Thursday, January 15, 2015

Linear worship

A discussion with an Orthodox friend suggested that the great temptation of worship in the West is to be linear, that is, to be a straight line that starts at one precise point and ends at another equally precise point. In contrast, he suggested that Orthodox liturgy has a number of things going on at the same time and does not attempt either to get everyone to be on the same page at the same time or to begin at a clearly delineated point and to proceed to the end of the journey.  In his estimation of things, the West has a precise starting time and ending time and people are expected to follow along and to be together as things move from point A to point B.  In the East, he suggests that time is looser, that people do not sit and follow along word for word as if the liturgy were a map and that it is not at all antithetical to the liturgy for people to come and go and return at different points, within certain leeway, of course.

Then I read a discussion between Roman Catholics of the Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo and found them distinguishing the two rites in similar fashion.  The Latin Mass was described as a symphony in which different instruments play, different voices are heard, and melodies and counter melodies play at the same time.  So in the Latin Mass people are doing different things during the Mass -- some praying the rosary, some listening to the chant, some praying the prayers of the priest, and some meditating.  All, however, are doing the right thing since the Latin Mass is not linear (according to the point of view in this discussion).  In contrast, the Novus Order was a clear attempt to have a designated starting point and ending point, and to keep people together on the same page, literally on the same word, at the same time.  This was described as a more Protestant notion of worship that was somewhat alien to the thinking of the Latin Mass and to worship prior to the changes made in the wake of Vatican II.

I can understand much of what is being said by both discussions and yet I am not sure where Lutheran worship falls.  Clearly, the worship the Lutheran Reformers envisioned is much more linear than the worship they had known from Rome but it is not quite the distinctive linear worship of the Calvinists and later Protestants who turned the nave into a lecture hall and put all their eggs into the sermon basket.  The worship of Lutheran high orthodoxy is somewhat less linear than the worship I grew up with in the 1950s and early 1960s in which page numbers defined us and we literally memorized what was on the page.

The whole idea is somewhat intriguing to me.  I will have to mull this over a great deal more but initially I think that great damage has been done by structuring what happens on Sunday morning in such a literally linear fashion that the only way you benefit is to follow so that everyone is on the same page, the same word, and the same thought all the way through.  It has also contributed to the unfortunate idea that worship is an hour long activity, that we are captive to the clock both in start and stop.  Even where we do not have a clock in the nave or chancel, it is hard to shake that idea that worship begins at 8:15 and goes until 9:30 am.

I have known pastors whose services were broadcast on radio or TV in which these issues of timing were mandated and know how hard it is to quantify every aspect of Sunday morning to fit the rigid time constraints of the allotted hour.  Even those who do not broadcast find themselves under the gun when it comes to time and this is not a good thing.

The whole idea of worship as a journey with a definite starting point and ending point can easily be distorted into the idea that you are going somewhere, that you can define where you are going and that you will have something to show for it when you arrive.  This kind of tangible result has crippled the preaching of the Word and the character of worship and left us with a self-help idea of Sunday morning in which I can find useful resources to deal with the problems of home, work, and community (or else something and somebody -- the pastor -- has failed to "feed" me).

This is definitely something I will need to think more about. . . and I hope you will as well.


Padre Dave Poedel said...

I concur that the different concepts of time are very much at work in our worship. When I invite someone to worship with us, I am frequently asked "how long is your service", to which I have learned to reply "as long as it takes". Our own members have been known to grouse "the service took an hour and 20 minutes" as if God is limited to an hour.

The kairos vs chronos thing at work again?

Aidan C. said...

As far as being linear goes, I think that one of the advantages is it allows for the congregation to be unified and worshiping together. Sasse points out that the Latin Mass was highly individualistic, in that everyone was expected to be having his own devotion, which was facilitated by the service's structure and by the fact that it was conducted in a language the laity largely didn't understand. The description given in your post seems to confirm this - "some praying the rosary, some listening to the chant, some praying the prayers of the priest, and some meditating." Granted that all of those (except the rosary) are good things to do, isn't it a bad thing that the people weren't all doing them together?

Of course, I might argue that Lutheran liturgy is somewhat non-linear in a different way, in that we return continuously to certain themes and actions of God. We hear about the forgiveness of sins, for instance, not just in the corporate confession, but also when we pray the Kyrie (which certainly includes *more* than forgiveness, but seems to include at least that as well), confess the Creed, hear the exhortation to Communion, pray the Proper, celebrate the Sacrament, and sing the Nunc Dimittus. Likewise with the other mysteries of faith. It's not as though we ever get to a point where we say, "OK, now we're done with that aspect of God's salvation, let's move on to the next one." In that sense what we do seems reminiscent of Revelation, in its depiction of the same series of events/same liturgy from several different points of view.

But anything more than that I leave to people who know more about it than me. Maybe there are other ways to include a good kind of non-linearity in our worship.

Unknown said...

Worshipping together does not mean saying/praying/chanting the same things together. The priest, the clergy and bishops have different roles that differ from that of the laity. And that should be maintained. Worship is a dialogue not only between priest and the congregation but also between the priest and god and the congregation is GOd, but the dialogue does not and should not be the same.

Janis Williams said...

in one sense, everyone is doing something different, even if it looks like we're all doing the same thing. One person is thinking about the prayers, another the Eucharist, each immersed to one extent or another in the worship.

This is something I have thought about even in my Calvinist days. Now, as a Lutheran, I think of the Divine Service as God in Christ coming down giving gifts, in a cross-shaped service to His people. The people then, rather than 'shooting' right back up to heaven (Calvinistic), instead spiral around that cross. responding to the Gifts.

So worship isn't really linear in the Lutheran church so much as it is circular. If you want to trace that circle as a never ending line, it could be so.

Also, the circle moves ever wider as we serve our neighbors.

Anonymous said...

Frankly I would say pews are the problem. Look at old Lutheran pics of worship... No pews. Same for Rome. I don't begrudge seating for older people but worship takes on a new dynamic when you are not seating neatly in rows. Even for Orthodox worship reformed style pews put a damper on things.