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.2Taft (1984) p.152