Friday, February 13, 2009

Liturgical celebration

I'm told that there used to be lots of Chaplains in the Army from denominations that have rather similar and formulaic worship services: Episcopalian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, some Methodist, and some Presbyterian. These days, we're few and far between.

One of my good buddies here Down Range has been a Lutheran pastor I met shortly after I arrived. His Chaplain Assistant is a really high-speed E-5 Sergeant who accompanied me on a number of missions "outside the wire" when SFC McG was back in the States on leave a couple of months ago. Though we've not spent all that much time together, given his need to be on the road visiting his Soldiers and my need to be in the air (usually) to visit mine, it's always been a delight to hang out.

SFC McG naturally mentors the Chaplain Assistants junior to himself, and SGT M and he hit it off immediately.

The four of us recently went to lunch and then back to their office and sat around and yakked it up for a surprisingly long time. A recently-arrived Chaplain and Chaplain Assistant went with us and we got to discussing the phenomenon of liturgical celebration, seeing as there are so few of us in the Chaplaincy who worship that way anymore.

Ch C mentioned that there was a really good chance that when he redeploys (goes home for good) to the States, there will be no one to take over the Lutheran-Episcopalian worship service here on post after he's gone. He was feeling a little frustrated that other Chaplains didn't seem to understand that a "Traditional Protestant" service, which would probably replace his Sunday liturgies would not be the same, and that his congregation would find themselves "like sheep without a shepherd."

He asked me, "How would you try to explain the difference between liturgical celebration and other forms of contemporary or traditional Protestant worship?" I replied, "I'm not sure this is really *my* "lane," but the first word that pops into my mind is 'Lectionary'. If I'm bound to using pre-determined readings each time I lead worship, and I've not pre-determined them, there's a good chance I'm involved in a liturgical celebration." This is especially true if I know that people the world over, even in different denominations, are more often than not using the same readings.

Over the course of a three-year cycle of Sundays (and a two-year cycle of weekdays), Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, some Methodists, and some Presbyterians, generally speaking, all use the same readings on any given day (with some noteable exceptions, but hey, work with me here).

That's a fairly good rule of thumb to use when reckoning whether the worship is liturgical.

Some of my Chaplain friends who come from non-liturgical worship traditions find the whole notion of a Lectionary to be very stultifying, but I find it challenging and energizing. Rather than limiting the 'message' (usually), the Lectionary offers me the opportunity to make the readings come alive for the assembly of the faithful, given the particular times and circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Sometimes this is a lot easier than other times, that's for sure!

But there's something very, well, catholic, about knowing that those same readings are being proclaimed in Mahmudiyah or Moscow (Iowa, even).

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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