Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The goals of liturgical reform. . . more. . . .

The true liturgical movement remembers the flow of the Church Year not as a re-enactment of the events of Christ or as simple remembrance of the teachings of Christ but as calendar and clock by which we mark the passage of our time and our lives toward the eternal future prepared for us.  How sad it is that the discussion of the Church Year inevitably reduces to an argument over one year or three year lectionary or the colors on the altar!  The truth is that the Divine Service is about the only place where the Church Year matters and the baptized have learned to gauge their lives and order their days more by the secular calendar of culture and holiday than season and holy day of the Church Year.  The beginning of Advent, the date of Easter, and the turn from the festival half of the Church Year to its non-festival portion have become matters of mere curiosity rather than dates that affect and order the life of the baptized at home or work or play.  The rhythm or pulse of the lives of the baptized is no longer connected to the rhythm and pulse of the Church Year and the Sanctoral Cycle yet this is surely one of the more important aims of any true liturgical movement.

The more popular forms that order the daily private devotions, meditation, reading, etc. of God's people have little connection to or interest in the Church Year.  It is more likely now than ever before that what the faithful hear on Sunday morning is an isolated and disconnected theme and focus.  Growing up, the pastor generally used preaching texts that had little if anything to do with the Church Year or the lectionary.  After trying more deliberately to connect the primary preaching of the Church to the calendar that orders our days, it seems that many have adopted the practice of either ignoring the lectionary or omitting it in favor of sermon series or texts chosen by the preacher.  It is no wonder that our people are reading the popular authors and speakers of the day rather than reading the prayerbooks and orders tied to the lectionary and the Church Year.

Along with the piety of devotion, comes the aim and purpose of the arts.  The focus of art in the Church was never merely the aesthetic but always the devotional.  It was formed from beauty to be beautiful as the eye was lifted to God from the ordinary and mundane of the day.  The true liturgical movement restores the role and purpose of art within the buildings of the Church as well as within the lives of the baptized.  Christian art has become largely a commercial enterprise of mass produced sentiment in visual form rather than the visual encounter with the faith believed, confessed, and taught. Crucifix and icon were the means by which the faithful incorporated into their homes part of what they experienced in the buildings of the Church where the Divine Service took place.  They were both reminder of the need to pray and the prompters of a piety that lived within the liturgy but not exclusively so.

It is sad how bare the chancels and naves of the churches have become and how this is reflected in the walls of our people's homes without good religious art to accompany the faithful in their vocations within the home and community.  The true liturgical movement will be as concerned with the home altar as with the shape of and adornment of the church altar.  Our people cannot live within the tensions of the world without the signs and symbols of their hope and comfort in the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen to shape and order their lives toward an eternal goal.  By reducing Christian art to the kitsch of what is trite and sentimental, we have made our people ever more vulnerable to the spirit of the age than to the eternal spirit of the Living Christ.  By our failure to promote what is good and faithful, our people have been surrendered to that which has no beauty or meaning except the one we assign to it and to the encroaching ugliness of a world without hope.

Though not only true of the architecture of the church building, it is worth remembering that the Church does not offer the architect or liturgical consultant a canvas on which to explore his or her limits of taste, form, or expression.  The building has a purpose and too often those designing places of worship have no real understanding of what happens within that space.  Acoustics which are unfriendly to music and especially to singing, harsh and blunt forms and shapes and materials, and a focus on the people instead of the God who serves them with His gifts leave us with buildings ill-quipped for their primary purpose and therefore expensive waste that impedes rather than encourages what God does within the assembly of the baptized.  The true liturgical movement will not fail to make sure that our buildings know why they exist and for what purpose and can display this purpose not only for the benefit of those who gather therein but also in unmistakable witness to the world that passes by who gathers here and why.

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