This morning, I felt a moment of frustration about the attacks some observers launch against the “emergent” church when emergent congregations pick and choose liturgical elements to lend an air of mystery, or to allude to a tradition of worship that congregants self-consciously repudiate, or just because they like this or that.
I’m pretty pronouncedly Anglo-Catholic about the kinds of liturgical expression I’ll support. I’m from the stream of worship-tradition that falls to the left of the upper-case-“O” Orthodox and the ultramontane Roman Catholics, and to the right of most Roman Catholic congregations I’ve visited, and virtually all Protestant congregations. That’s not a claim about quality or authenticity or divine favor — it’s a rough assessment on a spectrum between two poles. It places me in the zone where “being able to make a clear claim about the coherence and continuity-with-tradition” carries immense weight.
But friends — the very liturgical sensibilities that formed me to think the ways I do derive from a retrospective repristination of selected liturgical practices in Victorian England. Likewise the “liturgical movement” of the mid-twentieth century sent liturgical scholars scouring ancient texts to scoop out some prayer or practice that centuries had concealed with dust, polishing them up, and plopping them into contemporary liturgies.
“Continuity” is always a fictive thing — not fictitious, but fictive, something made. When it suits us, a detail from the Gelasian Rite fits right in to our worship. If (on the other hand) a particular detail irritates us, it constitutes a grave departure from the coherence of the tradition, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. We aren’t just making it up; the way we customarily think about things like liturgy guides us to regard some changes as natural and harmonious, and others as pernicious. Without having an outlook at the start, we couldn’t make judgments at all about “what is coherent” and “what isn’t.”
So, however grouchy I feel when a start-up congregation skims my missal for congenial words and gestures, the Apostle reminds me (charitably, I hope) that “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”