Written by Mikey Ward. Media by Noah Henry.
In chapter nine of his work, Holy Things, A Liturgical Theology, Gordon Lathrop juxtaposes the Christian liturgy in light of society. In doing so, Lathrop demonstrates that Christian liturgy “wishes to call us to God and especially to God’s grace known in Jesus Christ, and wishes to propose that grace to this world”. Simultaneously, however, Christian liturgy attempts to point us away from our meeting on Sunday and towards Christ in the everyday. In the attempt to further demonstrate this notion, Lathrop utilizes the ideology of the ordo. He states that the ordo at work in Christian liturgy “is not an exercise in Christian ideology, but a crisis and inversion of religious ritual”. This is to say that Christian liturgy is not static. Rather, it is open to receiving new dimensions. However, in order for a new aspect to be included into Christian liturgy, it needs to be inverted and transformed. Thus, Lathrop demonstrates that the liturgy handed down through the ages has not been mindlessly pieced together. Instead, its current complexity reflects its development throughout history. In the inclusion of new cultural aspects to Christian liturgy, the ordo simultaneously attempts to reflect and renew the world we are called into. Consequently, the Christian liturgy attempts to recall the assembled to a renewal or a call to the recovery of order. As a result, the liturgy needs to be continually clarified. The truths at work in the liturgical juxtapositions attempt to reflect the truth of God at work in the world. This is to say that the things at work in Christian liturgy are united in their diverse attempts to reflect God’s truths. However, the one holy thing is God himself. Therefore, this text on holy things within the ordo of Christian liturgy is truly centered on the only holy one: God. However, in like manner to Bernard Lonergan’s systematic theology, we are called to be attentive to the multiplicity of truth at work in Christian liturgy and how it reflects the ultimate truth in the Triune God.
Lathrop’s work is an attempt to be attentive to the historical development of Christian liturgy. However, no examination can fully respond to all questions pertaining to Christian liturgy. Nonetheless, he states that the ordo of Christian worship and the pattern of liturgical juxtapositions enable us to “freshly and freely approach a response”. This is possible through the simultaneous unity and diversity at work through God. Lathrop states that even in the rise of polytheism in western society, there is unity in “the continuing quest for God as the single, absolute principle.” Yet, the liturgy does not have an immediate answer to this social dilemma. Nonetheless, God’s unity and diversity are beyond our comprehension. The liturgical ordering of the church reflects this “beyondess”. The assembly is one in its multiplicity of individuals. Simultaneously, this catholic assembly is united to a multitude of other assemblies. In the liturgy, an individual is invited to experience Jesus Christ through multiple readings of scripture. This juxtaposition of unity and diversity continues throughout Christian worship. However, in its multiple voices Christian worship ultimately reflects the single truth found in God. It is here that the Christian liturgy allows us to approach questions ‘freely and freshly’. Through the one voice of God we can begin to comprehend how the place of assembly reflects the world and how it is ultimately God’s “sanctuary of meaning”.
Thus, I must ask, am I living in a time of perversion or inversion? This is a question that I have to continually contemplate. Throughout the past five years at Greenville College I have been introduced to a number of worship models. The most pertinent model is that of contemporary Evangelicalism. This model is a two-fold structure. It is centered on music and Word. Yet, in the last five years I have been left thinking that this model is incomplete. Lathrop affirms this frustration on page 221. Here he likens the refusal to a historically Christian act on the grounds of uniformity to his refusal of eating a graciously presented supper on the grounds that it might violate his unique individuality when independence is dependent on the presence of others. (What?) This is to say that the refusal of an act without deeply found reasons are flawed. However, on the other hand, the exclusion of an act can reflect the ordo of the liturgy when it is continually revisited with dialogue. Thus, I am forced to ask the question, am I in a time of perversion or “profound fidelity to the liturgical spirit”? Either way, I cannot steer myself from the notion that this worship model is flawed and incomplete. I can either ascribe this incomplete notion to the hunger I feel from the absence of communion or the lack inversion at work in the contemporary music. Nonetheless, the history of the Christian liturgy and one’s ability to talk about God is at stake. I thus call you to be attentive to your church’s liturgy and what it truly attempts to say through the ordinary objects God has given us. I say this because in the exclusion of certain mundane objects of Christian liturgy we lose the historical connections to ancient cultures as well as our ability to connect the mundane to our Triune God. As a result, we lose an opportunity to further our understanding of God at work in the sanctuary and in the corresponding world through the multiple voices that call us to worship.