Monday, 28 November 2011

Paying tribute to the Keeper

Front Square in Trinity College Dublin in the dark and the rain this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

The Christmas lights were decked across Grafton Street this evening as I made way to Trinity College Dublin for a reception in the Long Room in the Library. We were gathered to pay tributes to Dr Muriel McCarthy, who retired last month as Keeper of Marsh’s Library.

Muriel has been on the staff of Marsh’s Library for the past 44 years, and was Keeper for the last 22 years, until she retired on 13 October. Among those present to pay tribute to Muriel were her twin sister, Mairead, and Mairead’s husband, the Wexford historian and journalist Nicky Furlong; Muriel’s son, the filmmaker Justin McCarthy; and clergy, librarians, historians and academics from throughout Ireland.

Muriel was the first woman to be appointed Keeper, and has published a history of the library. Her contribution to the cultural life of Ireland has been recognised by many awards, including honorary degrees from Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland Maynooth, life membership of the Royal Dublin Society and the Old Dublin Society, the Lord Mayor’s awards in 1988 and 1994, and being appointed a lay canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.

We were regaled with stories about Muriel’s achievements at Marsh’s, which include restoring the fabric of the building, creating and developing the Delmas Conservation Bindery and computerising the entire library catalogue which is now available on the internet.

Those paying tribute to her included Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin, the Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Professor Patrick Prendergast, and the Vice-Provost, Dr Jane Ohlmeyer, who is the Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin. All three are ex-officio Governors and Guardians of the Library, and were introduced by Muriel’s successor, Dr Jason McElligott, who read for his Ph.D. in modern history at Saint John’s College, Cambridge. Since 2008, he has worked at the Trinity Long Room Hub, the arts and humanities research institute at TCD.

The other Governors and Guardians of Marsh’s Library include the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, the Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, the Archbishop of Armagh and the Chief Justice of Ireland.

Marsh’s Library is in Saint Patrick’s Close, beside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and it is said that to study and examine the books in Marsh’s Library “is to explore Europe’s great cultural heritage.”

Marsh’s Library, which stands in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Close, was founded over 300 years ago in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713), a former Provost of Trinity College Dublin.

This was the first public library in Ireland, and is one of the few 18th century buildings left in Dublin that is still used for its original purpose. We were told too that many of the books in the library are still on the shelves allocated to them by Archbishop Marsh and by the first librarian, Elias Bouhéreau.

The Library was formally incorporated in 1707 by an Act of Parliament called “An Act for settling and preserving a public library for ever.” As one speaker asked, which wise legislator today would now introduce an act containing the words “for ever”?

The 1707 Act vested the house and books in a number of religious and state dignitaries and officials and their successors as Governors and Guardians of the Library.

In 1705 Narcissus Marsh paid £2,500 for the library of Bishop Edward Stillingfleet of Worcester, almost 10,000 books and then regarded as the finest private library in England. In turn, Archbishop Marsh left all his books to the library, and when he died in 1713 he was buried nearby in the grounds of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

The first librarian, Dr Elias Bouhéreau, was a Huguenot refugee who fled France in 1695. Later, Bishop John Stearne of Clogher, bequeathed his books to Marsh’s Library in 1745.

There four main collections in the library include 25,000 books from the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries, including 80 books printed before 1501, 430 books printed in Italy before 1600, 1,200 books printed in England before 1640, and 5,000 books printed in England before 1700. There is a large collection of liturgical works, missals, breviaries, books of hours of the Sarum use, Bibles, and books on theology and religious controversy, as well as books on medicine, law, science, travel, navigation, mathematics, music, surveying, classical literature and Irish history.

Other proud possessions include a Latin version of the Lives of the Irish Saints, dating from about 1400, and rare 16th century madrigals printed in Venice, Antwerp and London.

Through her lectures, her books and her work Muriel has raised the profile of Marsh’s Library in recent decades. In recognition of her achievements, we were told, the Governors have established a Research Fellowship fund in her name.

As I left the lbrary and walked across Front Square, the rain had started coming down. Perhaps winter has arrived. But it is less than a month to Christmas.

The Christmas lights decked across Grafton Street this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Liturgy 8.2: Seminar, the ‘Word’ expressed in music and art

Stained glass windows in the chapel of Gormanston College, Co Meath ... inspired by the architecture and art of Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

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

Liturgy 8.2: 28 November 2011


Seminar: the ‘Word’ expressed in music and art.

For this seminar, linking the word, in its liturgical context, with music and art, I have chosen some of my favourite examples from paintings, architecture, music and poetry.

1, Paintings:

My two chosen paintings are Holman Hunt’s Light of the World and Stanley Spencer’s The Resurrection, Cookham (1923-1927).

1.1: Holman Hunt, The Light of the World

“Be like those who are waiting for their master ... that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” ... Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World

One of the earliest images I have of Christ is William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World – it was the first image of Christ I remember being shown to me by my grandmother as a small boy in her house in West Waterford.

There are two original copies of this famous painting. The first painting was moved to Keble College, Oxford, and became so popular that Holman Hunt was asked to paint a larger copy. This second version was sold on condition that it toured the world to preach the Gospel and the purchaser would provide cheap colour reproductions. After travelling the world, this second version of The Light of the World was presented to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, in 1904. There it remains to this day as “a painted text, a sermon on canvas.”

There are countless copies of this painting in vestries and sacristies, rectories and vicarages, and homes throughout the Anglican Communion.

Despite the popularity of this great work of art, few people know what the artist was trying to say, or the spiritual depths he searched, as he worked on this painting. Yet it remains one of the great artistic expressions of Anglican spirituality.

Holman Hunt was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – those young artists and poets of the Victorian era who reacted vigorously against “the frivolous art of the day.” They included Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister, the poet Christina Rossetti. Their paintings of religious or romantic subjects were clear and sharply focused. They believed that art is essentially spiritual in character and that mediaeval culture had a spiritual and creative integrity that was lost in later eras.

William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) received his middle name through a clerical error at his baptism in 1827 in Saint Mary’s, Ewell, near Epsom. He was raised in Cheapside in an evangelical family, where he spent much time reading the Bible. He left school at 12, but he persuaded his parents to send him to the Royal Academy Schools to train as a painter.

Holman Hunt began painting The Light of the World in 1851. When it was displayed in 1853, it was harshly criticised. But John Ruskin defended Holman Hunt, and curiosity about the painting reached such a pitch that it went on a national tour by demand.

Holman Hunt later recalled: “I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good subject.”

To achieve realism, Holman Hunt did much of this painting at night by the light of a lamp in Ewell, where he was baptised.

The work is full of symbolic meaning, with the contrasts between light and dark, and between luxuriant, abundant plants and the thorns and weeds. The painting shows Christ, the Light of the World (John 8: 12), knocking on an overgrown and long-unopened door: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you, and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3: 20).

In his painting, Christ’s head bears two crowns: the earthly crown of shame and his heavenly crown of glory. The thorny crown is beginning to bud and to blossom. These are not thorns from a hawthorn hedge, or briars from an overgrown garden in England. These are thorns from branches thrown by soldiers in Palestine on a barrack-room brazier, with spikes three to four inches long, twisted into a rough-and-ready crown set firmly on Christ’s head, each sharp spike drawing blood.

Christ’s loving eyes look directly at you wherever you stand to view this painting. But the sadness on his face is painful. His listening aspect shows that even at the eleventh hour he knocks, hoping for an answer. His hands are nail-pierced, his half-open right hand is raised in blessing, but his feet are turned away, as if he is about to go. For he has been knocking, and he has been left waiting.

For Christ’s royal mantle, Holman Hunt draped his mother’s best tablecloth around his model, but the symbolism was lost on many. Christ who knocks at the door invites us to his table and to the heavenly banquet. The mantle might be a liturgical cope, linking this scene with the eschatological promise in the Eucharist. This cope or mantle is secured by the Urim and Thummim, clasped by the Cross in a symbol of Judaism and Christianity being brought together.

Christ’s robe is seamless, symbolising the unity of the Body of Christ.

Christ’s lantern lights up his features, the doorway, and the way ahead. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119: 105). To those living in darkness, Christ is waiting to enter their lives. The cords of the lamp, twisted around Christ’s wrist, symbolise the intense unity between Christ and the Church.

The shut door has no latch, no handle, no keyhole – it can only be opened from inside. But the iron-work is rusted, for it is a long time since this door has been opened. The door to our hearts has to be opened from within, through repentance and faith, faith that flowers and bears fruit.

The door is overgrown with the dead weeds and trailing ivy that choke up flowers and any fruit. They would not be there had the door been kept open. All the plants have been overtaken by brambles, because this a place to which the gardener has not come.

Above flies a bat, blind and unable to see in the darkness, long associated with ruin and neglect. Below, the fruit has fallen to the ground and some are rotten. Yet the light from the lamp shows this fruit has come from a good tree.

I think of yesterday’s Gospel reading (Mark 13: 24-37) as I ask: When Christ comes knocking at your door, will those in the house be prepared and ready?

Will Christ be welcome to sit down and eat? Will he find the fruits of faith are flowering? Or will they be crushed and scattered on the ground beneath him?

1.2: Stanley Spencer, The Resurrection, Cookham (1923-1927):

Stanley Spencer, The Resurrection, Cookham (1923-1927):

This painting hangs in the Tate Gallery in London and I have been intrigued by it long before it was used to illustrate a major feature of mine in The Irish Times.

Stanley Spencer (1891-1956) believed that the divine rested in all creation. His earthy Christian faith and his preoccupation with death and resurrection are reflected in many of his works. His mural for the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, dedicated to the dead of World War I, has an altarpiece depicting the Resurrection of the Soldiers.

Stanley Spencer was born in and spent most of his life in the Thames-side village of Cookham in Berkshire, about 30 miles west of London. One of 12 children, he seems to have had an enchanted childhood. Perhaps this explains why he saw his home town of Cookham as a paradise in which everything is invested with mystical significance.

Characters and stories drawn from the daily Bible readings with his father inspired his future work. Much of his greatest work depicts Biblical scenes, from miracles to the Crucifixion. However, they are set not in the Holy Land, but – like this painting, The Resurrection, Cookham (1923–1927) – are set in Cookham, which he referred to as “a village in heaven.” Cookham and its familiar figures became the ingredients for most of his paintings, with actual villagers depicted as Biblical characters.

The Resurrection, Cookham is the first of a great series of resurrection paintings. The entire population of the village – including Spencer – is seen popping out of their graves in the churchyard in Cookham, looking as dapper as ever, squinting in the sunlight of bright sunny day.

Christ is enthroned in the church porch, cradling three babies, with God the Father standing behind. Spencer himself appears near the centre, naked, leaning against a grave stone. His fiancée Hilda Carline – whom he married in 1925 while working on this painting – lies sleeping in a bed of ivy. At the top left, we can see risen souls being transported to Heaven in the pleasure steamers that then ploughed along the River Thames.

But do you notice anything odd here? This is a resurrection without a last judgment. It seems everyone in Cookham is to be forgiven their sins.

Some questions:

Do you think either of these artists is trying to say something about liturgy of word and liturgy of sacrament in these paintings?

What connection is Holman Hunt’s image of Christ making with Eucharistic symbolism?

How is he trying to make visual connections between the Eucharist and the Word?

What is Stanley Sepncer saying about the goodness of people and the way we conduct funerals, preach at funerals, or preach about the resurrection?

2, Architecture:

Once again, I have two choices this afternoon. But instead of choosing two Gothic revival churches designed by Pugin, I have chosen two works of modern architecture, one Anglican and one Roman Catholic: Coventry Cathedral in the English Midlands, and the Church of the Sacred Heart in Laytown, on the coast of Co Meath.

2.1: Coventry Cathedral

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)

In the 1990s, a national poll in Britain saw Coventry Cathedral elected as Britain’s favourite 20th century building. It never fails to move, excite and delight all who visit and worship here, and it had a remarkable influence on church architecture from the 1950s on, influencing even the design of my own school chapel in Gormanston, Co Meath.

The cathedral’s international work, through its Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation and the Community of the Cross of Nails, has provided spiritual and practical support in areas of conflict throughout the world, and has made Coventry Cathedral known internationally.

The story of Coventry dates back for more than 1,000 years, and includes the story of the 12th century Priory Church of Saint Mary, the mediaeval Parish Church Cathedral of Saint Michael and the modern Coventry Cathedral, also named after Saint Michael.

Saint Mary’s, the earliest cathedral in Coventry, was founded as a Benedictine community in 1043. The modern Diocese of Coventry was formed in 1918, and Saint Michael’s Church became its cathedral. On the night of 14 November 1940, Coventry was destroyed by German bombs, and along with it the cathedral was burned down.

The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the next morning. But rebuilding was not to be an act of defiance; rather, it was to be seen as a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future. The vision of the Provost at the time, the Vey Revd Dick Howard, led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred and led to the cathedral’s Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation.

Instead of sweeping away the ruins or rebuilding a replica of the former church, the leaders of the cathedral community took the courageous step to build a new cathedral and preserve the remains of the old cathedral as a moving reminder of the folly and waste of war.

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

The foundation stone was laid on 23 March 1956 and the new cathedral was consecrated on 25 May 1962, and Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was written to mark the occasion. The ruins remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living Cathedral.

The new cathedral was an inspiration to many fine artists of the post-war era. The architect Sir Basil Spence commissioned works from Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ralph Beyer, John Hutton, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink and others.

The modernist design of Coventry Cathedral caused much controversy at the time, but it rapidly became a hugely popular symbol of reconciliation in post-war Britain. The interior is notable for:

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

● The large tapestry of Christ, designed by Graham Sutherland.
John Bridgeman emotive sculpture of the Mater Dolorosa in the East end.
● John Piper’s Baptistery window that fills the full height of the bowed baptistery; it is made of 195 panes, ranging from white to deep colours.
● The stained glass windows in the Nave, by Lawrence Lee, Keith New and Geoffrey Clarke, facing away from the congregation, the opposite pairs representing a pattern of growth from birth to old age, and culminating in heavenly glory nearest the altar, with one side representing Humanity, the other side representing the Divine.
● The Great West Window known as the Screen of Saints and Angels, engraved directly onto the screen in expressionist style by John Hutton.
● The foundation stone, the ten stone panels inset into the walls of the cathedral called the Tablets of the Word, and the baptismal font, designed and carved by Ralph Beyer, a German émigré.
● The Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, at the end of the liturgical south aisle (to the right of the altar and tapestry), featuring a striking gold mosaic of a Byzantine-like angel, offering the chalice. The angel was designed by Stephen Sykes, and the chapel is separated by a bronze screen in the shape of a crown of thorns.

2.2: The Church of the Sacred Heart, Laytown, Co Meath:

The East Window of the parish church in Laytown looks out onto the beach and across the Irish Sea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Laytown is one of the locations for my regular each walks. But, from an architectural perspective, the most captivating building on the shoreline at Laytown is the Church of the Sacred Heart. The first church on this site was built in 1879, but was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the new parish church. The façade from the original 19th century church has been retained, but the new building is a 1970s circular-plan single room.

Light shafts in the walls and the ceiling illuminate the interior of church. Behind the altar, a large window looks out to the sea, with a 20-ft wooden cross on the hill behind the window.

The foundation stone for the new church was blessed by Pope John Paul II at Knock in September 1979, and the church was blessed and opened in October 1979. But the architects incorporated into the new church the façade of the earlier church, with its yellow brick gable-fronted entrance and buttresses, set on a rock-faced limestone plinth. It has a pointed arch door opening and triple lancet windows with a limestone dressing.

They must be deeply spiritual moments when the rising sun shines in from the Irish Sea through the large east window during early morning Masses, or the sea outside is wild and the waves are high on a winter’s Sunday morning.

The façade of the 19th century church has been retained as part of the modern parish church in Laytown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

3, Music:

Vaughan Williams co-edited the English Hymnal with Percy Dearmer, and wrote the scores for many of our popular carols

Secular understandings of “Anglican culture” include shared music from Henry Purcell to John Rutter. I have already mentioned Benjamin Britten in the context of Coventry Cathedral, but think too of composers like William Byrd, Edward Elgar, Orlando Gibbons, Herbert Howells, John Ireland, John Marbeck, Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, Thomas Tallis, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Charles Wood, to name but a few.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), one of the greatest English composers of the last century, was the musical editor of The English Hymnal, which he co-edited with Percy Dearmer. He wrote symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, arranged a number of hymns, adapting them to popular melodies, and collected English folk music, folk dance and songs.

I was first introduced to the music of Vaughan Williams 40 years ago when I was 19 and I was staying in Wilderhope Manor on the slopes of Wenlock Edge. It was 1971 and I was walking through Shropshire, visiting small towns and villages such as Much Wenlock, Church Stretton, Longville and Shipton. Appropriately, the warden of the youth hostel suggested I should listen to Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge.

Six settings of poems from A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad make up On Wenlock Edge, which is Vaughan Williams’s first totally characteristic work. The landscape inhabited by Housman is that of a mythical, idealised Shropshire, similar to the Wessex evoked in the novels of Thomas Hardy. His dominant themes are love, and a post-industrial pastoral nostalgia, infused with expressions of disillusionment at the sacrifice of the young soldiers going to war, never to return.

His other works include In the Fen Country (1904), Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 (1906, revised in 1914), The Wasps, based on the play by Aristophanes (1909), On Wenlock Edge (1909), Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910, revised in 1913 and 1919), Fantasia on Greensleeves (1934) and The Lark Ascending (1914). In all these works, Vaughan Williams is characteristically English, and Bishop Edward Darling and Donald Davison, in their Companion to Church Hymnal, say: “Many would claim he was the greatest 20th century English composer.”

A vicar’s son, Vaughan Williams was born in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire. His father, the Revd Arthur Vaughan Williams, who died in 1875, was the Vicar of Down Ampney, while his mother, Margaret Susan Wedgwood (1843–1937), was a direct descendant of the Staffordshire potter Josiah Wedgwood, and was related to the Darwin family – Charles Darwin was a great-uncle and Tony Benn is a distant cousin. With a background like that, it is little wonder that Vaughan Williams grew up with life-lasting democratic and egalitarian ideals – a socialist who refused all honours except the Order of Merit, which he accepted after the death of Elgar in 1935.

At the Royal College of Music, Vaughan Williams studied under the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford. Later, as he read history and music at Trinity College, Cambridge, he became friends with the philosophers George Moore and Bertrand Russell.

During World War I, he was a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps. His war-time experiences eventually led to his complete deafness in old age, but his Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No. 3) draws on his experiences as an ambulance volunteer. During World War II, he spoke up for his fellow composers Britten and Tippett who were conscientious objectors.

When he died in 1958, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. His second wife, the poet Ursula Wood, claimed he was an “atheist … [who] later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism.” But he is a deeply mystical and spiritual composer, and many of his works have religious subject-matters.

His hymn settings include To be a pilgrim, based on John Bunyan’s hymn Who would true valour see, using the traditional Sussex melody Monk’s Gate; the tune Sine Nomine for William Walsham How’s For All the Saints; the tune Forest Green for the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks; and his setting for Come Down, O Love Divine, named Down Ampney after his birthplace. He wrote settings for canticles, carols and masses, and composed a Te Deum in G for the enthronement of Cosmo Lang as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1928.

With Percy Dearmer and Martin Shaw, Vaughan Williams can be credited with the revival and spread of traditional and mediaeval English musical forms. Without Vaughan Williams, it is impossible to imagine the English Hymnal (1906), for which he was the musical editor and in which he collaborated with Percy Dearmer.

In collaboration with the organists of Saint Mary’s, Primrose Hill, Martin and Geoffrey Shaw, Vaughan Williams and Percy Dearmer later produced two more hymnals, Songs of Praise (1925) and The Oxford Book of Carols (1928). These hymnals have been credited with reintroducing many elements of traditional and mediaeval English music into the Church of England, as well as carrying that influence into the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Without Vaughan Williams, where would Anglican liturgy, hymnody, music and spirituality be today? As David Johnson said in an essay in The Tablet (23 August 2008): “The preoccupation with the journey of the soul shines through the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams. His music is the enduring legacy of one of the most insightful and visionary of pilgrims.”

4, Poetry:

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Andrea Mantegna, 1460, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Much of the language of The Book of Common Prayer (2004) draws on the cadences and rhythms of English poetic forms. Perhaps, it was this lack of literary grace that made the Alternative Prayer Book less popular.

The poet TS Eliot saw a deep connection between his poetry and his liturgical life. But perhaps one poem more than other, A Song for Simeon, which is based on the canticle Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2: 29-32), links Eliot with the tradition of Anglican canticles and the tradition of Choral Evensong, and with the Anglican tradition of liturgical preaching:

Nunc Dimittis

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace;
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.


Eliot titles his poem A Song for Simeon, rather than A Song of Simeon, which is the English sub-title of the canticle in The Book of Common Prayer.

A Song for Simeon (TS Eliot)

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

This is one of four poems by Eliot published between 1927 and 1930 and known as the Ariel Poems.

TS Eliot (1888-1965) is as one of the great poets of Anglican spirituality – indeed he was one of the major Christian poets of the 20th century – and his Ash Wednesday (1930) was written to mark his baptism and confirmation as an Anglican in 1927.

In Journey of The Magi and A Song for Simeon, Eliot shows how he persisted on his spiritual pilgrimage. He was baptised and confirmed in the Church of England on 29 June 1927. Journey of the Magi was published two months later, in August 1927, and a few months later Faber, for whom he worked, published A Song for Simeon as part of a series of Christmas booklets.

Both Journey of The Magi and A Song for Simeon draw on the journeys of Biblical characters concerned with the arrival of the Christ-child. Both poems deal with the past, with a significant epiphany event, with the future – as seen from the time of that event, and with a time beyond time – death. The narrator in Journey of the Magi is an old man, with the first two stanzas recalling the journey from the East to Bethlehem through “cities hostile and towns unfriendly” – perhaps reflecting a difficult period of Eliot’s own journey.

In that poem, Eliot draws on a sermon from Christmas 1622 preached by the Caroline Divine, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626): “A cold coming they had of it, at this time of the year; just the worst time of the year, to take a journey, and specially a long journey, in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off in solistitio brumali, the very dead of winter.”

Eliot wrote:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.


A Song for Simeon is also put in the mouth of an old man, the prophet Simeon in the Temple in Jerusalem. Here too, Eliot draws on a Christmas sermon by Andrewes: “Verbum infans, the Word without a word, the eternal Word not able to speak a word.” In Eliot’s words, the old man sees a faith that he cannot inhabit in “the still unspeaking and unspoken Word.”

In both poems, Eliot uses images that are significant for those exploring the Christian faith, images that are also prophetic, telling of things to happen to the Christ Child in the future. For example, in Journey of the Magi, we are told of “three trees on the low sky” – the three crosses that will erected on Calvary, and of “hands dicing” and “pieces of silver” – the Roman soldiers throwing dice for Christ’s clothes and the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas.

So too, there are several examples of prophetic imagery in A Song for Simeon:

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation …
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow …


These refer to the scourging of Christ at his crucifixion and his mother weeping as he was crucified.

This poem starts with a winter scene:

Lord, the Roman’s hyacinths are blooming in the bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.


In this poem, Eliot confines his comments on things of the past to four lines in the second stanza. In contrast to Journey of the Magi, which concentrates more on a physical journey, Eliot here places his emphasis on the time that has been spent making an inner journey of faith:

I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.


We are aware too, that Simeon is very old. He is hanging on, waiting for God’s promise, so that he can die:

My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.


Just as Eliot had his inner searches and wanderings, in which he moved about from one place to another. The difficulties with his wife Vivien’s illness contributed to a separation and the complete breakdown of their marriage, adding to Eliot’s sense of disillusion with life. In both these poems, Eliot focuses on an event that brings about the end of an old order and the beginning of a new one.

Eliot structures A Song for Simeon around lines from the prayer spoken by the priest Simeon as recorded in Luke 2: 29-32:

Master, now you are dismissing
Your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation …


Simeon too was a witness. Although he was not present at Christ’s birth, he witnessed the presentation of the Christ-child when he was brought by his parents to the Temple as an eight-day-old. Yet Simeon did more than just witness the child, “Simeon took him in his arms” (Luke 2: 28) as he prayed. In his blind faith, he comes to hold the Body of Christ, and to see the child for who he really is. As Joseph and Nicodemus do when they take him down from the Cross, and as we do at the Eucharist, he becomes a bearer of Christ as he holds the Body of Christ in his hands and so becomes too part of the Body of Christ at one and the same time.

Three times in the poem, Simeon asks for peace. Is he referring to the peace that will come with his own death? Or the peace of Christ that passes all understanding? As Christians, we don’t believe that death is the end of our journey. Even before death, Eliot marks his baptism and confirmation as, if not the end of, then a triumph on, his spiritual journey. He has come to a place of faith, and now he is encouraged to continue on his spiritual journey.

The poem can be read as a song for Simeon to sing, or as a song to be sung for Simeon. We can imagine ourselves listening to Simeon’s prophetic voice, or imagine the voice of a poet singing on Simeon’s behalf or in his honour at a later age, from a viewpoint and with insights denied to Simeon himself.

In the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, the old Simeon in prayer in the Temple in Jerusalem prays: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” By contrast, Eliot’s speaker sings: “Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls.” This is not prayer at all. Instead, it sets an unexpected scene. The flowers, protected from the winter cold, are Roman, the property and pride of the pagans. Hyacinths were named after Hyacinthus, the youth killed by mistake by Apollo when his rival, Zephyrus, turned the flight of a discus.

The winter sun creeps by the snow hills as the speaker waits for the death wind. Pagan flowers and the pagan myth of a young man’s death flourish in the world of Eliot’s speaker and provide the language for speaking of life and death and life beyond.

Voices are heard from the Christian future, which the blind Simeon will not see. He is still waiting for the wind to blow, imagines only the death wind that will bear him away.

“Grant us thy peace” – the speaker evokes the Agnus Dei from the liturgy. Here we have a prayer for the peace that the Eucharist will offer, although Simeon will never share in the Eucharist.

In the first stanza, he tells of his own death.

In the second stanza, he speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem, decades later, by Rome’s armies. We are pointed towards New Testament images of the foxes that have holes, while the Son of Man has nowhere to rest; of the speaker’s descendants, in flight from Jerusalem from foreign faces and swords, and who will have to occupy the foxes’ homes.

In the third stanza, that flicker of light becomes a blaze of allusions. The Christ will tie cords to drive the traders from the Temple, will be whipped and scourged, and hear the lamentation of the weeping women of Jerusalem on the way to his death on a hill, above the “abomination of desolation,” and to his mother’s sorrow: Stabat mater dolorosa.

Simeon’s death is imminent, but far more is to come, for with the birth of this child a whole world is passing away, ages old and with no tomorrow.

In Nunc Dimittis, Simeon pleads: “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” But the word will be fulfilled in a faith and in an age that Eliot’s speaker can see only in prophecy.

Eliot capitalises “Thee” for the one and only time, as his speaker looks forward to the praise offered by the Church: “They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation …”

Simeon warns Mary: “A sword will pierce your own soul also.” But we might ask whether the heart, Eliot’s speaker says will be pierced is God’s own heart.

The weary speaker concludes by praying:

Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.


At the very end of the poem, we seem to have arrived at the start of Nunc Dimittis. All that we have read so far is now seen in a new light, as a prelude to the canticle. The poet, now baptised, has the hope of a greater hope, having seen his salvation. He is tired of his former life, there is consolation as derision turns to glory. Baptised into the death of Christ, he has been born into new life.

Some links for this seminar:

Keeping score

Douglas Galbraith charts important landmarks in the history of English church music

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=100988

[The Church Times, 24 September 2010]

Voices raised, hearts lifted

To mark the publication of Sing Praise, the Church Times and the Royal School of Church Music asked people to nominate the best hymns. Jeremy Davies looks at the top five:

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=101040

[The Church Times, 24 September 2010]

Keeping art and soul together

Pat Ashworth finds that the art of commissioning works for churches has changed a great deal since the swashbuckling days of Walter Hussey

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=103880

[The Church Times, 19 November 2010]

Let’s have a show of hands

To mark the centenary of the birth of Dean Walter Hussey, Chichester Cathedral commissioned Jaume Plensa’s sculpture Together for its main aerial space. Anthony Cane’s diary tells the inside story of the commissioning process.

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=103893

[The Church Times, 19 November 2010]

Reminder:

Essays

End-of-semester visit


Next week:

9.1:
Theology of the whole people of God; the theology and rites of ordination; gender and ministry.

9.2: Seminar: Spirituality of ministry; readings on the minister as person, private public and holy.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a seminar on 28 November 2011 in the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on the MTh course.

Liturgy 8.1: Baptism and Eucharist (3): the contemporary life and mission of the Church; worship and inculturation

The ‘U2Charist’ in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church, Dublin ... what do we mean by the inculturation of the liturgy?

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

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

Liturgy 8.1: 28 November 2011

This week:

8.1:
Baptism and Eucharist (3): the contemporary life and mission of the Church; worship and inculturation.

8.2: Seminar: the ‘Word’ expressed in music and art.

8.1: Baptism and Eucharist (3): the contemporary life and mission of the Church; worship and inculturation.

What is liturgical inculturation?

And what does inculturation mean for the contemporary life and mission of the Church?

The term “inculturation” is used to speak about “the incarnation of the Gospel in autonomous cultures and at the same time the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church.” [see Varietates Legitimae – Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, the Fourth Instruction for the Correct Application of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy (Nos. 37-40), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 March 1994, §4.]

Inculturation signifies “an intimate transformation of the authentic cultural values by their integration into Christianity and the implementation of Christianity into different human cultures.”

We have inherited a rich and deep liturgical heritage from the Church of Ireland, the wider Church experience in Ireland, the wider Anglican Communion, and through twenty centuries of Church history.

But we also have a cultural heritage that needs to integrate that liturgical heritage, to express that liturgical heritage, and that is expressed in and interpreted in our liturgy. And yet the Church is different from all other gatherings and communities in every culture and every age.

1, The Church is not gathered together by a human decision, but is called through Christ by God in the Holy Spirit and responds in faith to this gracious call.

2, The Church Catholic is called to gather all peoples, to speak all languages, to penetrate all cultures.

3, The Church, as a pilgrim people on this earth, and in this Advent time bears the marks of this present time in its sacraments, its liturgies and its institutions and structures as we await the coming of Christ in hope.

The Church universal, the Church Catholic, finds its particular expression, is made present and signified, in particular Churches. As the 39 Articles remind us, the Church is visible in “a congregation of faithful men” (i.e., faithful people gathered together in the diocese), “in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered ...” (Article 19).

Every particular expression of the Church is united with the universal Church, across the barriers of time and of space, not only in belief and sacramental life, but also in those practices the Church has inherited down through the generations, dating back to the Apostolic tradition.

What are some examples of these universal Church practices?

They include, for example, daily prayer, the sanctification of Sunday and the rhythm of the week, the celebration of Easter and the unfolding of the mystery of Christ throughout the liturgical year, and the sacraments.

What about the Liturgy?

We have talked over the past few weeks about Liturgy as the place where Christians meet God in Christ.

Christian worship finds its most fundamental expression when every Sunday, throughout the whole world, Christians gather around the altar or the table in word and sacrament, listening to the Word of God, celebrating the Eucharist, and recalling the death and resurrection of Christ, while awaiting his coming in glory.

As The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (2004) says:

“All Sundays celebrate the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.” On Sundays and eight of the nine Principal Holy Days (Christmas Day, Easter Day, the Day of Pentecost, The Presentation of Christ, Maundy Thursday, the Ascension Day, Trinity Sunday and All Saints’ Day, but not Good Friday), “it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and in each parish church or in a church within a parochial union, or group of parishes … The liturgical provision for the above days may not be displaced by any other observance” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 18).

The Liturgy is both the action of Christ the Priest and the action of the Church which is his body. In the Liturgy, the Church, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, gives the Father the worship which is pleasing to him.

There is an unchangeable aspect of the Liturgy. But the Church adapts that the Liturgy, according to the constraints of time and space, for the good of the people, for the good of the people who are the Body of Christ, according to circumstances, times and places.

But how do we strike the balance between inculturating the sacraments that Christ has instituted, and emptying them of their substance? What is essential when it comes to liturgical change?

Our agreements on the Liturgy ensure orthodoxy of worship, not only because we must avoid errors, but because we must pass on the faith in its integrity. There is theological maxim that “rule of prayer” must correspond to the “rule of belief” – lex orandi, lex credendi.

But what about the different needs of the Church in particular places, at particular times? How are these to be addressed?

For example, what about a place that does not have a Christian tradition?

Should missionaries who bring the Gospel with them also bring their liturgical traditions with them?

And how do they modify, adapt or inculturate those liturgical traditions?

Other places have a long-standing Western Christian tradition, where the culture is already embedded with the language of the faith and the expresses of the liturgy. If the liturgy is changes, does it lose its cultural relevance and its ability to speak to the people?

In some places, several cultures coexist. How then is it possible to inculturate liturgical practices?

Any adaptations, modification and changes must bear in mind the need for people to understand the Liturgy with ease, to take part fully, and to relate it actively to their lives and the society in which they live.

For example, there is no point in making adaptations that then need numerous explanations in order to be understood.

How far can we go with inculturation?

The missionary tradition of the Church has always sought to bring the Christian faith to people in their own language. The translation of the Bible and the Liturgy are the first steps in the process of inculturation.

The first significant measure of inculturation at the Reformation was the translation of the Bible, liturgies and liturgical books into the language of the people.

But each translation both shaped and respected literary genres without altering the content of the texts. The translated works had to be understandable by those for whom they were being translated. So, The Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible were translated into the English of the 16th and 17th centuries, but they also shaped the English language of the time.

In English, to talk about being saved by the “skin of my teeth” is inexplicable without a glimpse of the Book of Job in the Authorised Version. Phrases like “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” from The Book of Common Prayer have passed into common parlance. How many of you remembered old traditions when you realised that the Sunday before last was “Stir-Up Sunday”?

‘God so loved man (humanity)’ ... a sign above the entrance Guizhou Theological Training Centre in Guiyang Province in central China. Chinese Christians have been divided by the words they use for God (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For example, on my visits to China with the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, I became conscious of how the differences between the “Protestant” and “Catholic” traditions, in their various forms, is exaggerated for non-Christian Chinese when they see that Catholics and Protestants cannot agree on a common translation of the Bible, or even on the same word for God, so that they are seen by many as two completely different religions.

The Catholic Church historically favoured Tīanzhǔ (literally “Heavenly Lord,” or “Lord of Heaven”), and so “Catholicism” is most commonly rendered Tīanzhǔ jìao, although Chinese Catholics also a literal translation of “catholic,” Gōng jiào.

The earliest Protestant missionary in China, Robert Morrison, arrived in 1807. Before this time, Bibles were not printed for distribution. Protestantism is colloquially referred to as Jīdū jìao (“religion of Christ”) but this term can sometimes refer to all Christians, so Xīnjìao (“new religion”) is also used to distinguish Protestants as a group separate from Roman Catholics. Their translators, coming to China later and separately, chose to use the older terminology “Shangdi,” apparently believing “Shangdi” was a valid or preferable representation of the “Most High God.”

In addition, the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter pronunciation of the name of God from the original Hebrew often rendered as YHWH, is rendered in different ways. Catholics have translated this into Yǎwēi (“Elegant Powerful”). Protestants originally rendered it as Yéhuǒhuá (“[old] Gentleman of Fiery Magnificence”). A modern Protestant usage is Yēhéhuá. Some versions translate this term as Shàngzhǔ (literally “Above Lord”), similar to the translation decision to use a capitalised “LORD” by both Catholics and traditional Protestants.

To complicate matters, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans particularly use Shàngzhǔ in their Eucharistic Prayers.

If people are going to listen to the Gospel being proclaimed, to join in the Canticles, Psalms, responses and hymns, they must be in a language that they can understand and that is culturally pertinent.

And that language is not merely words. The late Archbishop Trevor Huddleston once spoke of Anglican liturgies in Africa that were translated into the words of African languages by CMS, SPG and UMCA missionaries, but were not successful because they retained the Anglo-Saxon and English rhythms and cadences that are part and parcel of The Book of Common Prayer.

And all peoples and cultures have a religious language that is suitable for expressing prayer, and a liturgical language that has its own special characteristics.

Words like liturgy, mystery, ecclesia, evangel, sacrament, Baptism and Eucharist pre-exist Christianity. But they took on a new meaning when they were adapted to the needs of the Church and the liturgy.

Even at the level of liturgical words, translations are always inculturated or they fail to have sign, significance.

Each society and each culture, in the languages of their day, have literary qualities that relate to the living language of the people.

What about newly-created texts for liturgy?

The qualities needed for liturgical translations apply too to new liturgical compositions.

The principle of The Book of Common Prayer is that we share a common liturgical life. But how do new liturgical translations or new liturgical compositions move beyond what is shared, and in their efforts to be inculturated become so localised, so particular, that they are no longer part of the shared, common liturgy of the Church?

And to what degree is The Book of Common Prayer in its various and previous editions over the centuries, the benchmark or standard by which all other liturgies are to be judged?

In its report, Renewing the Anglican Eucharist, the Fifth International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, which met in Dublin (1995), says that as Anglicans “we have until recently identified our liturgical unity in a more or less uniform set of texts derived from the historic Books of Common Prayer. Today that unity is to be found in a common structure of eucharistic celebration.”

Last week, we looked at how the Church of South India had created a new Eucharistic rite, drawing on elements of Anglican, Orthodox, Indian and Mozarabic Liturgies, and in turn how the that Liturgy of the Church of South India has influenced the liturgies of Anglican Churches throughout the world.

The Anglican Church in New Zealand and, nearer to home, the (Anglican) Church in Wales, have lived liturgically for some decades acknowledging and giving liturgical expression to the cultural realities, differences and diversities in their dioceses.

But at what point does diversity sacrifice or even lose unity?

Are there any general principles to help or guide the inculturation of liturgies and rites?

How do we maintain the orthodoxy of the faith while respecting celebrating diversity in culture?

How do we even assess or discern whether a particular culture or tradition should be celebrated and calls for diversity?

Liturgical inculturation includes satisfying and respecting the needs of traditional culture, and at the same time taking account for the needs of those in new cultural settings.

These include the needs of urban and industrial cultures, of post-Christian as well as pre-Christian cultures, the needs of modern and post-modernist cultures, the needs of local people and immigrants too.

Was the introduction of inclusive language in the liturgy enough to eradicate exclusivism? Are there other ways in our language (both verbalised language and body language, as well as our choices of music, symbols, &c.) that serve to make the Church appear exclusive rather than inclusive?

The Discovery services in inner city Dublin ... “Anglican liturgies with African flavours”

I have taken part in many of the “Discovery” liturgies in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church in Inner City Dublin – described as Anglican liturgies with African – and sometimes Indian – flavours. Some years ago, I was also invited to preside at what was called a “U2Charist” in the same church.

In preparing for it, I was helped by the writings of two Episcopal churches in the US: Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard, Get Up Off Your Knees, preaching the U2 catalog (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2003).

It was obvious to me, as people came forward to receive the Eucharist, that many of those who took part had not been to Communion, had not been to church at all, for a long, long time. But this Eucharist spoke to them in their modern and post-modern language.

Liturgy cannot just borrow but adapt and find meaning in the social and religious rites of a people, and their culture can positively enrich their understanding of liturgical actions.

But are there negative elements of a culture should not be incorporated into the liturgy?

Of course there are dangers of reductionism or being trite and there are the dangers of syncretism. There are times when we need to make a break with the past. There are times when we can have layers and layers of meaning and nuance, and there are times we need to avoid ambiguity to avoid a process of inclulturation that stoops to politicisation of the liturgy, to superstition, to vengeance or to sexual connotations.

How is the unity of Anglicanism expressed in the liturgy?

True inculturation does not create new traditions beyond Anglicanism. Instead, it responds to the needs of a particular culture and leads to adaptations that still remain part of our tradition and communion.

But they need to take account of the historical, anthropological, exegetical and theological character of the expressions of faith of the people and culture with whom the liturgy is being adapted.

They need to be attuned to the pastoral experience of the church and of the people where the changes are taking place.

It’s not just about the hymns and the music.

Many cultures have a great collection of wisdom in the form of proverbs and stories. This literature is a store of wisdom set in a cultural context that people understand very well. The proverbs of the people may be more familiar to them than the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. But while this literature is full of wisdom, it can never be a substitute for the inspired word of God in the liturgy, and certainly not in the name of inculturation.

On the other hand, we one can use it to explain the word of God, for instance in the sermon, or outside the liturgy in teaching. But the liturgy of the word within the context of liturgical celebration is irreplaceable.

For example, the story is told that it had been observed that in some African traditions before people dined at an important meal they poured libation to the ancestors. Drawing on this observation, it was suggested that it would be appropriate to pour a libation of the consecrated wine before the Eucharistic meal. But this is a total misunderstanding of the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, reducing Christ’s presence in the Eucharist to mere drink. It also raises questions about why people think the dead need material nourishment.

Colours and postures all have different significance in different cultures. White is associated with death in China. What about blue, purple, pink, green, orange? In some cultures it is only acceptable to kneel for prayer, in others to stand, but in many it is rude to sit for prayer. Other culturally-charged language and body language includes standing for the Gospel. But what about having your hands in your pockets?

Who welcomes and who dismisses are culturally-charged tasks. An illustration from the Gospel is found at the meal Christ has in the house of Simon the Pharisee. The woman anoints Jesus, but Simon failed to greet him properly, to offer him the opportunity wash his feet and hands before sitting at the table.

What about:

● The texts of the opening dialogues?
● The ways in which the altar and the Book of the Gospels are venerated?
● The exchange of peace?
● Who brings up and who receives the offering?
● Who prepares the altar/table?
● The words and actions at the preparation of the gifts and at the communion?
● The type of bread and wine we use?
● The materials for the construction of the altar/table and liturgical furnishings?
● The material and form of sacred vessels – pottery or silver?
● The shape, texture and colour of liturgical vestments?
● The way in which we distribute the Holy Communion – who distributes and what words do we use?
● Who dismisses? Who sends out?

And the questions we ask about the Eucharist should be asked too the rites of Christian initiation (Baptism and Confirmation), marriages, funerals, the blessings of persons, places or things, and the liturgical calendar?

And when we do change and inculturate the public worship of the Church, to what degree do we need to exercise prudence and discretion so we avoid breaking up of the local Church into little “churches” that become closed in on themselves?

When the Church introduces changes, those changes need to be gradual, and adequate explanations must be provided with good and sensitive teaching so that we avoid the danger of rejection or simply an artificial grafting on to previous forms.

Of course, there must be innovations when the good of the Church and the needs of the people genuinely demand them.

But care must be taken too to ensure that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.

What do you think are some of liturgical actions that might be adapted?

Many elements may be open to adaptation, including language, music and singing, gesture and posture, art and images, and popular devotions.

Liturgical language must express the truths of the faith, and the grandeur and holiness of the mysteries which are being celebrated. But it must be language that is both sacred and culturally relevant for people, not merely in its vocabulary but also in its cadences, rhythms, poetry and drama.

Music and singing should have pride of place in the liturgy. A text that is sung is more deeply embedded in our memories when it is read. We must be demanding about the biblical and liturgical inspiration and the literary quality of the texts we want sung.

The liturgy is not merely words: it is work, which means it is actions and movements too. Gesture and posture are especially important. Gestures are culturally embedded, yet they express the attitude of humanity before God and our attitude to one another.

For example, the gestures and postures of the celebrating or presiding priest at the Eucharist have to express his or her special function: He/she presides over the assembly both in the person of Christ and on behalf of the people. The gestures and postures of the congregation are signs of our unity, express our active participation, and foster our spiritual attitudes.

What about liturgical dance, for instance?

Among some peoples, singing is instinctively accompanied by hand-clapping, rhythmic swaying and dance movements. These are valid liturgical expressions, not simply performances, and they can express true communal prayer, adoration, praise, offering and supplication.

To summarise:

Basically there are three principles of liturgical inculturation:

● compatibility with the Gospel;
● union with the Church;
● localising the faith and worship of the Universal Church in the incarnational situation of the local church.

The Church is called to overcome the barriers that divide humanity. By baptism, we all become children of God and form in Christ Jesus one people where “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28).

For inculturation this means that whatever measure is taken, while it helps Christianity to penetrate in a particular culture, it should not on the other hand alienate others, and so divide the unity that is essential to the Church.

Appendix 1:

In its report, Renewing the Anglican Eucharist, the Fifth International Anglican Liturgical Consultation in Dublin (1995) asked what is important in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist and suggested a scheme that should be varied in keeping with liturgical seasons and special seasons and occasions.

The following table indicates the relative importance of the various elements in the Eucharist:

1 = indispensible.
2 = integral, but not indispensable.
3 = would not be omitted in principle, may be limited or varied in accordance with liturgical seasons or special occasions.
4 = not necessary but may be desirable at times.

* An asterisk indicates elements of the liturgy that may appear at one point or another in the rite. Their placement, however, has significant implications and requires careful attention.

I, The Gathering of God’s People:

Greeting [1]
* Penitential Rite [3]
Song / Act of Praise [1]
Opening Prayer (Collect) [1]

II, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word:

First Reading [1]
Psalm [2]
Second Reading [2]
Gospel [1]
Sermon [1]
Creed [3]
* Silence, songs and other responses [2]

III, Prayers of the People:

Prayers [1]
* The Lord’s Prayer [1]
* Penitential Rite [3]
Peace [1]

IV, Celebrating at the Lord’s Table:

Preparing the Table [1]
Prayer over the gifts [4]
Eucharistic Prayer [1]
* The Lord’s Prayer [1]
Silence [1]
The Breaking of the Bread [1]
Invitation [2]
Communion [1]

V, Going out as God’s People:

Silence [1]
Hymn [4]
Prayer after Communion [2]
Blessing [4]
Dismissal [1]

Compare this with the headings and structures for the Eucharist in the Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 201-221.

Supplemental reading:

Tissa Balasuruya, The Eucharist and Human Liberation (London: SCM Press, 1979).
Paul Bradshaw and John Melloh (eds), Foundations in Ritual Studies: A reader for students of Christian worship (London: SPCK, 2007).
Stephen Burns, Living the Thanksgiving: exploring the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2006).
Nell Challingsworth, Liturgical Dance Movement, a practical guide (London and Oxford: Mowbray, 1982)
Patrick Comerford, ‘The Reconstruction of Theological Thinking – implications for the Church in China,’ Search 29/1 (Spring 2006), pp 13-22.
Vivienne Faull and Jane Siclair, Count us in – inclusive language in the liturgy (Bramcote: Grove, 1986, Grove Liturgical Study No 46).
Richard Giles, Creating Uncommon Worship, transforming the liturgy of the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
David R. Holeton (ed), Renewing the Anglican Eucharist (Cambridge: Grove, 1996, Grove Worship Series 135).
Graham Hughes, Worship as Meaning, A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge Universty Press, 2003, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine series).
Kevin W. Irwin, Models of the Eucharist (New York/Mahwah NJ: Paullist Press, 2005).
Harold Miller, Making an Occasion of it (Dublin: Church of Ireland Literature Committee, 1994).
Michael Perham (ed), The Renewal of Common Prayer (London: SPCK, 1993).
Varietates Legitimae – Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, the Fourth Instruction for the Correct Application of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy (Nos. 37-40), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 1994.
Raewynne J. Whiteley, Beth Maynard (eds), Get Up Off Your Knees, preaching the U2 catalog (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2003).

Reminder:

Essays

End-of-semester visit


Next:

8.2: Seminar: the ‘Word’ expressed in music and art.

Next week:

9.1:
Theology of the whole people of God; the theology and rites of ordination; gender and ministry.

9.2: Seminar: Spirituality of ministry; readings on the minister as person, private public and holy.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on 28 November 2011 in the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.