Odds and Ends about Esteeming the Traditional Anglican liturgy

C. S. Lewis appreciated the Anglican Prayer Book liturgy, but did not insist that changes could not be made to it.  Change was alright if truly warranted theologically and done slowly and incrementally.  His main concern was not being distracted by clerical experimentation.  Just because the clergyman has an itch to change things up does not justify his doing so.

There needs to be a good, thought out and agreed upon reason for making changes to the Prayer Book liturgy.  The form of the things we have done for so long have meaning of their own – creative, beautiful meaning.  And that meaning can touch peoples’ hearts and draw them to the Lord.

Consider C. E. M. Joad, British philosopher and BBC broadcasting personality: “I formed the habit of intermittently attending the services of village churches long before I came to believe in the truth of what they taught. I would, I used to tell myself, go out of curiosity because I wanted to learn what still went on in them. Or – and this, perhaps, was a little nearer the truth – I was attracted by the beauty of the setting and by the beauty of the liturgy. And both of these did, indeed, have their way with me, calming my spirit and preparing me, albeit unconsciously, for a change of heart, until at last they prevailed and I became the diffident and halting Christian that I now am. I am grateful, more grateful than I can say, to the Church of England….”

I love this statement by the famous Evangelical Anglican minister, The Rev. Charles Simeon in the 19th century: “As for the Liturgy, no commendation can be too great for it…. If a whole assembly were addressing God in the spirit of the Liturgy, as well as in the words, there would be nothing to compare with such a spectacle on the face of the earth; it would approximate more to heaven than anything of the kind that was ever seen in the world. ”

And that’s what we should be after: entering into the heaven of God’s presence – not just enjoying a good time of fellowship with bits of worship tossed in.  “Community” is a big buzz word these days.  Our ideal should be to lead people into the “community” of “the communion of the saints,” which is universal in God’s presence.  Get people to join in with that community and their local, social experience with the Church will be social enough and full of deep meaning.

Related: Lewis would go to church, put up with the sermon and the music, then go to the communion rail with wonder.  After that, he’d leave asap and walk off thinking about his next book or whatever.  He sought that communion of the saints before the Table – and had his “community” with his friends in the pub and the folks at home.  It’s interesting to compare that with the esteem we have for him as a model Christian and also some of our sentimental ideas about liturgy.  Just saying.

P.S.: talk about Evangelical Anglicans!  The Rev. John Wesley on the Anglican Liturgy: “I believe there is no Liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety than the Common Prayer of the Church of England. ”  There you go.  Of course there weren’t Anglo-Catholics in his day, but someone like Wesley saying that still demonstrates that you don’t have to be one to appreciate the traditional liturgy.

OK. Enough for now.

Feel free to share this post