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.

Liturgy 2016-2017 (Part-Time)
2.1: Introduction to liturgy, ritual
and symbol, meanings and language

Patrick Comerford

TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year III to IV (part time):

Liturgy 2.1: 20 September 2016

Introduction to liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language

9.30 a.m., Hartin Room

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 last Sunday [11 September 2016], which was 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 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:

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

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?

‘Ores leitourgías’ … opening hours or the time for serving the public in a supermarket in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

What do we mean by liturgy?

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. This word liturgy is well-understood by everyone in Greece. The term is not technical or purely theological. I am not good at supermarket shopping, but during one shopping trip in Crete this year I realised how signs in shops regularly announce ‘Opening Hours’ as ώρες λειτουργίας (ores leitourgías) – the hours of service or the hours for serving the public.

Sometimes the related words 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.

I was reminded in Crete recently that ‘The Beggars’ Opera’ translates into Greek as Η λαϊκή όπερα (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

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

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)

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.).

An icon of the Priest Zechariah in the Temple

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 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 has been developed 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, in our first teleconference, 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 engage critically in the intervening Sundays in your parish churches, and later this morning at the Eucharist here, at the ways in which we liturgically use signs, symbols and space.


Liturgy 2.2:

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

To read next:

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. This essay is based on notes for a lecture on the MTh module, TH8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, with Year III-IV part-time MTH students on Sunday 18 September 2016.

An Introduction to Community Living (2016)

The Church as Community ... we are all in the one boat together ... an icon of the Church by Matthew Garrett

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

Brown Room, 9.30 a.m., Sunday 18 September 2016

Opening Prayer:

Lord God,
the source of truth and love:
Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

This prayer, from the liturgy for a recent Sunday [28 August 2016] – the Post-Communion prayer of the 14th Sunday after Trinity – talks about the Church in terms of community. We are united in the truth and in the love that comes from God; we share not just the same teaching, but are in fellowship with a community that breaks through the barriers of time and space, that is in continuity with the apostles; and together we are supposed to live as one people, in joy and in simplicity of heart.

Each of you has embarked on a new stage in your pilgrimage, but we have been setting out on that journey this weekend not as individuals but as part of a new community that is rooted in the community of word and sacrament, that is marked by joy and simplicity.

You have become members of a new community this weekend, and in the giving and receiving that is part and parcel of being part of that community I hope that we will be one in joy and simplicity of heart.

I said “we” rather than “others” on purpose.

Which community or communities are you part of?


The notion of a community is something we each hold on to on a regular basis, with communities forming at every step throughout life.

We are a community here – not just a community of learning, but a community that is part of the Body of Christ too.

If we work well together as a community, then that experience will not just make your time here comfortable and a pleasure, but it will continue to sustain you throughout your ministry and mission, throughout your pilgrimage in life.

This is not an exclusive community. And I mean that in a number of ways:

We each remain members of the communities in which we are already rooted: my family, my parish and cathedral, my neighbourhood at home, the community of my former work colleagues, or even the communities in the towns I once worked or lived in, for example.

You have already realised that you are also becoming part of a community of fellow students in Trinity College Dublin.

For your time here you will also become part of the communities of the parishes in which you are placed, perhaps even part of the community that is the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.

And your families will become a part of this community in some way too.

Community brings with it joys, but also tensions, responsibilities and demands. And how we deal with those different aspects of living in community in many ways are going to influence how we work in the future in ministry and mission.

Our community is the whole body of CITI, no matter how we have come to be here as staff, students, family members, visitors, &c.

However, a community is notoriously hard to define, although it is easy to picture it as a large group of people who work or live together, or regularly interact with each other.

What makes a good community?


● Good communities nurture right relationships by showing love, concern and forgiveness.

● Good communities cultivate an attitude of belonging to the group by open, sincere communication, simplicity and courtesy of manner.

● Good communities pray together and share the mystery of God’s love.

● In good communities, everyone is open to exchanging information and sharing insights.

● In good communities, the members share generously in the tasks involved in community living.

There is a theological underpinning of all our efforts at making and creating community too. If the Anglican method of doing theology is shaped by Scripture, Reason and Tradition, then those three approaches help us to understand what we can bring to community life and what we can expect from community life.


We are made in the image and likeness of God, and God in community as the Holy Trinity is the perfect community. God sets community as an example for living, and of course we know that it is not good for humans to live alone (Genesis 2: 18).

For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, community begins in “divine welcome” and therefore has a source of life and purpose unlike any other.

The Church comes into being solely because the love of Christ is present in the world and people are drawn to him. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you … You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15: 9, 16). We are here at God’s pleasure and sustained by his love, and the Church is a community that has its origin in the mystery of God’s love and call.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15: 12).


The Benedictine understanding of community has shaped our understanding of community in Western Christianity

The Benedictine understanding of community has influenced and even shaped our understanding of community in Western Christianity for over 1,500 years.

I am not expecting any of us to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for your time here. But there are a number of points in the Rule of Saint Benedict that may help us to put a shape on our understanding of community during our time here.

Before Saint Benedict, religious life was understood as the life of the hermit, who went to the desert and lived alone in order to seek God.

Saint Benedict’s genius was to understand that each person’s rough edges – all the defences and pretensions and blind spots that keep the monastic from growing spiritually – are best confronted by living side-by-side with other flawed human beings whose faults and failings are only too obvious. And believe you me, within the next few weeks, as you live side-by-side with each other you will come to realise how flawed you really are, and how obvious the faults and failings of others are.

But that can be a very positive experience, an experience that helps you to mature and to grow spiritually. Saint Benedict teaches that growth comes from accepting people as they are, not as we would like them to be. You will find here that his references to the stubborn and the dull, the undisciplined and the restless, the careless and the scatter-brained have the ring of reality.

Although Saint Benedict was no idealist when it comes to human nature, he understood that the key to spiritual progress lies in constantly making the effort to see Christ in each person – no matter how irritating or tiresome that person may be.

The wisdom of Saint Benedict’s Rule lies in its flexibility, its tolerance for individual differences, and its openness to change. For 1,500 years, it has remained a powerful and relevant guide for those who would seek God in the ordinary circumstances of life.

Anglican understandings of community

The Nicholas Ferrar Window in the chapel of Clare College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Anglicanism could be described as the “Benedictine synthesis” in that the Anglican Reformation more than any other strands of the Reformations sought to bring the benefits of Benedictine spirituality, worship and community life in the lived experience of ordinary, every-day parishes.

But an early example of how to try to live that out within the Anglican tradition is found in the Little Gidding Community.

The Community at Little Gidding was founded by Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637). As part of a deal to rescue his elder brother from debt, Nicholas bought the Manor of Little Gidding, outside Cambridge. After an outbreak of plague in London in 1625, the Ferrar family moved to Little Gidding to find that the parish church was being used as a barn and that the manor house had been left uninhabited for 60 years.

His mother’s first action was to enter the church for prayer, and to have it cleaned and restored before any attention was paid to the house. They were soon joined by their extended family, and the community grew to 40 in number, of all ages.

Nicholas Ferrar was ordained deacon by Archbishop William Laud, when he was Bishop of Bath and Wells, in 1626, although he Nicholas never proceeded to priesthood. The community soon established on weekdays a regular round of prayer based on the The Book of Common Prayer, with the daily services of Matins, the Litany and Evensong led by Nicholas Ferrar. On Sundays there was Matins, readings of the Psalms, Holy Communion and Evensong.

In addition, there were nightly vigils focussing on the Psalms, regular Gospel readings. The community was active charitably, with an almshouse and dispensary, and was befriended by King Charles I and the poet priest George Herbert.

The community died out, although the Ferrar family continued to live at the manor until the mid-18th century. But the Little Gidding Community was an example of a godly family and community, neither unique nor monastic, but firmly committed to the Church, to Anglican spirituality, to The Book of Common Prayer, to following Christ’s commands to forswear worldliness, and to devoting themselves to God’s service.

Their pattern of life is an inspiration for many modern communities, and also inspired the poet TS Eliot – Little Gidding (1942) is the fourth poem in his Four Quartets.

Some modern Christian communities

Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw his theological college as a radical new community

The idea of community living as part of Christian formation is not only an ideal for the monastic tradition – it has an important place in modern Christian theological thinking about formation, discipleship and the Church too.

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) saw his theological college at Finkenwalde as a radical new community, with a shared life, worship and prayer, where Christ’s call to discipleship was taken seriously and practised together.

For Bonhoeffer, community was a response to the need for truth, moral clarity and resistance to evil. It was to be a prophetic sign.

In 1937, Bonhoeffer published Life Together, a summary of his vision for the community and its practical outworking. It is a radical and subversive vision for Christian living in the midst of crisis, conflict and chaos.

In the midst of a society facing powerful evil and in deep moral and spiritual confusion, Bonhoeffer still insisted that Christian community is to be lived in the midst of it all – without walls. Christ did not withdraw into safe seclusion but lived in the midst of his enemies to bring them to peace. So must his followers. So life together, according to Bonhoeffer, must never be taken for granted but it is a gift and a sign of “gracious anticipation” of the Kingdom of Peace, Justice and Love that will one day be fully revealed and for which we live and long.

Many of you may be familiar with the work of Jean Vanier and L’Arche community. His inspiring vision for community living grew out of the time he began to share his home with people living with significant mental or physical disabilities and who had often experienced abandonment and neglect.

Jean Vanier founded the first of the L’Arche communities in 1964, and there are now 124 such communities around the world, which we can learn from as places of love and dignity, where weaknesses are shared, and human frailties are accepted and valued rather than being based on strengths and competitive achievements.

Community in many ways is a counter-cultural value when compared with the value given to the individual and individualism in consumer society. “Contemporary society is the product of fragmentation,” Jean Vanier once said. True community respects the true value of each of us as an individual.

Other efforts at forming communities that can be models for the Church include Corrymeela, Iona and the Lee Abbey Community in North Devon.

Drawing on the Benedictine tradition

Ealing Abbey ... the Benedictine way is based on the three promises of stability, fidelity and obedience (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At their monastic profession, Benedictines make three promises: stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience. Although the traditional monastic commitments to poverty and chastity are implied in the Benedictine way, those first three promises of stability, fidelity, and obedience are given primary attention in the Rule – perhaps because of their close relationship with community life, and are worth remembering during your time here.


For Benedictines, stability involves a life-long commitment to a particular community. Contentment and fulfilment do not exist in constant change; true happiness cannot necessarily be found anywhere other than in this place and this time. For Benedictines, stability proclaims rootedness, a true feeling of being at home, and that this place and this monastic family will endure.

None of you is being asked to stay on here for the rest of your life, as if this was some sort of monastery. But for your time here, think of it as home, a place where you should find acceptance, should feel you belong, where no-one should ever count you out, where you can find refuge and solace.


Fidelity means the Benedictines promise to allow themselves to be shaped and moulded by the community – to pray at the sound of the bell when it would be so much more convenient to continue working, to forswear pet projects for the sake of community needs, to be open to change, to listen to others, and not to run away when things seem frustrating or boring or hopeless.

Just think of it – there will be times when you would prefer for your own achievement to finish that essay or project, to get that reading assignment completed, to go for a walk and get a bit of fresh air through your lungs and your head. But the bell calls you to pray, and you ask: “I can pray in my own room too, can’t I?”

Yes you can. But you deprive yourself of the prayer of the whole community and you deprive the whole community of your prayer. In prayer, we are being faithful to God, and being faithful to one another.

Fidelity to wider Anglicanism is important too.

There is a variety of styles and approaches to worship in this community – among staff and students. They reflect the variety of styles, approaches and theologies found in the Church of Ireland and in our wider experiences of Anglicanism and even of other traditions within the Church.

None of these threatens the integrity of your or my tradition and style and approach to worship. Rather, I like to see them as gifts to each other.

Let me be open about myself. I once worked for a mission agency, and was asked within a few weeks of joining whether I was an evangelical or a liberal. I replied that I was evangelical in the pulpit, catholic at the altar, orthodox in the creed, radical in my discipleship, and liberal in my understanding of the different strands Anglicanism can and should embrace.

I think she’s still trying to figure me out.

I not only want to affirm you in your tradition, I want you to be authentic about it, true to, grow in it, and for you to have the same attitude to these in others. Then we can grow in mutual respect and love, and share our gifts as God would want us to share our gifts in community.


Obedience also holds a special place in Saint Benedict’s community. Monastics owe “unfeigned and humble love” to their abbots and prioresses, not because they are infallible or omniscient, but because they take the place of Christ.

Sometimes it will be very difficult to feel any love for the staff here or your fellow students, and very difficult too to obey the few rules that we actually have here. You may have felt you were being treated as a child when you were asked to sign and return the conditions of residence.

And no, the members of staff here do not claim to be the guardians of all wisdom, knowledge and authority. Although Saint Benedict carefully outlined the qualities the leaders should possess – wisdom, prudence, discretion, and sensitivity to individual differences – becoming a member of the staff here did not give me an extra measures of those qualities, even in medium doses or measures.

But the Benedictine Rule emphasises mercy over justice, more to understanding of human weakness than strict accountability, more to love than zeal. What defines the leader of a Benedictine community is not being head of an institution but being in relationship with all the members. And relationship is at the heart of community life here.

If you think of the rules – about noise late at night, appropriate clothing, where you can drink alcohol or play music, how you decorate your room, how you leave the shower or the sinks after you – if you think of all those things in the light of relationships, then they are much easier to understand.


To add to those three Benedictine charisms, we might count a fourth – hospitality.

We are all residents here – but in another sense we are all guests here. The rooms we use are the rooms others will be using after us. The rooms, the equipment, even the identity of this place, are held in trust by us for others who follow after us too.

And time and again there will be others here as visitors, on short-term courses, as visiting lecturers, as occasional students, as family members and friends, who will be here as guests.

“Let everyone that comes be received as Christ” is one of the most familiar and oft-quoted phrases of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Benedictine hospitality goes beyond the exercise of the expected social graces – the superficial smile or the warm reception of expected guests. Hospitality for Saint Benedict meant that everyone who comes – the poor, the traveller, the curious, those not of our religion or social standing or education – should be received with genuine acceptance.

With characteristic moderation, though, he cautioned against “lingering with guests,” realising that the peace and silence of the monastery must be protected. “Too great a merging of monastics and guests will benefit neither,” says Esther de Waal in Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict.


Stewardship is another value which, like hospitality, captures the essence of Benedictine life. On a most basic level, Saint Benedict prescribed care and reverence of material things (“treat all goods as if they were vessels of the altar”).

For Benedictines, the idea that gardening tools were just as important as chalices has come to mean a total way of life that emphasises wholeness and wholesomeness and connectedness. The body, the mind, the spirit, material things, the earth – all are one and all are to receive proper attention. All created things are God-given, and a common-sense approach to resources should prevail. Thus, Benedictine communities are ready to accept the most recent technology but will use the same bucket for 30 years.

“Taking care of things” has been elevated to a virtue of surpassing value in Benedictine monasteries.

A balanced life:

The Rule of Saint Benedict divides the community’s life into a balance between work, study and prayer. Well, your work may appear to be study too, so let’s look at your life here under the three headings of: Work/Study; Prayer; and Life itself.


Much of your time here in this community will be spent either at lectures, or in the library or your room studying.

One of the biggest burdens for most students here has been travelling in and out of Trinity College Dublin. Travelling together on the bus, the Luas or in car pools is not only a way of sharing – it is a way of building up friendships.


Your private prayer and your community prayer, your prayer in your room and your prayer in the community, should be integrated rather than separate compartments. Remember that the disciples were taught to pray in plural nouns and verbs: “Our Father … give us … forgive us … as we … lead us … deliver us.”

We must learn to pray for one another, we must feel not only comfortable, but confident and relaxed about praying for ourselves and for one another in the community prayers.

All are asked to take part in the community life of prayer: leading worship, reading scripture, leading music or reflections. This is not practice time to make your proficient practitioners of liturgy … that comes with your placements. It is because worshipping together, praying together, shapes and forms us.

The agreement that you attend chapel twice a day unless there are constraints imposed by your timetable or some unforeseen circumstances is not to rule or regulate your life. It is not about “getting Church.” It is about shaping us a praying community, about our spiritual formation, and that formation takes place within the Anglican tradition and cycle.

Life itself:

Community life here should be fun too. We will have shared meals, shared social events, some of us will head off together to restaurants, pubs, movies, shopping, sports events, visits to museums, &c.

Friendships will develop. Be open to new friendships. Be open to friendships with people you were not friendly with on the Foundation Course, people from different places and with different accents.

But treat your friends with respect too, and be aware of the dangers of inappropriate friendships. If you are not, then I guarantee you will face real problems when it comes to parish ministry.

And here I should make it clear that it is inappropriate to treat someone differently because of their gender, ethnicity, social or class background, previous church affiliations, sexuality, accent, political preferences, church tradition … need I go on?

Suffice to say that if you think there is even a hint of discrimination or bullying your tutor or any other staff member will listen carefully and pastorally and ensure appropriate action is taken.

None of us made a choice about which family we were born into, where we were born, or the social and other backgrounds we were born into.

But we are each made in the image and likeness of God, and each of you has been selected by the Church for training for ordination. And the staff members support each and every one of you, and will stand up for you if you feel you are the victim of any type of discrimination or bullying.

To conclude:

Benedictine values are as necessary today as they were in the 6th century. In an era of countless personal and societal sins – materialism, greed, prejudice, hatred, violence, and the destruction of the earth and its resources – Saint Benedict’s Rule remains a powerful alternative, another way of viewing life and people and things that finds meaning in the ordinary and makes each day a revelation of the divine.

During your time here, there will be time when you find community living a real joy, and times when you will find it a real pain in the neck. But the most dangerous time may be when you start to take it for granted.

“We being many are one body for we all share in the one bread.”

Do not take community living for granted.

Do not take the other members of the community for granted.

Do not slip into a place where you are taken for granted.

For here we are a living expression of the Body of Christ. And we can never take the Body of Christ for granted. It is a gift beyond cost.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (London: SCM Press, 1954/1983).

Esther de Waal, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict (London: Fount, 1984).

Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today (London: SPCK, 1972/1985).

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth (New York: Paulist Press, 1989).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. These notes were prepared as part of the introductory weekend at the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year.

President Higgins compares refugee crisis
with the Great Famine in Ireland

Canon Patrick Comerford and Imam Mohammed Ibrahim at the National Famine Commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery

This weekend’s edition of ‘The Church Ireland Gazette’ [16 September 2016] carries this photograph and half-page news report on page 4:

President Higgins compares refugee crisis
with the Great Famine in Ireland

European nations failing to respond to their humanitarian obligations to refugees should learn the lessons of the Great Famine, President Michael D Higgins told the annual National Famine Commemoration last Sunday in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

President Higgins claimed some of the rhetoric used today about people crossing the Mediterranean “marine grave” was similar to media reports during the worst period of Ireland’s 19th century catastrophe.

President Higgins unveiled a Celtic cross memorial to the one million Famine dead following the failure of the potato crop. Between 1845 and 1849, over a million people died of hunger and related diseases, and two million fled a country “with no hope.” Many who emigrated faced fresh marginalisation on arrival on foreign shores.

President Higgins asked: “Is there not a lesson for all of us, as we are faced in our own time with the largest number of displaced people since World War II, as the Mediterranean becomes, for many, a marine grave, as European nations fail to respond to their humanitarian obligations?”

Canon Patrick Comerford, who represented the Church of Ireland at the commemorative service, said in his prayers: “As we remember those who were driven from this land in their hunger, in their thirst, and in their quest for justice and mercy, and how they left on the high seas, let us pray for those who are driven from their own lands as they hungered and thirsted for justice and mercy.”

He added: “Let us pray in particular for the people of Syria, for those who are on the high seas in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, and those who flee places where climate change and our inaction deprives them of justice and forces them to choose between, on the one hand, hunger and thirst at home, and short measures of justice and mercy in the countries they reach.”

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, said that at the height of the Famine, 50-60 funerals a day were taking place in Glasnevin, making it one of Ireland’s largest Famine burial grounds.

The chair of Glasnevin Trust, Mr John Green, described Dublin as “a refugee city” during the Famine.

Prayers were also led by Bishop Eamon Walsh (Roman Catholic Church), Rachel Bewley-Bateman (Society of Friends), Dr Fergus O’Farrell (Methodist Church), Leonard Abrahamson (Jewish Representative Council), and Imam Mohammed Ibrahim (Islamic Cultural Centre).

The Chargé d’Affaires at the British Embassy, Neil Holland, was among foreign ambassadors and diplomats who laid wreaths at the memorial.