Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Community: The Heart of Worship

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Community: The Heart of Worship

Article excerpt

In the spring of 1966, the then rather recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher (by then Lord Fisher of Lambeth), was interviewed by the magazine Church Illustrated about his views on current developments and situations in the Church of England. While talking about problems the Church was facing, Geoffrey Fisher began to speak of "the real enemy of the Church." He then said, "The real enemy of the Church of England is the liturgiologists."1 They want, he said, to press upon the Church things that the Church does not want.

If Lord Fisher had read the addresses presented at this symposium, I suspect that he would have looked for an even more negative term than "enemy" to describe some of the ideas which have been suggested, or the implications of those ideas. It is certainly true that throughout the history of Anglicanism (let us not forget the reaction to the 1549 Prayer Book), liturgical change has not been accepted without protest. This is comparably true in other liturgical traditions as well.

I can remember some of the correspondence I received as a member of the subcommittee on Christian initiation as we prepared the rites that were eventually published in the Book of Common Prayer of 1979. These letters, which were numerous, were often personal attacks on the members of the committee, and were sometimes addressed to us individually. I remember one occasion when the Roman Catholic liturgical scholar Gerard Austin, O.P., came into my room while we were teaching together at LaSalle College in Philadelphia, and found me very depressed because a man had written to me attacking my work for the Standing Liturgical Commission. If I may be honestly critical of the man who wrote the letter, he had failed to engage any of the issues, theological or pastoral, which motivated us toward prayer book reform. Rather he simply attacked me for disturbing the Church. This, of course, was Archbishop Fisher's complaint: the liturgiologists were disturbing the Church. I was struck at the time, as I read such letters, that often there was very little understanding of what the theological or historical or pastoral issues were which were moving clergy and laity throughout the Church to look at the issue of prayer book reform. That we were working in our fallible ways with matters of real concern seemed not to matter. We were disturbing the Church.

This is perhaps a good reminder to us that the Church needs to do serious catechetical work, not only in normal catechetical programs, but in what I call "liturgical catechesis," to enable people to participate in the signs of faith and to come to perceive the riches which lie beneath the surface of a rite. Unfortunately, often both clergy and laity have lived off the inheritance of, as it was called, "our incomparable liturgy," without understanding it with regard to its substructure, the profound spiritual realities which it is called to express.

No matter how beautiful or hallowed our liturgical forms are through their use by the faithful in public worship and through use in private prayer, if we focus only on the forms it is quite easy for love of the liturgy to become a type of prayer book idolatry. In such a context, Lord Fisher's comment is right on target: liturgists have been pressing on the Church matters which the Church did not want. But my interpretation would be that one will always find resistance to an engagement of the deeper meanings and demands of Christian faith. In that sense, I hope that something of a prophetic role has been fulfilled by liturgists in this long period of liturgical renewal. It is very easy, if one remains at the surface level, to be content with things as they are. But if one relates the liturgy to the wider life of the Church and to the mission of the Church and to the Church's work in serving those who are dispossessed, then suddenly we discern the imperative for the forms to connect with a lived reality.

The question that I am talking about is the question of piety. …

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