The Support of the Past in the Present via the Liturgy

“Prayer open sour eyes, ears, our very pores, to the complete interdependence of ourselves with others and others with ourselves.…In liturgical worship, for example, we feel keenly our dependence on all the other worshippers gone before us, those who fashioned the rituals, the worship-forms, the set prayers. All those in the past support our personal prayers in the present. And our prayers in their turn feed back into the liturgy, imbuing it with a personal immediacy and quickening life.”

—Ann and Barry Unlanov, “Prayer and Personality: Prayer as Primary Speech” in The Study of Spiritualityed. Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold, p.  31. Emphasis added.

Well, yeah, except when all fancy ourselves liturgists and modify the liturgy every week (in the honest pursuit of good contextualization, no doubt). I don’t think Thomas Cranmer would have wanted the Edwardian Prayer Books to remain the canonical standard forever, but neither do I think it helpful for individual churches to construct their own liturgies—differing from one another and shifting weekly. We deprive ourselves of the past and rob our (biological and spiritual) progeny when we do so. And in truth, few of us have improved the words and prayers and actions and ministries of worship when we have done so.

I include myself this exhortation, because I, too, have considered “my” congregation as “my” own liturgical playground. Can we stop messing with the structure, form, and verbal content of our worship all the time?

I do not mean, of course, that we should cease to consider how to adapt what the Church does in the congregation’s God has given us. Nor should we cease to introduce or reintroduce practices that will enrich our common life. I am advocating for conservatism, in a pretty literal sense, though: conserving what has been received (though perhaps a few generations ago) so that it may be loving cared for, nurtured, preserved and presented to the next generation of worshipers.

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