I treasure our Anglican liturgy as expressed in the Episcopal Church, and I’ve rejoiced in other liturgies in Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches as well. I realize it’s not for everyone, but I find liturgy done well to be a sure and certain pathway to worship in all its complex meanings. That’s one reason why I am so disappointed when liturgy is not done well. It is not a matter of the candles being lit or the proper vestments worn. It has much more to do with liturgical leaders, clergy and lay, engaging in it with care, dignity and reverence.
Right away I know I’m in trouble because care, dignity and reverence conjure up images of stuffy, rigid, do it right or don’t do it at all, liturgical snobs and autocrats. That’s not what I mean. Liturgy done with care is liturgy that is not taken for granted. It is liturgy treated as if it was being performed in God’s presence for God’s joyful pleasure because it is. Obvious joy is a part of liturgy done with care. Liturgy done with dignity is liturgy that recognizes that you don’t just drag in any old performance to lay before God. This is time for the best that we can bring out. Whether paper plates or fine china, it must be our best. Liturgy done reverence is liturgy that honors all who are present in the pews, choir, at the pulpit, around the altar, God above all, and those who are not present for whatever reason.
Perhaps that sounds a bit theatrical, and it is. Liturgy is a form of theater in the sense that it is a performance before the congregation, and with the congregation before God almighty. Think of it as a long running hit play on Broadway. How would you like to go for a performance where the actors performed with an air of boredom, going through the script by rote in monotone disinterestedness supported by a chorus that appeared to be searching for the right play to be in? To put another turn to it, I like to think of liturgy done well as a friendly, relaxed dress rehearsal (if there is such a thing) than an opening night. A friendly, relaxed dress rehearsal is full of anticipatory joy, and so should liturgical worship. It assumes and trusts that everyone knows what to do and is eager to do it well. If a little something goes wrong or someone forgets a line, there is no shame in making adjustments on the run or even stopping to get a better start. And when the same liturgy is used to lead worship a few days later, it should be as if for the first time ever.
And that’s not all I have to say about that, but it’s all for now.
1 thought on “Liturgy as Theater”
Wonderful Post!Thank you very much.When I was a youth training to be an altar boy. The priest who trained us told us to imagine that we were angels serving before God, every movement had a meaning, a message, not to God, but to the people observing, some of which were focusing on the actions of the participants as a sort of meditation, prayer. There is nothing that shatters the use of High Liturgy more than bored or shambling altar servers.ThanksB