Follow by Email

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why Define Liturgy?

Sometimes a nit-picky little distinction can help make an important point or a basic clarification.

For example, while by etymology "liturgy" is the "work of the people"; by definition, it is the official communal prayer ritual of a faith community. 

Making this distinction is important if one wants to develop good liturgical practices. 

To go a bit further, liturgy includes all the various contents of prayer: adoration, petition, repentance, and gratitude.  Liturgy is not merely "public worship", which implies that it is always about adoration. This is a common failing of some of the more entertainment oriented churches marketing themselves as "contemporary". Almost all their efforts go into “worship and praise” music.

Nor is liturgy formless.  By nature it is ritual, lacking in variety, developing its own repetitive rhythms into which the members of the assembly can settle and relax. Liturgy operates within the same sort of rules and predictable behavior as team sports which reward creativity and inspiration within the rules necessary to the activity. Sports rules are traditional, yet controlled and modified by the governing authorities. Today these authorities are often worldwide.  Variations from Olympic standards are usually controlled by national authorities. 

We used to refer to some services as para-liturgical. They were not part of the official ritual of the international church, even though they used similar contents and formats.  They were still public prayer and in ritual form, but they were composed for local conditions and needs.

It is also important to know that liturgy is communal by nature and by definition, which is why the desire of people to pray privately in the liturgical space is so misplaced.  Their desire for meditation or personal recitation does not comport well with the gathering and activity of the praying community.  It is these individuals who need to respect the nature of the community, rather than asking the community to respect their wishes for private prayer in the communal space. This is true by the very definition of liturgy. 

Yet, there is a real need for some people to have devotional space to help them maintain the mood of private prayer. Most congregations probably should consider creating a meditation chapel, whether it focuses on a tabernacle or some other devotional object. Yet, this space is not the same, does not have the same purpose, as the gathering space for the assembly.

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
[Matthew 6:5-6 NRSV]
Jesus told us to pray as individuals in private because the universal God knows our personal needs.  The community prays in public spaces where our neighbors join us in professing faith, and we get to know each other and support each other in publicly following of the way of Jesus. 

Liturgy continues to be, in its own evolved way, the work of the people, but that is not what defines it.  Liturgy, by definition, is ecclesiastical, ritual, communal prayer.  When preparing a service, keep all these basic elements in mind.

Prayer includes
adoration [praise/worship],
gratitude [thanksgiving/eucharistia],
repentance [sorrow/purpose of amendment], and
intercession [for assistance/guidance].

Communal Prayer takes place in community, not just in public.

Ritual Communal Prayer involves a known pattern into which the communal, local, and seasonal are worked according to the nature of the ritual itself.

Ecclesiastical Ritual Communal Prayer is governed by the faith community to which the congregation is connected. The rules are there to provide unity and familiarity for the members of the congregation. They are the starting points within which planners and ministers are challenged to perform with excellence. They are no more limiting than are the rules of games. One is not to change the ritual of the church to fit one's own concepts and talents, but called to use one's talents to carry out the concepts of liturgy for the benefit of the congregation.

THIS IS HOW LITURGY REMAINS THE WORK OF THE PEOPLE. It is carried out by the people themselves with the help of those called to assist, to minister to, the people. Keep the rituals moving. Enunciate and project. Rehearse in detail and at whatever length it takes to maintain the flow and avoid pauses in the service. Know the difference between elements which are ends and which are means, and keep the focus on the high points of the ritual instead of the minor actions.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Holyday to Holiday or Vice Versa


{A compilation and combination of material from Wikipedia by Tom Poelker}
Halloween or Hallowe'en (a contraction of its original title "All Hallows' Evening"), also known as All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows. According to some scholars, All Hallows' Eve was originally influenced by western European harvest festivals and festivals of the dead with possible pagan roots, particularly the Celtic Samhain. Others maintain that it originated independently of Samhain, and has Christian roots. Over time, the night of October 31 came to be called All Hallows' Eve (or All Hallows' Even). Samhain influenced All Hollows' Eve and vice-versa, and the two eventually morphed into the secular holiday known as Halloween.

All Saints and its Eve

The Western Christian holiday of All Saints' Day falls on 1 November, followed by All Souls' Day on 2 November. They were a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach Heaven.
The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to 13 May 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. There is evidence that from the fifth through the seventh centuries there existed in certain places and at sporadic intervals a feast date on 13 May to celebrate the holy martyrs. The origin of All Saints' Day cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been observed on various days in different places. However, there are some who maintain the belief that it has origins in the pagan observation of 13 May, the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated. Liturgiologists base the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin of that of All Saints on their identical dates and on the similar theme of "all the dead".
The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter's for the relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world", with the day moved to 1 November and the 13 May feast suppressed.
In 835, Louis the Pious switched it to 1 November in the Carolingian Empire, at the behest of Pope Gregory IV.[46] However, from the testimony of Pseudo-Bede, it is known that churches in what are now England and Germany were already celebrating All Saints on 1 November at the beginning of the 8th century. Thus, Louis merely made official the custom of celebrating it on 1 November. James Frazer suggests that 1 November was chosen because it was the date of the Celtic festival of the dead (Samhain) – the Celts had influenced their English neighbors, and English missionaries had influenced the Germans. However, Ronald Hutton points out that, according to Óengus of Tallaght (d. ca. 824), the 7th/8th century church in Ireland celebrated All Saints on 20 April. He suggests that the 1 November date was a Germanic rather than a Celtic idea. The octave [Eight days of celebration including and following a feast.] was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484).
By the end of the 12th century they had become holy days of obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing bells for the souls in purgatory. "Souling", the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for "all crysten christened souls", has been suggested as the origin of trick-or-treating. Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door on All Saints/All Souls collecting soul cakes, originally as a means of praying for souls in purgatory. Similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas." The custom of wearing costumes has been linked to All Saints/All Souls by Prince Sorie Conteh, who wrote: "It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities". In Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Nicholas Rogers explained Halloween jack-o'-lanterns as originally being representations of souls in purgatory. In Brittany children would set candles in skulls in graveyards
In Britain, these customs came under attack during the Reformation as Protestants berated purgatory as a "popish" doctrine incompatible with the notion of predestination. This, coupled with the rising popularity of Guy Fawkes Night (5 November) from 1605 onward, led to Halloween's popularity waning in Britain, with the noteworthy exception of Scotland. There and in Ireland, they had been celebrating Samhain and Halloween since at least the early Middle Ages, and the Scottish kirk took a more pragmatic approach to Halloween, seeing it as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of communities and thus ensuring its survival in the country.
The festival of All Saints was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches. In the Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden, it assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead. In the Swedish calendar, the observance takes place on the Saturday between 31 October and 6 November. In many Lutheran Churches, it is moved to the first Sunday of November. In the Church of England it may be celebrated either on 1 November or on the Sunday between 30 October and 5 November. It is also celebrated by other Protestants of the English tradition, such as the United Church of Canada, the Methodist churches, and the Wesleyan Church.
Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints and if they observe All Saints Day at all they use it to remember all Christians both past and present. In the United Methodist Church, All Saints' Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in November. It is held, not only to remember Saints, but also to remember all those who have died who were members of the local church congregation. In some congregations, a candle is lit by the Acolyte as each person's name is called out by the clergy. Prayers and responsive readings may accompany the event. Often, the names of those who have died in the past year are affixed to a memorial plaque.
In many Lutheran churches, All Saints' Day and Reformation Day are observed concurrently on the Sunday before or after those dates, given Reformation Day is observed in Protestant Churches on 31 October. Typically, Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is sung during the service. Besides discussing Luther's role in the Protestant Reformation, some recognition of the prominent early leaders of the Reformed tradition, such as John Calvin and John Knox, occurs. The observance of Reformation Day may be immediately followed by a reading of those members of the local congregation who have died in the past year in observance of All Saints' Day. Otherwise, the recognition of deceased church members occurs at another designated portion of the service.

November First and Samhain

When All Saints was moved to 1 November, it fell on the Celtic holiday of Samhain, [(säÆwin) a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the 'darker half' of the year. Most commonly it is held on 31 October–1 November, or halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh it makes up the four Gaelic seasonal festivals. ] which had a theme similar to the Roman festival of Lemuria, but which was also a harvest festival. The Irish, having celebrated Samhain in the past, did not celebrate All Hallows Day on this 1 November date, as extant historical documents attest that the celebration in Ireland took place in the spring: "...the Felire of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallaght prove that the early medieval churches [in Ireland] celebrated the feast of All Saints on April 20."
Samhain is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature. Many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. In much of the Gaelic world, bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them, as at Beltane. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. Samhain (like Beltane) was seen as a time when the 'door' to the Otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings, to come into our world. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. It has thus been likened to a festival of the dead. People also took steps to protect themselves from harmful spirits, which is thought to have led to the custom of guising. Divination was also done at Samhain.
Samain or Samuin was the name of the feis or festival marking the beginning of winter in Gaelic Ireland. It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature, from the 10th century onward. It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Beltane (~1 May) and Lughnasadh (~1 August). Samhain and Beltane, at the witherward side of the year from each other, are thought to have been the most important.

Sir James George Frazer wrote in The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion that 1 May and 1 November are of little importance to European crop-growers, but of great importance to herdsmen. It is at the beginning of summer that cattle is driven to the upland summer pastures and the beginning of winter that they are led back, which was also the time to choose which animals would need to be slaughtered for the people to survive the winter. This custom is still observed by many who farm and raise livestock because it is when meat will keep since the freeze has come and also since summer grass is gone and free foraging is no longer possible.

Thus, Frazer suggests that halving the year at 1 May and 1 November dates from a time when the Celts were mainly a pastoral people, dependent on their herds. In medieval Ireland the festival marked the end of the season for trade and warfare and was an ideal date for tribal gatherings. These gatherings are a popular setting for early Irish tales.

Samhain (like Beltane) was a time when the 'door' to the Otherworld opened enough for fairies and the dead to communicate with us; but while Beltane was a summer festival for the living, Samhain "was essentially a festival for the dead". The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn says that the sídhe (fairy mounds or portals to the fairy world) "were always open at Samhain". Like Beltane, Lughnasadh and Imbolc, Samhain also involved great feasts. Mythology suggests that drinking alcohol was part of the feast, and it is noteworthy that every tale that features drunkenness is said to take place at Samhain.

In Scotland, these bonfires were called samhnagan, and they were usually made from flammable materials like ferns, tar-barrels, and anything else that would burn. In the late 18th century, John Ramsay of Ochtertyre wrote that, in that part of Scotland, a ring of stones was laid round the fire to represent each person. Everyone then ran round it with a torch, "exulting". In the morning, the stones were examined and if any was mislaid it was said that the person for whom it was set would not live out the year. A similar practise was observed in north Wales and in Brittany. James Frazer says that this may come from "an older custom of actually burning them" (i.e. human sacrifice).

In Moray, boys asked for bonfire fuel from each house in the village. When the fire was lit, "one after another of the youths laid himself down on the ground as near to the fire as possible so as not to be burned, and in such a position as to let the smoke roll over him. The others ran through the smoke and jumped over him". It is likely that the smoke was thought to have protective powers.

In 19th century northeast Scotland, people carried a torch of fir wood around their fields to protect them. On South Uist, people did likewise with burning turf. Sometimes, two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people—sometimes with their livestock—would walk between them as a ritual of purification. The bones of slaughtered cattle were said to have been cast upon bonfires. In the pre-Christian Gaelic world, cattle were the main unit of currency and the center of agricultural and pastoral life.

In some parts, people doused their hearth fires on Samhain night. Each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the communal bonfire, thus bonding the families of the village together. In the 17th century, Geoffrey Keating wrote that the druids of ancient Ireland would gather on Tlachta on Samhain night to kindle a sacred fire. From this, every bonfire in the land was lit, and from thence every home in the land relit their hearth, which had been doused that night. However, his source is unknown, and Ronald Hutton supposes that Keating had mistaken a Beltane custom for a Samhain one]

As noted earlier, beings and souls from the Otherworld were said to come into our world at Samhain. It is still the custom in some areas to set a place at the Samhain feast for the souls of dead kinfolk and to tell tales of one's forebears. However, the souls of thankful kin could return to bestow blessings just as easily as that of a murdered person could return to wreak revenge. Fairies were thought to steal humans on Samhain and fairy mounds were to be avoided. People took steps to allay or ward-off these harmful spirits and fairies. They stayed near to home or, if forced to walk in the darkness, turned their clothing inside-out or carried iron or salt to keep the fairies at bay. Offerings of food were left at the door for the fairies to ensure their favor in the coming year. Turnip lanterns, sometimes with faces carved into them, were common at Samhain in the 19th century in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. The purpose of these lanterns may have been threefold. They may have been used to light one's way while outside on Samhain night; to represent the spirits and otherworldly beings; and/or to protect oneself and one's home from them. Bettina Arnold writes that they were sometimes set on windowsills to keep them out of one's home However, others suggest that they originated with All Saints/All Souls and that they represented Christian souls in purgatory.

Wearing costumes and masks (or 'guising') may have been another way to befuddle, ward-off or represent the harmful spirits and fairies. Guising or mumming was common at winter festivals in general, but was "particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad". Before the 20th century, guising at Samhain was done in parts of Ireland, Mann, the Scottish Highlands and islands, and Wales. In Ireland, costumes were sometimes worn by those who went about before nightfall collecting for a Samhain feast. On Samhain in parts of southern Ireland during the 19th century there was a Láir Bhán (white mare) procession. Someone covered in a white sheet and carrying a decorated horse skull (representing the Láir Bhán) would lead a group of youths, blowing on cow horns, from house to house. At each, they recited verses and those inside were expected to donate food and other gifts. The greater the donation, the greater the blessings that would be bestowed on them by the 'Muck Olla'. This is akin to the Mari Lwyd (grey mare) procession in Wales. Some have linked this custom with pagan goddesses of sovereignty, who were often associated with white horses. In Scotland, young men would dress in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces. This was common in the 16th century in the Scottish countryside and persisted into the 20th. Hutton writes: "When imitating malignant spirits it was a very short step from guising to playing pranks". Playing pranks at Samhain is recorded in the Scottish Highlands as far back as 1736 and was also common in Ireland, which led to Samhain being nicknamed "Mischief Night" in some parts. Guising and pranks at All Saints isn't thought to have reached England until the 20th century, though mumming had been done at other festivals. At the time of mass transatlantic Irish and Scottish immigration, which popularized Halloween in North America, Halloween in Ireland and Scotland had a strong tradition of guising and pranks. Trick-or-treating may have come from the custom of going door-to-door collecting food for Samhain feasts, fuel for Samhain bonfires and/or offerings for the spirits and fairies. Alternatively, it may have come from the English All Saints/All Souls custom of collecting soul cakes.
Divination has likely been a part of the festival since ancient times, and it has survived in some rural areas. The most common uses were to find out the identity of one's future spouse, the location of one's future home, and how many children one might have. Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often eaten in these rituals. Apples were peeled, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter of the future spouse's name. Nuts were roasted on the hearth and their behavior interpreted - if the nuts stayed together, so would the couple. Egg whites were dropped in water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children. Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things from the number of birds or the direction they flew.
A Samhain custom thought to be a survival of a pagan ritual was observed on Iona until the late 18th century and on Lewis until the early 19th. On 31 October, the locals would go down to the shore. One man would wade into the water up to his waist, where he would pour out a cup of ale and ask 'Seonaidh' (anglicized as 'Shoney')—likely an old pagan god—to bestow blessings on them.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Each year, I post messages on two Christmas matters.  

They vary in title, but cover the same two topics annually.

In Advent, you will see the message about the academic explanation for the date of Christmas having no connection to prior pagan holidays.  Stay tuned.


This is a message about separating the Christian feast of the Nativity of the Lord from a pagan commercialized season.   I think it is more accurate to call that lengthy season "Yuletide" and leave all the elves and wrapping paper and partying to that viewpoint which has become so culturally dominant.

We need to prepare for this annual problem now, at the beginning of the end of the liturgical year, now that regular parish operations have resumed following summer vacations, while parish calendars are being prepared.

Basically, I propose not to fight the battle of anticipated Christmas but to keep the civil Yuletide in its place and make clear that the House of God is no place for Santa Claus.  

[1]  Yuletide anciently focused on the Winter Solstice on the night of December 21/22, the longest night of the year.  The neo-pagans and Wiccans are renewing those practices. Can we let Santa Claus and parties in his spirit end there, too?  Could we schedule all parish celebrations of the civil season on or before 21 December?  

[2]  Could we keep those non-liturgical colors of red and green for those events and out of our prayer spaces?  Can we find new ways to decorate our church that might be less expensive and more Christian than the firs and berries colors Christians took over from the pagans?  Would it not be much more clear that we are celebrating a Christian feast if we did not see in church the same categories of decorations we see in shopping malls?

These are not suggestions that we stop participating in the second biggest social event of the year after the Super Bowl, but suggestions that we separate the ever more commercialized civil holidays from what we believe and celebrate about the birth of Jesus.

 Tom in U City


You might consider publishing the above message, between the lines of asterisks, in your bulletin or newsletter and see what kind of discussion it produces. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


To read an excellent article, click the the next line.
U.S. Catholic article recommends Marriage at Sunday Mass

I think this is a good article with well considered thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony among one's usual worship community.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I used to go to a lot of meals with more than 200 people on the well-described political "rubber chicken circuit."  I do not remember experiencing community there, nor at any other fund raising meal which I ever attended.  

Certainly there are annual occasions where a different sort, a more theatrical sort, of liturgy is appropriate, something more of a witness to the larger community to which we belong.  Yet, for me, for a Sunday liturgy to fulfill its call to nurture the faithful for living the way of Jesus in the money-grubbing paganism which surrounds so many of us, the community of Christians small enough to share one cup, and know and care for each other, seems the more appropriate size.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rituals Unite More Than Creed

I found this article to be very interesting and applicable as to why doing liturgy well, according  to well understood purposes, is the very basis of parish life.


Copyright © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Have you felt the awkwardness of the Creed at Mass?

Not only does it not seem to have any connection with the rest of the service, it does not have a liturgical format.

That is partly because it is not part of the development or evolution of the liturgy, but something inserted in the era when the priest “said” the Mass and laity were required to merely “attend”. In such an era, it made sense that a desire to assure the orthodoxy of the clergy would insert a requirement that the clergy regularly recited a statement of orthodox belief. Because it was meant as a discipline for the cleric, the original Greek beginning of “We believe” was changed to “I believe” in Latin, “Credo”.

As others have pointed out, the Nicene Creed is based on an antiquated cosmology, archaic philosophical system, and third century theology. In addition, despite it having been composed in Greek, the Roman Curia has insisted on an English version be translated from the Latin translation rather than from the original language. This is the sort of thing which makes language scholars groan.

  1. At the very minimum, liturgical use of the Creed requires a liturgical consideration of its placement in the Mass. Perhaps it belongs among the introductory or sending rites rather than being dropped into the middle of things.

    In addition, it need formatting to make its insertion more liturgical in style, something similar to how the presider no longer just begins the Lord's Prayer and everybody is expected to know to join in. Now we have introductory words which invite the assembly to say the entire prayer. [Even though there are too many still practicing old habits and not beginning until, “who art in heaven”.]

    I suggest that it would be better to ask the assembly to recite the segments of the Creed by having the presider ask, “What do we believe?” To which the natural response would begin,” We believe in … “
  2. The more difficult problem is to bring the ancient and carefully argued theological points into our contemporary English language. Words like “con-substantial” are carefully defined in theology courses, but remain almost meaningless to the average American.

    Here is a draft version of an American English Nicene Creed for liturgical use. Please critique it in terms of its compatibility with the Nicene Creed and offer suggestions on what needs work. Even better, offer alternative phrasings.
Presider: What do we believe about God?

All: We believe that:
God alone has always existed.
God is impossible for humans to understand.
God has self-revealed that God exists as Three Persons.
God created everything which is not God.
God created all to be good.
God called Israel into covenant.

Presider: What do we believe about Jesus?

All: We believe that:
God became human as Jesus.
Jesus taught that all humans are God's people.
Jesus taught that all humans are saved despite the evil in the world.
Jesus taught us how to live in love.
Jesus demonstrated love for us and our salvation by suffering, dying, and rising into new life.
Jesus taught us about the Trinity through associating himself with the Father as Son and sending the Advocate.

Presider: What do we believe about the Advocate?

All: We believe that:
The Advocate has always been active in all the world.
The Advocate provides guidance, comfort, and strength for following the teachings of Jesus.

Presider: What do we believe about the followers of Jesus?

All: We believe that:
God sustains the followers of Jesus
through a single, universal community.
The faith of that community is protected by the Advocate.
The faith of that community is based on
the teachings of those sent out by Jesus.

Because of our faith we say,
Glory be to God,
Three-in -One.
Thanks be to God
for our community of faith.

Please offer a comment below.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


As you receive the Eucharist, when you hear the words “Body of Christ,” look at the bread, look around and within and see the Body of Christ, and do likewise if you are distributing the bread. The presider should hold up the bread and look around and say: “This is, and together we are the Body of Christ, happy are we who are called to this supper.” If that does not happen in your church, why not? It is a core ultimate truth. It is a core biblical truth. For all our lives our Christ has been too small. Look around and behold the Cosmic Christ described by Paul. He and those who wrote in his name shout from the rafters the radical union that each person has with Christ. “We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.”

Can you imagine that? Is it too mind-boggling? You and I are part of each other, and part of Christ! The Body of Christ is a fundamental reality that connects us all with Christ, and in Christ with each other. Imagine that, as the First Letter of John proclaimed – loving God means loving one another! In doing so we love the God we cannot see by loving the person we can see.
Don Pachuta
Community of Saint Luke, Framingham,MA
June 10, 2012 - Feast of Corpus Christi

This suggests to me a better conclusion of the communion rite than we usually experience.

As I have written before, we need to improve our performance of the communion rite.

The communion minister needs to allow time for the communicant to respond “Amen.” before beginning any movement of offering the bread or cup. The sharing is not about efficiency but about faith and communion.

Similarly, we need to emphasize participation of all in the same bread and the same cup as members of the same commun-ion/-ity. All should be standing for the entirety of the communion procession. All should be singing a processional song for the entirety of the rite. We are affirming that we are all members of one body, one communion. This is not the time for individualism.

What if all continued standing and singing until all had shared the one bread and cup, then the presider turned to the assembly and said.

“We are the Body of Christ.”
Then all respond.

Following that the congregation members could sit or kneel in private prayer while the vessels are cleared and the ministers return to their places.

This seems to me to be a better conclusion than any Communion or Post-communion oration.

What do you think?

Friday, June 15, 2012


Try printing the Lord's Prayer in the following arrangement 
for a few weeks in your Sunday Order of Service, 
explicitly asking people to pray it as written, with the emphases marked 
and only pausing at the end of lines.

After three weeks, have a discussion of 
how this affected people. 
Expect that some will just want to do it the way they always have, 
but see if it prompted thoughtful reactions otherwise.

I think that this format can better reveal some more 
of the meaning of the prayer than the places we usually pause.

Our Father,
You are in heaven,
Hallowed be your Name.

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive
those who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation.
Deliver us from evil.

Yours is the kingdom
And the power and the glory,
Now and forever.

           After three weeks, please post here on Practical Liturgist 
how the experience went in your congregation.

Monday, June 4, 2012


My personal list of liturgical principles has grown and the current version is below. 
This list is intended for discussion by liturgy planning groups at all levels.
They are invited to amend it to be accurate and applicable for their own use.
Then they can reference the agreed principles when a discussion gets stuck on what people like, want to do personally, or have seen done elsewhere, in order to address the question, "Liturgically, is this a good idea?"

Specifically Liturgical Values


  1. Liturgy is public prayer.
  2. Liturgy is communal prayer.
  3. Liturgical prayer is regulated by the church.


  1. Liturgy is more a gift from God to the Church than an offering to God from the Church.
  2. Liturgy exists to strengthen communal support for personal Christian living.

Role of the Assembly

  1. The assembled believers are themselves the ones who are praying, the ecclesia.
  2. Christian liturgy is an exercise of the priestly office of the baptized.

Implications (from the role of the assembly)

  1. The members of the assembly should be taught the importance and fullness of their roles in liturgy.
  2. The elements of the liturgy should be comprehensible to the assembly without explanation.
  3. All of the members of the assembly should be supported in actively participating in all the liturgical elements not specifically requiring a ministry expertise.
  4. The assembly needs to be prepared by its ministers before complications or variations are added to a liturgical service.

Nature of Ritual

  1. Liturgical prayer involves ritual whose positive effects are supported by repetition over a lifetime.
  2. The primary role of liturgical music is to unify the prayer of the assembly.
  3. Ritual music is based on the repeated use of melodies and texts, which assists the assembly's participation in song.

General Guidelines

  1. Liturgical preparation is based on the text of the church and must support its flow and climaxes.
  2. Christian liturgy is based on Scripture and should use vernacular translations of Scriptural texts rather than paraphrases in prayers and songs.
  3. The texts of the liturgy and the Scriptures have priority over musical expression.
  4. Liturgy needs to be prepared with the size of the assembly in mind.
  5. Liturgy needs to be prepared with the nature of the prayer place in mind.
  6. Liturgical celebrations, even of a particular congregation, vary in formality depending on the occasion and the size of the assembly.

Role of Ministers

  1. Liturgical ministers, ordained or not, are called to serve and support the praying of the assembly.
  2. Things should not be added or expanded in the liturgy for the gratification of the tastes or demonstration of the talents of the ministers.


  1. Unity in liturgy does not require uniformity in performance.
  2. Beauty in liturgy is an element of acculturation and varies among societies, classes, and places.
  3. Elements of the liturgy require craftsmanship of noble simplicity rather than artistic expression.
  4. The essentials of any liturgical service need to be distinguished from accretions and protected.
  5. Do not fear to have a brief service which allows time for more fellowship or even more preaching.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


The people who want an additional sign of reverence before receiving communion seem to be concerned that going to communion has become routine and thoughtless. They feel that some people merely line up, grab the host, then hustle back to a seat, as if on autopilot. They want people to stop and collect themselves before receiving. They think a gesture of reverence, prayer, or whatever, is important.

The problem is that they are trying to add something to the communion service, rather than looking at what is already there and trying to make it work better. There is already an act of reverence built into the communion rite. It simply is not done as envisioned by the liturgical authorities who developed it.

In the Roman Catholic communion rite, [and there are very similar rituals for Evangelical Lutherans and Episcopalians] the communion minister is told to hold up the element before the communicant and proclaim, “The Body of Christ.” The communicant is to respond, “Amen.”

What usually happens is that the minister lifts the bread or wine while saying the formula and continues into a motion to give it to the communicant while that communicant responds and then accepts the sacred species. There is no time for a reverent response separate from the reception. All is mushed together.

The sequence is improved by simple changes by the minister, making distinct each element of the rite.
  • Wait until both the minister and the communicant have come to a stop.
  • Hold up the element.
  • Then make the proclamation while the element is before the eyes of the communicant.
  • Give the communicant time to make eye contact with the bread or wine before making a profession of faith by saying “Amen” to the proclamation.
  • After the “Amen,” then offer the communion element to the recipient.
This procedure allows time for a faith transaction before God between the minister and the communicant. It slows and solemnizes the transaction. It requires the minister to focus on what is being offered to each individual instead of on the general communion process.

This might slow things down. That in turn might suggest that more communion ministers are needed, but is this not better, to have a difference in the administration of communion which has a better chance to feel meaningful instead of routine?


If one is allowed to change the rite for a local congregation, there is a possible change which would help everyone to better understand the meaning of what is happening in the overall communion service.

Instead of having the communicant response be, “Amen,” each could respond, “We are all members of that one body/blood.”

This gets closer to the essence of the communion service, the sharing of all in the body of Christ. This sharing is certainly there as the service exists now in most denominations, but it is there by implication or in its theology and is not very much there experientially. It is too easy to feel that communion is a “me and Jesus” moment instead of a communal experience.

Indeed, that is reflected in the very concern mentioned at the beginning of this article. One [exactly] gets in line, waits a turn to get for oneself what everyone else is getting, then goes back to one's personal place to sit and respond to what one has received.

This does not reflect the doing something with others, communally, which is the essence of liturgical versus private prayer. It does not speak of participation in the body of Christ, of sharing in that one body of which Jesus is the head and we all are members. One belief about communion, Jesus coming to each of us, is too easily able to dominate the more central belief that Jesus comes to all of us and all of us are part of Jesus.

Another essay will get into how what else we do can enhance the communality of community.

Meanwhile, what do you think about these two ideas?

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Recently I had the opportunity to lead a workshop on how liturgy can benefit from some of the ideas used by theatrical directors. One discussion concerned the Rite of Peace and I was reminded that Jesus would probably have said "Shalom". 

That in turn reminded me of the song of that title from the show "Milk and Honey". You might find these lyrics useful and even want to teach the song to some of your parishioners. The song is simple enough that it might be possible to use a children's choir as part of your preaching [including applause for them], even though the song is a solo in the show.
Shalom, Shalom,
You'll find Shalom
The nicest greeting you know;
It means bonjour, salud, and skoal
And twice as much as hello.
It means a million lovely things,
Like “peace be yours,”
“Welcome home.”
And even when you say “goodbye,”
You say goodbye with Shalom.

It's a very useful word,
It can get you through the day;
All you really need to know,
You can hardly go wrong,
This is your home as long as you say:
The nicest greeting I know;
Means twice as much as hello.
It means a million lovely things,
Like “peace be yours,”
“Welcome home.”
And even when you say “goodbye,”
If your voice has
"I don't want to go" in it,
Say goodbye with a little "hello" in it,
And say goodbye with shalom.

Milk and Honey”Music: Jerry Herman
Lyrics: Jerry Herman
Book: Don Appell
Premiere: Tuesday, October 10, 1961

Monday, May 14, 2012


Poor Anonymous thinks the Christian community is profane.
Perhaps Anon. does not know that Jesus built a community of followers and taught a way of life and did not separate the "sacred" from the "profane" but proclaimed that the rule of God was at hand, immediately, in every day life.

Look at the actual content of  the Sunday Service.
It is all about God giving to us, not humans giving to God.

God gives us the Scriptures and we strive to accept, understand, and apply them to our daily lives.
God gives us the Body and Blood of Jesus under the forms of bread and wine.
This is all about God nurturing the mind and body and spirit of Christians in community.

The Sunday Word and Meal celebration is much more about God nurturing God's own people than about the people worshiping God.

I find it hard to imagine people receiving these gifts without thanksgiving [eucharistia] and praise [worship] in response, but God is the initiator of the feast, the host, and we Christians are nurtured, strengthened, for the difficult task of following the values of Jesus in a world which values competition, entertainment, and consumption more highly than love of neighbor.