09 July 2009

Confessions of a Liturgical Schizophrenic

Anyone who has visited my home and looked at my office knows that I am a liturgical geek. I love the Liturgy of the Church. I have so many books on Liturgy that it boggles my mind how I managed to find them… and, without attempting to sound too vain, I can usually find what I am looking for in them in just a few moments. (Go ahead, test me sometime!) I have altar and pew books of the west and the east… Maronite, Anglican, Roman, Ambrosian, Byzantine, Methodist, Armenian, Lutheran, Moravian… and probably several more. I have book upon book that gets into the history of the liturgies, their evolution, their textual sources. I just love the Liturgy.

Virtually every liturgical tradition in the Christian Church has something of appeal, something that speaks to my soul. Sometimes its the comprehensive view of salvation history provided in the Byzantine and Syriac Eucharistic prayers. At other times it is the noble simplicity of the liturgies of the Latin tradition. I’m hard pressed to find a liturgy in Christendom which I cannot find value and worth in.

And therein lay my problem...

From the time I picked up my first liturgical textbook, I have been a liturgy addict. Recently I was sharing with a friend the various liturgical rites I have celebrated in over the past 12+ years of presbyteral ministry. I present them here, in order:

The modern Roman Rite (June - October 1997)
The 1928 Book of Common Prayer (October 1997 - December 1997)
The Anglican Missal and The Anglican Breviary (December 1997 - January 1999)
The Anglican Missal and the 1928 BCP January 1999 - May 1998)
The 1929 Scottish Book of Common Prayer (May 1998 - May 1999)
The 1892 Book of Common Prayer (May 1999 - July 2001)
The 2001 Primitive Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (July 2001 - January 2003)
Various Local Use Liturgies based Western Rite sources (January 2003 - December 2004)
Western Rite Liturgy of the Synod of Saint Timothy (December 2004 - December 2005)
Eastern Rite (Syriac) Liturgy of the Synod of Saint Timothy (December 2005 - March 2007)
Divine Liturgy of the Evangelical Orthodox Church (March 2007 - June 2008)
Various Local Use Liturgies based on Eastern and Western Sources (June 2008 - Present)

These are the rites I have consistently celebrated during that time. This does not count the other rites I have celebrated, sometimes as a one-off or on occasional visits to congregations with other rites. The consistent tally, however, amounts to twelve different liturgical schemes. Granted, several have a family relation (from October 97 to January 03 I used variations on the classical BCP), but of late I have realized that I have never really firmly solidified my personal liturgical spirituality. Why?

First, while my Theology has become much more entrenched and rooted over that time, my ability to find liturgies that reflect my beliefs has expanded immensely. I see things in many liturgies that both serve to enhance and detract from my beliefs. This becomes a problem, however, because it approaches what could easily be identified as ‘cafeteria’ Christianity. Most who know me know that this doesn’t describe my beliefs, but looking at the listing of liturgical jaunts I have taken, I am not sure if you could tell that.

Second, being a liturgist, I find that it is in celebrating various rites that I truly come to understand their beauty, significance, and vitality. This is troublesome because this requires one to impose their own liturgical desires on a congregation (something I think I can be safely accused of having done in the past).

There is, however, a vital need for providing a spiritual foundation that is well rooted which consistent liturgy is key to. When one doesn’t consistently practice a specific liturgy (whatever liturgy it may be), one isn’t growing in a system - they are pool-hopping. While the occasional visit to a liturgy that differs from one’s own can be an outstanding thing, practicing a regular merry-go-round with the Liturgy is quite another thing indeed.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I have to admit to myself and to many others that I am a liturgical schizophrenic. My mind and heart are touched by so many things that they haven’t really formed a particular attachment to anything. Further, such a practice has increased in me a discord when it comes to the rites and ceremonies of the Church, the Church Year’s composition, etc. I desperately want to see something better – the best Liturgy ever – and yet I realize each time I think I find something great, that something greater still lay just beyond the horizon, waiting to be discovered.

Myself, I know I need to settle down and embrace a specific liturgy and ritual, and I need to do it soon. It needs to be a liturgy and ritual that I share in common with others (even if it is only with my own diocese), and one that will allow me to focus not on how to make the Rite better, but on how to direct my energies to bring people to the Rite so that they may be brought into full communion with our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the Word.

(N.B.: I have also celebrated from, at least once: the 1979 BCP, the Celtic Episcopal Rite, the Antiochian Catholic Rite, the 1954 South African BCP, the 1549 BCP, the 1962 Canadian BCP, the Book of Common Worship of the Church of South India, the 1926 Irish BCP, the Maronite Rite, the Syro-Malabar Rite, a Trial Use Eucharist from Prayer Book Studies IV, the 1662 BCP, the Anglican Service Book, the Lutheran Book of Worship, Renewing Worship, Service Book and Hymnal, With One Voice, Hymnal Supplement 98, Christian Worship, Christian Worship: Supplement, An Australian Prayer Book, the Old Catholic Missal, and I could probably think of some more if I really tried. That alone is another 22!)


John Roop July 11, 2009 at 9:40 AM  

Fr. Rob,

A very interesting and helpful post -- as usual -- particularly the final paragraph. All this reminds me of the old saying: "A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two is never certain."

Peace of Christ to you and your family,


FrGregACCA July 14, 2009 at 10:04 PM  

You are probably a vagante priest if...

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