Liturgists and Terrorists

It’s an old quip: the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist. You can negotiate with a terrorist – unless he cuts your throat with a knife or blows you up with a bomb shouting the middle-eastern equivalent of Heil Hitler! What is a liturgist?

I read Fr Hunwicke’s article Trained Liturgists I have met. I too had my training in the subject at Fribourg with Fr Jakob Baumgartner, a Swiss-German priest belonging to a missionary congregation (only slightly less numerous than the number of women’s orders). I worked under his supervision as I produced the basis of what ended up being published as a chapter in Fr Alcuin Reid’s T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy. I avoided much of the pastoral mish-mash by showing an interest in liturgical history, and liturgical theology as I read it from the point of view of Dom Odo Casel or many eastern Orthodox authors. I never saw Fr Baumgartner celebrate Mass, but I was told at the time that it was just fumble and playing about. The chasm between theory and practice, in contact with some liturgical scholars, just blew my mind!

I admire Fr Alcuin as he labours to beat the liturgists at their own game, debunking ideologies and outdated theories of old men (we all get old one day if we don’t die first). We have to remember that the idea of the old dinosaur being replaced by young conservatives is a misleading myth. Christianity is dying in the west and being transformed into a kind of Evangelical cult in Africa, Asia and South America. It remains only to be seen whether Orthodoxy will go the same way. Benedictine monasteries are wonderful places, but relevant only to the monks and the twenty or so lay people who travel long distances to attend their Offices on a Sunday or during a retreat. For all Fr Alcuin’s energy and devotion, to which I have contributed in a small way, it is only relevant to bookworms and intellectuals in libraries. One can only hope that Fr Alcuin and his age-group will live longer than the fossils still claiming that Mass facing the people was the practice of the primitive church, perhaps like the phantom women priests.

It’s all being discussed, but presently it is cujus rex ejus religio. Pope Francis will kick the bucket one day and the spiritual equivalent of the National Front might get in having beaten the Champagne Socialists in the election. That’s what it really seems to come down to.

In good King Charles’ golden time, when loyalty no harm meant,
A zealous high churchman was I, and so I gained preferment.
To teach my flock, I never missed: Kings are by God appointed
And damned are those who dare resist or touch the Lord’s annointed.


And this be law, that I’ll maintain until my dying day, sir
That whatsoever king may reign, Still I’ll be the Vicar of Bray, sir.

When royal James possessed the crown, and popery came in fashion,
The penal laws I hooted down, and read the Declaration.
The Church of Rome, I found, did fit full well my constitution
And I had been a Jesuit, but for the Revolution.


When William was our King declared, to ease the nation’s grievance,
With this new wind about I steered, and swore to him allegiance.
Old principles I did revoke; Set conscience at a distance,
Passive obedience was a joke, a jest was non-resistance.


When Royal Anne became our queen, the Church of England’s glory,
Another face of things was seen, and I became a Tory.
Occasional conformists base; I blamed their moderation;
And thought the Church in danger was from such prevarication.


When George in pudding time came o’er, and moderate men looked big, sir
My principles I changed once more, and I became a Whig, sir.
And thus preferment I procured From our new Faith’s Defender,
And almost every day abjured the Pope and the Pretender.


The illustrious house of Hanover and Protestant succession
To these I do allegiance swear — while they can hold possession.
For in my faith and loyalty I never more will falter,
And George my lawful king shall be — until the times do alter.


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7 Responses to Liturgists and Terrorists

  1. Joseph V. says:

    ” Christianity is dying in the west and being transformed into a kind of Evangelical cult in Africa, Asia and South America.”

    In some respects, this was inevitable. Christianity has become nearly ossified under the weight of its hierarchy. Evangelical Christianity offers its adherents the spiritual/religious authority typically reserved for the clergy. As such, there is a sense that it restores the notion of charism in the first century, in so far as access to God is not mediated by a closed (if not elitist) clerical class, a concept that increasingly proves difficult to defend.

    “It remains only to be seen whether Orthodoxy will go the same way.”

    There are voices in the Orthodox Church (in the States at least) that are sympathetic to Evangelical Christianity, mainly among the OCA, the Greek diocese, and among formally Protestant clerics who are dismayed by how superstitious/uneducated the faith of the laity is. There is one Greek Evangelical Church that I know of in the New England area, although I am not sure how much ex-Orthodox traffic it gets.

    • Then there has to be something for clerics and those who have studied theology. I for one would never be interested in an Evangelical church or what would be gruel and brashness to me. At the same time, it seems to be ideal for the masses rather than the various things the RC Church tries to do in the way of concessions towards that type of popular religion. But, I don’t think there is, at least in the “mainstream” Churches.

      For the masses, out goes the liturgy and into the trash go the devotions to Our Lady and the Saints. They have to be coerced and cajoled into strict Judeo-Christian monotheism that is all in the Book. Give those people a whiff of secular humanism and arguments against the “bunk”, then off they’ll go – in the same way as many “de-convert” from Evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

      Perhaps Christianity needs to be elitist, gnostic and clerical to survive. Perhaps it was never intended for the masses, and the masses would live according to the Noachide Laws and very little else would be demanded of them. No need to go to church – just work hard, be honest and bring up a family.

      I have always gone by the principle that one should not attempt to convert a person to anything, unless one is prepared to take responsibility for looking after that person with spiritual follow-up and friendship. That sense of responsibility is generally absent from the minds of RC and fundamentalist apologists and religion marketers.

      • Patrick Sheridan says:

        That’s possibly the wisest thing I’ve ever read on here, father.

      • Thank you, Patrick. That is very kind of you. I also think you have been badly hurt both by organised religion and by the illusions you entertained. Being “clerical” and “educated” don’t make us superior to anyone else, just more ready to receive an inward message and experience that the word alone cannot confer.

      • Joseph V. says:

        “Give those people a whiff of secular humanism and arguments against the “bunk”, then off they’ll go – in the same way as many “de-convert” from Evangelical and fundamentalist churches.”

        True, but this applies to Catholicism (whether Roman or Anglican) as well. Christianity in general seems unable to offer a persuasive response to secular humanism – at the corporate level.

        When you have (in the West) a general/non-clerical population that is as educated,and sometimes more so, than the clergy/hierarchy, you are going to have a hard time selling them on notions of hierarchy, including the authority of said hierarchy in moral and spiritual formation.

        “Perhaps Christianity needs to be elitist, gnostic and clerical to survive.”

        In my estimation, clerical and elitist, no. Gnostic, maybe. The basic Gnostic vocabulary and praxis is found in both the written works of ancient Gnostic sects and teachers, as well as the 3rd and 4th century monastic writings that have been tolerated by mainline Christianity, particularly in later Origenist writers such as Evagrius of Ponticus and even John Cassian (to a degree). The significance here is that the general Gnostic approach was very much open to members outside of the hierarchy and was dependent more on experiential authority confirmed by the community (be it the monastics that were accepted into the Tradition or the Gnostic sects that eventually fell outside of acceptable Christianity), instead of possession of the clerical office – which, excluding Sethian Gnosticism, was the probable reason most of the Gnostic strands were opposed by the hierarchy.

        A Gnostic approach, though ostensibly more demanding or elitist (depending upon one’s point of view) is, in some respects, a more open Christianity in that clerical state does not determine one’s access to God. This said, I do not think any branch of contemporary Christianity wants to go down that rabbit hole.

      • Joseph V. says:

        “At the same time, it seems to be ideal for the masses rather than the various things the RC Church tries to do in the way of concessions towards that type of popular religion. ”

        I don’t know if it is so much “ideal” as it is that Evangelical Christianity promotes something resembling a radical experience with God or the supernatural. Mainline churches like the RC Church just don’t seem to be open to anything of the kind – and what it offers seems stale by comparison. And, in all truth, most pockets of the RC in the West plainly disbelieve – God is more philosophical concept and the supernatural is a superstitious way of categorizing reality. So, people look elsewhere.

      • Thank you for your reflections. I have the impression that another way to proceed would be to put ourselves into the shoes of those who say that Christianity must be abandoned, replaced by a choice between 18th century French philosophy, Soviet Marxism or perhaps even Islam, or simply atheistic materialism. What would be the consequences for us? Not for the other person, but for me?

        Personally, if I found that Evangelical Christianity was all there was, and all forms of Catholicism or Orthodoxy were abolished by law or simply became extinct, I think I would be inclined to abandon Christianity. I would probably be inclined towards anarchism (which I am as a Christian) and some kind of paganism based on pantheism and a return to the 1960’s. Tie-dyed tee shirts, long hair and VW camper vans with psychedelic paint designs. Joking apart, in any case, down with “power suits”, short hair, competitive conformism and the corporate view of everything!

        When I uttered the word “cleric”, I meant it more in the meaning of ordained men rather than functionaries of a big religious corporation. I am very disappointed by what I have seen in monasteries – just another form of corporate life, conformity and competition.

        If people look “elsewhere”, I am afraid they won’t find anything. “Other people” won’t give them the time of day. Nobody cares. Why should they? We have to build our own utopia, however small it is. The big problem is communion and community. We are told we have to have it as a condition for being Christian and then work for the unity of Churches. Back we go to the corporate vision and the evils of “other people”. Sometimes a few people of vision find themselves in a common purpose, but such communities are rare and difficult to sustain in time. That is how I feel it with my particular social difficulties. Even then, I find myself duty-bound to treat others the way I would have them treat me – and to practice tolerance and compassion. Many “corporate” Christians ignore these fundamental notions.

        It is clear that I have no place in large Christian corporations. I belong to a very small Church in which I relate well to my Bishop, fellow priests and people. That little Church may not last forever. Nor will I. We have to live with transience and mortality, and with the idea that things will live on in another form, be transformed. Like many Modernists and Liberals, I have the idea of a radically changed Christianity that has to relate to another human paradigm. It has for too long depended on the competitive world of politics and business. This must stop, and the Christian idea has to adapt to a non-competitive and compassionate paradigm. There, the discarnate Christ might find a way to incarnate again.

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