18 September 2016

Liturgy 2016-2017 (Part-Time)
2.2: Introduction to liturgy,
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

TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year III to IV (part-time):

Liturgy 2.2: Introduction to liturgy, secular liturgy and ritual.

18 September 2016

10.30 a.m., The Hartin Room.

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

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?


Reading before our teleconference:

Liturgy 3.1
: The theology of space, and its implications for church buildings.

Liturgy 3.2: The use of church buildings in relation to the mission of God expressed through the Church (Seminar, based on readings from Richard Giles, Re-pitching the tent, Norwich: Canterbury Press, 3rd ed, 2004).

Chapter 8: pp 53-58.

Chapter 14: pp 103-108.

(Revd Canon Professor) 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, TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, with Year III-IV part-time MTh students on Sunday 18 September 2016.

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