Speaking of liturgy (and theological formation)

Earlier this week I participated in an online discussion about ministerial training. I made the point that I am shocked by how little time is spent studying liturgy. It seems to me that ordinands, and I am sorry if I sound like an old foggy, are more likely to know about their Myers Briggs profile, their preferred leadership style and a host of other ‘relevant’ (although relevant to what I am not quite sure) topics then they are about the liturgy of the Church. I think this matters, and it matters a lot. It’s not that tools to help reflect on our personalities and preferences are worthless, but more that liturgy, properly understood and inhabited, has a unique currency of all of its own.

For all of the talk about new ways of being church it surely remains the case that to a very large extent our ‘common’ liturgy is our public face? At weddings, baptisms and funerals it is through the words, or charism, of the liturgy that the church helps to make connections; to ligature. That’s why what we used to call the occaisional offices are now referred to as the pastoral offices. To a very large measure to be liturgical is to be pastoral.

To be liturgical is also to be doctrinal. Liturgy is the means through which the doctrine of the church is expressed. Liturgy is the language that invites us to reflect on the great Christian (and liturgical) themes of grace, mercy, peace, and service. That is why the Common Worship Liturgy begins with the words ‘grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,’ and ends with the great commission to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’

Through the liturgy we are also asked to accept an ontological reality. God is God, we are not. We sin, God forgives and, redeems.

The liturgy also asks us to remember, bring to mind, bring into the present, the entirety of the Christian story, or at least the whole basis of our belief: ‘Christ, has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ Our common liturgy is also explicitly Trinitarian: ‘grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,’ and ‘The Lord is here…….His Spirit is with us.’ Liturgy is trinitarian doctrine in action.

Liturgy is also profoundly vocational reminding us that through word and sacrament our true vocation is to ‘magnify his Holy Name,’ and surely this is also the desired outcome, the prayed for outcome, of all Christian spirituality?

A friend of mine, not a regular church goer, has lamented the lack of religious literacy in the population at large. His point, as an English Teacher, is that it is impossible to understand the great works of literature, and art, without some level of religious literacy. He believes that Religious Studies should be compulsory in schools because it helps animate and bring to life other subjects. In the same way I strongly, no very strongly, believe that liturgy should sit at the core of all training and, crucially, formation. Shocking as it sounds liturgy shape, forms, and theologically educates us.

An understanding, appreciation and love of the liturgy is the antidote to religious individualism (because what is being celebrated is something that is ‘common,’). It is also Anglicanism’s method for the animation and articulation of the pastoral, vocational, spiritual, missional and doctrinal imperatives that we have received and, that we are obliged to hand on as traditional Anglicans. Without a commitment to inhabiting the formal, binding, and common liturgy of the church it is difficult to identify the glue that binds us together as Anglicans, for traditional Anglicanism has always (rightly in my view) insisted we are what we (in common) pray. We are a common people because we share a common language.

I know of no better way of articulating and growing into the Christian story than through the liturgy. Understanding our Myers Briggs profiles, our preferred leadership styles, our supposed learning styles, and so forth, even though these may add real value, will never compensate for a hollowed out understanding of, and appreciation for, that great God given and transcendental charism: the liturgy.

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