About three years ago, my grandfather, a Ukrainian Orthodox priest for over 50 years, gave me a book. The book was written by a Russian priest of the nineteenth century, and provides basic rubrics for clergy and choir directors in celebrating the liturgical year. When my grandfather handed me the book, he said, “this is for you: here is the liturgy of our Church, completely unchanged for 2,000 years.” As a student of liturgy, I knew this was a fatuous claim, from no disregard for the book itself. Yet my grandfather’s statement is by no means an isolated opinion; on the contrary, his statement represents the claims of many longtime churchgoers who miss the liturgy of the “good old days.” I have no intention of absently dismissing people who long for the liturgical styles of the past. Their opinions and sentiments are instructive for understanding the natures of both liturgical celebration, and also the local ecclesial community. Having served the Church as a choir director and deacon for almost twenty years, many people in the Church have expressed a similar attitude to me about liturgy’s unchanging nature. This attitude prevails among a great number of clergy and laity, and inevitably leads to conflict, and the occupation of unrelenting positions by people on both sides of the fence, both those in favor of maintaining the status quo (even if the status quo is simply a local tradition), and also those who would reinvent the Church’s ordo at any opportunity.
The twenty-first century has introduced several new challenges for Christians in America. Americans are currently working longer hours, commuting long distances, and struggling to manage the time needed for family, work, and Church commitments. The current economic crisis has created financial burdens for individuals and communities. Increases in the use of the Web for personal time and business and the recent explosion of online social media networking have also changed the landscape for American encounters with multimedia, text, video, and music. The goal of this paper is to briefly analyze the impact of these phenomena on the Church in twenty-first century Americaand recommend select approaches to liturgical celebration that will facilitate healthy liturgical life in local communities. The current lively discourse on liturgical reform is not the focus of this paper, although many of its topics will certainly intersect with current issues at the center of the debate. John Baldovin’s recent survey of liturgical reform and its critics examines several topics pertaining to liturgical reform. Peter Galadza has also outlined an ambitious agenda for liturgical renewal in the Byzantine Rite, with an emphasis on making liturgy as theologia prima incarnational in Christian daily life. This paper neither recommends wholesale liturgical reform for Sunday worship or other liturgical offices, nor proceeds in a spirit of antiquarianism by seeking to revive ancient practices that disappeared. Instead, it elucidates macro-level principles for local liturgical celebration that will be most beneficial to the weekly and daily rhythms of the local community. Examples are taken primarily from the Byzantine Rite, with supporting references to other traditions.
I. Tradition: “Big T” & “little t”
Whenever one proposes a new idea or component to enrich Church life, one is responsible for showing how the specific idea originates from the Church’s living tradition. The example of my grandfather’s rubrics book shows that people in the Church have different interpretations of tradition. It is appropriate to analyze how we define tradition, and whether or not changing any parts of a seemingly traditional liturgical cycle or office violates the integrity of its ordo. One common perception of tradition is that any given liturgical office as we know it represents the way all Christians of a particular region worshipped throughout the entirety of their history. Frequently, we distinguish local tradition from the Church’s tradition by abbreviating the former as “small t” and the latter as “big T.”
A working definition of tradition can help distinguish between “little t’ and “Big T,” and also elucidate principles for healthy modern liturgical celebration. Robert Taft’s description of tradition provides a good starting point:
Tradition is not the past; it is the Church’s self-consciousness now of that which has been handed on to her not as an inert treasure but as a dynamic life…In theology, we use the methods of history because we are interested in tradition, and tradition is not the past, but the present understood genetically, in continuity with that which produced it.
Taft’s description of tradition requires further elaboration. An example of a controverted liturgical practice can help illustrate the point. Many Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic parishes throughout North Americaare celebrating feasts from the liturgical year in the evenings as “Vesperal liturgies.” A Vesperal liturgy is a celebration of the Eucharist beginning with Vespers. Its structure comes from models from specific feasts of the liturgical year, such as Vespers with the Liturgy of St. Basil on the eves of the Nativity (December 24) and Theophany (January 5), the Annunciation feast (March 25), Holy Thursday, and Holy Saturday. The principle for each Vesperal liturgy is essentially the same: the assembly gathers for Vespers, which includes several Old Testament readings, and then proceeds into the Eucharistic Liturgy, beginning with the Trisagion hymn. The historical structures of these festal Vesperal liturgies have remained more or less intact, though some of their details have changed over the centuries and vary by community. In each case, the Eucharist is celebrated in the evening, a cause of controversy for some when communities adopt this model and apply it to feasts of all ranks from the liturgical year.
Many communities have adopted the practice of celebrating other feasts of the liturgical year by using the same basic structure: begin with Vespers, and after the Old Testament or other assigned readings, proceed to the Trisagion and the rest of the Eucharistic liturgy. This practice simply adapts an ancient festal model, yet there is opposition to the Vesperal Liturgy model. Alexander Schmemann concluded that the Vesperal Liturgies of solemn feasts always occurred after a period of strict fasting, so the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy would allow the community to break that fast. Schmemann stated that the celebration of such Vesperal Liturgies in the morning hours made absolutely no sense, also making the case for restoring the celebration of the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts in the evening. The eves of the Nativity (December 24) and Theophany (January 6) require intense fasting before receiving Communion at the Eucharistic Liturgy. Pastors using the Vesperal Liturgy model have included fasting as part of the day’s discipline for Eucharistic preparation. Rules vary according to local practice, and pastors often adopt guidelines from the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts, which include fasting from breakfast, fasting for six hours, or fasting from the midday meal, depending on each person’s capacity to make it through the day without seriously endangering their health.
The genetic imprint passed on to us from these feasts is that the occasion warranted an evening assembly, which began with the community’s typical evening worship (Vespers) and proceeded to the celebration of the Eucharist. A fast of complete abstinence from food and drink also preceded the reception of Holy Communion at the Liturgy. In our time, some communities have maintained this tradition and simply translated it to other feasts in the liturgical year. A community wanting to celebrate a given feast assembled in the evening after following a rule of abstinent fasting for a given duration during the day, began the celebration with Vespers, and finished with the Eucharist.
Opponents of this practice feel that Vesperal liturgies violate the integrity of liturgical celebration because they do not adhere to the book governing the Church’s liturgical celebration, the Typikon. First, the Typikon assigns different times for celebrating the Eucharist, depending on the solemnity of the feast. For example, Saturday liturgies are celebrated at the fourth hour, Sunday liturgies, and those of the Great Feasts of the Lord at the third hour (9:00 a.m.), with middle and lesser feasts celebrated at the fifth hour. Strict adherence to this rule would not allow the celebration of Vesperal liturgies in the evening, as moving the Eucharist to the evening violates the Typikon’s discipline of celebrating liturgy in the morning. Second, celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy in the evening compromises the Byzantine festal Vigil, since Matins is omitted. Much of the hymnography for the feast, its canon, and the Matins Gospel are not heard by the assembly. The liturgical cycle has an inherent rhythm and ordo, so that having attended Vigil, the faithful would assemble again for the Liturgy in the morning.
Opponents of Vesperal liturgies claim that moving away from the evening and day model of celebration breaks the tradition of a festal cycle. Indeed, parishes and monasteries celebrating the full cycle of services are exposed to more Scripture, hymns, acclamations, and encounter with God and the assembly. This greater participation in liturgy seems to support the opponent’s position, since there is simply more liturgy with more content for participants. Therefore, adhering to the Typikon’s cycle of services would seem to uphold “Big T,” with “little t” consisting of differences in the number of lections selected and hymns sung.
However, the opponent’s position assumes that people will assemble for both the evening and morning services. Missing work to attend a Eucharistic liturgy is simply impossible for most North Americans with work and school obligations, even if it is scheduled very early, at 6 or 7 a.m. Our society functions on a daily rhythm of work, and this has become more complex in the last century or so due to economic growth, an increasingly large workforce, the constantly evolving need to add new professional skills, the entry of women into the workplace and the availability of outside childcare, the expansion of communities into the suburbs, and traffic issues caused by commuting. This list is not exhaustive, but it represents significant social phenomena that impact Church life. In the monastic communities that lived, revised, and celebrated both daily worship and the liturgical year, the monks who did not have conflicting work obediences assigned to them could walk to the church and return to their cells or the next daily task. Even in monasteries, not all of the monks could participate in every service, unless the monastic rule stipulated that the feast was to be observed by the whole community.
Immigrants established many Church communities in America, and members often lived within walking or a short driving distance of their home parish. The home parish was also the locus of activities that promoted community identity and mutual support. Even then, attending both an evening and a morning service during the week was challenging for parishioners. In contemporary circumstances, Christians observe feasts when they can, and the only available time for many comes on evenings, after school and work. Pastors must decide between convoking multiple assemblies to follow rubrical order, or to schedule an assembly that parishioners can realistically attend. In this case, since there were many instances of feasts celebrated with the Eucharist in the evening, the core of the Nativity/Theophany and Holy Week models briefly described above could be adapted for any feast, which allowed full participation by the faithful at one assembly in the Eucharist. While the complete order of services was compromised, this solution was ultimately more faithful to “Big T” by allowing the assembly to observe a more full celebration of a feast of the liturgical year without imposing unreasonable obligations. Liturgical history has been instructive by demonstrating that communities gathered to celebrate the Eucharist on the eve of select feasts
In determining whether a liturgical practice adheres to tradition, it can be risky to depend on the Typikon or similar liturgical book as an authoritative source to settle complex liturgical issues. People frequently misrepresent the Typikon as the sole repository of all Byzantine liturgical tradition. Vassa Larin correctly identifies the Typikon as a model or example, with “instructions [that] can be applied freely, in accordance with the exigencies of any worshiping community, be it monastic or parochial.” Furthermore, the Typikon is really an amalgamation of liturgical practices from numerous regions and centers, includingPalestine, Constantinople, Mount Athos, andMoscow. It cannot realistically fulfill a “one size fits all” function. For Byzantine liturgy, the Typikon provides a model for a liturgical celebration that liturgical leaders can fine-tune for optimal celebration in their local community.
An issue that always comes to play in suggesting liturgical prescriptions is balancing the mutual influence between the Church and contemporary culture. This issue is relevant to liturgical renewal because one could easily argue that the Church does not need to change anything, but should rather challenge the assembly to transform their surrounding culture. In a critique of modern North American culture, M. Francis Mannion laments what he terms the subjectification and intimization of liturgy, in which people seek to find God within their own personal selves or in the context of group intimacy. He concludes that personality tends to supersede the liturgical rite itself, consequently resulting in the diminished capacity of liturgical rites and symbols to engage the assembly. Baldovin acknowledges the complexity of this issue and devoted an entire chapter to sociology and anthropology in his recent book responding to critics of liturgical reform.
Byzantine Rite Christians also deal with this problematic issue, especially in communities with both immigrants and recent converts, where both groups are learning to understand one another’s gestures, mannerisms, and social language, not to mention the Byzantine Rite itself with its clouds of incense, chanting, prostrations, and niched brand of piety with icons. Alexander Schmemann was keenly attuned to this problem and a critic of the influence of Western culture on Christianity. He identified secularism as the chief obstacle the Church needs to overcome, calling it the “negation of worship,” a theme woven throughout many of his writings. Paul Meyendorff states that the Church requires wholesale spiritual renewal in its efforts to overcome the negative influence of secularism, setting limits on what liturgical renewal can accomplish. Meyendorff goes on to state that the Church must “begin with what we have,” which is the liturgical assembly, whenever it gathers. Meyendorff and Mark Searle have both argued that full participation in the liturgical mysteries equips the assembly to become the body of Christ and thus transform it, by God’s grace. Searle suggests that there are two paths, one seeking a liturgy adapted to our tastes and needs, and another rooted in objectivity and “transcending the individuals who participate in it.”
I agree with Mannion, Meyendorff and Searle. Liturgical renewal is not a magic wand, but the liturgy is the encounter of the assembly with God that equips the assembly to be his body in this world and thus transform it in his love. The liturgical approaches proposed below are rooted in “Big T” and thus retain the objectivity of a praying Church. A certain amount of freedom will be needed to navigate “Big T” so that the assembly is truly allowed to participate in all of its humanity in the context of the limitations and challenges the circumstances of this era present. Thus, in some cases the liturgy might need to be flexible and draw upon its larger tradition to effectively equip the assembly to be God’s body. The architects of reform and renewal must adopt an ascetical approach and beware of the temptation of subjectivity so prevalent. This will then require a rigorous process of testing and implementation that allows the assembly to adopt a model and also allows for the possibility of an organic development the architects might not have envisioned, a living, evolving tradition. The resulting liturgical forms might occasionally have the appearance of being changed when they have, in fact, simply drawn upon reserve resources.
In conclusion, three criteria must be met to determine whether a liturgical event follows “Big T” or “little t.” First, the pastoral circumstances of the local community are favored when weighing liturgical options; if the order requires observances that are impossible to meet, then it is obsolete and needs revision. Pastors should always have access to the entire liturgical tradition, not to piece together liturgical fragments for sentimental or personal reasons, but to understand how the Church has developed and adapted its liturgical celebration according to specific pastoral circumstances throughout history. Second, sound liturgical history can assist in investigating the genetic makeup of liturgical tradition, which can help clarify disagreements over pastoral decisions, since it draws from the entire corpus and context of tradition. Liturgical history might show that a practice that appears to be an instance of “little t,” such as the celebration of a Vesperal Liturgy, might actually fulfill the greater pastoral imperative of “Big T.” Last, the objectivity inherent in liturgical forms and symbols should be protected from the tendency to impose subjective influences on liturgy. A rigorous process of implementation and reception can help preserve the richness of symbols and structures.
II. Issues Impacting North American Liturgy
Several new socio-economic events have impacted Church life in North Americasince the end of the twentieth century. The arrival of new Latino and Russian immigrants, the explosion of the Internet and communications technologies, increased time constraints on working adults, and the current global economic crisis have impacted Christian community life. Recent research conducted by the PewHispanicCenterindicates that one-third of all Catholics in the U.S.are now Latinos, and the Latin share is likely to increase in the coming decades. Recent Russian immigrants to theU.S. andCanada have created a new need for Russian-speaking clergy in the Orthodox churches.
Regular church attendance continues to be of concern to Church leaders. The 2007 CARA survey of adult Catholics in the U.S.reported that 23% of adult Catholics attend Mass every week. The same report states that 34% of survey respondents agreed with the following statement: “I can be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday.” More than two-thirds (68 percent) agree with this statement at least “somewhat.” The survey also produced interesting responses to the question on the reasons why they missed Mass in the last six months:
Among Catholics who attend Mass less than weekly but at least once a month, a busy schedule or lack of time (51 percent), family responsibilities (48 percent), or health problems or a disability (41 percent) are the most frequently cited reasons that at least “somewhat” explain why they missed Mass.Among Catholics attending Mass a few times a year or less often, the most common reasons cited that explain at least “somewhat” their missing Mass are that they don’t believe “missing Mass is a sin” (64 percent) and that they are “not a very religious person” (50 percent).
Catholics who attend Mass once a month have made a regular, if sporadic commitment to church. The identification of busy schedules, lack of time, and family responsibilities is telling. It is difficult to ascertain why they missed Mass.For this group, the Church either falls lower on their priority list than family and other business, or they have legitimate commitments that conflict with Mass, such as weekend work commitments or driving distance. The data reveals that the Church is competing with numerous other interests, and people choose, perhaps for good reason, to fulfill another obligation besides Church. According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2002, “the average worker in the United Statesput in 1,815 hours, substantially more than in the rest of the high-productivity countries, which ranged from 1,340 hours in the Netherlandsto 1,668 hours in Ireland.” The report listed numerous reasons for the larger number of American worker hours (compared to European countries), including fewer paid holidays per year, a reduced work week in some countries, and a perception that Americans are willing to work longer hours to reap a better financial benefit. This report appears to confirm that Americans simply have fewer hours of free time at their disposal, a fact well known to pastors.
A national study on Orthodox Christians in Americaconducted by Alexei Krindatch included in-depth discussions with clergy and parishioners forming focus groups in fifteen total parishes of the Greek Orthodox Church in Americaand the Orthodox Church in America. Focus group participants indicated that they would prefer options for attending Sunday liturgy, due to busy work, social, and family commitments. The Orthodox study identifies the same issues of managing professional, personal, family, and Church attendance obligations encountered by Catholics. These brief examples demonstrate that American Christians struggle to balance work and social obligations with Church because they prioritize basic needs.
The issue of sustaining viable congregations during tough economic times is becoming increasingly worrisome. Some parishes have been forced to close for several reasons, including clergy shortages, migration from cities to suburbs, and financial issues. According to a Barna Group survey from December 2008, 20% of all households decreased giving to churches or other religious centers. The economic crisis has impacted community life in several ways. Some communities might be forced to release employees or reduce salaries. Others might seek creative ways to reduce expenses, including the energy use of furnaces and air conditioning systems on weekdays. Even congregants who visit the community more than once a week might curtail their travel to reduce fuel expenses.
These combined socio-economic factors place pressure on community leaders to make the most of their weekly assemblies. If people are coming to Church once a week or even once a month, and choosing church attendance over another legitimate activity (family time, work obligations, rest), they will expect to gain something from this experience. This places a premium on Sundays, holidays of the liturgical year, and other liturgical gatherings. Leaders can address this challenge by exploring liturgical tradition and optimizing existing liturgical structures to creatively enrich liturgical celebration and participation. The following section will propose liturgical principles designed to make liturgical gatherings an enriching and blessed experience for the entire community given the complex and ever-evolving circumstances briefly discussed above.
III. Quantity is not Equal to Quality
The twentieth century witnessed to the re-emergence of Sunday in the Christian tradition. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the liturgy, re-affirmed Sunday as the Lord’s Day commemorating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and called it “the foundation and kernel of the entire liturgical year.” Pope John Paul II wrote at length on the significance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day in his apostolic letter Dies Domini, calling for the recovery of its “deep doctrinal foundations,” for the enrichment of Christian life. Catholic liturgical life has been enriched with the restoration of the prominence of Sunday.
Sunday is also the main day of assembly for Byzantine Rite Christians in North America. In the Byzantine Rite, the celebration of the Lord’s Day begins with the Vigil on Saturday evening, though in practice, most parishes celebrate Vespers only or Matins before the Eucharistic Liturgy on Sunday morning. Meyendorff lamented the reduction of all liturgical life to Sunday in North American Orthodoxy. The Byzantine Rite’s rich tradition of hymnography, which is essentially a repository of patristic theology, is mostly absent from Sunday morning liturgy. Having one weekly assembly, on Sunday, means that other prayers which belong elsewhere are moved to Sunday, creating an overwhelming convergence of themes, events, and priorities. The most glaring of these is the panikhida, a liturgical office consisting of prayers for the dead and hymns adapted from the funeral office,. In practice, because people assemble on Sunday, many parishes add a panikhida to the end of the Eucharistic liturgy. It has also become increasingly common to use this time for any number of activities, such as honoring parishioners with recent accomplishments, asking people working on specific projects to provide updates, making community announcements, having a visitor from a related organization give a presentation, discussing parish business, and other activities that are not a part of the liturgy. Frequently, pastors monopolize this time and either repeat the sermon or add another sermon. After all of this, people customarily socialize at a coffee hour.
There are many obvious benefits to doing all of these activities on a Sunday. Since Sunday is the day of assembly, it makes sense to add related activities to foster community. The difficulty of making multiple trips to the church in the course of a week or even month for many people has been discussed above. Adding special prayers for the dead can provide an opportunity for the community to comfort family of the deceased in prayer and fellowship. And all parish business is inseparable from liturgy, so it seems appropriate to address business topics having just completed worship.
Despite these conveniences, adding activities to Sunday liturgy also creates liturgical problems. First, Meyendorff is correct in critiquing the tendency to reduce of community worship to Sunday. The Church’s tradition of praying the Liturgy of the Hours is compromised, along with its rich biblical and musical heritage of psalms, canticles, and hymns. Second, adding anything to the liturgy, even if it is a lecture following the liturgy or a five-minute catechetical component to follow the homily, overwhelms the entire experience with words. When people enter the church, they pick up a bulletin filled with announcements, and a liturgical book or hymnal containing prayer texts, music, and the people’s parts. Much of the liturgy focuses on text, as people will often read the text from the lectionary, read the text supplied for the people’s parts, and then listen to more words, whether recited or chanted. Given the average person’s limited attention span, it is challenging to process the many components of the Eucharistic liturgy while actively participating. Adding components which require attentive listening or active participation can become draining, leading to the problem of content overload. Additional activities also require more time. As tempting as it is to cram as much as possible into the Sunday assembly, pastors should plan carefully with the circumstances of their parishioners in mind. The most dedicated participants will attend everything, but people who are struggling to fulfill all their obligations could easily tire of overwhelming Sunday experiences. Also, their own benefit from the additional activities will be at risk due to the large amount of content they are digesting.
How can pastors make the most of the Sunday assembly and still provide the fullest possible ministry to the people in attendance? First, instead of adding components or experimenting with them, pastors should work on executing them better. Twenty-minute homilies can be revised to eight to ten minutes with one clear thesis, so parishioners leave the liturgy able to retain and reflect on the core message. In other words, pastors should learn how to speak clearly and directly, without using too many words. If one’s tradition allows it, officiating clergy should chant orations instead of simply reciting them. The chant may be beautiful; it is also easier to hear, and adds a musical dimension that helps communicate the text more clearly. Communities should avoid providing worshippers with responsorial refrain texts; instead, they should challenge their musicians to create a musical setting for the refrain that people can easily learn and repeat. Singing together by memory unites a community in prayer; it also keeps people from focusing on a book or handout.
In short, pastors should make the most of Sunday by breaking open the themes of the day, which are embedded in the Eucharistic Liturgy, the Lectionary, and the liturgical year. A pedagogical tool comes to mind: pastors should identify the “big idea” for the day, which is expressed by the liturgical components, and find ways to weave it throughout the liturgical celebration. Priests, deacons, musicians, and other lay liturgical leaders are responsible for taking the time to practice their ministries for optimal communication with the assembly. If the leaders keep it simple and straightforward, acting with love for the faithful gathered, God will take care of the rest through his Holy Spirit, a theme the Eucharistic prayers of East and West repeatedly express.
For extraliturgical lectures or presentations, pastors can select a day other than Sunday. They should consult with parish leaders to determine a good day or evening in advance to maximize participation. A good option is celebrating one of the offices from the Liturgy of the Hours, and following it with the lecture and refreshments. This practice can establish a pattern for the next special event, so people begin to expect that traditional community prayer will precede the lecture or presentation. For communities that rarely or never celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours, this can be a way of expanding the Church’s liturgical ministry and helping people learn to embrace the blessings of this tradition. People can learn new elements of Scripture, biblical canticles, and a much more broad range of hymnography,
A similar practice can be applied to commemorating the dead. Roman Catholics can emphasize the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed on November 2 as the appropriate day for praying for the dead. Byzantine Rite Christians have numerous opportunities for commemorating the dead within the liturgical year, including the so-called memorial Saturdays: St. Demetrios Saturday in October, Meatfare Saturday before Lent, the second, third, and fourth Saturdays during Lent, and the Memorial Saturday preceding Pentecost Sunday. Many Byzantine Christians continue the tradition of singing a panikhida for their departed loved ones at forty days after death, and on the annual anniversary of their death. One way to encourage greater participation in Saturday Vespers or Vigil is to designate one Saturday a month (or even per quarter for smaller parishes) as the Saturday on which a panikhida will be celebrated for all who reposed during that month or period of time. The panikhida should be scheduled before Vespers, with worshippers invited to remain for a potluck meal for fellowship. Practices like these adhere to “Big T” and allow people to experience a broader range of worship besides Sunday. They also add a social dimension that builds community without attempting to do everything on Sunday. A monthly or quarterly commitment for those who wish to participate is much easier to fulfill than a weekly event.
A final issue worthy of discussion is how Churches should address solemnities and feasts of the liturgical year. Each tradition has ranks of liturgical year celebrations with the expectation that people will participate in a liturgical assembly. The most devoted Christians will make an effort to observe these occasions by attending at least a portion of a service, and communities often try to accommodate them by scheduling fast-moving liturgies before the work day begins, during a lunch-hour, or on the eve of the celebration. But not every Church can complete a liturgical office in thirty minutes, especially if they celebrate the Eucharist.
One common practice that has emerged in our era of instant communication is the dissemination of liturgical content via the Internet. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers the daily readings of the Lectionary online as both plain text (NAB) and also a podcast, with staff volunteers reciting the readings, which allows listeners to hear the text as they would if attending Mass. They also provide videos with clergy and leaders of various backgrounds reflecting on the daily readings. Of course, most Churches post links to the readings on their Web sites, and some broadcast liturgical celebrations live via Web viewing. These examples show how technology can bring liturgical content to people globally and instantaneously.
Artur Waibel’s presentation on broadcasting liturgy programs live on television in Germanyprovides a good example. Waibel distinguishes between the celebrating community and the viewers of the broadcast, with the viewers “distance” providing an obstacle to full participation. The situation is the same for the delivery of liturgical content via multimedia in North America. Viewing content via the Web differs from actual participation in the local assembly because the viewer has complete control. The viewer can read portions of a text throughout the day and s/he can pause the liturgy or return several times to view it later. I do not intend to evaluate the blessings and negatives of the largely unknown and impersonal audience of Christians participating in liturgy via the Web in this space, and how the Cyberchurch relates to the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. It is reasonable to affirm the good that comes from providing access to liturgical celebration via the Internet, with the caveat that it does not allow the same fullness of participation as in local celebration. Thus, the Internet is one way of Christians can participate in the liturgical year.
At least two other options are available for observing the liturgical year. The first option is to celebrate the feast on its annual calendrical day, with an office from the Liturgy of the Hours, evening Mass, or the Vesperal Liturgy discussed in detail above. Many communities will continue to retain this option in an effort to preserve a fuller liturgical cycle. We have discussed the obstacles they currently face in expecting an assembly on days other than Sunday. The second option involves moving the celebration to the nearest Sunday. Many communities have moved the celebration of a solemnity or feast to the nearest Sunday. This seems to constitute a return to a problem of the past, where a lesser celebration overshadows the Lord’s Day celebration of Sunday, in readings and hymns. The Roman Catholic Church addressed this issue in the sixteenth century, following the Council of Trent, with the Missal of Pope Pius V published in 1570. This revised Missal relieved several sanctoral feasts that had overtaken Sunday, and the removal of numerous sanctorals cleared a path for restoring Sunday to its organic primacy.
In the Byzantine Rite, when great feasts of the Lord occur on Sundays, their propers supersede those of Sunday governed by the eight-week cycle called the Octoechos. It has been a long established practice for communities who have limited participation during the week or cannot otherwise meet to move the feast to Sunday, and thus voluntarily supersede the Sunday celebration. Since most feasts have an afterfeast period, the Typikon itself suggests a hybrid Sunday/festal celebration by retaining select festal elements in the hymnography and subordinating them to the Sunday propers. Here is an illustrative example I witnessed in Ukrainian Orthodox immigrant communities. Immigrants of these communities had to work throughout the week to meet financial and domestic obligations, and it was often impossible for them to assemble for all but a few occasions of the liturgical year during the week. The following example of a Sunday liturgy in an afterfeast period emphasizes the festal elements in the following components:
1) On great feasts, churches should use the psalm verses on the third antiphon with the festal Troparion/refrain from the day of the feast instead of the Beatitudes. The Sunday propers (Troparia and Kontakia) are taken in their usual position, followed by the festal propers, after the Little Entrance.
2) The readings are chanted in their assigned order, using the Sunday reading first. The festal epistle occurs after the Sunday text with a slight pause; the same order applies to the Gospel.
3) Homilies should be based on festal themes.
4) Blessings from the liturgical year can be added: the blessing of candles from the Hypapante on February 2, the blessing of fruit on the Transfiguration (August 6), and the blessing of flowers on the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15) should occur on Sunday.
The above model is used with some variation by numerous communities in Byzantine Rite churches. The model adheres to “big T” since the Typikon already assigns festal elements to the Sunday liturgy as part of the afterfeast period. This model retains the basic Sunday order with some emphasis on the feast just celebrated. The challenge for pastors is in managing the content. Adding the festal elements can easily compromise the need to prioritize the quality of the liturgy as a whole over quantity. Pastors need to beware of attempting to catechize the assembly on each added element, such as the blessings that occasionally occur at the end of liturgy. Liturgy and catechesis have a relationship, but liturgical leaders should not feel obliged to stop and explain everything. In this case, it might be best to simply read the lections, sing the hymns, intone the prayers and blessings, and allow the Holy Spirit to work through the assembly’s imagination to deliver meaning to these moments. Celebrating liturgy well gives participants space to process what they have heard and then respond to their encounter with God in the specific context of a hybrid Sunday/feast celebration.
In conclusion, the Church has a responsibility to promote the solemnity of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, commemorating God’s victory through Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and the promise of his second coming. Our liturgies are theologically rich in content, and their structures facilitate healthy communication between leaders and people. Leaders should certainly use Sundays wisely, but they also need to respect the legitimate busyness people endure throughout the work week and the resulting fatigue. Leaders should identify the “big idea” of the day, find creative and memorable ways that communicate it, and work with the people to identify opportunities for liturgical assembly and community events during the quarter, month, or week.
IV. Establish a Healthy Image-Text-Music Relationship
In the above paragraphs, I briefly mentioned the tendency of overwhelming the
assembly with printed handouts. Almost every community hands out some form of weekly Sunday bulletin, often with announcement inserts, the assigned readings for the day, and music. Most communities also have either a hymnal or missalette available in a pew. Even the few churches without an organization of pews or chairs will have a booklet with the main text of the service available for the faithful to follow along. Churches also have tables or shelves with pamphlets on their faith, tracts or treatises on special issues, brochures with information on the parish, and so on. In fact, most denominational publishers bolster their product lines by producing such short materials, from bulletin production to bulletin inserts on issues of interest. In the twenty-first century, faithful can expect to leave the Church with plenty of reading material.
The distribution of printed materials has been driven not so much by publishers, but by a high literacy rate, an increase in education among the laity, and efforts to increase participation among the laity. In addition to an abundance of printed texts, the celebration of the liturgy itself has become increasingly dependent upon text and words. Many clergy would consider the addition of words in a regularly proclaimed homily, an expanded lectionary, the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer and other prayers aloud as a healthy development. The reform effected by Western churches in bolstering the liturgy of the word in the expansion and organization of the lectionary and restoration of the homily was necessary and healthy, breathing new life into a liturgical structure that had been obscured. The same can be said for restoring the recitation of the Eucharistic prayer, a prayer belonging to the entire assembly, dialogical in nature. However, much of the liturgical celebration has come to focus on a preponderance of words and the manner in which they are executed. The pendulum has shifted from one extreme to another; the assembly has moved from an experience of mere observation to participating almost entirely by reading the prayer, poetic, and scriptural texts with the liturgical leaders proclaiming them. The ministries of responding, acclaiming, and listening have become secondary, if not completely diminished.
Early in my career as a choir director, I led the music for many liturgical celebrations in which the assembly handled all of the singing, with no choir or cantor. I have also witnessed numerous attempts to implement assembly singing in Byzantine Rite parishes. The result is similar from one church to the next. The assembly handles simple acclamations and responses, such as “Amen,” “Alleluia,” “Lord, have mercy,” other similar refrains, and even familiar biblical canticles with relative ease. The musical and liturgical execution of other liturgical texts, especially poetic hymns, can be plodding, burdensome, and altogether forgettable. The other consistent trend, however, is the focus of the assembly. Most people are entirely focused on the text, since their ministry has become one almost exclusively of singing, with the occasional glance at the musical leader. Focusing attention on the other elements of liturgy, the movements of the clergy, the carrying of the Gospel book, the surrounding art, prostrations and other portions of the celebration are compromised by a focus on the text. One parish distributed the stichera for Psalm 141-special poetic hymns expressing theology, praising God, and exhorting the faithful to act-to the entire assembly for unison recitation. The result was a disheartening drone. The stichera, sung to special musical tones, were not heard at all, and their liturgical function was violated in the process; they became words available for everyone to read.
These examples lead to a proposal for establishing a healthy balance of image, text, and music in liturgical celebration, a balance organized by the liturgical structures themselves, as opposed to being imposed on the liturgy. An effort towards restoring a healthy balance of these components will require some ascetic discipline on the part of communities accustomed to producing as many words as possible in a sincere effort to communicate. Adopting this approach will serve as an acknowledgement that the twenty-first century Christian has evolved from an educated and literate person able to handle complex texts to a person encountering and seeking a wide variety of images, music, and texts through multimedia venues. On a daily basis, people view images not only on television, but also on the Web. They watch videos, read news, search for recipes, chat with friends, conduct business, and play games. They are seasoned users of social media, viewing one another’s photos and videos on Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace. They use the Internet for serious research, accessing ancient manuscripts scanned into a digital image format, reading articles archived online, and using sites such as Google Scholar to quickly find information.
The Church has not condemned these practices. In fact, in many ways, the Church is increasingly embracing the use of the Web and social media as a means of reaching people. The Vaticanlaunched its own YouTube channel and iPhone and Facebook applications for young people to dialogue. The modern phenomenon has a parallel with the development of literacy and higher education in the twentieth century. Just as people gained more access to texts, people now have global and instant access not only to text, but also to images, videos, music, and other people. The challenge for twenty-first liturgy is to meet the communications needs of the current generation, one less reliant on text and more accustomed to processing shorter messages in multimedia format.
The Church’s tradition of music, art, and architecture organically promotes lay participation and allows liturgical structures to function per their design. In the Byzantine Rite, new schools devoted to iconography are appearing throughout North America. M. Francis Mannion has recently called for a renewal of the Catholic iconographic tradition, emphasizing the need for a visual frame of reference to manifest the truth of Christian reality. Musicians from every tradition have provided fresh and engaging settings of the Church’s liturgy that are both beautiful and promote participation.
A logical step for all churches to take is to consider how to make the most of their existing liturgical resources. The worshipper begins their experience with seeing, upon entering the church building. Leaders should consider the organization of the art in the Church. They should position the art so that it enhances liturgical participation. In the Byzantine tradition, the iconostasis has a predetermined structure. Some iconostases are so large, however, that they seem to be the central focus of the liturgical celebration. Church architecture of the twentieth century allowed for some modification, so that the iconostasis was lower, along with the Royal Doors, naturally pulling the worshipper towards the altar table, with a clear view. The celebrant and his assistants are more visible in this arrangement, creating a closer ecclesial bond among ordained and lay. St. Nicholas Cathedral inWashington,DC, has taken an interesting catechetical approach. They have devoted an entire wall of iconography to the life of their patron saint, Nicholas, which emphasizes the mediating presence of the saint and the community. Mannion eloquently summarizes the importance of the visual components:
Representations within the liturgical assembly of Christ, Mary, the saints and angels, as well as imaginative anticipations of the life of eternity, are critical to sustaining a strong and compelling vision of the Christian reality. These aspects of faith cannot be adequately expressed, engaged or advanced by the verbal alone. The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is eminently true of liturgy.
Perhaps most importantly, whatever the artistic arrangement, leaders need to be wary of obstacles. On some feasts of the liturgical year, it might be appropriate to make an image of Jesus, Mary, or a saint the focus by standing before the image with readings, prayers, and hymns. Clergy need to be careful, however, about adorning the building with inviting art that people do not engage because they are too busy immersing themselves in text handouts. Whenever possible, handouts should be limited. Announcements can be made after the liturgy’s conclusion and distributed electronically or posted online.Readingsare also meant to be proclaimed and heard for an appropriate response, with the exception of distributing printed texts to the hearing impaired.
There is a flip side to orienting the assembly to the arts: overdecorating the building so that there is no organizing principle to the art and the building is like a collage. Overdecorating can also lead to emphasizing acts of piety over participating in the liturgy. Venerating icons was the preferred act of piety in one parish I served. During the distribution and reception of Communion, I witnessed unpleasant commotion around a woman who was jostling the people around her because their line for Communion was obstructing her access to the icon. On another occasion, a friend reported that a woman literally attempted to climb over a barrier to reach an icon she wanted to venerate. Catechesis can help people understand the place of art in liturgy, but pastors are responsible for giving people an opportunity to encounter God through the art without overwhelming them with words.
There is not enough space here to address the question of liturgical music. However, leaders should again consider the cultural context of the assembly. Every participant has the privilege of raising their voice to God, but this does not mean that every participant should intone assigned readings or lead the singing. The key here is for leaders to maximize the parts of the liturgy that belong to the assembly: the short responses, acclamations, and refrains. The assembly does not need to be the choir, unless it is part of the community’s native tradition, as is the case with some Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant parishes. It is in fact best for the assembly to fulfill its particular liturgical ministry. The assembly offers its prayers through the presider by hearing the prayer, and punctuating it with an affirmative “Amen.” It does not offer the prayer by reading along with the presider or reciting the prayer with him. The assembly’s musical role is dialogical, a staple characteristic of liturgical celebration. The choir is not called to sing everything by itself, but neither is the assembly, unless circumstances provide no other option. In a responsorial psalm, the assembly does not assume the role of the soloist, but sings the refrain as a response to the verses. The deacon reads the Gospel and the assembly sings the Alleluia introducing it; the assembly does not intone the Gospel with the deacon, but instead hears it and then responds in both song and life. The liturgy is actually structured to make the assembly’s role easy, to sing the acclamations, responses, and refrains. Familiar and brief texts that acclaim, respond, and affirm will positively resonate with the current cultural environment that values short, clear, one-idea messages.
Liturgical leaders must do four things consistently and effectively to sustain the musical integrity of liturgical celebration. First, they must learn and respect the dialogical nature of liturgical prayer, and truly learn how each ministry is supposed to function within its structure. Some liturgical leaders with particular talents want to leave their imprint on the liturgical celebration of a community. There is a fine line between innovation and pride, especially if the desire to be creative results in a violation of core liturgical structures. Second, leaders must allow and encourage the assembly to exercise its ministry. The physical position of the choir and/or cantors in the liturgical assembly can be helpful in this regard, as can basic catechesis in the assembly’s liturgical privileges. Third, leaders must appoint appropriate people to exercise liturgical ministries, especially those involving music. Tone-deaf deacons and lectors cannot competently lead an assembly in its responses, acclamation, and refrains. Musicians who can intone a melody so the assembly can repeat it without having to resort to a handout of sheet music, or dumbing down music to a subjective level of simplicity, are fulfilling the ministry of liturgical music to the highest degree. Lastly, leaders should ensure that musical arrangements allow the assembly to participate sensibly. The music should embellish the text. Repetition of words or short phrases in refrains, long melismas, and complicated setting of the assemblies parts of the liturgy will prohibit the people from offering their prayer, regardless of anyone’s subjective evaluation of the music itself. Music that does not serve the text and make it easy to sing and remember as a group is inadequate. The assembly will eventually lose interest in participating, and revert to reading a text or being spectators at a show. Leader should promote good music that serves the liturgical structures and allows each member of the assembly to participate.
In conclusion, the current cultural climate demonstrates a new shift in the typical churchgoer. Contemporary worshippers are attuned to images, sounds, and short, memorable messages in the current communications environment. Liturgical leaders tend to overwhelm worshippers with text and words, which prohibits them from fully exercising their liturgical ministry. Leaders need to promote a healthy balance of image, text, and music in concert with liturgical structures and priorities to establish stronger liturgical celebration in the twenty-first century.
V. Implement Movement
Among the most popular and well-attended liturgical celebrations in most communities are those of Holy Week and Pascha. Depending on the order for the week, communities assemble as often as possible to hear the story of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection told anew. The Easter season, together with Christmas, tends to draw a larger crowd. Families come not only to attend Church together, but also to fulfill the annual obligation of Confession and have special foods blessed.
These Holy Week and Easter liturgical celebrations have had a unique rhythm of their own for centuries. The fourth-century pilgrim Egeria chronicles the stational liturgy of Jerusalem, probably the best known liturgical instance of stational liturgy relying heavily on mimesis. Jerusalem’s stational liturgy, along with Rome’s and Constantinople, represents an ancient model of urban liturgy involving the leadership of the bishop and an assembly at a particular church for a particular celebration. One of the core components of this liturgy was mobility, the assembly literally moving from one place to another. Over the centuries, the vast expansion of Christianity changed the role of the bishop, and parish liturgical celebration was not only presbyteral, but also non-participatory. With some exception, despite sincere attempts at reviving lay participation in the liturgy, the normal liturgical experience for in North America remains static, without movement. Worshippers certainly sing and perform several other gestures during the Liturgy, and they often observe the movements of entrances, processionals, and recessionals executed by clergy and acolytes, but movement within the liturgy is rare. In fact, movement during the Eucharistic Liturgy occurs exclusively at the distribution and receiving of Communion, and again at the dismissal. The movements are integral to liturgical experience, and I do not mean to diminish their significance. An honest assessment of the lack of movement in liturgy leads to the conclusion that it only contributes to the problem of worshippers acting as spectators and concentrating on the texts they have been given, which compromises full liturgical participation. Finding meaningful opportunities for people to move during liturgical celebration can enhance their experience, and tradition offers instructive examples of movement.
Byzantine Holy Week provides several examples of meaningful liturgical movement. Byzantine Holy Week is complex, given the odd daily occurrence of celebrating Matins in the evening and Vespers, sometimes with the Eucharistic Liturgy, in the morning. Holy Week can also be exhausting when a parish celebrates most of the liturgical ordo. Bridegroom Matins are celebrated Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and (usually) Wednesday evenings. The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts can be celebrated Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings, usually with a long Gospel reading.
Byzantine Holy Week gains momentum with the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Thursday on Thursday morning, Holy Friday Matins with Twelve Passion gospels celebrated on Thursday evening, Holy Friday Vespers (Friday afternoon), Holy Saturday Matins and Lamentations (celebrated on Friday evening), the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday (Saturday morning), and the paschal Midnight offices (Nocturne, Matins, and Eucharistic Liturgy).
Most of the Matins services of Byzantine Holy Week include movement, although it fits the description of movement above, clergy moving while the people watch. The people’s movement begins humbly on Holy Friday Vespers, as the clergy carry a sheet with an icon of Christ in his burial call an epitaphios around the Church, as a sort of mimesis of his burial. The people prostrate during the procession, though in practice today, many laypeople join in the brief procession around the church’s interior, including those holding the epitaphios over the celebrant’s head. The procession ends with the laying of the epitaphios on a portable tomb, which is then incensed three times, punctuated by a Troparion and veneration by the entire assembly. The epitaphios is carried in procession again on Holy Saturday Matins, this time with the faithful participating three times around the exterior of the Church, singing the Trisagion. Upon returning to the church entrance, the clergy stop, holding the epitaphios high overhead. The people reenter the Church walking underneath the epitaphios, with the celebrant and clergy continuing the Trisagion, and the deacons censing. The celebrant returns the epitaphios to the tomb in Russian practice-the Greeks bring the epitaphios to the altar- and the readings commence.
A third procession occurs at or near midnight, after the chanting of the Canon at Paschal Nocturne. The clergy lead a procession of the entire community, again circumambulating the church building one or three times according to local custom, singing the hymn, “Your resurrection, o Christ our Savior, the angels in heaven sing, enable us on earth, to glorify You in purity of heart.” The people stop at the entrance, where the celebrant reads the Markan account of Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:1-8). The priest begins Orthros with verses from Psalm 67, and the people sing the Troparion-refrain, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” The celebrant knocks on the door several times, opens it, and offers the Paschal greeting, “Christ is risen,” with the people responding, “indeed, He is risen!”
The description of Holy Week processions above is somewhat abbreviated and most certainly represents “big T,” since there are numerous variations of these practices among Churches using the Byzantine Rite. It is relatively easy to identify the core liturgical components of the processions: a circumambulation of the church building focusing on something carried (epitaphios, Gospel book); the people chant a refrain; the procession ends with a transition to something important. What do they mean? It is easy and dangerous to rush to a hasty conclusion. Besides the obvious mimetic action of burying Jesus in the tomb, I have heard people interpret the Holy Saturday procession as the assembly’s entrance into Jesus’ tomb, to witness to his work as he descends into Hades, to witness to the power of his lifegiving death. Explanations like these are attempts to help people make sense of what they are doing. A closer look at what happens in these processions in an imperfect context can help expand the meaning of the assembly’s movement.
Several of the parishes I have served as choir director or deacon did not have the necessary logistics for circumambulating the church on processions, so they had to adapt and improvise. St. Matthew Orthodox Church inColumbia,Maryland, is located on the edge of a small shopping mall, sharing space with another church. Since they cannot circumambulate the church building, they process outside, around the edge of the parking lot, and walk back to the Church in full view of people frequenting a bank, McDonald’s, gas station, grocery store, and restaurant.HolyTrinityChurchofSt. Paul,Minnesotafollows a similar pattern, processing along the edges of the lawn in an urban residential neighborhood.
These contemporary Holy Week examples are instructive. First, people participate in the processions by walking and singing together, even if the processions end up returning to the same starting point. All who are able participate, including men, women, elderly, children, and sick. People anticipate the experience of walking together, and disappointment prevails if rain prohibits walking outside (the procession just occurs inside the Church in that case). The movement facilitates equal participation among all, even though the rubrics call for order in the procession. Everyone walks, sings, listens and witnesses. Second, and most important, is the experience that comes from leaving the comfortable confines of the church building and going out into the uncertainty of the local neighborhood. Unlike the processions of ancient stational liturgy, the physical destination is essentially the same, the church which we left. There are no mimetic landmarks to observe along the way, no public forum, and no neighboring parish. Instead, the assembly processes through the parking lot, the back lawn, the sidewalk, and encounters the discomfort that comes with being watched and even jeered. In St. Pauland Minneapolis, young people are sent out to maintain peace with the neighbors and protect the assembly from potential hostilities, a sure sign of the risk that accompanies leaving the church. This extension of the Holy Week liturgy into the public is a way of churching the world, a liturgical action of witnessing to the core Gospel message of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
The participation of the entire assembly in the procession has a two-fold purpose: first, to unite the assembly itself, and keep it focused through orderly and directional movement, unified in its chant and destination. Second, these public processions urge the assembly to evangelize the world, sharing the story it proclaims in image, word, gesture, and music. In other words, the movement of the assembly vivifies its liturgically-based mission, to leave the familiar confines of the building and take the word currently transforming the assembly out to neighborhood, for their hearing. The assembly’s return to its original destination might seem trite at first glance, but it actually demonstrates the next stage of growth, in which the assembly returns home for further nourishment, to continue its anamnesis of God’s work in word, song, image, and sacrament.
The idea of a procession as movement might look good on paper, but how does the assembly actually react to the realities of being outside? These public movements can evoke a false sense of triumphalism, where liturgy gives way to a prideful act of arrogance for a narrow cause. In a related way, a public procession can be mere denominational pride, to show off the outer trappings of image and music. Encountering curiosity, irritation, or even hostility from people whose routines are interrupted by public liturgy surely causes anxiety in participants, especially in a North American cultural context that encourages self-contained expressions of faith. But it is precisely this discomfort that is needed, to provide the assembly with courage to share their faith in an effort to church the world, despite the seeming comfort in keeping Church and the shopping mall separate. So public processions like the examples from Byzantine Holy Week, even if they are limited, not only engage the assembly, but also have the capacity to unite the assembly and encourage Christian mission.
The above examples are taken from occasions of the liturgical year. How can Christian communities adhere to “big T” and apply this concept of movement? And are their other ways to encourage movement within regular, more frequent liturgical celebrations? The ability to encourage movement at regular liturgical assemblies depends on the context of the local community. At the Eucharistic assembly, the main liturgical movement is the procession to receive Communion, a component emphasized by Roman Catholic teaching, together with the communion chant:
While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant is begun. Its purpose is to express the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the “communitarian” nature of the procession to receive Communion.
One contemporary example demonstrates how innovation in architecture and the arrangement of the assembly can facilitate meaningful movement at a Eucharistic celebration. Sara Miles, in her bestselling autobiographical story of her conversion, describes how the assembly at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Franciscoplaces the altar in the middle of the assembly. The people all gather around and literally circumambulate around the altar throughout the liturgy. The iconography of the parish is designed to display the saints dancing around God’s dining table, with the earthly Christian assembly joining the saints, an icon of the heavenly banquet. St. Gregory’s practice may be too much of a departure from tradition for most denominations, but it illustrates the power of movement directed by liturgical celebration.
The contemporary ecclesial environment offers several opportunities for liturgical movement. Communities are often clustered closely together in urban North America, with parishes just a few blocks apart. For urban communities facing challenges but without plans to close, scheduling festal liturgical celebrations that include movement from one parish to the next can deliver the blessings mentioned above, especially a sense of unity in sharing the Eucharist. An attempt like this should go beyond the common practice of cancelling Sunday or festal liturgies at one parish so the community can choose to attend another. Instead, the faithful should be encouraged to gather at one community with the intent of processing to the destination community for the celebration of the liturgy. This practice would be an adaptation of the stational liturgy Baldovin describes, but with a purpose pertaining to modern circumstances, namely an attempt to strengthen community identity and vitality. The procession could include responsorial singing, and logistics permitting, prayers and lections. This would also afford the faithful participating in the procession an opportunity to enter the building with the clergy, as opposed to standing in the assembly and watching the clergy and acolytes perform the procession. In this case, the movement outside of the Church facilitates both a public witness, and also a ministry to the members of the host community, who have the opportunity to provide hospitality to their visitors. Solemnities and feasts from the liturgical year that have special meaning for the host community, such as the patronal feast day, or a holiday of meaning to an immigrant community like Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, should provide the basis for the assembly.
Other opportunities for facilitating movement include processing to and through a local cemetery for prayers for the dead, establishing the movement of faithful at a service of ecumenical prayer, and setting up movement for special blessings, such as the blessing of waters, a belltower, church grounds or offices, personal property, and other meaningful places. In Constantinople, it was customary for assemblies to publicly gather to pray for protection from earthquakes and other calamities, and this practice would certainly be not only applicable, but also appropriate in the numerous regions of North Americasusceptible to dangerous weather.
This prescription for more physical movement in liturgical celebration is not made in a spirit of antiquarianism, but rather to identify authentically tangible ways that keep the assembly engaged in hearing, praising, witnessing, and seeking transformation. As communities plan for the future, architecture and property plans should facilitate organic liturgical movement. Easy access to the font and chalice is important for sacramental celebration. Perhaps the time has arrived for structures with multiple entrances, and, when financially feasible, secondary and tertiary spaces which would prove to be natural places of prayer, and to which the assembly would want to process, such as an icon or place of honor in a small courtyard. Equally important is the task pastors face in keeping the assembly engaged and moving. Walking and moving from one place to another is a core human experience, one that can become more meaningful if it becomes more frequent in liturgical participation.
The purpose of this paper was to identify challenges of the twenty-first century to traditional liturgical celebration, and to subsequently elucidate principles that can help the assembly have a more engaged and participatory experience of liturgy. The presentation began by distinguishing between the notions of “little t” and “Big T” for the purpose of evaluating the legitimacy of a liturgical practice in the context of presenting these liturgical principles. We considered the delicate issue of the relationship between the Church and culture, and stated that the Church can draw from its full reserves of Tradition for the purpose of witnessing to the world as God’s body without compromising the objectivity of the liturgy.
The example of adopting the Vesperal Liturgy for celebrations of the liturgical year was not primarily designed to defend this practice, but to show how the adaptation of a verifiable liturgical practice from “Big T” allowed the local community the best opportunity to participate in the liturgy given its contextual circumstances. A brief discussion of the circumstances impacting contemporary ecclesial life inNorth Americafollowed, focusing on family time management, financial struggles for people and parish, and a paradigm shift in the way people encounter images, text, and other multimedia on a daily basis. We then presented three principles specifically designed to help contemporary worshippers receive the many blessings coming from full participation in the liturgy: emphasizing quality over quantity, establishing a healthy image-text-music ratio, and implementing movement. All of the examples and suggestions used to demonstrate how the principles might be put into action are drawn from the broad liturgical tradition, to maintain a healthy respect for “Big T” without resorting to antiquarianism.
The final step of this process belongs to bishops, pastors, deacons, musicians, and other leaders, to sincerely examine the life of their local communities and search the liturgical tradition for opportunities for further growth. As mentioned above, applying these principles must originate from a sincere desire to serve the community with pastoral love, laying aside personal preferences. This means adopting an ascetical approach and practicing self-denial when it comes to presiding at or leading a liturgical ministry in the assembly. Practicing self-denial, with the help of leaders’ assistants providing insight, can help leaders hear with more clarity how God plans on feeding the community in liturgy, and avoid imposing their own favorite practices, music, trends, or texts on the liturgy. The leader’s ultimate liturgical responsibility, one that is implicitly and strongly related to these principles, is to help create the space needed for the assembly to hear God speaking to them and truly live in communion with God in the context of their daily, human experience of work and struggle. The created space, a space not occupied by extra words or things, allows each participant to use their own imagination to process everything they have heard, seen, felt, and experienced to shape their response to God’s blessing received in the liturgy. It is also the way liturgical celebration becomes ecclesiological, by allowing participants to absorb all of the messages, themes, and ideas God delivers in the liturgy so that they can do his work as his body in the world. And it is this daily response that constitutes Christian growth, which is lived in and shaped by the human realities of daily life.
First published in Studia Liturgica 40 (2010) 231-59.