Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Liturgy as a Way of Living Differently

Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Liturgy as a Way of Living Differently January 29, 2014

David Russell Mosley

My prayer station at home.
My prayer station at home.

29 January 2014

On the Edge of Elfland

Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago now at our church, St Nicholas (an Anglican church in the Church of England), our rector, Steve gave a sermon on Acts 2.42-3.10. The gist of the sermon (you can listen to the whole series here) is about our public impact as we attempt to live life together. At the end of the sermon, Steve enjoined us to start a conversation about how we could live differently. You see, Steve pointed out something I think often all too true. If you asked a Christian what Christians believe, they could give you some kind of answer. If, however, you asked them what do Christians do? They might have a much harder time answering that question.

There are, of course, many answers to this question of what Christians do and how we can live differently within our communities. The most obvious answers are perhaps social justice and evangelism. Feeding and caring for the poor, the oppressed, the widowed is an essential aspect of Christianity. In fact, in the passage Steve preached from, Peter and John, in healing the lame man, were doing an act of social justice that was also an act of evangelism. These two things are essential in any attempt to live in our world, but differently from it. However, there is another that I think often underplayed as an aspect of living differently.

I’ve written more about liturgy on this blog than almost any other topic, which is perhaps ironic since I do not come from a particularly liturgy affirming tradition. That being said, I want to suggest that liturgy is the other main way we can actively live differently within our societies.  Consider how different it would look if on high feast days and high solemnities, like Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, etc., we all went to church for a service and then had a feast (on the feast days). And not just go to church, what if we actually had day long events and did our best to get out of work for the day? What if we invited people over for Twelfth-Night? What if on Ash Wednesday we all showed up to work with an ashen cross on our foreheads?

What if we actually treated Sundays as the first day of the week and not simply the precursor to the Monday work week? What if the start of Advent was more important to us (as the start of the Church Calendar) than New Year’s Eve? What if all our churches offered at least Morning and Evening Prayer services so people could come and experience fixed hour prayer? What if we thought of time differently? What if our day was broken up into set times of prayer (whether following a set liturgy or praying on our own)?

I firmly believe that if we treated the Church Calendar, the week, and the day as the Church has understood them in centuries past as what is really real, as opposed to the way modern society has chosen to organise our time, we would stand out. Liturgy is more than a method, but I would suggest it is as important as social justice and evangelism for living differently in the world. You can look over some of my past posts to see why I think this is, but ultimately, it is because I think God upholds every minute of every day and liturgy helps to live within such a rhythmic way as makes this reality known.

Sincerely yours,

David Russell Mosley

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  • David,

    I am happy to hear this, though note- even as a (Roman) Catholic, I find it difficult to give the entire breadth and depth of the liturgical life its due and proper. But each year we try to remember some of the new and lovely bits we gleaned from the year or years before, and look to add more prayers, more traditions, and send more letters specifically occasioned by feast days.

    – Charles

    • Charles,

      Absolutely is it difficult to do. Right now I primarily manage by doing Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayer (Common Worship) on my own everyday and Evening Prayer (CW) with my wife on Sundays. This is why I think the commitment to liturgy as life lived differently needs to be institutional/communal as well as individual. Our Churches ought to spear-heading this movement, not individuals like me.

      I’m curious, what do you mean by ‘send more letters specifically occasioned by feast days’?

  • Hi David. I read your latest post with a great deal of interest and empathy. When I was growing up in the 1950s in an Anglocatholic parish in the heart of Melbourne, that was pretty much how we celebrated and lived the Christian year. On major feasts on week days we would have a solemn High Mass at 7 am, followed by a light breakfast and at major feasts we would have the celebration in the evening at 6 pm followed by a celebratory dinner.

    This was the rhythm of our life together in Christ. It was by no means a perfect expression of what you are talking about, but it went someway towards it. As lay people we were not required to participate in the Daily Office, but the priests did and there were some of the laity joined them, either there or privately. At that time there was a steady flow of young men (as it was then) taking up theological studies which was entirely due to this rhythm of life together and the inspired teaching of our then Vicar: Fr Maynard. Many of these young men went on to be fine priests and teachers in the church.

    I myself these days pray the English Common Prayer office using the the CP app on my iPad.

    How in our day can we achieve this sort of thing? It requires a much deeper commitment and willingness to give ourselves than most of us seem able to today.

    Sorry about the length of this.

    Chris

    • Chris,

      As always, thanks for your comment (and apologies for still not having responded to your email from Advent!). The community you were a part of sounds wonderful! I am, in the pejorative sense of the term, often an idealist. I strive for things well beyond our reach, precisely because it guarantees that something will change even if not as much as I would like. I think what we need is more churches pushing their staff and congregation to participate more in the Church Calendar. And let’s face it, what that means is more feasting, more celebrating! Though not entirely those things; we cannot be all celebration and no solemnity. You are right though, to achieve this, we need to give ourselves up to the rhythms of the Church, which means both clergy and laity.

      • I write out of my own experience as seen now through the particular rose coloured spectacles that time and age can give to cover things from one’s childhood and youth, but there was something there: a shared belief and practice.

        My present situation is very different. I belong to a small and dying country church, where there is virtually no one under 70 and we struggle spiritually and financially to keep going. There is really no real sense of being in the body of Christ: what Charles Williams called co-inherence. There is no way the regular feasts and fasts can be celebrated during the week; people don’t come, are unable or not prepared to commit themselves beyond Sunday worship. And this is not because real effort has not been made to draw them in.

        Chris