24 January 2008

When Bad Things Happen to Good Liturgy

Essay 1: The Tragedy of Tacky Liturgy

The liturgical services of the Christian Church are, perhaps, the most instructive rituals in any religious tradition on earth. They are filled with symbols, words, and actions that teach with every look, breath, and motion. Christian liturgy assists us (in cooperation with the absolutely necessary grace of the Holy Spirit) in breaking down our own wills bit by bit and conforming ourselves to the heart and mind of God. Given this awesome ability that is inherent in the Christian liturgy, it is overwhelmingly depressing and disheartening to see that there are Christian assemblies today who accept a liturgy that fails to engage the senses and the heart of the worshipper because the liturgy itself has been overshadowed by the dismissive way in which it is executed. It is the ultimate tragedy of tacky liturgy.

Tacky liturgy is detrimental to both the spiritual and catechetical aspects of worship, leading the faithful down a path that is ultimately unfulfilling and disheartening. It is no wonder that non-liturgical churches are springing up, growing to roster thousands of members seemingly overnight, while liturgical churches are languishing in many areas. They are, at times rightly, accused of being dead or dying, and of offering nothing new and satisfying to the spiritual diet of Christians. At the same time, more and more people are finding themselves drawn to ritualistic non-Christian traditions as well. While many of these individuals may not find themselves drawn to Christianity to start with, some of them have certainly turned away from the faith because of their need for an inherently liturgical order to their worship (and, perhaps, to their lives).

Today, tacky liturgy is most frequently noticed in the Western Church. Let’s face it, since the Liturgical Renewal that accompanied Vatican II, the conciliar decrees that governed the reform have been used as the justification for so many idiotic practices that some people have elected to flee from contemporary liturgy, preferring to ensconce themselves in the traditions they find reverent and comforting. No matter how reverent and comforting these traditions may be, they do not optimally teach the faith as it was handed down to the Fathers of the Church if for no other reason than the fact that the ritual expression of the faith takes the form of a weapon that is used against other Christians.

All this being said about the Western Church, the East has its own fair share of tacky liturgy. The average westerner may not notice it, but its there, and when its tacky it is so distracting (at least to me) so as to render my worship experience nearly useless. To see faded out lithographs in place of genuine icons in a Byzantine Church, or unbuttoned albs (sticharion) in a Syriac Church are every bit as distracting and tacky as substituting a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya” in place of the Sanctus in the Western rite.

It is up to those tasked with leading worship, the bishops, presbyters, deacons, deaconesses, lectors, servers, cantors… and yes, every member of the Christian assembly… to do something about the shortcomings of our worship practices, regardless of our ritual tradition.

In the weeks and months to come, I hope to share with you some practical and sensible thoughts for you to reflect on in your quest for a deeper and more reverent experience that transcends the ordinary and brings the people of God to an extraordinary liturgical encounter with Jesus Christ.


All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

  © Blogger templates 'Neuronic' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP