Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan
Part Two: Practices – Chapter 7: Active Participation
Chapters 5 and 6 were about understanding the liturgy, but engagement with it is also necessary!
The Nature of Liturgical Spirituality
How does liturgy form us into the Body of Christ?
- Consider what the liturgy is and does (its objective pole).
- The Liturgy forms Christian community in six ways:
- Liturgical prayers are models for personal prayers.
- The liturgy sets the pattern for spiritual disciplines.
- The liturgy provides a setting for life-changing encounters with God.
- The liturgy supplies shared “signs, symbols, and rituals” for expressing our relationship with God.
- The liturgy forces us to remain aware of our relationship with the world and the call to mission.
- The liturgy is a stable resource in times of crisis.
- The liturgy brings “wholeness and healing to worshipers. For example, confession-absolution releases us from guilt; liturgical prayer, by its corporate-ness, heals our loneliness and fosters true solitude” (p148).
- “The purpose of the liturgy is not to express our thoughts and feelings but to develop them, and like any good school the liturgy expands our horizon, liberating us from captivity to the moment and to the familiar…. Because the liturgy does not always express what we think or feel it has the potential to transform those who share in it” (p148)!
- The liturgy has a critical function for our spiritual formation.
- “For if the liturgy only makes us feel good and never challenges us, perhaps the liturgy is not shaping us, but we are simply making use of it for our own ends” (p149).
- “If the thrust of our Christian living is not response to the Paschal Mystery, then no matter what we do to the ritual, its depth meaning will still escape us” (p149).
- The Liturgy forms Christian community in six ways:
- Consider who’s ‘doing’ the liturgy (its subjective pole).
- There is a creative tension between the objective question of what the liturgy does and the subjective question of how individuals appropriate it.
- Appropriating the liturgy into our lives helps us function as a member of the Body – that is, in relation to others.
- Liturgy is a synergy (divine action working through human action).
- God’s action is bestowing grace upon his people.
- But what’s the human action?
- Knowing the how and what of the liturgy itself (chapter 6) allows us to participate in the liturgy meaningfully.
- Knowing how to do the liturgy allows us to participate in the liturgy actively…
The Nature of Active Participation
How to do the liturgy – this is the heart of liturgical spirituality – what is the part we each play?
- “Active Participation” is a complex concept.
- Individuals’ understanding, attitude, and discipline factor in.
- How the leader performs factors in.
- The meaning of a ritual or particular mode of participation affect people differently.
- Fixed forms may seem like a lack of variety to some people.
- Fixed forms may be a welcome familiarity to other people.
Long story short, this is not an issue for simplistic answers!
- In parts of the liturgy there is ample opportunity for “a certain variety by which the riches of the liturgical tradition will also be more clearly evident… [yet] the power of the liturgical celebrations does not consist in frequently altering the rites, but in probing more deeply the word of God and the mystery being celebrated” (p152-3).
- There are many parts of the liturgy to elicit different sorts of active participation.
- Active participation is best fostered when people understand the liturgy, are inwardly prepared for it, and are able to use their gifts.
- A variety of expressions are available to foster individuals’ participation.
- Stability is still necessary to allow the congregation to grow deeper together.
- There is a constant need to juxtapose the old and the new in a vibrant liturgy.
The gathering of the church necessarily consists of leaders and people.
- There are those who proclaim in persona Christi and those who respond.
- This is the primary expression of the revelation-response dynamic of worship.
- Proclamation & Response are mutually dependent, and complete one another.
- A common complaint is that the leaders seem to do all the ‘work’ in worship.
- This is how most Free Churches structure themselves.
- Trying to get more people onto the platform doesn’t solve the problem, it just creates more ‘leaders’ to do all the ‘work’ – reinforcing the misconception.
- The “praise and worship” rock concert style may not be ‘active’ participation at all!
- Like the divine-human synergy, a leader-people synergy must be maintained.
For Active Participation, the way things are done is just as important as what is being done.
- Doing the liturgy isn’t a checklist of instructions, but more like acting out a drama.
- If prayer is too stuffy or too clumsy and repetitious, it’s a quenching of the Spirit! Same with music that doesn’t draw the people in, or reading habits that are distracting.
Disciplined Participation is also necessary for Active Participation.
- Readings should be “spoken in a loud and clear voice” so people can hear and understand.
- People should listen with attention, demonstrating “intent on cooperating with God’s grace” (p155).
- Intention and attitude are just as important as attention.
- Silence, too, is a necessary correlate to sound and action. “Just as there are rests in music, just as Sabbath correlates with work in the seven-day cycle, silence within the liturgy enables everyone to better attend to its deeper meaning” (p156).
Music is also valuable for enabling active participation.
- “Singing, like prayer, is not just one component of worship, but a basic mode through which the liturgy is carried out” (p156).
- Singing the Psalms is the theological equivalent of reading other parts of Scripture.
- Singing parts of the liturgy can make it more beautiful and attractive for us.
- Solo or choir music are offerings to God on behalf of the congregation.
- “The real reason we worship is that we are a people shaped by the Christian story. If this is so, can we simply entrust our worship to ‘worship leaders’ who have no such understanding?” (p157).
- “The church from ancient times has precedents that in the ‘full sense’ (sensus plenus) they refer to Jesus Christ. They are truly the prayer of Jesus and also of his church. As song, a psalm aims ‘to move the heart of those singing it or listening to it and also of those accompanying it “on the lyre and harp”’” (p158).
- “Therefore we pray the psalms in the spirit of Romans 12:15: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’ In singing the psalms, we become aware of the church catholic” (p158).
Spiritual awe is possible “when we are able to connect worship with the awe we experience in daily living” (p158).
- Births, funerals, and other occasional events can be special moments that help us make connections between daily life and the liturgy.
- Ordinary life should also be connected to our spiritual growth. “Liturgical formation therefore needs to be pursued systematically if it is to forge a regular pattern of living – what in spiritual theology is called asceticism” (p159).
- Most often, the effect of the liturgy comes to us over a period of time.
- Many of us have experienced the immediate satisfaction of an exceptionally good meal, while having to struggle through the regimen of a healthy diet with no apparent effect. Yet it is the regular practice of a balanced diet that will bring long-term benefits. The same could be said of worship. To use a different analogy, ‘liturgy and liturgical change is like reforestation: we do not immediately gather profit’” (p159).
- What truly forms people is regular attendance at a church with a normative liturgy.
- Active Participation, then, is involvement such that we absorbed into the rhythm of the liturgy.
- Adopting a common posture (standing, sitting, kneeling…) is a sign of unity which expresses and builds up the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants.
- Another liturgical rhythm is the dynamic of Ordinary and Proper elements.
- Ordinary elements are fixed are rarely (if ever) change.
- Lord’s Prayer, Creed, the Offering, etc.
- This anchors the congregation in the familiar.
- Proper elements change from week to week or season to season.
- Readings, hymns, prayers, etc.
- This directs the congregation to the new, and provide variety.
- In playing games, “the rules of the game are strictly observed, yet there is an infinite number of moves, and this makes each game different and exciting” (p160).
- The rhythm of worship is what maintains the spirituality of the liturgy. – Although there are hourly, daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual cycles, it is not merely repetitive, but a journey toward and intended end goal.
- Ordinary elements are fixed are rarely (if ever) change.
The Rhythm of daily prayers – the Liturgy of the Hours – the Daily Office
- Christians origins of this practice come from the command to “pray without ceasing” and the Jewish practice of praying at certain times of the day, combined with the command to pray with “one accord.”
- This cycle (primarily of morning and evening) matches the natural cycle of day and night.
- “Modern people may seem to have transcended nature, but they still need the work-rest, waking-sleeping cycle and so have not entirely left behind the creation rhythm” (p161).
- “Daily prayers need to be theologically informed if they are to be spiritually sustaining” (p161).
- “We need to see our own quiet times are joined with the corporate prayer of the church. They are not just ‘my private prayers’ but belong to the whole church. Ultimately they are effectual because they are the prayers of Christ…. The Church at prayer is praying ‘the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.’ We must never lose sight of this basic theological fact; otherwise prayer becomes privatized and isolated from corporate life in Christ. Personal devotional habits, then, should be understood as a necessary preparation for better participation in common prayer” (p161)!
- The Morning Prayer liturgy focuses on hope and new life; the Evening Prayer liturgy focuses on the hope that belongs to Christians at the end of life.
The Rhythm of the Christian Calendar
- In the Northern hemisphere, the natural seasons coincide with the yearly gospel narrative. In Southern, the calendar is more like a pilgrimage tied to the gospel events.
- “When we order our lives around the church year, we ensure that no part of the gospel goes missing and that we are furthering the gospel story until the parousia” (p164).
- “This cycle helps us discover what is really important: the great events of God’s mighty acts in Christ that we proclaim, and for which we give thanks in our worship” (p165).
- “The church that observes the church year and the lectionary that goes along with is is less likely to find itself a victim of the urgent or the fashionable” (p165).
Active Participation in its fullest sense (and thus real spiritual formation) takes place “when we are no longer consciously figuring out what the liturgy means but are fully attentive to it” (p165).
- This is just like driving: we do it best when we’re not trying to think it through.
- This is just like art: we appreciate it best when we’re engaged with it, not when we’re listening to an art critic’s lecture.
- This does not negate the need for explanation, instruction, and understanding, but shows that “one needs to beyond the words and explanations and enter imaginatively into it” (p166).
Challenge: the modern imagination is stunted.
- In our world of science and engineering, we’re used to thinking in terms of definitions and categories.
- We need to relearn the power of concrete symbols.
- “Above all, [we] need to learn the language of the liturgy and not be too quick to dismiss it when it cannot be readily understood” (p166).
- In the liturgy we are reminded that the truth we encounter is a living person, Jesus Christ, not a checklist of worship to-do’s or a list of doctrines to believe.
Learning to worship is like getting to know a person; it takes time and sacrifice. “It is liturgical worship with its carefully crafted language, sights, sounds and movements that could best assist us in that personal encounter” (p166).