Liturgical Texts in Postmodernity I

I’ve just sent off my final essay for the Worship & Liturgy unit which, truth be told, was a labour of love (and embarrassingly late – sorry Gerard).  The point of the assignment was to reflect on an element of worship, so I chose to reflect on the 2009 Alternative Service for Holy Communion published by the Liturgy Commission.  The purpose of the Liturgy Commission is to bring life and energy into the Church’s worship but it feels like they don’t get to do much other than publish the occasional prayer on the General Synod website and in my experience is pretty much ignored.

Really my original question was, ‘why the hell does anyone think that publishing a text is going to make a difference to the worshiping life of the contemporary church?’  Texts are so problematic in a fragmented world.  It is the experience of connecting with God that transforms, not the words per se.

Surprisingly, I’m less cynical than when I began!  It was a great exercise to engage deeply with questions about text.  And the 2009 service is really beautiful, I’d be very happy to use it regularly.  (Go to the Liturgy Commission page if you want to check it out.) So, thought I’d try something different and post the essay section by section over the next few days and you can follow along – this will form a total of 6 posts.  It’s a technical piece of writing – so if you’re reading and you need clarification over a term or two, please leave me a question!   Hope it’s useful.  Love to hear what you think.  (And if anyone can enlightenment on the creative, automatic formatting when I cut and paste into wordpress I’d be pleased to hear from you!)

Introduction

In 2009 the Liturgy Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia released an Alternate Service for Holy Communion in response to calls for a “shorter, more direct” service “in a ‘lower register’ of language.”1 This is in line with the purpose of the Liturgy Commission which is:

To examine questions of liturgy referred to it by the Primate, the Standing Committee or the General Synod, and to report thereon to the referring party and Standing Committee;” and

To advise the Primate, the Standing Committee or the General Synod, on matters relating to the creative nurture and renewal of the liturgical life of this church.” 2

This essay reflects on the problematical nature of creating a text for Anglican Holy Communion services in a postmodern cultural context. The viability of achieving liturgical renewal through the publication of a text by a centralised commission is challenged, as I consider questions of authority, language and the particular case of the Holy Communion sacrament. In conclusion, I suggest that the theoretical constructs of ‘lex orandi:lex credendi‘ and ‘deep structures‘ may provide a helpful way forward on the difficulties discussed in this essay.

1Introduction to An Order for the Holy Communion (2009, revised)

2Anglican Church of Australia website.

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