This is the first installment of a three part series on living liturgically by Emily.
Liturgy is not a word that is really used outside of the language of worship, especially of the Judeo-Christian variety. It’s usually defined as the structured, orderly prayers of our Mass, or ofother structured Christian services. Further, it is the “work of the people,” and how we go about doing this work. And even then, not all Christian communities call what they do “liturgy.”
Catholics are special, of course, in that we very much call what we do “liturgy.” We structure the life of the Church around the liturgy, and even have it formulated into a yearly liturgical cycle. Of course, we Catholics also feel the need to use fancy words for other parts of our faith as well, like “Eucharist,” instead of the Lord’s Supper, and “chasuble,” instead of priest-dress.
For the majority of my life I have not been part of a Christian ecclesial community which even knows what the word liturgy means. Certainly these groups had liturgy – probably much to their chagrin if I were ever tell them – but the way this was manifest is so alien to the form of liturgy that I now know as a Catholic, that to explain it would probably require a whole other blog post, if not more. I have never been part of an Anglican, Lutheran or Orthodox Christian community where liturgy would have been almost de facto a part of the Christian life. Upon my conversion to Catholicism liturgy was this weird, new thing that usually meant I had to put forth the effort to remember not to be too jolly on the feast of a martyr, among other things.
Suffice to say, then, that when I converted to Catholicism I assimilated into the liturgical life much like a an immigrant assimilates to an area where her mother tongue is not spoken: perhaps she looks like she belongs and knows what she’s doing on first glance, but on further investigation it’s revealed that she hasn’t yet learned how to interact with the culture and language around her (especially when asking for directions).
Sure, I would pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent and find them sobering, humbling and profound. Yet there was always a small sense of annoyance inside of me: why should I be so somber, humble and introspective at such a lively time of the calendar year (as Lent oftentimes coincides with the blooms of springtime)? I’m fairly certain that after periods of great suffering I could more easily involve myself in praying these themes. Following this logic, perhaps it should be a discipline of the American Church to pray the Stations of the Cross after elections, finals, and reviews/inspections at work, as I’m sure these are very trying times for us all (I am being sarcastic here so, please, no ideas).
Likewise, as a student I find that the jubilant celebrations of Easter oftentimes coincide with the due date of final papers and final exams, and just so happens to be the point at the semester when I’m at my most sleep- deprived. I don’t want to be joyful; I want to be cranky. Christ has been resurrected for 2000 years now – certainly one Easter of curmudgeonly cantankery can’t be all that irreverent?
And so I lived the liturgical year this way. If the tone of the liturgy and the life of the Church happened to align with what I was currently experiencing, I would hurl myself deeply into the prayer of the Church – all for the cause, you know? Yet if there was any sort of dissonance between the liturgical life of the Church I was the first to excuse myself from participating – all for my personal feelings, you know?
That my attitude was such for so long a time (speaking relatively, I am only 21 after all) is telling of my complete selfishness about prayer, especially prayer as it relates to living liturgically. I took what I needed from the Church and her liturgical life to suit my needs, what nourished me, what seemed most relevant to me at whatever I was dealing with or wanted to deal with.
Yet, as I will disclose in the next installment, such a selfish way or praying isn’t very liturgical at all.
Click here for the second installment.