Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Liturgy as Discipleship

What is increasingly a challenge in pastoral ministry is the crunch of time experienced by our parishioners, or what Alexander Schmemann calls the, "nightmarish alteration between rush and relaxation," and what Susan J. White, in her book The Spirit of Worship, describes as "a particular problem for those who are seeking to build integrated spiritual lives in the contemporary situation."

Think of the problem this way. At best, at least in our tradition, we have four hours each week to meet and to remind ourselves of the Christ event, and together, to shape ourselves into his followers.  Is this enough time? Well, of course, that depends on just what is happening in those four hours, and it also depends upon what is being practiced during the other 164 hours of the week as well.


MS. White's book is important in this regard, offering an overview of the Liturgical Tradition of Spirituality, by which is meant, "the primary source for the nourishment of the Christian spiritual life is to be found in the Church's public worship." 

She intends for us to understand that no matter what passes for liturgy (whether high or low), the proponents within the liturgical tradition assert that, "one receives the primary spiritual insight, strength, experience of the holy and nourishment for godly living," through the liturgy. This means that what really matters is "not how the liturgical tradition works, or what it means, but rather how it...sustains, influences, enriches, and enlivens the relationship between the Christian believer and God."

To this end she outlines how the liturgy offers spiritual resources in at least six ways:
  • a language for prayer and meditation -- the liturgy teaches prayer
  • a pattern for the spiritual disciplines --  various forms of devotional exercises are expressed in the liturgy
  • an arena for an encounter with God -- the liturgy offers a context in which to encounter the Holy
  • signs, symbols and rituals by which to express the relationship with God -- the liturgy offers the primary speech about our complex  relationship with God
  • a model for the Christian life and community -- the liturgy shapes how we are to relate to each other and the wider community
  • strength in the time of spiritual crisis -- the liturgy is a source of spiritual sustenance in times of temptation, trial and torment
The point here is that we must deepen our investment in the liturgical moment. We must offer the liturgy with a clear understanding of just what is at stake when we gather in ritual performance.  And, we must see that the metaphor of the liturgy speaks volumes to those expressing and experiencing the movements and cadence of those sacred, shared meanings.