Friday, December 14, 2007

Liturgy and Life

Over at “The Eternal Pursuit,” Fr. Chris Epperson emphasizes the intrinsic connection between right belief (orthodoxy) and right action (orthopraxy). I think holding those two together is critically important. And as a tradition which affirms that praying shapes believing, the liturgies we use for our worship in the Episcopal Church are meant to inform, shape, and sustain not only what we believe but also how we live our lives. If we lose the connection between liturgy and life, we run the risk of promoting an escapist theology of worship in which liturgy insulates persons from the joys and sufferings of the world. And if that happens, the Church gives credence to the Marxist charge that religion serves as the opiate of the masses or to the Freudian view of religion as an infantile illusion.

In thinking about the relationship between liturgy and life, worship and ethics, Sunday morning church and the rest of the week, I’ve found the work of Charles Price and Louis Weil helpful. In their book Liturgy for Living, they distinguish between intensive liturgy and extensive liturgy.

Intensive liturgy is what happens in church, especially on Sunday morning. “By its intensive liturgies,” Price and Weil write, “the church encounters Christ as present in Word and Sacraments. Under these forms, Christians appropriate his example and the power which he makes available” [Liturgy for Living (Seabury, 1979), p. 296].

Extensive liturgy is what happens when we bring what we receive in church into the world. “One appropriates an example and its power for a purpose. One leaves the intensive liturgy to live in accordance with the model and in the strength of the grace which it supplies” [Liturgy for Living (Seabury, 1979), p. 296].

Price and Weil continue by highlighting the ways in which intensive and extensive liturgy are mutually dependent:

As our intensive liturgies drive us into the world to do our extensive liturgies, so our extensive liturgies bring us back week by week to the Christian assembly, to seek God’s presence once more under the embodied forms of Word and Sacrament. For the world is stronger than we are. By our own strength, we cannot long live up to Christ’s example, nor can we get along without renewal of spiritual power. Failures are frequent. Discouragement is always close. Need alone would return us to the unfailing source of renewal, given expression and made accessible by the liturgy of the church.

Not only need brings us back, to be sure; thanksgiving also brings us back. Our extensive liturgies are not only the story of failure, although failures are many; they are also the stories of success and triumph. To keep the record straight, and to make sure that we give God the credit due to God alone, we return to give him thanks [Liturgy for Living, (Seabury, 1979), p. 297].


I find it refreshing, and really quite powerful, to think about the things we do during the week – parenting, jobs, recreation, serving food to the homeless, grieving … you name it – as extending the liturgy we participated in when we gathered together with our brothers and sisters in Christ last Sunday. It’s all connected to the thanksgiving and praise we give to God when we gather to hear the Word read and proclaimed and to receive the holy gifts of Christ’s Body and Blood.

A bishop and scholar of the Eastern Orthodox Church nicely summarizes the mutual dependence of intensive and extensive liturgy and the need to safeguard the connections between liturgy and life:

Theology, mysticism, spirituality, moral rules, worship, art: these things must not be kept in separate compartments. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed: a theologian, said Evagrius, is one who knows how to pray, and he who prays in spirit and in truth is by that very act a theologian. And doctrine, if it is prayed, must also be lived: theology without action, as St Maximus put it, is the theology of demons. The Creed belongs only those who live it. Faith and love, theology and life, are inseparable. In the Byzantine Liturgy, the Creed is introduced with the words, ‘Let us love on another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity one essence and undivided.’ If we do not love one another, we cannot love God; and if we do not love God, we cannot make a true confession of faith and cannot enter into the inner spirit of Tradition, for there is no other way of knowing God than to love Him [Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church New Edition (Penguin, 1993), p. 207].

The liturgy of the Church belongs to those who live it. So let us pray. But let us also go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

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