Sunday, 15 August 2010

Liturgical Leftovers

Life for me, these days, is a tapestry of funerals marriages and CBeebies. I work, I come home, I relax with the Twins Aculae - and share with them their pleasures. CBeebies.

For those who kindly read this on distant shores, CBeebies is the BBC television channel aimed at the six-and-unders. We have such joys as The Tweenies, not one of my favourites; Mr Tumble, a great love in the hearts of my kids; Bob the Builder (yes he can); Mr Maker and the unquenchingly energic Sarah-Jane. A new programme has emerged in this year, an excellent production - Let's Celebrate. It is a production that focusses on the great celebrations of the world-faiths and other community. For us, Easter and Christmas have both been done, as too has the Notting Hill Carnival. Eid for the Muslins, Wesak for the Buddhists, and also Vaisakhi, Eid al-Fitr, Holi, Purim, Diwali, St Patrick's Day, St David's Day, St George's Day, St Andrew's Day, Norouz, and Chinese New Year. Marvellous!

Even though I am 32 years too old for CBeebies, I find this programme informative and enjoyable, and the kids love it - and that is always good. The quality and balance of each programme is laudable - even if Thomas Ticker is a pain in the derriere! However, it is wonderful that the BBC provides such a programme, a celebration (broadly) of the joyousness of faith and its outpourings in the lives of so many people. 

What is also interesting is the liturgical structure that so many of the World Faiths have. Ceremony is hugely important. As a ceremonially-biased Christian, I pondered this. I pondered and wondered why it seems that only in Christianity, so many want to lay aside ceremony and that dirty-word 'liturgy.' The head of our Body, Jesus Christ, was himself a liturgical creature. He was born and raised into a practicing Jewish family where Temple presentation, baptism, and even the rites surrounding death were held as important. I would even go so far as to suggest that humans are liturgical creatures. Watching the expressions of other faith groups pressed home to me the apparent fact that only Christians in some quarters want to do away with such things. I worry about it, if I am honest. 

The drive for absolute spontaneity and freedom in worship worries me. Why are we so heart-set on putting aside ritual and ceremony? Such things are often regarded as stifling and limiting, which is wrong. Ceremony, ritual - liturgy; these things provide edges and a direction. Such 'routine' ensures that we do what needs to be done, that we share in the re-enactment of the same rituality of our ancestors whose ritual inheritance we enjoy in our lifetime. Spontaneity within liturgy is good and right, but why is it that only Christians seem to want to distance themselves from their past. It isn't just about now, because 'now' is about us, and our faith is altogether more than just 'us'.


  1. As a relatively new Christian I find myself torn between the appeal to all the senses of the High-Church rituals and ceremony and the more Calvinistic approach with no-frills of other forms of worship. For me, the visual attractions - vestments, candles incense and music have a somewhat hypnotic effect which is hugely appealing but occasionally obscures the message. Perhaps a mixture of both approaches would work better for one who is too easily distracted by beauty. More a question than a comment. Sorry!

  2. Ceremony needn't infer frills, just process! Often, the distraction is away from the matters of the head so that the still small voice in our heart can speak! I also understand how, in some circumstances these things can become a barrier. I have very strong feelings about archaeology liturgy as things done just in the cause of 'pretty' or 'it was best when it was done like this' is itself pointless. I think the joy of liturgy is that it can be mixed. I speak on this only for the cause of process and order - and some of the most moving liturgies are those with a mere breathe of ritual.

    I think your instincts serve you well, and what you describe of your own tastes mirror many of us at the catholic end of Anglican!

  3. I really appreciate the rhythm of the liturgical year and all the different traditions, days and rituals. Through ritual and structure meaning and theology unfold to people, so it is vital, although we shouldn't be too hide bound by it as well.

    I also used to love children's TV when my were little! After an afternoon taking them swimming or to the park, I used to quite like going home to 30 minutes of peace watching Playdays ( as was then!)

  4. I think one (of many)functions of good liturgy/ritual is to enable all to engage as fully as possible in a shared event, whether that is worship/celebration/mourning etc. If because of repetition/tradition people know what they're expected to do or say, it can actually provide greater freedom than some so-called non-liturgical services/events. I've noticed that Christian groups that say they don't do liturgy actually do, it's simply that they've replaced one form of liturgy with another. Regular BBC programmes for young children provide lots of examples of ritual which help the children engage with the programme e.g. the beginning and end always happens the same way, catch phrases or certain music/images repeatedly happen. There's enough ritual for the children to feel safe enough to enjoy the delightful surprises and respond spontaneously.



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