Saturday, January 13, 2007

Happy Saturday

One of the big problems about living in Hong Kong is that if you go anywhere by car it can take an interminable amount of time because of the sheer volume of traffic. Every now and then the roads are clear, and you get where you want to go so quickly because everywhere is relatively near to everywhere else. Today was not one of those days! I had to go to lots of different places today so the car beat the MTR (the underground) as a choice. The MTR is wonderful. The roads aren't. I am exhausted!

Hopefully, after an unusually quiet night tonight, I will be ready for tomorrow! I am preaching tomorrow on the Epistle for the day: 'Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed'. I much prefer the old alternative, 'ignorant'. Whether uninformed or ignorant, wouldn't it be wonderful to have Paul in a recording studio to ask him to elaborate on those two chapters of 1 Corinthians? My suspicion is that we are more uninformed and ignorant today than we have ever been despite - (or should it be because of ?) -the charismatic movement!

My sermon will be a suitably low key affair, although part of me wishes I could go back to my housechurch days and encourage the congregation to all speak in tongues. Sadly, I don't believe they should any more, but I think it would be infinitely more fun if I did. And it might make more people think than will the rather balanced, sensible offering they will get tomorrow.

I wish I could be a charismatic again.

Anyway, here's what I wrote for the first Latin Mass.

A Latin Mass for the Presentation of the Lord - February, 1997


There will be no spoken sermon in tonight's Mass. What follows, however, is instead a short written homily offering some random thoughts on liturgy.

Liturgy is a subject that arouses many passions. People can be fiercely loyal to one specific liturgy, arguing its merits against all comers. At times, there will be those who will put all their energy into changing the liturgy, while others will use theirs to resist all change. This is, perhaps, to be expected for liturgy is about how we approach God in public worship. Our feelings on a subject of such seriousness, naturally, go deep.

We are living through a period of great change, and this is reflected in the fashion for liturgical revision. The days of one common liturgy have gone, and have been replaced with an age that has a plethora of different liturgies. Often, one single church will use several different liturgies for their celebrations of the Eucharist in order to cope with the different needs and demands of the congregation. Whatever we feel about this situation, it is a fact of life, and it is not going to go away.

In the midst of this great variety, change, and experimentation, there, nevertheless, remain certain principles of which we must not lose sight.

1. Liturgy is about the service of God.

In modern liturgical revision, we have been seduced and possessed by the demon of relevance. Nothing matters more now than being relevant. But relevant to whom? Liturgy, it is argued, must be seen as a tool of mission. So liturgy is to be relevant to the atheist, to those who have abandoned Christianity, to those who prefer going to St Tesco's to St Ternan's on a Sunday morning, to those who watch their 3 hours television a night, to those who object to patriarchy and sexism in the church, to everyone, in fact, who is a paid up member of modem secular society. To everyone, that is, except, it would seem, to God.

Which is not to say, of course, that mission is unimportant. It is more important now than ever, and the Church is not a spiritual equivalent of the golf club - for members only. It is to argue, though, that liturgy is not primarily about mission. Indeed, in the days when the church was somewhat better at mission than it is now, those who were not yet part of the Church were asked to leave at the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

We should not be afraid, then, if our liturgy does not seem terribly relevant to the world around us, as long as it enables the people of God to worship God in a way that is pleasing to Him. Liturgical revision will still have to take place. Liturgy inevitably must evolve and adapt, as it always has done, to enable worshippers to worship God in the language they use, taking account of their culture and background. Liturgical change, however, must begin and end with the worshippers' desire to listen and speak, not to the world, but to God.

2. Liturgy is about the Church's service of God.

This means that it is about what we do together. Liturgy is not there primarily for the individual, but for the body of Christ. Its function is to make it possible for us to serve God together. The consequences of this are that we must not seek to impose our own individual requirements, likes and dislikes, tastes and preferences on everyone else. Compromise is always going to be the order of the day, for what matters at the end of the day is not that I go home full and my brother or sister goes hungry, but that together we are able to share in the riches of God, and so find strength for mission and service.

But it is also the Church's service and the Church is bigger than its manifestation in this particular locality and bigger than its manifestation in this particular age. In the Eucharist, we join with the angels and saints in proclaiming God's glory. Our liturgy will be seriously impoverished if we lose the rich inheritance that the saints who have gone before have left us. We will be committing a great crime against the church of the future if we sell their spiritual birth-right for a mess of contemporary liturgical pottage.

Tonight's Mass is offered with thanks to God for the liturgy we have received, which is both our joyful inheritance and our sacred trust.

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