Monday, June 23, 2008

Ars celebrandi

Father Blake has a post today about liturgical silence, from which I've borrowed the image above. He writes:
I think there is a real problem many people have with integration of personal and liturgical prayer. It is perhaps easier with the use of the Missal of John XXIII and its silent Canon or the Byzantine rites when the Canon is in silence, the Royal doors closed and the veil drawn, and prayerful hush descends on the congregation.
I smiled, thinking of something that occurred in my delightful Greek parish a few weeks ago. In the course of twenty-five years of attending Orthodox services, in England and in Greece, what has always fascinated and beguiled me is that almost miraculous conjunction of high solemnity with an easiness and geniality that somehow never descends to irreverence. Well - I say "never"...

One Sunday towards the end of Great Lent, our priest appeared as usual in front of the Royal Doors as the deacon was opening them. "Excuse me!" he scowled, "Does that curtain have a notice on it saying "Now you may talk"?". A certain amount of congregational shrugging ensued. I suspect the phenomenon is peculiarly Greek, judging by the uniformly austere demeanour of the Slavs in our congregation; in any case, the level of chatter (mostly, you understand, from the north side of the nave) following the closing of the doors had on this occasion risen to a pitch sufficient to have launched the present reflection, as well as the paternal tirade...

My friend Arturo Vasquez has somewhere identified as a quality of "true liturgy" that it always "tells the story". I was thinking about Pascha and Pentecost (although it was still Lent) and the crowds milling in the street below that upper room, where "the doors being closed" the Glorious One appeared in the midst of his Apostles, or the tongues of fire descended upon them. Soon the doors of that hidden room would open, and emerging, they'd reveal to the street "He whom the world could not contain".

It's said that one knows an institution is in decline when its occupants have to be competent; conversely it's another quality of "true liturgy" that it works - it "tells the story" - even when it ought not to work.