24 May 2013

What is Worship? Why Liturgy (& how we do it) Matters - pt. 2

via Pitt Theological
In my previous post, I unceremoniously dropped a dense syllogism with promises of unpacking it. Before parsing I wanted to take a post to discuss something even more fundamental than the Major Premise: what is worship? Or more specifically, what and whom do we encounter in worship, and what objective reality do we touch?^1

This broad question, 'what is worship?', has to be answered even if cursorily before we can discuss symbology in worship. If worship is not a function whose effects are objective, then we are no more than playing tea party with old china and dolls. I can think of more productive ways to spend a Sunday morning. But if we are touching some ‘greater reality’--if we are being pulled ‘further up and further in’, then this should be a frightening prospect.

“When you pray,” Rabbi Eliezer told his disciples on his deathbed, “know before Whom you stand.”


It is possible to go to an event involving a band whose music is Christian in theme, a speaker who explains biblical principles or ways of living, and which generally ‘recharges the spiritual fuel tank’ after the drudgery of the week. Without making a qualitative judgment, I propose that this is not worship. It might be considered ‘praise’. It might even be a Jesus-themed concert with a good message. The quality of the music, the speaker and even the theology is irrelevant here, it’s simply a question of category, and the category is not ‘worship’.

This is because worship touches that greater reality, what is called the Kingdom of Heaven. The prophet Isaiah saw it, and St. John saw it, describing it in his Revelation. This celestial liturgy is what worship is, and properly speaking there is no other worship. In order truly to worship, then, we must join them who are truly worshipping. So we come to the matter of symbology which answers the next question, “how then do we join them?”

We join them, really and truly, through symbols. It is a particular kind of symbol, not according to the popular meaning, that we use and it is the form and nature of these symbols that we will be examining in the coming posts.

^1 There is confusion among English translations about just what we mean (or are translating) when we use the word ‘worship’. The two Greek words we variously translate are λατρεία (latreia) and προσκύνησις (proskynisis). The former refers to rendering service in a cultic sense, the latter to prostrating down before the object. Latreia has frequently been translated both as ‘worship’ and ‘serve’. Proskynisis has been rendered as ‘worship’, ‘adore’, ‘venerate’ and most literally ‘bow/fall down before’. This discussion mostly revolves around latreia, as this is the form whose object is exclusively God.

23 May 2013

Why Liturgy (& how we do it) Matters - pt. 1

via Uncut Mountain Supply

The following is a syllogism I put together as en explanation for Liturgical worship (really, for a taxis--or order--in worship) and for why it must be faithful to certain forms. I wanted to post it first, then take some time to expand and explain.

Major Premise:

A symbol is prototypically-constituted, manifesting (revealing & allowing participation in) the prototype.

It Follows That:

A symbol faithfully conforms to the prototype in order to manifest the prototype

Conclusion 1:

In order for a symbol to faithfully conform to the prototype, the form of the symbol must be prescribed by those with direct apprehension of the prototype.

It Follows That:

A symbol is constituted objectively rather than subjectively.

Conclusion 2:

A symbol cannot change contextually.

My initial remarks are that the ‘soft symbology’ of language (that which stands in place of something that is absent) differ from the ‘hard symbology’ of liturgy (that which truly reveals & makes present a prototype). Because of this, language can certainly change, but the liturgical symbols (largely) may not. There may be disagreement as to what, in the Symbol, constitutes faithful conformity to the prototype, this is Conclusion 1’s importance: it is not a speculative exercise, but one born of direct apprehension, and handed down  in the context of tradition (with the hope of facilitating direct apprehension by others). From here we depart the utility of argumentation and enter an experiential dimension--the question becomes ecclesiological.

10 October 2011

epigram 3

[L]iturgy serves no purpose outside itself.

-Robert Taft, S.J. "Eastern Presuppositions" and Western Liturgical Renewal

06 October 2011

Ortho HumbleBrag #1

Wow, ttly lost my place on new 1,000-knot prayer rope. Guess that happens after u do Reader's All-Nite vigil! :P

28 September 2011

epigram 2

Anything worth doing, is worth doing slowly.

19 September 2011

epigram 1

"Something has fallen on us that falls very seldom on men; perhaps the worst thing that can fall on them. [...] We have found the truth; and the truth makes no sense.”

-'The Honour of Israel Gow', The Innocence of Fr. Brown. Chesterton, G. K.

03 February 2011

Λειτουργία: A Modest Proposal

The historical meaning given for the Greek word 'liturgy' is one of the most commonly made mistakes following the 20th cent. Liturgical Movement. The fashionable trope goes like this:

'Liturgy' means 'work of the people'.

This is wrong.

It is no more true than to say that the English 'cupboard' is ‘a plank of wood used as a drinking vessel’. Yes, 'cup' and 'board' individually have the meanings of 'drinking vessel' and 'plank of wood', and one can try to envision the compound word having the absurd meaning given above, but this would be a mistaken understanding.

What 'liturgy' actually meant to the Greek-speakers who chose to use it in the Scriptures was:

a public duty, which the richer citizens discharged at their own expense.*

Examples of a 'liturgy': a private citizen paying to build a theatre, throwing a public festival, or building a war ship. It was the act of one for the benefit of all.

This dramatically alters the meaning from the current popular, mistaken understanding. It is not what 'we do' all together, it is rather what One does for our benefit. This correct understanding is enshrined in the opening dialogue; this, from deacon to priest:

It is the time of the Lord to act. **

Thus, the One effecting the 'liturgy' is not the congregation in a 'work of the people' (neither is it a clericalistic performance piece), rather it is the Lord Who acts, for the benefit of all—the people then enter into His action.

The modest proposal:

Stop proliferating a false understanding of 'liturgy' as 'work of the people'.

If you hear someone mistakenly use this etymology, you may kindly direct them to this blog post.

I hope to post a follow-up to this and begin to engage the political child of 'work of the people': the obsession with 'active participation'.

Liddell, Scott. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon.

** Καιρός τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ Κυρίῳ.