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.

5 comments:

matt said...

I'm very glad posting has continued. I was a little worried after the last post that you would become so enamored and happy with life on the other side of the Bosporus that you wouldn't feel so gloomy as to come here and post like you used to :-)

FrGregACCA said...

A couple of things come to mind: first, my friend Quartos, a seller of ikons, Byzantine Orthodox books, and the like, and who is a tonsured reader in ROCOR, says, "You know you're in a modernist parish when there are video poker machines in the basement."

Quartos was not raised Orthodox, but has always been something of a Bohemian. He once went to Hawaii to run a marathon and stayed for seven years, basically living on the beach.

There is another story out there, probably apocryphal, but should be true, about a Greek parish in which the men would sit around the fellowship hall during Divine Liturgy, drinking coffee and/or ouzo, and talking, while the women and children prayed. The priest, growing tired of this, one day led the procession of the Great Entrance out of the Nave and through the parish hall before returning to the Royal Doors. No word on whether the men got the point or not.

Then there was the OCA priest of my acquaintance who sometimes had a tendency to be a little too chatty himself during the course of the Liturgy. I hope he's gotten beyond that.

arturovasquez said...

I don't remember the "tells the story" part, but it is still true: traditional liturgy is more often than not sacrilege proof provided that the priest does what is written in the book. The idea of "reverent celebration" is thus a non sequitur: celebration is reverent insofar as it is impersonal, insofar as it is no longer of that particular priests. Indeed, some of the most "reverent" traditional Masses that I have seen would seem hurried to other people. That is because the priest was so focused on doing it right that feeling really didn't enter into it.

The Cellarer said...

It's silence itself that's a lost art today. I've asked many times young people to sit in silence and not do anything for 30 secs - you generally see them them become extremely uncomfortable, they just aren't used to it, they are used to constant stimulation, be it sound or vision.

Victoria said...

My experience of Liturgia, baptisms and weddings in Greek Orthodox churches in Australia is utter chaos with people talking and laughing, walking in and out during the service etc Maybe that is just my corner of Australia.