Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Too much to remember. . .

Watching a documentary of sorts on the Edwardian era and in particular with table settings and manners, the narrator commented that the rules were simply too much to remember.  At that, the authority on such things responded that it was not remembered at all but had become instinctive to everyone sitting at table. While I would have loved to been there as a visitor to Highclere or any of the other great houses of that era, I am sure I would have found the rules too much to remember as well.  I am certain I would have been watching those around me for clues and cues to figure my way through it all.  Those born to it make it look easy.

The same comment came to me when I was explaining the various ceremonies of the liturgy -- from bowing at the name of Jesus to genuflecting at the incarnation in the creed to the elevation to the sign of the cross, etc.  The person thought it was simply too much to remember and it took away from worship to be preoccupied with what to do and when to do it.  But of course, I responded.  That would be true except that it becomes instinctive with practice until you do not think to do it but only notice when it is not done.  I am sure that it did not help.  The point was not how difficult or easy it was to remember the rubrics and observe them.  The point was that the individual did not want to learn them or do them until they did become instinctive.

I have long insisted that the pastor's job is not to model his own preference or a middling example of what many might prefer but to model before the congregation the fullest expression of the liturgical habitus that belongs to the Church Catholic.  Indeed, if people do not see it where they ordinarily worship, it only reinforces the whole ridiculous idea that none of it is important or worthwhile unless and until I decide it benefits me.  The pastor should not be a novice to the faith (or to Lutheranism) and part of the job of pastoral formation at the seminary should be to expose the pastor to a fuller ceremonial than he may have experienced before and to the fullest expression as can be.  This is precisely so that he may model that fuller ceremonial to the congregation so that they know that these things are, indeed, Lutheran, and part of ordinary Lutheran practice (if not now, at one time and if not here, then at other places).

The pastor does these so often that they become instinctive.  Indeed, it nearly killed me to not genuflect when I had a broken leg and was not able to do so.  It was not because I think that this is somehow a make or break practice but that I had become so accustomed to it that not doing it felt odd.  I heard a younger pastor who had not grown up with Eucharistic vestments but wore them regularly say that he felt naked without it.  Of course.  Not because the lesser ceremonial is wrong but because that is the whole benefit of the ritual -- for it to become normal and ordinary so that you do not think about doing it but only think about it when it is not done.

It is not too much to remember any more than any other repeated gesture is too much to remember -- it all becomes a good and salutary habit.  That is what ought to happen with ceremonies.  We learn them so that they become a part of us.

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