The Liturgy Explained

The Liturgy Explained

by James W. Farwell


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This completely new work replaces the best-selling but woefully outdated Morehouse classic by the same name. This fresh work explains the liturgy in all its aspects for the uninitiated and is written by a respected liturgics scholar in the Episcopal Church.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819228383
Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/15/2013
Edition description: New
Pages: 57
Sales rank: 988,608
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)

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By James Farwell

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2013James Farwell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8192-2839-0



The Sacred Geography of the Liturgy

If the liturgy involves embodiment of a way of being in the world—grateful, compassionate, relying on God for our life and well-being, etc.—and bodies move in space, then we should include in our explanation of the liturgy a few words about the space in which liturgy occurs. Most rituals either occur in sacred space, or make sacred the space in which they occur, often both. The Eucharistic liturgy typically occurs in a church, a term that really means the people of God (from a Greek term meaning "the Lord's"), but a word we now tend to use for the physical space in which the liturgy is done. Space too, like the liturgy as a whole, enacts what it means to be Christian.

There is a great variety of spaces in which the liturgy occurs. We will not even begin to attempt to describe the differences among the many architectural styles of churches in East or West, but we can say something about the centers of the sacred space. Those centers are the key to the sacred geography of the liturgy, even though the centers are themselves arranged in various ways within the room.

The centers of liturgical space are three: the place where the Scriptures are read, the place where new members of the community of faith are initiated, and the place where the community gathers to eat its sacred food. In short, the centers of the sacred geography are the Ambo, the Font, and the Table. The liturgy not only occurs within them but reinforces their significance in the process.

The Ambo is the place from which the Scriptures are read and, perhaps, the sermon is preached. In some churches, particularly those built in recent years, the Ambo is a single lectern, podium, or standing desk; in older churches, there will often be more than one such piece of furniture that serve together as this liturgical center. Perhaps the Scriptures will be read from one and the sermon delivered from the other. Since the hearing of the Word and the preaching of the Word are linked, we will talk about the Ambo here in the singular.

The Ambo stands in the midst of the people, a symbol of Christian life as marked by responsiveness to God. We are hearers of the Word, listening in our sacred texts for the Word of God to be spoken: calling, coaxing, commanding, instructing, encouraging, judging, renewing. Some Christians—only a few, historically speaking, and restricted largely to the modern era—take the Bible literally. For most Christians the Bible is the Word of God in human words. Strictly speaking, Jesus alone is the Word of God, in whose life we witness the gracious call to a transformed life of gratitude and care for others, and the forgiveness of sin. Yet it is the Bible that speaks of Jesus as the Word, and so the Bible is the Word of God because it bears witness to that Word who is Jesus Christ, and it reveals God's care and call to us. Christians do not simply direct their own lives and destinies but orient themselves toward God as those who listen, receive, and obey the commands of God as the law of life, the outlines of a life well lived, the path to human flourishing as God intends for us.

The Font is linked to the Word, as in fact all three of the centers are to each other. The Font is the receptacle that holds the water by which new members of the community of God-followers are initiated. Some are small and off to the side, but increasingly churches have returned to an older pattern in which the font is prominent, linked spatially to Word and Table, or perhaps placed by the door as a reminder to all that it is by their baptism that they have been incorporated into the community that knows itself as the very Body of Christ. In baptism, water is poured over the heads or bodies of initiates, and the rich ambiguity of water is key to the ritual. Water cleanses and waters drowns; water washes the earth clean and, in great amounts, destroys; water refreshes, and renews. The ambiguity of water is an appropriate symbol, then, for Christian initiation: those who enter into a life lived before God through Jesus Christ die to an old life and awaken to new life, true life, by God's Word; they are refreshed and renewed and made clean not by their own doing, but by God whose radical love and forgiveness is freely offered to all. Being forgiven and reborn, they commence a life in which they promise to celebrate in gratitude the life they have been given; trust in God; be faithful members of the church that testifies to God's grace by its mission and outreach to the world; care for the dignity of all human beings who are made in God's image; and return again, with the help of God, whenever they fail to keep these promises.

The Table, or Altar, is the place where the community of faith, baptized into this life of responsive trust, gratitude, and compassionate care for God's world is strengthened daily to continue that work by the presence of the risen Lord Jesus, who commanded that his followers share this meal to remember him. At the same time, eating the sacred food, we become what we eat. (Remember Augustine's teaching at the end of the last chapter.) Since the focus of this book is on the Eucharist, a ritual that culminates in this sacred eating, we will have much more to say on this in subsequent sections.

It is worth noticing the theme that unites all three of the centers of Christian liturgy: Word, Font and Table. In each case, and taken together, they signify what we might call life as the second moment. Christians are people who aspire to recognize, celebrate, and return repeatedly to the wondrous truth that all life is lived in grateful response to the One from whom life flows. God gives all life, shares the divine being, boundless and mysterious and yet overflowing by God's own good will, into the creation of a world dependent on this first moment in which God gives all. God's love and lifegiving Word, of which Jesus Christ is the ultimate sacrament, is the first moment of the being of all creatures; God is the One in whom "we live, and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). All of human life is the second moment, in which we hear (think of the Ambo), respond (think of the Font), and are nourished and empowered again (think of the Table) by that which God gives.


The Structure of the Liturgy

The meaning of liturgy is produced not simply by the words, gestures, ceremonial actions and movement in it, but by its structure. The sequence in which we do things liturgically, and the relationships among the liturgy's parts, has a great deal to do with our becoming certain kinds of persons before God.

There is a word used for the most foundational level of the liturgy's structure. It is called the ordo. If a sentence can say something only because it follows the grammatical rules of the language in which it is written, so the liturgy—the things we say, do, and sing, and the movements and gestures we make—is possible only as it unfolds by the "rules" of the ordo. In this chapter, we will consider the ordo, or deep grammar, of the liturgy. In fact, we will consider the ordo as something that operates simultaneously at two complementary levels.

The first level at which the ordo operates is a pattern of proclamation and response. The liturgy as a whole is composed of two parts, "Word" and "Sacrament," and each of those parts has a central element within it. In the Book of Common Prayer 1979, the liturgical book of the Episcopal Church, the two parts are called "The Word of God" and "The Holy Communion." In its first part, from the beginning of the service to the time at which practitioners share God's peace with one another in an exchange of greetings, we hea

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 The Sacred Geography of the Liturgy 11

Chapter 2 The Structure of the Liturgy 15

Chapter 3 What We Do in the Liturgy 19

Chapter 4 Bodies in Motion: Gesture, Movement, Ceremonial 49

Conclusion 55

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