TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality
MTh Year II (full-time):
Liturgy 1.2: 10.30 a.m., 28 September 2015
Introduction to liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language
The Lord be with you:
And also with you
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 Sunday of last week [20 September 2015], 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 module and the methodologies we are using; and in particular, this afternoon, 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)
5, Political and secular
[Full discussion of Point 5 later in 1.2]
• Liturgy not in The Book of Common Prayer:
Not all liturgy in the Church of Ireland is to be found in The Book of Common Prayer.
• Harvest Thanksgiving
• Remembrance Sunday
• Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
• Christingle Services
Are these domestic/family, secular/political, folk/religious liturgies?
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.
I was reminded in Crete recently that The Beggars’ Opera translates into Greek as Η λαϊκή όπερα.
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.
• 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.
• 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.).
In the New Testament, this religious meaning has become definitely established. In Luke, 1: 23, Zechariah 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 Eastern Orthodox, 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)
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, I want us to be aware of space and its role in the liturgy: liturgical space as liturgical icon and liturgical sign. Watch next Sunday in your parish churches, or later this week at the Eucharist here, 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).
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 (London: HarperCollins, 2001).
R. Giles, Creating uncommon worship (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
R. Giles, Repitching the tent (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
B. Gordon-Taylor and S. Jones, Celebrating the Eucharist, A practical guide (London: SPCK, 2005/2011).
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: Cambridge University Press, 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).
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).
Seminar: Ritual and symbol seen through the eyes of secular liturgy and ritual: Evaluating experiences, e.g., drug culture, sports, theatre, &c.
(Revd Canon Professor) 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, TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, with Year II full-time MTh students on 28 September 2015.