Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Cleaning up what is messy. . .
The fruits of liturgical renewal in post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran counterparts have left us with a liturgy that some claim to be older but which is, in many respects, cleaner and more orderly. In most parishes, the fuller use of the pericopes has been abandoned and we have bare minimums. Many congregations have taken it upon themselves to economize on the liturgical excess and strip it even barer so that what might be appropriate for a weekday service is normative for the Divine Service on Sundays. We trim the readings, we cut back on the liturgy, we shorten, and we sing only a few stanzas of the many those nasty Lutheran hymns usually sport.
In the liturgical year we have attempted to clean it all up and make it sensible. And the three year lectionary is certainly more sensible than the one year was. Gone are the gesimas that left us wondering what season we were in and we have placed such things as the Transfiguration in a strategic place for a people ready to head down the mountain and begin Lent. It is not that I find it all evil or wrong. What is misguided is that by cleaning up what is messy in the church year (or the liturgy) we are also attempting to clean up our messy God and make Him more orderly, predictable, and logical (at least to the human mind).
Like the proverbial cloth coat sported by the wives of Republican presidents, we have gone with utility and frugality in place of the festive or elaborate. We splurge for certain things, mostly for ourselves, but not for God. Like the disciples of old, we fear extravagance as unseemly for spiritual things. Pastors who wear vestments are called showy while the simple uniform of khaki's and a polo are more down to earth. Pastors who wear clerical collars are characterized as distant and too inflated with their own sense of self-important while a pastor in jeans and a tee shirt is unpretentious. A pop melody and a refrain chanted repeatedly are judged more accessible to people and more typical of our tastes than chant or rhythmic chorale. Yes, we are good at deciding what is too much when simpler is better for everything of God (but hardly anything of ourselves).
More and more I think we should have left it all messy -- a church year with Latin names for Sundays that no one can pronounce and with feasts and festivals that defy logic and order in the grand scheme of things... a liturgy with too much rather than too little, too long rather than short and concise. Nope, I am not sure that the fruits of liturgical renewal have been born as we hoped. Sure, we commune more often and more pastors are wearing full Eucharistic vestments but our piety and our mindset still have not changed. We are too ready to short shrift God while making sure that if it is something we want, nothing is too much. And that still sounds like sin to me. . .