Sunday, May 17, 2015

Yes, I'm (Anglo) Catholic (Part 3: Liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer)

Whew! We've reached Part Three in my Super-Special-Awesome (bonus points if you caught the reference America!) series on the beliefs that led me to the Anglo-Catholic tradition! Up now: the Liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer!!!

Now, I want you to first take note of something, because this is very, very important: out of the (now) three articles I've done (or in one case, am still doing) concerning the Anglo-Catholic Tradition, how many of them are utterly abstract beliefs that do not have any Real Presence (pardon the pun) in the physical world? The first was on the Eucharist, which has a physical manifestation; the second was concerning Baptism, which also has a physical manifestation; this third one is about our physical tool for prayer and worship (the Book of Common Prayer), and the Liturgy we practice from it, which is also very much a physical involvement. Not to say that purely abstract dogmas are unimportant--they most certainly are--but the focus here is on the physicality of the Christian Faith, as understood by historic Christianity.


Because the modern Western Church has almost entirely forgotten it.

Think about it: what does your average modern day American church believe?

Baptism? It doesn't actually do anything supernatural, but instead is merely a "profession of Faith" (funny how Scripture never calls it that). Oh, and NO BABIES. Because babies can't be Christians. And Jesus doesn't want us to bring babies to Him...or something...(Matthew 19:14...)...

The Eucharist? Meh, merely a memorial. It's not actually the Body and Blood of Jesus; we only take it once every 3-4 months helps us remember Jesus' death or something. Mind you, not "remember" in the Scriptural way, where we are united with Christ through the Eucharist, but "remember" purely in the epistemological way. As in, "Oh, now I remember that Jesus died for me. Thanks, crackers and grape juice, for reminding me of that."

Prayer? Well, we kinda do this whole, "think nice things in our minds and that's our morning prayer" thing, often, don't we? C'mon, admit it: you do the whole, "Ugh, I don't want to get out of bed, so let me just think nice Jesus thoughts in my warm, cozy bed and that'll count." I mean, sure; it counts as prayer..ish. But this brings me to my point: a minimalist, anti-physical, Jefferson Bethke-type religion that tries like Hell to pretend it's not a religion but is "just about Jesus" permeates our modern understanding of Christianity in the West. When does the modern American church ever advocate for spoken prayer in private time? for literally getting on one's knees? for--Heaven forbid--reciting or even--Lord have mercy--singing our prayers? Why do we only embrace the types of prayers that involve the smallest amount of physical participation?

Why do we insist upon acting as though the only important part is the non-material part?

In other words, why does our spiritual journey almost never involve our body?

But that question is, perhaps, for another time.

For now, I wish to focus on the third (and maybe last for this series? not sure; we shall see!) thing that drew me to the Anglo-Catholic tradition: the importance of the Prayer Book and the Liturgy.

We All Practice a Liturgy

It's true.

Some of us practice this type of liturgy:

Some prefer this type of liturgy:

(Is there a difference between those two? Just kidding...ish.)

Some prefer this (can you tell I just discovered how to post videos on this blog?): 

Others prefer that: 

(...well, let's hope there are VERY few who prefer that abortion of a church service.)

...and finally, some REALLY prefer this: 

...for some God-forsaken reason.

Every single one of these services (or in a few cases, "services") uses a liturgy. Which makes us ask, "What is a liturgy?"

A liturgy is defined as the way in which a service is conducted for public worship. Merriam-Webster is a great go-to for definitions, in my estimation. A liturgy, in other words, is how we worship corporately.

If running around with snakes in your hands is what you do on Sundays, that's your liturgical practice.

If jamming to really bad pop-sounding music that may either be about Jesus or your girlfriend is what you do on Sundays, that's your liturgical practice.

If simply singing a bunch of old-boring hymns with all the enthusiasm of reading a list of an accountant's responsibilities at his job is your worship practice, it's your liturgical practice.

Simply put: we all practice liturgy.


Well, the way we worship is the way we believe.

There's a great and ancient line about this: "Lex orandi lex credendi".

"The rule of prayer (worship) is the rule of belief."

What does that mean, exactly?

It means that our worship, the way we worship, affects our beliefs. Big time.

If you are part of a church that holds to the emotional part of worship as most important, if there's rarely a moment that music isn't being played outside of the actual sermon, if there is a lot of emotion expressed by not only the worship music performers but also the minister and even the crowd, then you are likely going to emphasize emotion or feelings over intellect in your Christian life.

If you are part of a church that may or may not have modern worship, but the sermon is the all-important part of the entire service, and the minister gives sermons that are intellectually deep and heavily into the Greek and Hebrew, then you likely are going to emphasize the intellect over emotion in your Christian life.

If you are part of a church that focuses on experience: the experience of the Sacraments, or the experience of healings or speaking in tongues, the use of prayer books to pray as a community, ministers with vestments and incense, recited responses, genuflections, or the veneration of icons and other such mystical things, then you are likely going to emphasize the experience over the intellect in your Christian life.

I want you to know that none of these is wrong: emotion, intellect, and experience are all three essential to the Christian Faith. We do a disservice to not only ourselves but to God when we lack one of these in worship. Our entire being should be involved in worship, not limited parts of ourselves.

 I would never, ever claim that the Anglican Communion is the only place where a balance of these can be found; however, the best place I have found such balance is in the Anglican Communion.

All Three in the Prayer Book

In the Liturgy found within the Book of Common Prayer, we have all three emphasized. We have the emotion. We have the intellect. We certainly have the experience.

1) Within the Book of Common Prayer, our emotion breaks out into communally confessing our sins, and lifting up our hearts at the fact of being forgiven. Our emotion is found in the Doxology, and throughout the entire service. Is it as pronounced as your average modern worship service? I don't know; while I'm not shouting out modern worship song lyrics, lifting my hands and closing my eyes while swaying, I am certainly emotionally impacted. I mean, I've never cried at a modern worship service. I have multiple times at my own Anglican Church. Try saying this prayer with fellow believers, and not getting emotional:

"We do not presume to come to this Thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy Table. But Thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His Blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen." 

2) The intellect is certainly there. We recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday service. In fact, it is because of that practice that I now have the Nicene Creed committed to memory. I didn't try to memorize it, it just happened that way. The Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer is filled with intellectual depth; each section has meaning. A high church liturgy is one of the best ways to bring a child up in the Faith, because it's responsive and allows the child to fully participate in it.

3) Finally, the experience. Oh yes, it's definitely there. The use of icons, the genuflection, the communal prayer, the incense, the candles, all of it is experiential and has reason for being there. Of course, the most important part of the experience by far is the partaking of the Eucharist. Eucharistic theology is sadly missing from the modern American church.

Actually, most of number three is missing from the modern American church almost entirely. We have conflated "experience" with "emotion", and think that because we have a lot of emotion, we therefore have a lot of experience. They aren't the same.

Sadly, what is by far most lacking in the modern American church is Sacramental theology. We in the United States are too "rational" and "modern" to believe that, say, Baptism actually kills us (Romans 6) or that the Eucharist is really Jesus' Body and Blood (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). We like the phrase "it's only symbolic". It's comfortable.

Unfortunately, recall that idea of "lex orandi lex credendi"; it works both ways. Because we don't like "superstition", we get rid of (as much as possible) those icky beliefs and just have them as mere "symbols" that don't really do anything.

In effect, we try to strip them of their power.

I found plenty of emotion in some of the churches I have been a part of.

I found plenty of intellectual depth in some of the churches I have been a part of.

The Anglican Communion is one of the few places I've found a healthy balance of emotion, intellect, and experience.

Does your church have that healthy balance?

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