Monday, 18 April 2011

Sticky Liturgy

During a nimble browse through Blogdom yesterday, I picked up on a sentence typed by the excellent Labradoodle-loving Curate's Wife. She pondered, in passing, how odd all this holy Week stuff must be for kids, and how they might cope with the panoply of perpetuated praise.

I am, as you may have gathered, a liturgical kinda guy. I love the 'doing' of liturgy. There are likely to be many explanations for that, and why we all fall into ecclesial pigeon-holes when it comes to such stuff; but for me, it is all bound up in good liturgy. It might be to do with a slightly extrovert nature, a pragmatic style of learning, a tendency to see the world in image and not, say, in words or numbers. It will have a little to do with the 'nurture' argument too - though perhaps less, because I found my own way to liturgy. 

Another thing that is also true to say, is that liturgically minded Christians tend to 'do' Holy Week and the Triduum well. This week is, in many ways, a show-piece of living liturgy. And I can also say with absolute certainty that it was that aspect of worship that hooked me into faith. Most kids who have ever been near a church will be familiar with Palm Crosses, and in my experience, a good many will know what they represent. For me the most chilling, haunting, beautiful, stunning, affective liturgical moment is the desecration of the church after the catastrophic key-change in the Maundy Thursday Eucharist. We enter the church in white, we leave the church is disarray into a silence of vigil-prayer. We rip every thing beautiful from the place, leaving the altar naked, defiled. With the words of either Psalm 31 or 22 being intoned or read-gently while this stripping takes place, there is no moment in church life that more connects me with the agony of the Passion. And it was so for me as a child. Wide-eyed, dumbfounded, awe-struck - in every sense, a believer. 

I can illustrate my faith journey and maturation not in encounters with people, but in encounters with God through beautiful liturgy. I do not speak of professional-ceremonial though - liturgy and ceremonial, while very closely related, are not at all the same. Beautiful liturgy can happen in the midst of 250 kids all making noise together. The joy of liturgy is that it is, by definition, hands-on. Being caused to process, to wave palm-crosses, sit in drowsy vigil in the Garden of Repose, tear a church apart - all of things demand an action, a committed involvement.

In this post, I  also disclose my plans for the rest of Holy Week. As a personal devotion, and for use to you if you want it, I shall blog the Stations of The Cross all week. There are a few of them, so it will mean three or four posts a day. They are my prayers and thoughts - I offer them humbly, and ask that you do what you will with them. 


  1. I too find the altar stripping almost unbearable moving. In the small Welsh market town where I was for years NSM curate, there is always an ecumenical Maundy Thursday eucharist. I still rmemeber the then new Presbyterian minister with tars in his eyes after having watched the stripping for the first time in his life. He said to me that he now realised what his church had lost by not having a liturgical tradition which didn't rely entirely on words.

  2. I think that Thursday will be a moving day for me. I will be attending the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral for the first time. Combined with my own Parish Maundy Eucharist in the evening.

    The stripping of the Altar and removal of every sign or symbol from the Church, seems to leave the soul desolate.

    I'm going to an RC service for the Stations of the Cross on Wednesday. Not so much used within the CofE, but something I feel I need to be at this year.

  3. Many thanks Fr. :)
    Maundy Thursday always reduces me to tears - beautiful liturgy.

  4. We've just got back from our Maundy Service when I read this, and I can only agree with you. In our rather evangelical setting, the stripping of the table was moving but "spoilt" by how little time and effort it took, and the need to clear up from our shared meal afterwards. On Reader Training Placement I was moved much more by the more sombre service at a "higher" church, which included the footwashing, as well as stripping to church in an 'almost dark' vigil in the chapel.

  5. Thank you for your comment. I have just returned from mine, and it was the first time that I was the President. It is a favourite act of worship for me as it is a near re-enactment, and I have just left a church still full of smoke, and one bear cross in this descending fog. The garden of repose is candle-lit and beautiful.

    We 'high church' types come into our own in the Triduum!



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