Worship as Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity

By Farwell, James | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Worship as Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity


Farwell, James, Anglican Theological Review


Worship as Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity. By Graham Hughes. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. vii + 330 pp. £45.00/$70.00 (cloth); £17.99/ $27.99 (paper).

The opening section of Graham Hughes s provocative work at the joint horizon of liturgical theology and liturgical henneneutics offers an astute overview of twentieth-century philosophy and its implications for how liturgy means. His placement of phenomenology, deconstruction, and semiotics within their intellectual context will illuminate both specialists and those who are less familiar with the significance of these movements to liturgy and theology. Not all his claims are indisputable; for example, his interpretation of deconstruction mainly as an abandonment of the search for meaning (p. 29), or the replacement of one totalizing certainty (identity) with another (difference) (p. 61), takes sides in a dispute about Jacques Derrida's purpose that is far from settled. Nevertheless, Hughes is generally as sympathetic an interpreter as he is critical. On the whole, his presentation of the philosophical texture of late modernity and the crisis it poses for Christian theism is fair and convincing. He aptly describes within that context the travail with which modern Christians both find and make liturgical meaning.

Drawing on Paul Ricoeur and Charles Taylor, Hughes sketches a theory of meaning that is rational but not rationalistic, acknowledging the full range of kinetic, auditory, verbal, and visual dimensions of liturgical meaningmaking. He then turns to Charles Peirce's semiotic theory to help fill in that sketch. Peirce's triadic theory is still insufficiently appreciated in theological disciplines, and Hughes does a great service by making constructive use of his work. With Peirce's help, Hughes explores liturgy as something to which both sign producers and sign recipients contribute. In this cooperative exercise of meaning-making, the symbolic riches of the tradition encounter the symbols of the modern lifeworld, sometimes uneasily. Liturgical meaning will always emerge at the point of that encounter. To face the tension of that encounter and to help effect "means of rapprochement" between liturgy and the modern lifeworld is the task of liturgical theology (pp. …

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