Posts in this category are posts which I have migrated from my old blog, “The Liturgical Theology,” on the Patheos Evangelical Channel.

By Porter C. Taylor

I have never been a fan of the sound of my own voice. For those who know me as someone who preaches, teaches, or talks about Manchester United and literary fiction, this may come as a bit of a surprise. I tend to use more words in a day than most people do in a week.

As I was driving away from Holy Cross Anglican Church in Loganville, GA during the summer of 2006, I thought it might be a good idea to listen to my recently recorded (and first ever) sermon. I put the CD into the disc drive in my Nissan Sentra–yes, I am that old–and waited for the audio to begin. This was my first mistake…

The opportunity to preach a sermon for the first time on a Sunday morning had been overwhelming. My previous speaking experiences had come within the context of youth ministry, but this sermon was to be one of my final acts as part of my summer employment. I had big plans for the sermon: I was going to re-write the Nicene Creed satirically and had dubbed the rendition “The Doubters Creed.” Rebecca gave me a loving and necessary nudge in the right direction and I abandoned my 20-year-old-know-it-all-full-of-arrogance plans and returned to the lectionary texts.

I preached at both services that morning with family, friends, and students from the youth group in attendance. I was nervous and excited and full of questions. What do you do with your hands? Should I stand still or move around? What if my voice cracks and I fall down the chancel steps and what if…? You can see how my mind was firing on all cylinders.

So, when I walked past the table outside of the Nave on the following Sunday, I was delightedly surprised to find a CD with my name on it. I grabbed the disc and immediately put it into the drive to accompany me on my 30-minute trek home.

Spoiler: I did not listen for long.

My voice came on through the speaker system in my Nissan and I was horrified. Is that how I really sound? Is that what my voice actually sounds like in real life? My ears were so attuned to the noises coming through the recording that I was distracted from everything else around me…including the pickup truck in front of me which had come to a stop (along with the rest of traffic). I did not stop my car until I had hit the rear of his bumper.

Yes, friends, that’s right: I was so anxious and disturbed by the sound of my own voice that I had a fender bender in the church parking lot.

Moving beyond that embarrassing and non-ticket-able-moment, I had the joyful privilege of recording two podcast episodes which went live last week. The first to “drop” was my segment on The Podluck Podcast with Megan Westra. I was asked to answer the question, “What does it mean to be saved?” in 20 minutes or less. A dangerous task because remember, I like using words. I opted to answer the question from the angle of narrative theology. You can listen to the whole episode.

The second podcast episode to go live was my interview with Ian Lasch of All Things Rite and Musical regarding the #schmemannvolume (We Give Our Thanks Unto Thee). Ian and I had a great time talking all things liturgical theology, Schmemann, and prayer book. You can listen to it here.

I would love for you to listen to both of these episodes, but reader-turned-listener beware: my voice can sometimes lead to parking lot fender benders. Listen at your own risk. Buckle your seat belt. Keep both eyes on the road. Let the dulcet tones overwhelm you…happy listening!

This is the first installment of a new series entitled Language Lessons. The goal here is to take terms/phrases/words from liturgical theology and explore their meaning, especially when the meaning given publicly is often wrong or incomplete.

Alternatively titled: Is it really the work of the people?

Doubly-alternatively titled: liturgy for the life of the world. Yes, that is my nod to Schmemann, first, and then to Kavanagh, second.

Perhaps its my Protestant upbringing—the majority of my time spent in low-church evangelical, Anglican parishes—or maybe it’s the overwhelming feeling in a post-Vatican II environment, but it has become all too common to hear that liturgy is “the work of the people.” That’s all well and good, it’s certainly empowering for laypeople as they cast off the shackles of medieval clericalism. Isn’t that the picture that we (in)advertently paint when describing the Reformation? But my research and dissertation writing has led me to one question:

Is that what the word leitourgia really means?

I’m not entirely convinced that it is does. At least, not in the way that everyone thinks. Leitourgia when used in its historical context does not mean “the work of the people” but more accurately “a public work on behalf of the people.” Sometimes the public work was performed by an individual and at other times it was performed by a small group/portion of the population, but it was always on behalf of the larger whole.

It would be all too easy at this point to write me/this translation off as suggesting that clergy perform liturgy on behalf of the laity. Isn’t that precisely what many of the Reformers were rejecting? Just as the Gospel is for all people so too is gospel-centered, liturgical-focused worship. So, let me state unequivocally, that I am not arguing for liturgy as a work done by those with collars on behalf of those without.

The comfort we take when claiming liturgy is the work of the people is extremely self-centered. We haven’t been able to escape the self-focus of the Reformation in over 500 years. I think that last sentence may get me into trouble with some of you. In this popular sense, liturgy means that I am a participant, that I offer liturgy as work, that the purpose of liturgy is to make every member an active part of the worship. You’ve heard it all before, right? The focus thus becomes the church itself. The “I” and the “We.” But where is the “they”?

Stick with me. You’ll soon find out where I’m going if you haven’t gotten there already, yet.

Liturgy directs of worships and aids our encounter with the Living God. Yes, it allows clergy and laity alike to actively engage in prayer, praise, lament, confession, baptism, communion, and so much more. But have we so forgotten the mission into which God has invited us that our liturgy/s is some how separated? Similarly, and I’ll explain the connect, haven’t we been arguing for decades that the church’s mission and her worship are one in the same??The mission of the church is to help heal and restore a broken, hurt, and lost world to the loving relationship of the self-giving Trinity, to direct the praise of creation back to the Creator, to fulfill the Great Commission.

So, liturgy then isn’t necessarily a work of the people in the democratic sense—wish though we might for the early church to adhere to our sense of self and liberty—but is more logically and accurately a work of the church on behalf of the whole world. Aidan Kavanagh put it this way:

Rather, they [the church] assemble under grace and according to the canons of Scripture and creed, prayer and common laws, in order to secure their unity in lived faith transmitted from generation to generation for the life of the world.[1]

Ah, now we’ve arrived. Let’s stay awhile.

In and through the liturgy, the church shows the world the way the world is meant to be done (Kavanagh). In the liturgy we have blueprint and design for healthy and holy living: gathering, prayer, praise, song, lament, Word, Body, Blood, confession, thanksgiving, dismissal. The Eucharistic liturgy, the very source and summit of our faith and worship (Sacrosanctum Concilium) involves the self-offering of the Church before Christ and the offering of the entire cosmos before her Creator. We make our offering on behalf of the cosmos and for the salvation of the cosmos. Our prayer and worship is a cry to the triune God that all may come to know, love, and serve him fully.

As you think through the meaning of leitourgia, as you wrestle with what I (and others before me) have said, keep in mind that liturgy viewed thus is a charge to always be thinking of the Other: God and our fellow humans. Liturgy is not an act engaged in by many or something that we all do together. It is something that the church engages in together for the benefit, blessing, and uplifting of all creation. It is the public work of Christ’s body on behalf of the cosmos, that she might be transformed in Christ to what she was always intended to be. A subtle, simple shift? Yes, but it is a shift in our understanding that makes all of the difference when we gather together for prayer and praise, for Trinitarian worship, for bath, body, and blood.

You May Also Enjoy: Fridays With Fr. Kavanagh and Liturgy and God’s Redeeming Work.

[1] Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, A Pueblo Book, 1984).

A post by guest contributor, Dr. Eugene R. Schlesinger, Santa Clara University

It’s hard to find something that raises the hackles of Evangelical Christians quicker than the suggestion that the Eucharist is a sacrifice offered to God, unless it’s the suggestion that in addition to being a sacrifice, it is the sacrifice of Christ offered to God. Is this not the height of the vain superstitions from which the Reformers purified the church? Doesn’t such an idea call into doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross for human salvation? Didn’t Anglicans in particular reject this idea when Article Thirty-One of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion said:

The Offering of Christ once made in that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits?

Well, maybe. But to my mind these questions are not the point. I am not going to address them directly. Instead, I want to do a bit of ressourcement—a retrieval of Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Liturgy, to establish not only that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and has been understood that way from the beginning, but that recovering the notion of eucharistic sacrifice is important for Evangelical Christians precisely because of a concern about the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.

Sacrifice at the Origins of the Eucharist

So, first, my claim that the Eucharist has been understood as a sacrifice from the very beginning. Rather than reinvent the wheel here, allow me to refer readers to three important studies: Kenneth Stevenson’s Eucharist and Offering (Pueblo, 1986); Andrew McGowan’s Ascetic Eucharists (Oxford, 1999), and Rowan Williams’s Eucharistic Sacrifice: The Roots of a Metaphor (Grove, 1982). These books show just how early in the tradition the Eucharist was discussed as a sacrifice. In fact, it was sometimes described as a sacrifice without any explicit mention of Christ’s body and blood, or the sacrifice of the cross.

McGowan, in particular demonstrates that it was inevitable for the Eucharist to be conceived as a sacrifice because of its character as a meal in antiquity. Pretty much any public meals in the Græco-Roman milieu were inextricable from sacrifices. This, of course, recalls Paul’s concerns about meat sacrificed to idols when he writes to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:1-22). More than this, though, when we read Paul’s contrast between the Table of the Lord and the Table of the Demons in 1 Corinthians 10:18-22 with this knowledge in the background, we see that Paul is actually contrasting one sacrificial meal with another. Christians don’t partake in sacrificial meals associated with demons because they take part in a sacrificial meal associated with Christ.

Augustine and True Sacrifice

The contrast between the Eucharist and sacrifices offered to demons is also central to Augustine of Hippo’s thought. Augustine has inherited a long tradition of thinking of the Eucharist in sacrificial terms. What’s especially interesting, though, is this: his use of sacrificial language is limited almost entirely to contexts where he is opposing worship offered to demons (e.g., De Trinitate IV and XIII), or speaking about the Eucharist (Confessions IX, Sermons 227 and 272), or both (City of God X, Confessions X, Sermon 198). In other contexts, he uses other concepts to describe Christ’s death. Sacrifice, though, was especially suited to his anti-demon polemic and to his eucharistic thought.

As he explains in book 10 of City of God, sacrifice should be offered to God alone, and not to demons. He was particularly concerned with the practice of theurgy, which, according to Platonists such as Porphyry and Apuleius, would allow its practitioners to be purified by means of sacrificial offerings designed to secure the help of demons. In contrast to sacrifices offered to demons, Augustine insists that Christians have but one sacrifice, which is Christ’s, and that only God should receive sacrifice.

He further explains, by appealing to the Old Testament (e.g., Psalm 51), that true sacrifice is a matter of the heart. A visible and material gift is given as a sacramentum of the invisible sacrifice that God truly requires. Indeed, a true sacrifice is any act of mercy that is undertaken in order to bind together humanity with God in a holy fellowship so that we might be truly blessed (City of God, X.6). He goes further, though, to explain that the one true sacrifice was offered by Christ on the cross so that he might be the head of his body the church, and so that the whole redeemed city could be offered to God by him as the high priest.That last transition is an important one, because it shows that for Augustine sacrifice is not just something that happened to the historical Jesus, but something that is going to happen to the church as a whole. He conceives of our final salvation as a sacrifice where we are offered to God by Christ. And he understands this offering to be at one with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The key insight behind this idea is Augustine’s understanding of the church as the totus Christus, the whole Christ, head and members.

Augustine’s thought here is, of course, deeply indebted to the Pauline image of the church as the body of Christ (e.g., 1 Corinthians 10 – 12; Ephesians 1:15-23). Suffice it to say that for Augustine, salvation is a matter of us returning to God, and that this return happens because we are united to Christ as members of his body. Sacrifice is one of the ways that he talks about that return.

We need to take two more steps to get where we’re going with this. First, immediately after he talks about the church as a whole being offered as a sacrifice to God, he also says that this sacrifice is the one offered on Christian altars, namely the Eucharist (City of God, X.6). Later in the same book, he’ll say that the Eucharist is a daily sacramentum of Christ’s sacrifice, through which the church learns to offer itself (City of God, X.20). This is important, because earlier he identifies the pious acts and ethical lives of Christians as sacrifices (City of God, X.3). Once more this is a very Pauline idea. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul begins the entire ethical section of the letter by describing ethics as a sacrifice offered to God.

Second, because of all the work he’s just done with the totus Christus, such that the sacrifice of the cross, of the whole church, and of the Eucharist are really one sacrifice of Christ, the lives of the faithful are themselves interior to the sacrifice of Christ. This is because the faithful are Christ’s members.

Conclusion: Eucharistic Sacrifice or Semi-Pelagianism

Here’s the point to which I’ve been driving, Augustine provides us with a way of synthesizing Romans 12:1, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” with 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” And this synthesis is vital. Because it allows us to talk about our moral behavior in a way that is connected with Christ’s one sacrifice. Apart from a synthesis like that, we have two options before us. Either we envision spiritual benefits coming to us from a source other than Christ’s sacrifice, or we completely sever any ethical dimension from Christianity.

If the Eucharist spiritually benefits us, it must, somehow, be Christ’s sacrifice, because this is the only source of salvation. If our ethical lives are of spiritual benefit, they must be connected to Christ’s sacrifice, otherwise we are left with a Pelagianism where our moral conduct benefits us apart from grace, or with a semi-Pelagianism where our moral conduct is purely a response to grace. The Augustinian account of eucharistic sacrifice I’ve sketched here allows us to uphold the benefit of the Eucharist and the importance of our moral lives, even as it upholds the bedrock Evangelical commitment that salvation is to be found only in the sacrifice of Christ.

The Eucharist is not a repetition of Calvary, and it’s important to realize that this has never been the teaching of any church. The Eucharist is not a re-sacrificing of Christ any more than our moral lives are a re-sacrifice of Christ. There is but one sacrifice which Christ offered once for all. It is through this sacrifice that he returns us to God. And in the eucharistic sacrifice, he brings us and our lives into that one sacrifice so that through him we may once more come to God. Through his one sacrifice, he transforms our lives into a sacrifice pleasing to God, a sacrifice which is only pleasing to God because it is united to his own.

Eugene Schlesinger is Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. The author of Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology (Fortress Press, 2017) and Sacrificing the Church: Mass, Mission, and Ecumenism (forthcoming from Lexington Books/Fortress Academic), and the editor of Covenant, he understands his vocation to be an Episcopalian who does Catholic theology. He is a systematic theologian by training and, works primarily at the intersection of ecclesiology and sacramental theology. Since discovering Augustine of Hippo, much of his intellectual energy has been devoted to recovering the relevance of a theology of sacrifice for understanding “God, the universe, and everything,” which will be the subject matter of his next book (currently in progress). He is a committed Thomist insofar as he believes that understanding is good, and that being is intelligible, and he strives to belong to what Bernard Lonergan described as a “perhaps not numerous center.”

A Sonnet for Pentecost

Let your Spirit fall on your people once again,
Enable and exalt the praise of our corporate, “Amen.”
Fill our hearts and minds with your unending power,
That with adoration and thanksgiving you we shower.
Fulfilling the promises of prophetic days gone by,
Sent from the Godhead seated in the throne on high,
Ever active, ever moving, ever giving life
Guiding the Church as comforter and midwife.
Our hearts burn with a good and holy desire,
To see your flame and be kindled by your fire.
Anoint and sanctify us that we might know your will
Your presence is sufficient, then and still.
You are welcome here, you are welcome in this place;
Come, O Holy Spirit, bless us with thy gift of grace
 

I like the rich theology of the appointed Collect and Proper Preface for the Feast of Pentecost found in the Book of Common Prayer. However, I felt inspired to offer up a slight variation to be used in either one of those places. As with any Preface/Collect I compose, you could also use this prayer—should you so desire—as an opening preface or closing collect for the Prayers of the People.

Come Holy Spirit!

We praise you O God, who on this day did sent your Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost giving birth to the church. You opened up the gates of eternal life to all people: slave and free, male and female, young and old, Jew and Gentile. Empower us to share your Gospel to peoples of all nations, tribes, and tongues. Grant that we may be anointed afresh by your Spirit, equipped for your ministry, led into all truth, and consecrated for service in your Kingdom, and all for your glory.

vatican-792189_1280_opt

This piece was written by Dr. Bruce Morill of Vanderbilt University for another website. Dr. Morrill has granted me permission to post it here on my blog in its entirety. While much of what is contained below may be for a specifically Catholic audience, I do believe that the Second Vatican Council and all subsequent writings and reflections out to drive us to closer ecumenical efforts and study. Vatican II and the Liturgical Renewal Movement of the 20th century deserve deeper study and understanding in our current context.

May we heed our Lord’s prayer in John 17 and strive to be one as He and the Father are one.

Positives and Negatives in the Liturgy Today

Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., Edward A. Malloy Professor of Catholic Studies, Vanderbilt University

At Pierre Hegy’s invitation, I offer these brief remarks about what I perceive to be positive and negative conditions in the ongoing reform and renewal of the liturgy in the wake of Vatican II.

A singular achievement in the reformed Roman Rite is the installation of the proclaimed word of God—readings of Scripture, homilies, responsorial psalms and general intercessions—as integral to each and all of the rites, not only the seven sacraments but the full surfeit of related rites and prayers (as in, e.g., the Order of Christian Funerals, Pastoral Care of the Sick, Order of Christian Initiation of Adults). By mandating “more ample, more varied, and more suitable reading from sacred scripture” for all “sacred celebrations” (SC 35) and most explicitly and in detail concerning the Mass (cf. SC 51-53), the Council finally set a course for the Roman Catholic Church positively to embrace one of the most positive instincts and arguments of the Protestant Reformers.

With the Sunday celebration retaining and even increasing its predominant role in the church’s post-conciliar liturgical life, the creation and implementation of the Lectionary for Mass has had a singular impact on the faith and imaginations of the people in the pews, as well as many of the clergy. The people’s hearing (in the vernacular) the full expanse of each of the four gospels over repeated three-year cycles (the three synoptic gospels through Ordinary Time, the fourth gospel in each Lenten-Easter cycle and as a supplement to Mark) has over time shaped how they encounter Christ in the liturgy of the Eucharist. The goal of ample liturgies of the word is to enrich and expand people’s images of the Christ they gather around, worship, and receive in holy communion, a Christ not reduced merely to a static figure of tortured death for undeserving sinners but, rather, a uniquely divine-Spirit-filled person sharing a fierce but tender life-giving love for poor humanity unto death.

In practice, of course, the quality of the proclaiming has varied widely: Many parishes work hard at forming lectors as effective conveyers of the living biblical word, while one still comes upon not a few places where the readings are rushed or poorly audible or compromised in other ways. And people, young and old, are often distracted from or even poorly attuned to the snippets of Old Testament and epistolary texts coming at them. But such is the real human scene, and such is the kenotic character of the God who works redemption from within our flawed humanity. But then, also, there is the seemingly intractable, persistent malaise in the clergy’s preaching, albeit again with numerous, occasionally stellar, exceptions. The resurgent disease of clericalism (about which, more below) has played no small part in the ever-decreasing percentage of U.S. Catholics choosing to participate weekly (or even monthly) in the Sunday celebration. Still, as a pastoral minister and theological educator, I have been consoled over the years by people’s pointed questions about why their non-Catholic Christian spouse cannot receive holy communion or why canon law or other disciplines severely restrict sharing at the Eucharistic table. They protest that the Jesus they have come to know and love in the gospel stories at Mass is notable (and rebuked by religious leaders and other self-righteous characters) for his dining with sinners and telling parables about what a world ruled by a merciful and just God looks like.

Giving ourselves over to the mystery (including messiness) of the Gospel requires humble faith and constantly hungry perseverance, for sure. No wonder Tridentine Roman Catholicism, even as late as the early twentieth-century, forbad the laity from reading the Bible. The word of God quickly spins religious institutionalism out of control. Not that the laity are somehow pure or perfect in their readings and hearings of the word; cultural pressures such as consumerism, individualism, nationalism, chauvinisms, etc., readily wound the body of Christ in its members—both clerical and lay. The clergy’s pastoral charge, nonetheless, is to listen to the world in which they would speak the word. They must “smell of the sheep,” in the pithy admonitory phrase of Pope Francis. Seminaries, he has likewise averred, must stop “inflicting little monsters on the people of God.”

The sad negative fact about the state of liturgical reform and renewal fifty years on is that it has been hobbled and, as of the 1980s, curtailed by the persistence of clericalism in the leadership and ranks of those ordained to preside over and preach at the rites. The lamentable outcome of the 1970 synod of bishops concerning the priesthood arguably clipped the wings of the liturgical reform from the start. However high the quality of much liturgical scholarship and wise the judicious proposals of many pastoral liturgists, these have proven largely impotent in the face of the ideology of the priesthood (including the way the crucified and risen Christ Jesus is portrayed as priest and, accordingly, the contemporary Roman Catholic priest as acting in persona Christi). The debacle of the process and official result of the current English-language Roman Missal provides the latest evidence, while revisiting the Vatican’s detailed, “abuse”-obsessed instruction on the celebration of the Mass, Redemptionis sacramentum (2004), provides all the insights one needs into why and how clerical ideology rules the liturgy.

Liturgy, however divinely inspired, is nonetheless human ritual. Human ritual evades reasonable arguments. After all, we humans ritualize precisely in all those circumstances wherein we cannot rationalize, cannot clearly explain. Ambiguity is at the heart of all ritualizing; thus, I have slowly come to learn not to be surprised at how readily Roman Catholics—left and right, radical-traditionalist and progressive, clerical and lay—become upset when trying to explain or defend or advocate change in the Mass (and to lesser degrees of interest, the other rites of the church). Would that all “sides” of the church might get a fair hearing in this continued era of reform, such that renewal might yet begin again.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

church-painting-1206933_640

This is a guest post from Dr. Eugene Schlesinger, lecturer at Santa Clara University, a Rev. John P. Raynor, SJ Fellow at Marquette University from 2015-2016, author, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology with Fortress Press. It was originally posted on my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian. Dr. Schlesinger is also contributed a fantastic essay on Fr. Alexander Schmemann and ressourcement in my edited volume, We Give Our Thanks Unto Thee.

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural post in the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” Stay tuned for more fantastic content like this!

Ressourcement or Reinventing the Wheel

Perhaps the most significant event in my theological development was getting fired from the church I’d helped plant, whose culture I’d helped to shape, and to which I’d devoted three years of my life.[1] For the five years between my seminary education and the beginning of my doctoral studies, I served in pastoral ministry. Most of it was at an Evangelical church plant. We were a missional church: seeking to live out a missionary vocation in all areas of life as individual Christians and as a congregation. One of the ways this played out in the church’s life was in a drive to try new things and find better ways of “being the church.”

During my time at this church, I fell in love with the liturgy,[2] and found it to be an incredible source of renewal in my life. As I experienced liturgical renewal, I sought to share this with my congregation, bringing liturgical elements into our worship. While some parishioners found this a source of refreshment, plenty of others found it unacceptable. I was consistently told that we couldn’t adopt liturgy because we were a missional church. Liturgy was “Catholic” (in a negative sense) and probably “legalistic,” and certainly not missional. I could never figure out why liturgical worship and missional ecclesiology were incompatible. Eventually it became clear that my theological convictions and my vision of the church were no longer compatible with this church, and the ministry relationship ended, and I found a new ecclesial home as an Anglican.

Evangelicals and the Reinvented Wheel

As I delved deeper into the liturgical tradition, I realized that so much of Evangelicals’ efforts at finding new ways of being the church were really just reinventing the wheel. For instance, what were multi-site churches with a head pastor if not dioceses overseen by a bishop? But there was a crucial difference, the Evangelical reinvention of the episcopate lacked a coherent theological rationale, and a connection to the historic succession that grants Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican bishops their validity. Beyond this, a historical ignorance had kept us from recognizing what we were doing, and kept us flying blind. We didn’t realize that the church had long ago figured out about bishops, and might have wisdom about how this aspect of the church’s life should be ordered. Instead, we were stuck making things up as we went along.

The impulse for renewal, and even novelty, was a good thing. As Irenaeus wrote, so long ago, Christ brought all newness when he brought himself (Against Heresies 4.34.1). Genuine encounter with Jesus Christ will always result in renewal, and so when church life grows stagnant, something is badly wrong. This lies behind the call for a new evangelization that has arisen within the Catholic Church over the last several decades. But apart from some sort of historical awareness and engagement with the tradition, the impulse towards renewal quickly devolves into novelty for novelty’s sake, and winds up being a shallow renewal indeed.

An Alternative: Ressourcement

And so I thought: What if instead of just making stuff up, we looked to the church’s traditions to find the answers for how we do things? Without realizing it at the time, I was setting out on the path of ressourcement. At its heart, ressourcement is a strategy of retrieval, returning to the sources that lie at the heart of the church’s heritage: Scripture, the liturgy, and the church fathers. In the first half of the twentieth-century, several French Catholic theologians sought to perform such a retrieval in order to breathe new life into the somewhat dry and dusty theological life of the church. Their approach was not well-received at first. It was dismissed as la nouvelle théologie (the new theology), and Henri de Lubac, a key proponent of “the new theology” was censored and forbidden from teaching theology for nearly ten years. History has vindicated him, though, at the Second Vatican Council, he served as a peritus (theological advisor to the bishops), and was eventually made a Cardinal.

Here the point isn’t with the history of ressourcement, though, but the instinct that drives it: a turn to the past, in light of current problems, with an eye to the future.

Eventually I undertook doctoral studies, intent on resolving this question of whether or not a liturgical church could also be a missional church. Certain missional theologians warn that a focus on the church’s liturgical life will distract it from its missional identity and vocation.[3] Faced with this criticism we have three options: we can ignore them, go the dead-end route of wheel reinvention (get rid of the liturgy and find new ways of being the church), or the way of ressourcement, returning to the sources at the heart of traditional ecclesiology and find in them a source of missional renewal.

If we ignore their criticisms, we miss an opportunity for renewal. Even Pope Francis has called for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the church, and called for a re-evaluation of every aspect the church’s life to be sure that we are living faithfully to our missionary vocation.[4] Rather than ignoring these missional criticisms, we need to see them as an opportunity to more faithfully articulate who and what the church has always been.

My book with Fortress Press, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology takes this route of ressourcement and uses traditional sources: Scripture, the church fathers, and the liturgy, to construct a missional ecclesiology. By returning to the sources, I show that a missionary understanding of the church has always been implicit in them. The presenting problem of missional criticisms of the liturgy proves to be an opportunity to make this implicit understanding of the church more explicit.

The thing I want us to see here, though, is not just the liturgy-mission conundrum I resolve in my book. I think that’s an important problem to address, but I raise it to show the ongoing importance of ressourcement for the church. The church is in need of continual renewal. But the way to that renewal is not by abandoning the past as something “old,” and “irrelevant.” Instead, it’s a turn to the past, in light of our current problems, with an eye to the future. I’ll say frankly, ignoring or rejecting the past is the way for churches to lose their Christian identity, and be subject to whatever cultural whims, personal predilections, or ideological forces they happen to encounter. At the same time, ressourcement is not a call to just “do what we’ve always done,” instead, it’s a return to the past to rediscover things we’ve forgotten, but desperately need to remember

We are not slaves to the past, uncritically repeating what’s come before. But if we ignore the past, we’ll simply be slaves of the present moment, to the spirit of the age. A proper engagement with the church’s tradition brings renewal through the Holy Spirit, who has breathed life into Christ’s body for the last two millenia.

[1] I wasn’t formally “fired” from the position, but I was, essentially shown the door. None of what I’m writing here is by way of complaint against that church. I’ve made my peace with what happened. Instead, the events that led to my departure from the church also set me on the path to discovering the importance of ressourcement.

[2] I’m going to go against my own preference here and use “liturgy” in a more restrictive sense: namely formal, set liturgies grounded in particular texts (such as a Breviary, Missal, or the Book of Common Prayer). Every church has a liturgy, though. There aren’t liturgical and non-liturigcal churches. Some of us are just honest about it. However, it makes for really clunky writing to belabor this.

[3] E.g., John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010); Nathan R. Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission (Eugene: Cascade, 2009).

[4] See his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium.

This post was originally published on my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian. You can find and read it here.

Crumbs

A troubling (to me) blog post has been going around over the last few weeks regarding the Reformation and the Eucharist. Dr. Kelly Pigott, a blogger on the Patheos Progressive Christian channel, has argued that the meal Jesus instituted in Jerusalem with his disciples some 2,000 years ago has been distorted and misappropriated through centuries of infighting and disagreement. Ultimately, Pigott argues that Communion is more about the transformation of the partaker into Jesus than anything else. He suggests that the “eternal question one must ask of Communion is…what happens to me?’

For the sake of clarity, you can and should read the original post here before continuing below.

Unfortunately, I believe Pigott’s post to have been historically inaccurate at best and full of mischaracterizations at worst; or perhaps vice versa. The Reformers, and I’m not only talking about Anglicans, would agree that the Communion was about grace, that this was not about being part of the “spiritual-elite”, and that those partaking are somehow affected deeply. More importantly, the Early Church witness agrees with these statements as well. The real issue at hand here is Pigott’s decision to focus the Eucharist on the individual rather than the on Jesus.

Some of the comments have suggested that focusing on the bread and wine is akin to answering the question about how many angels can fit on the head of a needle. This is utter nonsense! One does not have to chose between two extremes—those of self-focus or elemental transformation—in order to have a meaningful and orthodox conversation about the Eucharist. Embracing mystery does not punt the proverbial ball down the field nor does it ignore the question of presence, it simply seeks to assert that Christ is in fact present without feeling the need to define his presence concretely.

As an example, the Eucharistic prayers from the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer both include the Prayer of Humble Access. I have included the prayer below and the reader should note two things: first, I have updated the old English, and second, the parentheses denote lines removed between the two editions:

We do not presume to come to this thy table (o merciful lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies: we be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table: but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore (gracious Lord) so to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood (in these holy Mysteries), that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood. Amen.[1]

Honestly I feel as I though I can end my post here without comment based on the thick theological language of this prayer. But for the sake of clarity, and because I’m passionate about this, I will go on. I have italicized some pertinent statements in the prayer to unpack below.First, the entire prayer is grounded in the belief that no one can earn or merit access to the Lord’s Table. This is not the result of being part of the spirituality elite but is instead based solely in the work of Christ. This belief was not new to Christianity when Archbishop Cranmer wrote this prayer in the 1540’s; the Early Church also believed that to eat and drink at the eschatological banquet table was a gift of the highest kind.

Second, the humility embodied in the prayer is given further credibility by the grace of God. It is God’s property (or nature) to always have mercy and therefore although we are unworthy to partake we are still invited. Again, nothing spiritually elite here.

Third, Communion with God is bedrock to this prayer, to the Reformation, and to the Early Church. Read Schmemann, Ziziuolas, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Eucharistic theologies of the Early Church and you will find example after example of people believing that Communion is union with God. John Calvin did not come up with this idea on his own, he simply recovered it and insisted upon it.

Fourth, it was the belief of Cranmer, Hooker, and many of the Anglican reformers and divines that the Eucharist did indeed effect some type of change in the believer. The Prayer of Humble Access makes clear that the cleansing of the body and the washing of the soul was part of the sacrament. However, this was not the purpose behind the sacrament’s institution nor was it the ultimate goal of individual. The early church fathers and the reformers all believed that Communion was nourishment and healing for the soul, a gift from God that transformed those partaking, but the focus was always on Christ’s once and perfect oblation, and the triune Godhead, rather than on the self.

In the Eucharist the Church is at the summit of her worship, in the throne room of Almighty God, and the concept of the self could not be further from the equation. The moment we begin focusing on ourselves and what we “get” out of worship, or what “happens” to us is the moment we have misunderstood the Eucharist entirely.

Sure, Church history is fraught with examples of fighting and arguments over Eucharistic theology. Indeed there are numerous denominations within the Church that have differing views on what takes place in the sacrament of the kingdom. That being said, the answer to this conundrum, to finding common Eucharistic ground in the catholic church is not to be sought inward but upward, heavenward.

In view of God’s absolute otherness, his holiness, we are not worthy to approach his table. But God has approached us in the form of Jesus his Son, the second person of the Trinity, who has prepared a place for us at the wedding feast. Accepting the grace-filled invitation of a loving and merciful God is neither arrogant nor elite, it is worship. It is worship the way God intended it to be and our charge is to draw others into worship as we extend to them the Body and Blood of our Lord.

[1] Brian Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, 261.

Photo Credit: Sacred Space Kingston

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This post was originally published on my former blog, “The Liturgical Theologian.” It can be read in full here.

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As I was preparing my sermon notes for the Third Sunday of Easter, I was struck by the Collect. It recounts how the Risen Lord revealed himself to his followers through the breaking of bread. Specifically, though not exclusively, this is a reference to Luke 24 when Jesus walked the road to Emmaus with two disciples, who did not recognize him until he took, blessed, broke and gave them bread. I think the revelation of Jesus through the breaking of bread and our weekly celebration of the Eucharist calls us to something great.

We are called to the Eucharistic Life.

New Testament Witness

Every biblical account of the Eucharist provides the same basic structure: bread was takenthanks was given, the bread was broken and then given.

The Synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) accounts of the Last Supper are similar, but John’s Gospel does not contain the Last Supper; instead John connects Jesus’ words of institution with the feeding of the 5,000. In this story he “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them.” Jesus then says, “I am the bread of life,” which Paul Bradshaw explains as a possible variation of “This is my body.” He writes, “Several scholars have already suggested that this latter statement is John’s version of the saying over the bread at the Last Supper.” (Bradshaw, Reconstructing Early Christian Worship,p. 4)

In 1 Corinthians 11 recounts Jesus’ words and actions during the Last Supper. Paul records that which had been handed down to him. Paul places the meal in the context of the crucifixion and resurrection: “On the night he was betrayed…Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said…” This summary has provided the foundation for Eucharistic prayers since the time of the Didache and The Apostolic Tradition.

The same structure was recorded in Acts 27 when Paul celebrated the Eucharist as he was sailing to Rome as a prisoner.

During the Last Supper, Jesus instituted four key actions (and corresponding words) that have been modeled and replicated in Eucharistic offerings for 2,000 years. These four words form the foundation of the Eucharistic life.

The Eucharistic Life

If the Eucharist is both “the sacrament of the Kingdom” (Schmemann, The Eucharistp. 28) and the sacrament that constitutes the church, and if in the Eucharist the church is not doing church but is doing the world the way it was meant to be done (combination of Alexander Schmemann and Aidan Kavanagh) then the Eucharist has meaning for the entirety of our lives. To live the Eucharistic life is to live a life that is taken, thanks-given, broken, and shared.

Taken

“Take my life and let it be,” O Lord! We offer our lives up unto the Lord that he might take them, consecrate them, and send us out with purpose. The act of offering is an act surrender and reverent submission to the triune God.

The Eucharistic life offers not just us but creation as well. Jesus took the bread and the wine, the most common food and drink in the world, and in so doing he celebrated the goodness of God’s creation. He did not comment about the nature or quality of the bread and wine, nor did he suggest that they were somehow bad because they were material. Instead he took the elements and transformed them in an act of oblation. “All things come of thee, O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee.” We are called to stewardship in God’s Kingdom as we recognize that God is the creator, sustainer and owner of all things.

Thanks-given

Eucharisteo means “the giving of thanks.” The Eucharistic life is one that recognizes the kindness and generosity of God in all things; it is a life that overflows with gratitude for God’s redeeming work throughout human history and above all in Jesus. In both the Eucharist and the Eucharistic Life we celebrate “the memorial of our redemption,” through our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” Our very lives proclaim the grace of God which leads us to a lifestyle flavored with gratitude, thanksgiving, and adoration. May we be the kind of people for whom the Doxology is ever on our lips. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Broken

Brokenness always comes with a purpose. Christ was broken that we might share in his eternal life and kingdom. We are broken that Christ may live in us. The bread was broken and the wine poured out that all may share in the feast. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Feast.” Jesus taught that a kernel must fall to the ground and die that it may be opened up and give new life.

To be broken does not require tragedy or great loss—indeed I pray that you never have to suffer such sadness. Rather, to be broken is to daily die to self and to rise to life in Christ; it is to pray that the Holy Spirit would convict us of our sinfulness and transform us daily into Christ’s likeness. It is to walk humbly before our God. It is to show the world that the only reason we can be an Easter people singing “Alleluia” is because we were first a Good Friday people shouting “Crucify him!” (Pope John Paul II)

Shared

When we live the Eucharistic Life, our desire to share the Good News flows from our gratitude. It is to be always pointing people back to the One who is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. We are distributed to the corners of the earth that others may, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We are shared not for our own glory but for the glory of God and for the life of the world.

The Eucharistic life is not for the faint of heart. We go back to the Altar weekly to partake of Christ’s self-oblation that we might receive spiritual nourishment and encouragement for the pilgrimage that we might:

Serve them with the very substance of your life. Paint them a picture of the Kingdom, weave them a shawl of love, sing them a Psalm of praise, write them a sonnet of promise, play them a symphony of grace, build them homes of compassion, mold them a pot of mercy. Demonstrate the Resurrection to them with your words and your actions to tell them that He loves them.

– The Rev. Canon Ellis E. Brust, Church of the Apostles, Kansas City

Jesus’ life was taken by God and consecrated. It was a life that constantly gave thanks to the Creator. It was a life broken by sin and the cross. It was a life shared with all that we might come to know God. The call of discipleship is the call to follow Him and live the Eucharistic Life.

This post was originally published on my former blog, “The Liturgical Theologian” and it can be found here.

Thomas-Cranmer

As we approach Reformation Day within the Protestant corners of the one holy catholic and apostolic church there is a tendency to romanticize the true nature of the various reformations to the point that the baby is all but thrown out with the bathwater. As an Anglican, and as one who believes in the branch theory of the church, to misread history in this manner is not only negligent: it is also lazy. My goal is to briefly outline the lasting and true legacy of the English Reformation in the remainder of this post.

My friend and former mentor, Bishop Fitzsimmons Allison, once said to me, “Anyone who believes the English Reformation was about King Henry VIII truly deserves King Henry.” Though we may not agree on imputation or the new perspective on Paul, I have to agree with Bishop Allison wholeheartedly on this point. To resign the English Reformation to King Henry’s need for a divorce or control over his church is to miss the point entirely. The English Reformation wasn’t the byproduct of a judicial or ecclesiastical statement on the King’s marriage, rather it was the culmination, fulfillment, and realization of a spirituality that far preceded the Tudor dynasty, dating back to the second and third centuries after Christ.

A reformation was already afoot in the fourteenth century as John Wycliffe began translating the Bible into the English language. An influencer of Jan Huss, William Tyndale, and Martin Luther, Wycliffe set in motion the movement toward giving the English people a Bible in her own tongue. Translating the Bible out of Latin is seen as a benchmark of the various sixteenth century reformations but too often it is forgotten that an Englishman had started the trend over 150 years earlier. Wycliffe died some 150 years before Thomas Cranmer became Archbishop, but he is still remembered as the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” Continuing his great work, Tyndale and Coverdale also translated portions of the Bible into English ultimately climaxing decades later with the production of the King James Version in 1611; thus setting the biblical standard for centuries.

Similarly, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer worked his liturgical genius during the 1540’s and early 1550’s under Kings Henry and Edward to reform English liturgy. Cranmer was responsible for the first piece of liturgy written in English (the Great Litany of 1544), much of the Book of Homilies, the inclusion of the Great Bible in parishes around the nation, and the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer. These landmarks insured one thing: a common language for the faith and worship of the Church in England. Every parish in the country would now read the same Bible, hear the same homily, and pray the same prayers in the exact same language.

The 1549 Prayer Book was a compilation of various ancient sources from the early church and post-Council period. Elsewhere I have written:

The 1549 book was adapted from many sources in use at the time. The Sarum Rite as used in the Diocese of Salisbury was perhaps the most important component. Other primary sources for Cranmer’s liturgical compilation include: Quinones’ Breviary, the Archbishop of Cologne’s Church Agenda, the Pie, and Bucer’s Ordination Service (for the 1550 Ordinal) amongst others. Cranmer’s work should be labeled as both reform and return because he introduced new elements—chiefly his original collects—and yet he also returned to ancient practices and prayers. Bard Thompson suggests four vital reasons for the introduction of the 1549 book: exposing people to the whole of Scripture, using English to reach the “hartes”, simplifying the service, and creating uniformity within England. Duffy stresses the significant change for English Christianity and spirituality in the 1549 book, perhaps resulting in spiritual “impoverishment.”[1]

Additionally, Cranmer relied heavily upon the Gelasian Sacramentary as part of his liturgical revival and reform which can only really be described as a return to the words and forms of ancient liturgical worship. By the time the second prayer book was produced in 1552, England was worshipping liturgically together on a weekly basis reminiscent of the Didache and Justin Martyr’s Apology. The English Reformation was not without its dark moments.

One of the saddest events was the “stripping of the altars” and the destruction of the monastic tradition during the reign and at the order of King Henry. A wealth of liturgical, ecclesiastical, monastic, and artistic brilliance was lost and as a result many pockets of evangelical Anglicanism are didactically rational rather than being beautifully holistic.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes said it best when describing the hooks upon which the Church of England can hang her theological hat: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”[2] To be Anglican, therefore, is to celebrate the rich and vast history of liturgy and theology (one might say liturgical theology) of Christ’s Church over the last two millennia; it is to be rooted in the Great Tradition of the Church and firmly committed to ecumenical efforts; it is to embrace the heritage of Christian thought and spirituality stemming from missionary efforts, monastic soil, and an unwavering desire to read and pray in one’s own language.

What then is the true legacy of the English Reformation? A common Bible and a common prayer book in a common language for a common people.

[1] From “The Edwardian Prayer Books: A Study in Liturgical Theology” as posted on Academia.edu

[2] http://datsociety.blogspot.com/2012/09/11-lancelot-andrewes-1555-1626-private.html

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

altar-22206_640

This was originally posted on my Patheos Blog, “The Liturgical Theologian” in April 2016. You can read the original post here.

You can easily begin a deep theological and liturgical debate across ecumenical lines with one simple question: how should the Celebrant be oriented in the Eucharist? Maybe it’s based on the fact that I am an Anglican, but this simple question has churned up many strong feelings and convictions.

My main goal, here, is to provide some fodder for thinking about our Eucharistic orientation. Perhaps we (those who are the inheritors of the Reformation(s)) have gotten it wrong…

For the children of the Reformation(s) the answer is clear: the priest (if you have one) should face the people. This is known as versus populum and it supposedly encourages or facilitates corporate worship around a common table. The logic continues that only when gathered around a common table can any sense of “clericalism” or medieval superstition be avoided.

The other tradition is known as ad orientem. In this celebration of the Eucharist the priest faces the altar, i.e. East, and has back turned to the people. I want to unpack the thinking behind this in a bit, but right now it’s important to note arguments against ad orientem. Naysayers will suggest that this orientation separates the people from the priest; that this is impersonal and cold (back turned); that the people become spectators; etc. The list goes on ad infinitum.

I think the main issue is that we haven’t taken the time to understand ad orientem. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI, Emeritus) wrote about this in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. I encourage all to purchase this timeless classic!

Why Ad Orientem?

Ad orientem makes a great deal of sense when you understand that the entire practice is based on orienting oneself toward the East. Why? The assembled church faces East in the eschatological expectation of our Lord’s return. The Sun rises in the East and facing toward the East, in ancient times, meant facing toward the New Jerusalem—the heavenly city for which we wait and hope. Remember that the Lord’s return has always been imminent, for we know not the time or the hour, and therefore the Eucharistic people are prepared to greet their Risen Lord.The priest is seen as a member of the assembled church. In versus populum, one might say, there is a table separating priest from people but in ad orientem there is nothing separating them. All are equal, all are turned toward the East, all are anticipating the Lord’s parousia. When the priest faces the people it may feel, so goes the logic, as if the priest is the central figure of the celebration. In ad orientem it is clear that God is the chief actor: everyone is looking toward the triune God rather than at the priest.

Please here this: I am not suggesting that versus populum is wrong or invalid. The overwhelming majority of the time I am celebrating in this style. I simply think that we need to reconsider our stance on ad orientem.

If our liturgical worship is whole-bodied, and if what we do in worship matters as much as what we say, then perhaps our posture and orientation says and does something theologically. What if we attuned ourselves to eschatological hope and anticipation and prepared to great the Risen Lord? What if we have gotten it wrong and we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water?

In the Eucharist we, both clergy and laity, are concelebrants. We join our prayers, praise, and voices together with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven before the triune God. When we face East together we participate together, we pray together, we offer together. This is the Eucharistic vision–the Church offers herself and her gifts unto the Giver of Life.

I could go on for pages—and perhaps I will later—but for now let us suffice it to say that our bodies, hearts, and minds should all face the same way. Even in celebrating versus populum may we look Eastward and expect the Lord’s return. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Jesus is our Great High Priest and the Celebrant of the Eucharist, may we look to him and see him.