Monday, October 31, 2011

The Basic Books for Liturgical Education

What you must learn is that these rules are no different than the rules of a computer system. Some of them can be bent. Others – can be broken." ― Morpheus, The Matrix

Good liturgy is about knowing about the binding and loosing of the rules. Liturgical rules are called rubrics. Knowing what the rubrics are does not mean following them blindly it means knowing when and where you need to follow, bend, or even break rubrics.

The best way to know the rubrics is to get engaged in liturgy with people who know them.

Another useful but not necessary safe method of learning is to ask a liturgist a question about a rubric. This is dangerous because liturgists generally do not know when to stop talking about rubrics. If you ask a rubric question and there are two or more liturgist in the room you are inviting yourself to what might possibly be the most refined form of a geekout possible.

The third, and if you truly want to learn necessary, method is reading.

First actually sit down and read through your Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Imagine what type of service you would construct if the only information you had about Episcopalians was this text. You will be surprised at how much you see on Sunday morning is not in the BCP. For instance the BCP never mentions the chasuble, the garment that most priest wear during the Eucharist Prayer.

Two additional Prayer Books I would suggest are A Manuel for Priest compiled by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, an Anglo-Catholic devotional. Both accentuate the BCP and embody distinct perspectives on the liturgy.

The primer of rubrics I would choose is Dennis Michno’s A Priest’s Handbook. This book is really Rubrics 101. It gives straightforward instructions on how to perform the church ceremonies found in the BCP. It does not, however, go into any depth on what is behind those ceremonies.

Solely for the Eucharist is Howard E. Galley’s The Ceremonies of the Eucharist. It is readable and an excellent exposition on the whole of the Eucharist as found in the BCP.

If you can find a copy William Palmer Ladd’s Prayer Book Interleaves is an excellent text that is not about rubrics but about liturgy. It was written with the 1928 BCP in mind but his ideas are, in my opinion, exceptionally solid. Also Allison’s Fear, Love, and Worship is a similar text but also sadly out of print.

When you are ready to jump into the deep end there are two texts by Lamburn: Ritual Notes and Anglican Services. I am not aware of any parish that actually goes about liturgy in the extreme high church methods Lamburn describes. If, however, you can get your mind around even the basics of these texts then really there is no liturgical situation, no matter how high or low, you should not be able to handle deftly.

Many ask me “why is it all high church?” and my response is that to do minimalist art well, like Picasso, one first has to learn to paint like Rembrandt.   

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