The relationship between liturgy and mission is the theme of Liturgy 31, no. 4 (2016) available through subscription or ATLA. It is chock full of insights that ought to spur our thinking about exactly what it is for which the church and its liturgical practices exist. E. Byron Anderson’s essay examines the role play by increased participation of laity in worship. Has it become an end unto itself?
There has always been a sense that reforming liturgy reforms the church—this was true in the context of the Protestant reformation, true in the context of the ecumenical liturgical reforms of the late twentieth century, and remains true today in the context of “emerging worship.” . . . Yet even among faithful Christians, this desire has been muted by expectations that worship satisfy individual psychological needs, that it be accessible to the occasional religious consumer, and, especially for Protestants, that it increase market share. Self-satisfaction, self-expression, and consumerism have displaced bearing witness to and being in service of God’s redeeming love for the world—the corporate work of the body of Christ.
. . . The resulting liturgical reforms — many necessary and long overdue — “reduced the dominance of clergy, musicians, and choirs in worship,” provided “for more lay participation and leadership,” and made “room for action, conversation, interaction, and involvement in the service.” But such forms of participation quickly became the primary if not the sole criteria for assessing the “effectiveness” of worship. Heightened ritual participation through leadership and creativity became the means and the end of liturgical reform.
What seemed to be a “democratic opening” in liturgical participation shifted away from a notion of liturgy as “public work” of witness and service through which “all members join to offer their worship to God” and turned toward a notion of liturgy as a retail commodity for spiritual seekers and the churches’ faithful who alike are invited to participate “on [their] own terms” and “without responsibility” to the community or to the world.
While such an emphasis on ritual participation as “liturgical enfranchisement” was a necessary first step in liturgical reform, it provided only the beginning of reform in the life of the church. It was, and is, not enough. Missing from this understanding of liturgical participation, Kevin Irwin suggests, is the sense that “through these sacred rites, symbols, and celebrations … we experience the very life of Christ, we participate and share (take part in and become part of) his paschal saving mystery,” the sense that “our insertion into this central ‘mystery of faith’ is what liturgy is all about.” (Irwin, Liturgy, Prayer, and Spirituality, p. 127) Missing is the kind of liturgical catechesis or mystagogy that leads people into prayerful engagement with the liturgy in the expectation that doing so will lead them into fuller engagement with God and with the world around them. Missing, too, is the sense that liturgical participation may critique our present experience and life (rather than reinforce entrenched notions of power and privilege), offer a vision of a world not yet realized, repattern the church and our lives in relation to the world, and provide a means through which we are not only engaged with but joined to divine life in God.
In order to move beyond participation as enfranchisement, beyond simple participation “in the rites themselves” or participation at “the level of ritual,” we need to attend to two additional forms of liturgical participation. . .
This essay continues to make the case (see the blog for October 21) that the central point of worship needs to be re-set to focus on participation not simply within liturgical experience for its own sake but because God’s mission is larger: to transform us for the life of the world.
E. Byron Anderson is Styberg Professor of Worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois. He served as president of The Liturgical Conference from 2003–2015.
E. Byron Anderson, “Liturgical Reform: For Participation and/or Mission,” Liturgy 31, no. 4 (2016): 11-18.