Liturgical Texts in Postmodernity VI

This is the final of five sections (and 5 blogposts) of an MTh essay unpacking the problem of text in postmodern contexts for worship and the implications for the Liturgy Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia.  It specifically reflects upon the Commission’s 2009 Alternative Service for Holy Communion.

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Hermeneutical Resources for Experimental Liturgies

This essay argues that the single release of a text for holy communion by a centralised committee is, in and of itself, an inadequate tool for the renewal of a church’s liturgy. There is too much uncertainty over the status of texts in a fragmenting cultural context to rely upon them for either making much affect on the spiritual life of the church, or maintaining some kind of apostolic integrity to the evolving tradition. What then does the Liturgy Commission have at its disposal to increase the effectiveness of their task?

First and foremost, the liturgy commission must be unfalteringly self-assured in championing the theological priority of lex orandi:lex credendi as a key component of Anglican identity. “Whereas theologians or historians of doctrine often assume a clear continuity of lex orandi (Lienhard 1987), liturgists map the changes and ambiguities of early liturgical practices… [which]… reveals not only the communication or borrowing between various religious communities at the time, but also points to the openness of meaning in liturgical acts.”1 There is much in this approach to Anglican religiosity which is attractive to a postmodern sensibility as lex orandi lends itself to an emphasis on experiential knowledge and complex truth.

To accompany the production of texts, I would suggest the Liturgy Commission could create a set of educational resources about the ‘deep structures’ of the eucharistic liturgy. That is, “seeking primarily the structure itself. For in the history of liturgical development, structure outlives meaning. Elements are preserved even when their meaning is lost (conservatism), or when they have become detached from their original limited place and purpose, acquiring new and broader meanings in the process (universalization).2 David Power provides an excellent illustration of this in his article on the Catholic Mass and much is relevant to the 2009 liturgy.3 Teaching the deep structures would allow for greater conscious continuity with the ancient traditions, an increased capacity to see beyond the sociological power structures of our present context, and support the creative work of the Spirit bringing the words to life as the rite is performed.


Being guided by the lex orandi: lex credendi principle, the Liturgy Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia should be able to navigate the challenges that postmodern culture brings. However, the Commission must be realistic about the changed nature of their task, if they are to have any affect on the worship life of the Church. The publication of liturgical texts cannot stand alone as a unifying and life-giving worship initiative. Their work could be supplemented with a much broader agenda of liturgical education, focusing on the deep structures of the text, skills for liturgical performance, and the nature of the liturgical task. The 2009 Alternative service for Holy Communion helpfully begins the link between an ancient tradition and contemporary Australia, but if left to stand on its own, the intentions of the text are unlikely to have an effective impact.

1Lyman (1993) p.135
2Taft (1984) p.152
3Power (2001)

6 thoughts on “Liturgical Texts in Postmodernity VI

  1. Hi Chelle,

    Thank you for your series on Liturgical Texts in Postmodernity. I think we met at the recent seminar I led n Melbourne conducted by the SCP. I particularly appreciated the insightful interpretation of my work on the distinction between the various philosophical polarities in Anglican sacramental theology. I was also interested in your comments on the Liturgical Commission and its work. I have had some interaction with them on the Eucharistic draft based on the Apostolic Tradition. Your distinction between lex orandi: lex credendi is one often encountered but I have come to wonder if the way of praying is really the way of believing or do people, especially in the entrenched diocesanism and hermeneutic idealism of the Australian scene, really determine their way of believing first and then impose this on liturgical structure. You might be interested in an insightful article by Rowan Williams on exactly this point. The reference is below:

    Williams, R. (2004) The Creed and the Eucharist in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, A lecture at Rheinische Friedrich-Williams Universitat, Bonn, 11 March, online,

    He really questions the idea that the idea that theology always follows liturgy and says that “the lex credendi (law of believing) moulds the language of prayer, just as much as it has itself been moulded by earlier devotional practice” (Williams, 2004: 1). This is really my experience in looking at the eucharistic thanksgiving based on the Apostolic Tradition. I am happy to share the article I have written on this which will be published in Studies in Liturgy in the near future. I argue that the Liturgical Commission has not confronted this issue in an adequate way and allows the law of believing to call the shots when it comes to liturgical development rather than learning to live with the multiformity of the Anglican eucharistic tradition and our different ways of praying.

    All the best with your work and I look forward to more insightful work from you.

    • Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment Brian.
      Yes, we did meet at your Melbourne seminar. Congratulations of putting out such excellent work – it is very easy to ‘make use of’ and I’m very thankful for it!
      I scanned the Williams article you mentioned – the link didn’t work so if others want to go to it, click here instead. I think I remember reading it for an earlier paper. As usual, Rowan Williams draws out the necessary complexity! Would enjoy reading your article – is there a link to it on your blog yet?
      I appreciate your lex orandi: lex credendi comments (and cringe just a little because I should have written more or done better with that point of the essay). Definitely the right questions! I guess I really don’t think hermeneutical idealists decide what they believe – I think it’s a pretty unconscious psychological process do with corporate personalities, systematic pathologies and, most of all, a hidden hunger for power. Yet again, I betray my sociological roots which tend to favour a socio-political deconstruction! The big question is: do you have any suggestions as to how to get the hermeneutical stand-off regarding anglican eucharistic theology?
      Best wishes and keep writing,

      • Hi Chelle,

        Thanks for getting the Williams’ link correct. It is annoying when they change so often. I think the hermeneutic idealist is so concerned about purity of view and the ‘truth’ they have they are prepared to prosecute it in their liturgical products. This is true for all parties in the Anglican Church. You are quite right about power but I think there is also the self-knowledge that they are right and that there can only be one view. Such a position, in my view, is at odds with the multiformity we find in the Anglican tradition. Nothing wrong with sociological roots – I think they help us greatly just us philosophical perspectives also assist. I think the stand-off in regard to hermeneutic idealist can only be overcome if we acknowledge difference of view and prepared to live with it. Habermas speaks of moving beyond our own lifeworld and embracing the system paradigm. In Anglicanism I think the system paradigm is multiformity however so many are prepared to remain content in their own lifeworld. This does not of course mean that we should not value our own lifeworld but it does mean that we should be prepared to admit that there are other lifeworlds. This failure to admit other lifeworlds is one of the great problems faced by the Liturigical Commission as it develops liturgies. Unless we are prepared to accept that there are other views we will always be stuck with negotiated alternatives which please no one – like the Third Thanksgiving in the Second Order of APBA. I am happy to send you the article I spoke about but I will need an email address as I can’t put it on a website at present.

        Great to talk and discuss these matters. It is good to know that someone else is interested in this stuff. Keep up the great work

      • Brian,
        My question is still: how do people change? How do hermeneutical idealists become open to the Habermasian subject to subject?
        Personally, I think the answer is through some kind of psychospiritual experience a la Lonergan’s conversion theories. I’m not talking about experience as a source of theological authority here so much as a mechanism for looking at what the bible (and tradition) has to say afresh. And I think that this can include experiences of the intellect.
        So… how can the Anglican Liturgical Commission provide opportunities for experience?

      • The Liturgical Commission can provide those sorts of experience by allowing for a multiformity of eucharistic liturgy. The Thanksgiving on the Apostolic Tradition is a good example of how this should not be done. Here we have a form of Thanksgiving which attempts to satisfy the objections of some and ends up satisfying no one. This is the point I make in the article I have written which they were not much interested in since they believed we have to take certain diocesan views into account. Subject to subject dialogue is only achieved if people are willing to listen and hear the other view and allow for diversity while they value their own position at the same time. This is what I argue in the article and I am still willing to share that with you but need a way of getting it to you.

  2. Well, I agree with the multiformity -absolutely. But there needs to be some practical steps following on from the liturgical commission’s work. Leading transformative worship takes skill and spiritual maturity, not just a good text. There are great people in the Anglican system who could equip Australian clergy and lay people to lead better worship and the Liturgical Commission could certainly get creative and sponsor such an initiative. (And the argument about lack of money should not be allowed to prevent the Church moving forward.)
    But for even such practical steps to take effect there must be a relationship of trust between those being offered the training and those giving it. Again, I am back to how – practically and pastorally speaking – do we facilitate the laying down of hermeneutical idealism in individual persons? Surely part of the answer is – to build trust. How can the liturgical commission build spiritual trust in the Anglican Church in Australia? My argument would be that it definitely will NOT come through a text or a centralised pronouncement.
    Where would I start? Let the best liturgists, worship leaders and spiritual giants loose on Diocesan worship events.
    I just sent you an email – look forward to reading that article.

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