Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy

Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy

by Mark Galli


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781557255211
Publisher: Paraclete Press
Publication date: 04/01/2008
Pages: 142
Sales rank: 978,334
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

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PARACLETE PRESS Copyright © 2008 Mark Galli
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55725-521-1


The Basic Outline of the Liturgy

The LITURGY LIVES OUT A STORY IN A STORY-DEPRIVED WORLD. Liturgy is not a once-upon-a-time story we merely watch others perform. We are the characters in this story, actors in the divine drama whose opening and closing has been written by Jesus Christ himself.

The story that modernity gave us has had its run. Its story arc was about progress, the notion that human life would get better and better because science and technology would solve the most nagging human problems. But events-two world wars, the Gulags, the holocaust, HIV/AIDS, and 9/11-and postmodern philosophy have revealed how weak this plot line was. Only the most hopeless romantics remain fascinated with it.

The failure of this story touches us personally, because we breathe the air of despair daily. We find it difficult to give ourselves to anything larger than the self; we simply don't trust anymore-not government, not business, not even the church. So we give our energy to career and comfort, to family and a few friends. We collapse into a cocoon of meaning, realizing in our more lucid moments that our little cocoon has no meaning larger than the self.

The liturgy speaks to us at this point. The liturgy is lucidity inducing. When we participate in it, even if we don't understand 90 percent of what is going on, we recognize intuitively how small our lives are, that the story we've concocted for ourselves is but a child's nursery rhyme-and that we are being beckoned to enter a drama that is epic in scope.

Liturgy comes from a Greek word meaning "a public service." When I refer to "the liturgy" in this book, I am referring to the public Sunday service performed by liturgical and mainline churches. I refer to it in the singular because the shape of the service is remarkably similar in all these traditions (see Appendix B).

Sometimes by liturgy I mean something wider in scope: the body of prayers and services that make up the whole life of a church-from daily prayer to Good Friday services to weddings and funerals. Many of these prayers and services can be found in more than one church tradition, while others are unique to only one. But overall these extra-Sunday services share the same larger characteristics of the public Sunday services that will be described in this book-especially a grounding in history and tradition that remains immediately relevant in paradoxical and mysterious ways.

Though different traditions divide the Sunday service in different ways with different terms, one common way is to think of the service, and the story it embodies, as having four "acts": Gathering, Ward, Sacrament, Dismissal. As we proceed, we'll see that the story is richer than this simple outline, because the liturgy contains a story within a story. It tells a story. It enacts a story. It is an episode in an unfolding story. But these four acts are at the heart of the larger story told within the liturgy.

The service begins with the Gathering, which is so much more than an efficient way to get things started. This part of the service points us back to God's gathering the people of Israel to himself:

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

In the same way, the opening reminds us of God's gathering a people in Jesus Christ, symbolized in the calling of the twelve disciples to himself. The Gathering also points forward to the day when God will gather all those he has chosen to gather (who have not rejected his invitation) in a great festal celebration, as Isaiah said,

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

The Gathering is no small thing.

The Gathering usually begins with the congregation singing a hymn, the joining together of all voices. This is a concrete, embodied way to signal that we are gathering as one people, not as a collection of individuals. Then comes the opening acclamation in the service:

Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever!

We will return to this opening response time and again in this book, because it signals so much of what is happening in the liturgy. For now, note how in the Gathering, we are already being pointed to the grand climax of the Christian story, having been gathered in a concrete way by a God whose very history has been to gather a people to himself.

The service then moves into the portion called the Word, the focus of which is the reading of Scripture. The Word is one of the two centers of the liturgy (so much so, that some liturgies describe the service as having just two parts: Word and Sacrament).

In a typical liturgical service, three Scripture passages are read each week: one from the Old Testament, one from the Pauline or General Epistles, and one from the Gospels. The service also includes the reading of a psalm. These readings are arranged in a three-year cycle so that we hear the entire biblical story: the Creation and the Fall, the Exodus, the Captivity and return, the promise and then the Advent of the Messiah, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of the coming kingdom.

The meaning of the biblical story unfolds week by week in the sermon, which follows immediately after the Scripture readings. This order signals that the sermon is grounded, not on the morning news or the book-of-the month, but on the biblical story. Following the sermon, the biblical story is summarized as we read the Creed, which structures the story in three movements-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the "act" called Sacrament, we partake of bread and wine in a ritual that is sometimes called "Communion" or "Eucharist."

Before the partaking of bread and wine, the story is rehearsed in the Eucharistic prayer. This longer prayer reminds us about God's work in creation, fall, redemption, Pentecost, and the Second Coming. At the heart of this act is the participation in a great feast, the sharing of bread and wine. The bread and wine point back to the death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and forward to his coming again. Thus by sharing this meal, we remember the whole sweep of our story.

This core of a liturgical service helps us remember symbolically our history and theology as a people, but more crucially, it is also the moment when Christ becomes present for us in a mysterious but remarkable way. Thus many books on the meaning of the liturgy rightly spend much time mining its depths. This book will not follow this pattern, because I want to highlight other aspects of the liturgy, as well. But if the liturgy is a story, the Eucharist is certainly the climax of that story, the larger story embedded in the liturgical story.

Similar to the Gathering, the Dismissal at the conclusion of the service is not merely a convenient way to get people out the door. During the Dismissal, we say a prayer asking God to send us out "to do the work you have given us to do." What is that work? To participate with God in calling out a people to be co-workers in God's great gathering mission, the same mission Isaiah felt deep in his spirit:

And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him....

So, the liturgy teaches us about the story, especially in Word and Sacrament. But it does more. It also embodies the Christian story in its very structure-God gathers people for a great banquet at which he presides, gives us a Word, and offers us the fruit of his labor of love. From there, God sends us out to participate in the great gathering work.

By participating in the liturgy, we're doing more than "attending a service." We are entering a story-a story in which we also play a role. We are the people who have indeed been gathered. We are the people who share in God's very life. We are the people sent forth to proclaim God's story and to invite people into the grand story.

The dramatic sweep of the liturgical story is summarized well by Father Jeremy Driscoll:

The meaning of the whole creation and the whole of human history is contained here in ritual form and in the people who enact the ritual. This action will cause the Church to be: to do Eucharist is to be Church. To be Church, to be assembled into one, is what God intends for the world. The Eucharist is celebrated in thanksgiving and for the glory of God, and it is done for the salvation of the whole world.

For people who find themselves storyless, or with a story that has no larger meaning than the self, the liturgy is a salvation. It shows that we do not have to abandon hope; we don't have to fabricate a new myth to force meaning onto the world. We can participate in the very story of God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-who has created and redeemed us, who has gathered us to himself already in a Great Feast, and who promises, in the last act, to gather all things on heaven and earth to himself, so that we may feast together for eternity.


How the Liturgical Calendar Can Bring Order to Our Lives

THE PROFESSOR BEGAN OUR GRADUATE SEMINAR in historiography with a simple question: "Does anyone know what happened on October 3, 1951?"

I looked around the table at the eight other graduate students in history. We were studying at the University of California at Davis, just eighty miles from Candlestick Park, then home of the San Francisco Giants. Surely someone knew what the professor was talking about. But only blank stares responded. So I spoke up.

"That was the day Bobby Thompson hit 'the shot heard round the world.'"

"Yes," the professor replied. "Tell us about it."

"Well, the New York Giants were behind the Brooklyn Dodgers 4-2, and it was the bottom of the ninth inning. The Giants had been eleven and a half games behind the Dodgers in early August but had caught them by the end of the season to tie for first place. This was the third game of the resulting playoffs, the teams having split the first two games. Bobby Thompson was up to bat with two runners on. A nervous rookie, Willie Mays, was in the on-deck circle. Thompson was facing Ralph Branca, who ironically, was wearing number thirteen.

"Branca threw a fastball for a called strike, followed by another pitch 'up-and-in' to intimidate Thompson. Didn't work. Next pitch was another fastball, which Thompson hit over the left field fence. The Giants won the pennant in one of the greatest comebacks, both in terms of a season and a single game, in the history of baseball."

The professor replied, "Very good," and the rest of the students just stared at me in awe. They wondered how I knew all that. More to the point, why did I know all that?

I knew because as a boy I had immersed myself in the story of the New York and then San Francisco Giants, and I lived by baseball time. The Giants were my saints, and the year was marked not by winter, spring, summer, and fall, but by spring training, opening day, All-Star break, and the World Series. The Giants gave order and meaning to my childhood.

Baseball is like many of the stories that overlay our lives, each with their own saints and sense of time. Like these other stories, the baseball story is but a shadow of the larger story that overlays our world, a story with saints of an extraordinary nature, and a calendar that marks time for eternity. This calendar is called the liturgical calendar, or the Christian calendar.

I began writing this chapter in earnest during the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, better known in our culture as June 24. The church season of Pentecost was well underway, but in secular time, summer was just beginning.

This dual way of understanding time is at the very heart of the liturgy. Some think liturgical timekeeping-that is, the liturgical calendar-is merely a throwback to the Middle Ages, when the whole of Christendom lived by the church calendar. In our day, a scientifically precise age, when watches keep time to the hundredth of a second, this sounds all ancient and quaint-a nice devotional reminder, but not relevant to daily life. The liturgical calendar doesn't help us know how to dress before we step out the door-a warm coat or shorts and sandals-or how to regulate our work or school schedules.

But the liturgy is not spiritual entertainment for antiquarians. The church calendar aims at nothing less than to change the way we experience time and perceive reality.

For the church, January 1 is not all that significant. Neither is September, the start of school for most of us in the West, although it may feel like the start of a "new year." For the church, Advent signals the new year. For the church, the annual rhythm is not winter, spring, summer, and fall, but Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost (what some traditions call Ordinary time-see Appendix C for a more detailed explanation of the church year). The church calendar is not about the cycle of life-school or sports or harvest time-but about the movement of history toward a glorious goal. We celebrate the past events of salvation history not merely to remember them, but to note how they infuse the present with meaning and power, and point us to our future hope.

Select any day of the year, and you can find its liturgical significance, and therefore deeply Christian sense-for instance, the Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24. It is not a mere coincidence that the church established this day almost six months to the day from the Nativity of Jesus Christ, Christmas. For from time of the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, the preacher of repentance, until the time of the Savior's birth, the daylight gets shorter and shorter, the light of the world seems to be dying. From the birth of our Lord onward, daylight grows, with light permeating more and more of daily life.

The liturgical calendar, therefore, causes us to think of June 24 primarily as the Nativity of John the Baptist, not the beginning of summer but a turning point in our year, when we already begin to look forward to the coming of Jesus.

In many places in the northern hemisphere, Lent begins just as spring is emerging. It is counterintuitive to start thinking about repentance and fasting, just when the world around us is coming to life. Yet the liturgical calendar reminds us that this earth is not our home, that in the midst of the glories of spring, we must not forget the tragedy and frustration that now marks this world.

April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.

It is no surprise that Anglo-Catholic T.S. Eliot, deeply imbued with a sense of liturgical time, could perceive this paradox of spring.

We cannot ignore the calendar that the rest of the world lives by. This calendar we can call the cosmic calendar because it takes it cues from the cosmos, the movement of the moon and of the earth in relation to the sun. It is an efficient and accurate way to measure the passing of time. More importantly, the cosmic calendar is the result of God's creativity: "And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.'"

The cosmic calendar is also God's gift. Once we figured out how to measure it-from the sundial to mechanical clocks, to digital and atomic clocks-we have become increasingly precise. This makes possible efficient airline travel, a host of medical miracles, instant messaging, and online banking. Not something to lift one's nose at, the cosmic calendar enables us to structure our years, weeks, days, and minutes.

Efficiency, in fact, characterizes our world; it defines and shapes our culture. We are people who live by the clock, and we measure success and happiness by our ability to manipulate time. We strive to "save" time, meaning we use the passing of time as a standard to measure whether something has been done well. It is no accident that in a culture ruled by this calendar and clock, efficiency is an intrinsic goal, not something one has to justify or defend.

There is something right and good about celebrating the seasons as such-spring bursting forth in new life, the gloriously lazy pace of summer, the beautiful death of fall, and the cold winter when we huddle together to find warmth.


Excerpted from BEYOND SMELLS & BELLS by MARK GALLI Copyright © 2008 by Mark Galli. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction     9
Living the Old, Old Story: The Basic Outline of the Liturgy     13
Cosmic Daytimer: How the Liturgical Calendar Can Bring Order to Our Lives     20
Life Together: How the Liturgy Draws Us into Community     28
The Intimate Other: How the Liturgy Helps Us Meet a Holy and Loving God     38
If You Don't Get It, You've Got It: The Liturgy as a Mystery Full of Meaning     47
A More Real Culture: How the Liturgy Is More Relevant Than We Can Imagine     55
Bizarre, Holy Moments: How the Liturgy Reshapes Our Sense of Time     64
What You Don't See is What You Get: How the Liturgy Changes Our Sense of Place     70
Little Stillnesses: How the Liturgy Guides Us into Focused Grace     77
We Worship a Material Savior: Why the Liturgy Engages the Whole Body     83
Learning by Laughing: How the Liturgy Teaches Us the Faith     90
Living in the Trinity: How the Liturgy Changes Us at the Very Core of Our Being     97
Drunken Sobriety: How the Liturgy Helps Us to Know God with Imagination     106
Words of Living W-A-T-E-R: The Liturgy as Poetic Reality that Transforms     111
Acknowledgments     119
A Liturgy Primer     121
Liturgy Compared Across Traditions     126
The Christian Year     129
Notes     133

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