Revitalizing liturgical worship: C.S. Lewis on ritual


Following Iain‘s announcement that he’ll invest in conversations about the 11 a.m. service at Trinity, here is some good food for thought from C.S. Lewis:

“A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but every one realizes it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy, are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere…. Those who dislike ritual in general — ritual in any and every department of life — may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.” — C.S. Lewis, from A Preface to Paradise Lost

One response to “Revitalizing liturgical worship: C.S. Lewis on ritual

  1. When I was a younger person I did not like ritual. Having been brought up in a Methodist/Catholic family I did have some experience with it. In my downhill years, I have come to realize that life is long and the more days you have lived the more you need to reuse some things. The more days I have had, the more I appreciate the ability to count on some things that I used to think I had to invent fresh myself each time they were needed being able to be reused.

    That is one of the many things the liturgy does for me. I can count on everything I want in worship to be covered even if the participants are not exactly “on task” that week and might have been distracted by the tyranny of the urgent into leaving out things that ought to be covered in worship…

    I treasure and have a deep respect for the people who assembled our current liturgies with very careful consideration of God’s word along with respected colleagues who were of necessity in agreement about the final product. I believe that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit in compiling these liturgies. That does not mean to me that they should never be changed or altered. Just that they are an important and useful body of liturgy that covers what it need to cover.

    Do we have a lot in common culturally or socially with the people who put together our liturgy? Probably not. From all of the many worship styles that I have seen come and go in the last 50 years of my adulthood I realize that our society wants to spin faster and faster – a book is passe before it hits the first readers eyes. We seem to want it to be darker, more-unrealistic, bursting from the envelope. Something to get our “attention”. Something to catch our brain and cause us to wonder if the author really meant what he said.

    Is there a place for liturgical worship today? I think there is a need for it. As CFB has pointed out someplace … there are many varieties of Protestant worship available. Not an exact quote. There is not much left in Protestant worship that speaks of the holiness of God or causes us to confess, to notice the needs of our fellow man, known or unknown to us. It makes me remember to be thankful for God’s forgiveness and his provision.

    When I attend a true liturgical service I feel a peace that I do not feel anywhere else. It tells me that I am in the right place.
    Also, it is not usually an assault on my eardrums but a sweet sweet sound unto the Lord.

    Just some thoughts. There is room for lots of them and I like knowing how other people feel about these things. There are few places where you can still go to find a liturgical service and I would hope that provision would be made for keeping it available.