christingle Services

Some of these have been easily adapted in recent years by imaginatively tailoring them to a Service of the Word. But they were there long before we introduced the idea of a Service of the Word. Are these domestic/family, secular/political, folk/religious liturgies?

And there are quasi-religious liturgies too:

• Orange marches
• Remembrance Day services

What do we mean by liturgy?

Liturgy is more than rite and words. The components of all liturgy include an understanding of the role and function of:

• liturgical space,
• liturgical venue,
• liturgical time,
• liturgical structure.

How do we apply this to liturgy of the Church?

What do we mean by liturgy?

The word itself means “the work of the people.”

The Greek word laós (λαός) means the people.

The laós might even mean the rowdy, the masses, the populace.

Liturgy is not necessarily a sacred word. Sometimes it even has vulgar connotations. Some examples include:

Laou-laou (Λαου-λαου): on the sly, sneakingly.

Λαουτζίκος (Laoutzíkos) ... the common people; we are all members of the laity

Laoutzíkos (Λαουτζίκος): the populace, the rabble, the vulgar horde; this use has been current this year during the strikes and protests in Greece about public spending cuts.

And it gives rise to secular words we all understand: the word basileós (βασιλεύς, modern βασιλιάς), for a king, literally means the one who goes before or leads the people.

The Greek word leitourgía (λειτουργία) means public duty. We now restrict this to the worship of the church, and even more specifically and restrictively to the ritual worship of the Church. In Greece, essentially, it is the Eucharist.

The word liton for a town hall is derived from λος, los, a dialectal variant of λαός (laós, people), is combined with ἔργον (érgon), work (werg- in Indo-European roots).

So basically liturgy means the “public work of the people”, the masses, all of us, for we are all members of the λαός, laós, the people.

Liturgy (λειτουργία, leitourgía) is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. Its elements are λειτος, leitos (from leos or laos, people) meaning public, and ergo (obsolete in the present stem, used in future erxo, etc.), to do.

From this we have leitourgós (λειτουργός), “a man who performs a public duty,” “a public servant,” often used as equivalent to the Roman lictor; then leitourgeo, “to do such a duty,” leitourgema, its performance, and leitourgía, the public duty itself.

The word comes from the Classical Greek word λειτουργία (leitourgía) meaning “a public work.”

In Athens, the λειτουργία (leitourgía) was the public service performed by the wealthier citizens of the city state at their own expense (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Greek city-states, it had a different sense: some public good which a wealthy citizen arranged at his own expense, either voluntarily or by law. In Athens, the Assembly assigned liturgies to the wealthy, and there was a law by which any man who had been assigned a liturgy while a richer man had had none could challenge him either to undertake the liturgy or to exchange property with him.

In Athens, the λειτουργία (leitourgía) was the public service performed by the wealthier citizens at their own expense, such as the offices of:

The Gymnasium at Olympia, where the athletes trained ... the Gymnasíarchos superintended the gymnasium

Gymnasíarchos (γυμνασίαρχος), who superintended the gymnasium.

The Greek chorus in The Bacchai at the National Theatre ... the Choregós paid the members of the chorus in the theatre (Photograph: Tristram Kenton)

Choregós (χορηγός), who paid the members of the chorus in the theatre.

The hestiátoras gave a banquet ... and his public service finds a reminder in the modern Greek word for a restaurant, εστιατόριο (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Hestiátoras (εστιάτορας) who gave a banquet to his tribe – the word survives in the modern Greek, meaning a restaurateur (the modern Greek word for a restaurant is εστιατόριο, a place of public service, where the public is served food.

The Triérarchos in Athens outfitted and paid for a warship for the state (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Triérarchos (τριήραρχος) provided public service to the state in Athens by outfitting and paying for a warship for the state.

How do you see those four roles represented in those who provided the service of the people, the liturgy of the Church, today?


The meaning of the word liturgy is then extended to cover any general service of a public kind. In the Septuagint, the word liturgy (and the verb λειτουργέω leitourgéo) is used for the public service of the temple (e.g., Exodus 38: 27; 39: 12, etc). It then it came to have a religious sense: the function of the priests, the ritual service of the Temple (e.g., Joel, 1: 9; 2: 17, etc.).

Icon of the Priest Zacahary in the Temple

In the New Testament, this religious meaning has become definitely established. In Luke, 1: 23, Zachary goes home when “the days of his liturgy” (αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ, ai hemérai tes leitourgías autou) are over. In Hebrews 8: 6 (διαφορωτέρας τέτυχεν λειτουργίας, diaphorotéras tétuchen leitourgías), the high priest of the New Law “has obtained a better liturgy,” that is, a better kind of public religious service than that of the Temple.

So in Christian use, liturgy meant the public, official service of the Church that corresponded to the official service of the Temple in the Old Law.

In today’s usage, by liturgy we mean the form of rite or services prescribed by the various Christian churches.

The liturgy of the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox Eastern, and some other branches of the Church centres upon the Eucharist.

In the Western Church, the principal services traditionally centred on the Eucharist

In the Western Church, the principal service – in both the Gallican (including Celtic, Mozarabic and Ambrosian) and Roman families of the liturgy – centred on the Eucharist. In the Roman Catholic Church there are nine rites with distinctive liturgies, in various languages. The Orthodox Eastern Church has several liturgies. The ancient liturgies of the East are classified as Antiochene or Syrian, with modern liturgies in Greek, Old Slavonic, Romanian, Armenian, Arabic, and Syriac, and Alexandrine or Egyptian (with liturgies in Coptic and Ethiopic).

But, in a broader sense, liturgy includes the divine office (given in the Breviary) and also services other than the Eucharist.

With the Reformation, the Reformers generally shifted towards the sermon as the focus of formal worship, and adopted vernacular speech.

In the 20th century, the liturgical movement sought to purify and renew the liturgy. This movement is a shared experience for all Western churches. The changes the liturgical movement ushered in include:

• the use of vernacular languages in the liturgies;
• participation of the laity in public prayer,
• a new emphasis on music and song.
• the formulation and reform of services.
• and wider awareness of the value of form itself.

Two factors often lead to confusion:

1, Liturgy often means the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church, as opposed to private devotions.

In this sense we speak of the arrangement of all these services in certain set forms – including the canonical hours, administration of sacraments, etc. – that are used officially by any local church, as the liturgy of such a church: the Liturgy of Antioch, the Roman Liturgy, and so on. So liturgy means rite. We speak indifferently of the Byzantine Rite or the Byzantine Liturgy.

In the same way, we distinguish the official services from others by calling them liturgical. Those services are liturgical that are contained in any of the official books of a rite. In the Roman Church, for instance, Compline is a liturgical service, while the Rosary is not.

2, The word liturgy, now the common one in all Eastern Churches, restricts it to the chief official service only – the Eucharist or the rite we also call the Holy Communion. This is now practically the only sense in which leitourgia is used in Greek, or in its derived forms (e. g., Arabic al-liturgiah) by any Eastern Christian.

(B) Signs and symbols in today’s culture:

In our use of language today, we know the difference between signs, icons, symbols, indices, and what they actually represent or point us to:


Icons on computers serve as an international language

On the computer, icons serve as an international language:

• A half-open manila folder allows me to open a document or folder;
• Who remembers floppy discs? A floppy disc is not a floppy disc: it is an iconic sign allowing me to “Save the Present Document”;

These icons have international use and value. A new set of icons is developing for iPhones. But the icons work only if I can grasp the link between the sign and the function being carried out.


The weather cock on Christ Church Cathedral ... a weather cock on a church is not an icon, it is an index (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Unlike an icon, an index does not look like the concept it is conveying:

• A weather cock points to the direction the wind is blowing.
• An arrow on the road points the direction for traffic – it could be fatal to confuse it with an icon, and think there was a danger of an attack by archers if I continue to drive on.
• A knock on the door: this is not about the sound, but is an indication that someone outside wants to get in. If I attend to the sound and count the rhythm, they may go away.
• Clues point to a criminal, they are not the crime and they are not the criminal.

All of these depend on habit and custom, convention and interpretation. If we use the wrong one, if I am in the wrong place, if we make the wrong use of one or misinterpret an icon or an index, this may be alienating and even life-threatening.

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing ... but they all need to know whether to stop or to go at red and green lights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During the Cultural Revolution in China, the colour red indicated revolution and therefore forward thinking. Green turned to red at traffic lights, and red to green. If you misinterpret the colours of traffic lights – in Beijing or in Dublin – you may find yourself in the wrong lane, at best, in the casualty ward or funeral home at worst.

So, next week, I want us to look particularly at space and its role in the liturgy: liturgical space as liturgical icon and liturgical sign.

In preparation for that, I want you to watch next Sunday in your parish churches, and on Wednesday next at the Community Eucharist, at the ways in which we liturgically use signs, symbols and space.

(C) Introduction to the texts, readings and methodology:


The Book of Common Prayer (2004).
The Church Hymnal (5th ed., 2000).
C. Hefling, C. Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: OUP, 2006).
Graham Hughes, Worship as Meaning: a liturgical theology for late modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Harold Miller, The Desire of our Soul: a user’s guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Dublin: Columba, 2004).

Key text books:

Paul Bradshaw (ed), The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (London: SCM Press, 2nd ed, 2002).

Building up your own resources:

G.R. Evans and J.R. Wright (eds), The Anglican Tradition London: SPCK/Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1991).
S. Sykes and J. Booty (eds), The Study of Anglicanism (London: SPCK/Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).
J.F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 3rd ed, 2000).


Supplied each week, including this week for next week


• Lectures.
• Working in seminars and workshops.
• Your presentations, research, home work and group work.
• Preparation for and engagement in chapel life.


Liturgy 1.2:

: Ritual and symbol seen through the eyes of secular liturgy and ritual: Evaluating experiences, e.g., drug culture, sports, theatre, &c.

Next week:

Liturgy 2.1
: The theology of space, and its implications for church buildings.

Liturgy 2.2: The use of church buildings in relation to the mission of God expressed through the Church (Seminar, based on readings from Richard Giles)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes for a lecture on the MTh module, EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on Monday 26 September 2011

Liturgy: Introduction

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality:

Module outline, including schedule for lectures and workshops, module content, learning outcomes, teaching and learning methods, learning outcomes, teaching and learning methods, assessment, essay titles.

Schedule of Lectures:

Week 1, 30.09.2011: 1,
Introduction to liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language; 2, Ritual and symbol seen through the eyes of secular liturgy and ritual: evaluating experiences, e.g., drug culture, sports, theatre, &c.

Week 2, 07.10.2011: 1, The theology of space, and its implications for church buildings; 2,The use of church buildings in the mission of God expressed through the Church (Seminar with readings from Richard Giles).

Week 3, 14.10.2011: 1, Creation, Trinity and theologies of worship and prayer; 2, Traditions of prayer (1): seminar readings on Benedictine, Franciscan, prayer.

Week 4, 21.10.2011: 1, The development of the liturgical year and the daily office; 2, Traditions of prayer (2): seminar, readings on Reformation prayer.

Week 5, 28.10.2011: 1, The nature and theology of sacraments; 2, Traditions of prayer (3): seminar, patterns of prayer today (including all-age worship, participation of children in worship, worship and youth).

Week 6, 04.11.2011: 1, Baptism and Eucharist (1) from the early Church to the Reformers; 2, The Ministry of the Word: workshop on integrating homiletics and liturgy, reflections and experience.

Week 7, 11.11.2011: Reading Week.

Week 8, 18.11.2011: 1, Baptism and Eucharist (2) liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century; 2, Seminar: readings in ecumenical statements, e.g., WCC Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry

Week 9, 25.11.2011: 1, Baptism and Eucharist (3) the contemporary life and mission of the Church. Worship and inculturation. 2, Seminar: the ‘Word’ expressed in music and art.

Week 10, 02.12.2011: 1, Rites of passage, e.g., Marriages, Funerals; 2, Seminar: homiletics and homiletics in history: readings may include Saint Augustine, Thomas Cranmer, Lancelot Andrewes, John Wesley, Martin Luther King.

Week 11, 09.12.2011: 1, Theology of the whole people of God, the theology and rites of ordination; gender and ministry. 2, Seminar: Spirituality of ministry; readings on the minister as person, private, public and holy.

Week 12, 16.12.2011: 1, Course summary and integration; 2 Seminar: Creative liturgy (year presentation), or visit to public place of worship of another faith.

Module Content:

Offering time

1, The relationship between doctrines of creation/Trinity and Christian theology of worship and prayer.
2, The development of the liturgical year and the daily office.
3, Different traditions of prayer, e.g. Benedictine, Franciscan, Reformation, contemporary.
4, Patterns of prayer today (including all-age worship, participation of children in worship, worship and youth).

Means of grace

5, The nature and theology of sacraments.
6, Ritual and symbol.
7, The theology and development of rites of Baptism and the Eucharist in the early Church, the Protestant Reformers, liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century.
8, Ecumenical statements, e.g., WCC Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.
9, Baptism and Eucharist in the contemporary life and mission of the Church.
Worship and inculturation.
10, Rites of passage, e.g., Marriages, Funerals.

Making space

11, The Christian theology of space, and its implications for church buildings.
12, The use of church buildings in relation to the mission of God expressed through the Church.

Worship and the Word

13, The Ministry of the Word.
14, A critical grasp of the history of homiletics, including close study of examples, e.g. Augustine, Thomas Cranmer, Lancelot Andrewes, John Wesley, Martin Luther King.
15, Patterns and models of homiletics for the context of 21st century Ireland.
16, The ‘Word’ expressed in music and art.
17, The relationship between Word and Sacrament.

Ministers of faith

18, Theology of the whole people of God, and within that the theology of ordination.
19, How such theology is expressed in rites of ordination, historical and contemporary.
20, The minister as person, private, public and holy. .
21, Spirituality for ministry; the practice of spiritual direction, in history and contemporary examples; gender, spirituality and ministry.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this module students will be able:

• To understand and appropriate the history, theology and liturgical praxis of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry;
• To appreciate the significance of both time and place in Christian worship and mission;
• To be able to articulate the way in which liturgies can both reflect and challenge social norms
• To engage critically with the history of homiletics in the creation and delivery of sermons.
• To display knowledge of the diversity of approaches to spirituality found in the history of the Church; to appreciate the theory and practice of spiritual direction against the background of the history of Christian spirituality; to show awareness of the relationship between different personality types and different paths in Christian spirituality; to demonstrate appreciation of the need for a minister to develop a personal spiritual discipline.

Teaching and Learning Methods:

This module will be taught through a series of lectures and student-led seminars.
Students are required to take part in and lead class seminars and also to take part in collaborative small groups and independent study.

There will be a joint seminar with each of the other two strands – Biblical Studies and Theology.

Semester: 1; Hours: 2 per week; 5 Credits

Assessment: 2,500 words of coursework (e.g. essay or project as agreed by the course leader)

Date for submission: 17 December 2010.

Essay titles:

1, Discuss the principal institution narratives in the New Testament and explain the liturgical problems and insights that may be gained from the narrative of the Last Supper in Saint John’s Gospel.

2, Identify the principal differences between Order I and II for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer (2004), and compare the advantages and disadvantages in using them in a contemporary parish setting on Sundays.


Discuss the three Eucharistic Prayers for Holy Communion 2 in The Book of Common Prayer (2004), comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences in emphases.

3, Outline the changes and reforms in Anglican rites of the Holy Communion (Eucharist) at the Reformation, and outline how they were influenced by changes and developments in the Continental Reformations.


Trace the background to the development of the Sarum Rite or Use of Sarum and discuss its relevance to the development of The Book of Common Prayer (2004) and Anglican liturgy.

4, Discuss the contribution of either John Keble or Charles Gore to the Anglican understandings of tradition and the sacraments, compare them with those of Charles Simeon, and discuss the relevance of their writings today.


Outline and compare the contribution to our understandings of Anglican spirituality made by two of the following writers: Evelyn Underhill, Dorothy Sayers, Cecil Frances Alexander or Elizabeth Canham.

5, Explain the importance of the Eucharistic chapters in the Didache and discuss their relevance for thinking about liturgy in the contemporary church.


‘The Apostolic Fathers and the Desert Fathers provided the inspiration for Christian spirituality throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.’ Discuss their relevance to the Christian tradition of spirituality.

6, Discuss the Service of the Word as outlined in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) and examine the principal opportunities and difficulties it provides in organising a Sunday service in (a) a traditional parish and (b) a new church plant.

7, Baptism has been described as the foundational sacrament of the church. Discuss how you understand the role of baptism in the life of a parish today.


Baptism and confirmation are generally used as two separate rites today. Outline the arguments both for and against maintaining the current practice.

8, Explain the opportunities and difficulties in trying to create a sense of ‘sacred space’ in a contemporary or modern building, discuss the liturgical problems that need to be faced, and explain how you would seek to overcome them.


Give three examples of what may be described as public or secular liturgies, draw comparisons between your examples and the conduct of liturgy in the Church, and discuss the lessons that can be learned and shared mutually.

Required or Recommended Reading:

P. Bradshaw (ed), The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (London: SCM Press, 2nd ed, 2002).
S. Burns, SCM Studyguide to Liturgy (London: SCM Press, 2006).
M. Earey, G. Myers (eds), Common Worship Today: an illustrated guide to Common Worship today (London: HarperCollins, 2001).
R. Giles, Creating uncommon worship (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
R. Giles, Re-pitching the tent (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 3rd edition, 2004).
C. Hefling, C. Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: OUP, 2006).
G. Hughes, Worship as Meaning: a liturgical theology for late modernity (Cambridge: CUP, 2003).
C. Jones, G. Wainwright, E. Yarnold, P. Bradshaw (eds), The Study of Liturgy (London: SPCK, 1992).
H. Miller, The Desire of our Soul: a user’s guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
M. Perham, New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy (London: SPCK, 2000).
R. Thompson, SCM Studyguide to the Sacraments (London: SCM Press, 2006).
J.F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 3rd ed, 2000).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This module outline was prepared for Year II students on the MTh course at the start of the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on 26 September 2011

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Skies and seas of blue, green and golden fields

Sailing in the bright blue yonder ... Greystones, Co Wicklow, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

It was warm today. It was almost as if we were being reminded of the unfulfilled promises of what summer ought to have been this year. The temperatures in south Dublin and north Co Wicklow rose to 18 and 19, and there are promises of warmer, sunnier days in the week ahead – just as the students return for a new academic year.

Coming back from Belfast to Dublin on the train last night, darkness closed in at Newry, and had completely enveloped the countryside before the train even reached Dundalk. I peered out as the train passed over the Boyne at Drogheda, hoping to get a glimpse of the estuary waters. He train then moves little inland, but at Laytown and Balbriggan there were glimpses of the coast and a harbour once again.

And then, as the train moved along the line that runs parallel with the coast road between Balbriggan and Skerries, beside Ardgillan estate, the North Strand and harbour at Skerries spread out in a delightful and bejewelled arc to the east.

Glimpses of the sea were hidden in the dark by the time the train passed from Rush over Rogerstown estuary to Donabate, and the last glimpse of the sea was under the lights of the marina and the boatyards at Malahide.

I was hardly going to miss an opportunity to walk on the beach today if it came my way.

Here was lunchtime meeting in Rathmines with a bishop, three people from the agency Feed the Minds, two people from the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Apeal Fund and two ordinands.

And as I stepped out into the sunshine in Rathmines, it was obvious those bright blue skies and the warm sunshine were gifts that were going to remain for the afternoon.

A feeling of a lingering, if not enduring, summer in Greystones this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

We ended up in Greystones, were people were walking along the cliffs, and down on the small beach behind the new harbour families were gathered in small numbers, and two dogs were chasing in and out of the water. People braving the water included a happy little girl, one elderly woman and two people in wet suits with snorkels.

Out in the water, there was a large number of sailing boats.

Oh what a summer this could have been.

Waves on the shore in Greystones this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Crossing over the railway line, we had coffee in Insomnia on the Main Street, before heading back under the railway line for another walk on the main beach.

Fields of green and gold above Greystones, looking out to the Irish Sea this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

We headed back through fields of green and gold that looked back out onto the sea, through Enniskerry and Glencree, back over the Feather Bed by Lough Dan, and down through Hell Fire Cub Forest.

Indeed, oh what a summer this could have been.

Green fields in Glencree, looking across to the Sugarloaf (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

New term begins in CITI

Welcome to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Church of Ireland notes in The Irish Times today [Saturday, 24 September 2011] opens with the following news item:

Next Monday lecture term begins in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

There will be 17 ordinands in full-time training in years one and two of a three year course and a further 13 ordinands are in part time training. The third year students, of whom there are 17, are being ordained as deacon interns and will spend a year dividing their time between working in a parish and continuing their studies in the institute.

In addition to those who have been selected for ministerial training a further 30 students are involved in the Foundation Year programme, the successful completion of which is an essential prerequisite to selection for training.

The institute’s teaching staff is unchanged although there has been some re–allocation of responsibilities. The Director is the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott and he is assisted by Canon Patrick Comerford who teaches Anglicanism and liturgy, Dr Katie Heffelfinger who lectures in biblical studies and hermeneutics, the Rev Patrick McGlinchey, par- time lecturer in missology, and the Revd Ted Woods who is the part time MTh internship co–ordinator. In addition teaching is provided by staff from TCD and the ISE and by visiting lecturers.

A day or two in Belfast

A day or two at Edgehill Theological College, off the Malone Road in Belfast (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I have just spent the last day or two working in Edgehill Theological College off the Malone Road in Belfast. The Edgehill campus at Lennoxvale is near the main buildings of the Queen's University of Belfast and the university halls of residence.

The college is a ministry of the Methodist Church in Ireland, providing ministerial formation, university education, adult education and training.

The college also hosts the Edgehill Reconciliation Programme, which contributes to peace-building in Northern Ireland through a range of educational, cross-community and inter-Church projects.

Edgehill Theological College has close links with the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, including exchanges, and in recent weeks has started a partnership with Saint John’s College, Nottingham.

From 1868, Methodist ministerial training was located at the Methodist College, Belfast. But it soon became clear that a separate centre was necessary.

The site and premises at Lennoxvale were bought in 1919 to establish a residential and training centre for students preparing for the ordained ministry.

After the 3.5 acre site and main house at Lennoxvale were bought, auxiliary buildings were added and the separation of the Theological Department from the Methodist College was approved by the Methodist Conference in 1926, a process that was completed by Act of Parliament in 1928. Since then, Edgehill Theological College has served the Methodist Church in Ireland for over 80 years.

Bright new premises at Edgehill were built in 2001-2002, and the college now has a new library, lecture rooms – which also serve as a Conference Centre – a spacious dining area, a Resource Centre (‘No 9’), a Methodist Study Centre, a renovated worship centre and offices.

The main house at Edghehill Theological College, Belfast, was designed by Young and Mackenzie (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

At the heart of the small Edgehill campus is a large, two-storey Italianate house with triple arcaded entrance porch, stables and conservatory which were added in 1891. This main house was designed by Young and Mackenzie, a Belfast architectural partnership formed by Robert Young and his former pupil, John Mackenzie, in 1867 or 1868. The partnership was joined by Young’s only son, Robert Magill Young, in 1880.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the Youngs and Mackenzie had developed the most successful architectural practice in Belfast. They had become the leading architects for the Presbyterian Church in the north-east and their commercial commissions in Belfast included the Scottish Provident and Ocean Buildings in Donegall Square and the Presbyterian Assembly’s Hall.

The interior of the Chapel in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, designed by Adam Bunyan Dobson in 1937 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In 1932, the Belfast architect Adam Bunyan Dobson designed the Principal’s House, which stands on the south side of the main house, and where I stayed on Thursday night as a guest of the principal, the Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck, and the Revd Diane Clutterbuck, former Methodist missionaries in Tonga. In 1937, Dobson also designed the chapel, where I spoke, preached and presided at the Eucharist yesterday [Friday].

Dobson, who was born in Belfast in 1870, was a pupil of William John Gilliland, and had set up his own practice in Belfast by 1923. He was mainly involved in designing houses for developers and, during the 1930s, in work for the Methodist Church, of which he was a member. He retired to live in Whitehead, Co Antrim, around 1947.

The Lanyon Building at Queen’s University Belfast ... Lanyon’s designs were influenced by Magdalen College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Most of the buildings on Lennoxvale are owned by Queen’s University Belfast, and the main university building – within a short walk – is one of the great architectural set pieces in Belfast. Its imposing front façade is instantly recognisable, and it is often seen on banknotes and tourist posters.

The original campus is centred on the Lanyon Building. The enduring symbol of Queen’s University, the original building was completed in 1849 and is known as the Lanyon Building after its architect, Sir Charles Lanyon.

The then Queen’s College was established, along with colleges in Cork and Galway, under Sir Robert Peel’s Irish Colleges Act 1845. A site in the southern suburbs of the rapidly expanding Belfast was chosen, close to the Botanic Gardens which had been laid out in 1841.

Lanyon was then the Antrim County Surveyor and was already a well-established architect when he was chosen to design the new college. His design borrowed from the general Gothic and Tudor character of the great mediaeval universities, particularly Magdalen College, Oxford, and reflected the architectural ethos of the day that drew on historical associations to create an air of authority and of presence.

The soft red brick and sandstone mellowed quickly to create a sense of antiquity or even timelessness. The long west-facing front elevation conveyed a size and status that reflected the ambitions of the new Queen’s College.

The drawings were largely prepared by Lanyon’s young assistant, William Henry Lynn, who went on to leave his own mark on the university over many years.

The college was almost finished in August 1849 when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Belfast – their only visit to Belfast. The college finally opened that December.

Across the street, Elmwood Hall is housed in the former Elmwood Presbyterian Church, which was designed by John Corry in 1859 and opened in 1862. It is one of Belfast’s best High Victorian designs – an Irish version of a Lombard Gothic church.

Fisherwick Presbyterian Church ... unusual for its Gothic, cruciform design, it has a window designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

On the way back to Lennoxvale and Edgehill, I passed by Fisherwick Presbyterian Church, which opened in 1901. This beautiful, robust-looking edifice is typical of the late Victorian and Edwardian period and was designed by the architect SP Close.

The congregation was originally located in Fisherwick Place, but many of its members moved from the city centre to the leafy suburban streets around the Malone Road at the end of the 19th century, and as they moved they even took with them the monuments and memorials from the original, earlier church.

The Gothic style and shape of the building is at odds with the traditional forms for a Presbyterian church, and is in the shape of a crucifix. The stained glass window in the south transept was designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and depicts the Incarnation and the Nativity.

In 1874, Burne-Jones also designed the chapel east window in Saint George’s Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, for William Morris. Burne-Jones and Morris worked closely with Ford Madox Brown, including working together in Saint Editha’s, and all were members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The first major exhibition of Ford Madox Brown’s work since 1964 opens in Manchester Art Gallery today [24 September]. The exhibition brings together 140 works from public and private collections, including his epic paintings of Victorian life, Work and The Last of England. This comprehensive survey of Brown’s work looks at the pioneering role the artist played in the development of Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Little children, love one another

The Chapel, Edgehill Theological College, Belfast (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

The Holy Communion,

The Chapel,
Edgehill Theological College, Belfast,
3.15 p.m., 23 September 2011;

1 John 4: 7-16; John 1: 1-14

This is the point in the Methodist service of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion or the Eucharist, where it says there should be a sermon.

And I have prepared a sermon for this sermon.

It is the shortest sermon I may ever preach, but it gets to the kernel of what we have been talking about today.

‘Little children, love one another.’

That is enough.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This ‘sermon’ was delivered at the closing Holy Communion service at “I Make all Things New,” a quiet day for the beginning of the academic year, in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, on 23 September 2011.

New beginnings in … the Book of Revelation

‘Now the light falls ... I said to my soul, be still, and wait ...’ autumn sunsets turn to winter at Skerries Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-7, 22: 20-21.

The end of the New Testament, like the beginning of the corpus of Johannine writings, offers new beginnings with the promise of a new heaven and the new earth.

Thomas Russell, “The man from God knows where” was a Belfast revolutionary from the United Irishmen of 1798, who combined his revolutionary politics with a strong visionary brand of millenarianism and pious sacramentalism. His knowledge of the Bible was so exact that he could argue with professional theologians on interpretations from both Hebrew and Greek.

He was arrested before the 1798 Rising began, and his writings in Newgate Prison in Dublin exhibit a deep self-examination coupled with a strong personal faith:

O Lord God … it is not from thy justice
Before which I stand condemned
That I expect salvation,
But from thy mercy that I expect pardon and forgiveness,
My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Russell was deported to Scotland in 1799. When he was eventually executed in 1803, it was after he had spent his last hours translating from his Greek New Testament verses from the Book of Revelation that summarised his politically beatific and visionary millenarianism: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (Revelation 21: 1).

But that promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth are not only for the revolutionary or for millenarian visionaries.

The promise of a new heaven and a new earth, the promise of a new beginning, is offered to each one of us. It is our beginning and our end.

As we approach the season of Advent we are approaching not the end of the year but the beginning of the Christian New Year. And we prepare not so much for the cultural comforts that surround the Christ Child in the Christmas crib, but for the coming of Christ the King in triumph.

Those who use liturgical colours often think of the Purple of Advent and Lent is a penitential colour. But it is not. It is a royal colour.

In human colour psychology, purple is associated with royalty and nobility – an association that dates back to classical antiquity, when purple dye from Tyre could be afforded only by the ruling and social elites. Purple (πορφύρα, porphura), was a Tyrian purple dye manufactured in classical antiquity from a mucus secreted by the spiny dye-murex snail, a molusc found only on the shores of Tyre.

It was so rare and so expensive that the Syro-Phoenician woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon and Lydia the seller of purple may have been wealthy women of independent means.

In the Byzantine Empire, only a child born into the imperial family had the right to wear this unique colour, and was thus “born to the purple.” In the Byzantine Empire, empresses retreated to give birth in chambers lined in porphyry, so that their children were “born to the purple” This fact, too may have contributed to the origin of this expression.

For those interested in the particularities of colour, purple is a non-spectral colour, unlike violet and indigo, which are spectral colours. Purple is beyond our abilities to define, and because of the differences between individuals when it comes to retinal sensitivity and particularly sensitivity to red and blue light, most of us actually disagree about what is true purple.

What a beautiful conundrum for the colour that should invite us think beyond the limitations of time and space.

Advent and Lent, the seasons of purple, invite us to think of our beginnings and our ends. For Advent and Lent are the times we prepare for the coming of Christ as king, and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.

In our beginning is our end, in our end is our beginning.

A terrace of almshouses in East Coker ... the village that inspired TS Eliot was his ancestral home and his ashes are buried at the parish church ... “In my beginning is my end”

TS Eliot’s East Coker, the second of his Four Quartets, is set in late November, as we move towards Advent, and ends: “In my end is my beginning.”

But it opens:

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation …

In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane …

Wait for the early owl.

And once again, I call to mind TS Eliot in East Coker:

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God …

And yet, in this apocalyptic visionary, poem, Eliot is neither all doom nor all gloom. In East Coker he offers a solution, he offers hope:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

In The Dry Salvages, the third of the Four Quartets, Eliot strives to contain opposites:

... the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled.

Little Gidding is the last and the most anthologised of the Four Quartets. In Little Gidding, Eliot ends the Four Quartets with the well-known affirmation by Julian of Norwich:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

In Little Gidding, Eliot is exposes the expression of the Catholic faith as set out particularly by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), who is commemorated in Anglican calendars on 25 September. He was one of the key translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible, whose 400th anniversary we have been marking this year, and was the first among the group of Anglican theologians we know as the Caroline Divines.

The Orthodox theologian and biographer of Lancelot Andrewes, Professor Nicholas Lossky has described Andrewes as “a Bridge betwwen Orthodoxy and the Wesley Brothers in the Realm of Prayer.” Incidentally, the last member of this group, William Ken (1637-1711), had a profound and deep influence on the spirituality of John Wesley.

‘To make an end is to make a beginning’ ... tangled bicycles abandoned in the snow in Temple Bar, Dublin, last winter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In Little Gidding, Eliot echoes Lancelot Andrewes in paradoxical lines that crystallise the significance of the Incarnation:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

… A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.

The community at Little Gidding, formed in the 17th century by Nicholas Ferrar, maintained 24 hours of prayer, including long hours of night vigils. Little Gidding was a place “where prayer has been valid” and where “prayer is more/than an order of words”:

… You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

The Four Quartets are best understood within the framework of Christian thinking, tradition, and history. Eliot draws upon the theology, art, symbolism and language of such figures as Dante, and mystics, such as Saint John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. The “deeper communion” sought in East Coker, the “hints and whispers of children, the sickness that must grow worse in order to find healing,” and the exploration that inevitably leads us home all point to the pilgrim’s path along the road to sanctification.

You are here today for new beginnings, but they point to our end.

And yet the end is our beginning.

And so, in the words of the Advent Collect, let us pray:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast off the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
so that when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This address the third of three addresses at “I Make all Things New,” a quiet day for the beginning of the academic year, in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, on 23 September 2011.