Andy (emperoraf) wrote,

REPOST: On Liturgical Appropraiteness

(Note: Here is a favorite little post of mine from a few years ago on what it means to be liturgically appropriate in the Episcopal Church. The moving of the Font at St John's has not been a controversial decision. I use it here only to make a point.)

A FEW WEEKS ago, I had the priviledge to overhear a conversation between someone who had recently started attending St. John's and someone who had been going there since Jesus was crucified. The topic was the Baptismal Font, which was moved recently to the back of the Nave and is now filled with Holy Water. The newcomer says, "I'm so glad they've moved the Font back to its traditional place; where God intended it to be." (Obviously listening to me and my ilk entirely too much). The older member responds, "No, that is not the traditional place. The font has always been in the front!" They both look at me, encouraging me with their eyes to give an opinion. I look down -- a reflex from my Baptist days (when sh*t goes down, so does your head. Do not make eye contact, lest anyone think you want to change the color of the carpet in the Sanctuary from deep red to blue). This conversation was much more cheerful than the ones from my Baptist days and they both went onto another topic.

THE IRONIC THING, of course, is that they both are entirely correct. The newcomer used the word traditional to invoke the ancient practice of the Church, which was to have the font by the door, (because you enter into the Church through Baptism). The not-so-newcomer used the word traditional to invoke the fact that for as long as she has been a member, the font has been up front. It was up front for her baptism and for her children's baptisms. They were both correct in both uses.

WHICH, OF COURSE, begs the question (maybe it doesn't, but this is my blog and I say it does), what is liturgically appropriate for Episcopalians? Legally, all that is required is the actual text of the Prayer Book and the rubrics (I think the Canons might say a little bit, but not much). Really. That's all that is liturgically "appropriate" for an Episcopal Church. This is marvelous because it leaves everything from a Mass that feels, smells and sounds like the Tridentine version to the lowest-of-the-low Churches with their handmade stoles and clergy shirts. The words are and should be the same at both, but everything else is just ephemera, legally speaking.

WE ARE NOT Romans, for heaven's sake! They have The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, which is a guidebook on everything from the position of the Priest's hands, to Church furnishings, to how long a pass-the-peace hug can be before it gets awkward (3 seconds, by the way [that was a joke]). The GIRM carries with it enough authority that at least Fr. Joe can say, "No, this is how it should be" and throw the book at the offenders. But, even the GIRM not always followed in Roman Catholic Churches. I'm not sure if the Orthodox have something similar because their services confuse and hurt my head.

ANGLICANS HAVE NO such luck. We have no book to throw at the offenders' heads. Yes, even though there are a plethora of Anglican Liturgical Manuals, they are not legally binding. Dennis Michno's A Priest's Handbook seems to be the most common Ceremonial in Episcopal Churches. If the medieval practice in England is your inspiration, there is Percy Dearmer's A Parson's Handbook. If you think that the Tridentine Mass was damn near perfect, there is Ritual Notes, which adapts the text of the Prayer Book to imitate its Roman counterpart. There are even Churches that use The General instruction on the Roman Missal. Your Church can write its own, for heaven's sake! Or, you can do what we do: we do it this way because we have always done it this way. All of these only have authority when it is given by the Church. For example, when training the Acolytes, they could refer to pages in Ritual Notes or whatever.

YOU CANNOT THROW a book at an offender, however unfortunate that may be. Some days it is VERY unfortunate! At least legally speaking, Episcopalians cannot say that some things need or should be done this way or that way. Of course, your over-opionated laity who likes to engage in some "backseat vicaring" will do this no matter what, yelling their concept of "Tradition" at each other. Lord knows I do this worse than anyone else. Again, apart from the text of the Prayer Book (et. al) and the rubrics therein, there is nothing that should or should not be done in an Episcopal Church.

HERE AGAIN THAT pesky old question comes back: what is liturgically appropriate for Episcopalians? Is it appropriate that the Font was moved to the back of the Nave? Does God really intend it to be there? Should it have remained up front and dry, except for when a baby's head hovers over it? Which Tradition do we appeal to: what's done here; what's done there; what some Parish in the late eighth century in East Anglia did; or what did the Romans did? Why do we do what we do and with what authority do we do it?

THIS IS ALMOST the exact same question that theboynamedfred posed in his response to my response on the Roman Option:
"Mr. Ford offers the classic suggestion of the majority of Anglicans - work it out. Pray, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, engage in social justice, and so on. The attitude is very commendable; in fact, the inertia of this proposition arguably could be what has sustained the Church of England for almost five hundred years . . . Now, however, that the English Church is unsure about so many issues, it finds itself faced with the question all 'doers' must address: why are we doing this?"
Why do we do what we do? Why do we move the font to the back of the Church? Why do we begin every Mass with the Collect for Purity? Why do we cross ourselves? Why do we feed the poor? Why do we fill the font with holy water? What is the end of all these things? What is their purpose? This is a valuable question, no doubt. It is one that all doers and hearers of the word must address.

BOTH LITURGICALLY AND morally speaking, I do not believe our answer is in imitating Tradition (which can be pesky, as seen above). Our goal should not be to be like the Medieval English Church, the Roman Church or even St.-John's-in-the-Kennedy-Administration. No, this is not our end. This is not why we pray. This is not why we give cups-of-water in Christ's name. This is not why we move Fonts. Though the result may look very similiar to what Christians have done for centuries, it is not our end. It is not our purpose to "ape" them.

THE PRAYER BOOK Catechism gives this answer:
Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
THIS IS WHY the Font was moved (at least, for me). It was not moved because it was traditional or biblical. Yes, those answers are fine and good, but they are not enough. The font was moved as a constant reminder that Baptism is an outward and visible sign of unity with God and each other. That the sacraments are certain means by which we receive grace: that is, the grace of union with God. The Sacraments are given to us for this very end. Walking by a font that is filled with holy water reminds us that we set apart for union with him, as the Prayer Book puts it, Christ's own forever.

THIS RESTORATION OF unity with God and each other goes by many different names: the Mystics would call it "union with Reality." The Benedictines would call it the "amendment of life;" and our Orthodox brethren call it deification or theosis. This is our purpose: to become one with the Divine, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Of course, this is not only our ultimate end, but also the reason for our life here on this earth. This is why we do works of mercy and try to walk as humbly as we can. This is why we pray. This is why we submit to authority. This is why. This is why.

LITURGICAL APPROPRIATENESS SHOULD facilitate or at least point to this end. Tradition (whether it be from a millennia or fifty years ago) will lead to this. But we do not aim for being Traditional or aim for being appropriate or even aim for being pretty. No, we aim for the heart. To shoot for anything less would be to cheapen the Cross of Christ and rob us of awareness of the Kingdom of God.

AND THEN, WHAT would we be?

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