Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Doing" the Service

One of the things that I find I understand. . . but I don't understand, is the discussion and even angst over Rubrics in worship. There can be this continual focus on what is the best way to *do* the liturgy - how best to read, to even "perform" the liturgy.

Now, this is not to say I am opposed to serious forms and gestures and actions during the liturgy. This isn't to say I don't care which direction I'm facing -- to the contrary, that teaches. But here is the thing - unless the "why" of the Rubrics are taught. . . they don't really teach.

When I teach the liturgy, when I teach my acolytes - I don't just teach the Rubrics, but what they mean. Why do you reverence when passing in front of the altar or changing level? It's a matter of respect for Who will be present on the Altar, and it shows that we aren't just running around in a room, but a room set aside for God's service to His people.

Simple repetition can make and establish a tradition, but unless the importance of that tradition is taught (or becomes obvious). . . it can easily disappear. And not all traditions need be the same -- when I quote from the Scripture in my sermon, my right arm lies flat on the pulpit and I lean over the text, eyes never lifting from the text. Now, the folks here know that when I do that, I am reading Scripture in my sermon. It's useful. They get it. But if the next person, or indeed, no one else does it -- so be it.

Hmmm. . . this is scatter shot in terms of organization. Maybe my focus is more on the Word and what is said or sung. . . what the blind would get from the service as being more important than the specifics of what is seen. Do rubrics make the service, or do they focus and clarify the service? I'd say it's the later. . . .


William Weedon said...

Depending on the context, they also CONFESS. When the pastor genuflects during the Verba, he is clearly confessing that what is upon the altar is the body and blood of the Savior (contra receptionism). Bodo Nishan had a couple of stellar works on the Reformation in Brandenburg and how the liturgical conservatism (including rubrics) came to be bigger than life in marking out Lutherans from those leaning toward the Reformed.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

On this I agree - and some of the rubrics convey an obvious idea. . . while I end up not genuflecting here, I will elevate during the Pax Domini. Oh, look. . . that must be where God's Peace is. . . that makes sense.

But Confessing also depends upon understanding. If I walk up to a group of people here in the US and read off the Augustana in Latin. . . if it is beyond understanding, what have I confessed to these people. Confessing before men is part of the phrase there.

And even in regards to the specific rubrics. . . there is not a single way that shows, and alone shows, the idea being confessed.

Again, I think this hits to one of the traps that pastors can fall into. We are used to dealing with things theological - and we don't always remember that not everyone thinks in terms of ceremony or theology.

Some rubrics are fairly obvious. I kneel during confession, even though the Congregation stands as there are no kneelers. That had an impact - but even then I had to explain to quite a few people why.

Speaking or confessing in Rubrics, sadly enough, is almost like speaking in Latin. It's a good thing, worth-while - but we need to remember that we have to not only do, but speak -- and that in this case, perhaps our actions don't speak louder than words.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading and writing on liturgical ritual. I'll email you a presentation I did for our circuit. Issues of simplicity, intelligibility, transparency, etc. do not make for good ritual. The 'why' can only go so far. Ritual appropriate to our confession of faith actually draws the person into a reality beyond rationality. Rubricism is certainly not the answer, but sometimes opacity in ritual is most beneficial.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I would appreciate that!

And to clarify - I'm not arguing for a watered down service or ritual or even a simplified liturgy, but rather that we also teach the liturgy. If one understands what is happening, one is drawn. Otherwise, someone just sees that something strange is happening. . . probably something that may or may not feel neat, but I don't think that is the focus.

I think we ought learn from the Jewish Seder. Dad, why do we eat these herbs? Dad, why are we wearing our sandals? Ritual must be taught -- it can't simply be the pastor who understands the esoteric wonders of the service - it must be taught (at least to those who have ears).

Anonymous said...

Well then, Eric, I would suggest you teach :-). And encourage others to do the same. Yet, there is a sense in which the rubric done intentionally and yes, well, teaches. I'm thinking of a young man (evangelical) who wandered into a service one Sunday morning and has never left. He "experienced" (his words) something he'd never seen before. He didn't understand much, but he wanted more.... He later learned the why. I know him by name and share a fine coney with him now and then...and am teaching him the fine art of beer appreciation.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Say the black. Do the red.
Satis est.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

That's all well and good -- but people still need to know why the red is done and what it means.