Category Archives: liturgy

‘How The Plowman Learned His Paternoster’ or English Catechism Before the Reformation

What was the Church of England like before the Reformation? A snapshot comes from Eamon Duffy, in his award-winning book The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (second edition, 2005):

“Round the fourteenth-century font in the parish church of Bradley, Lincolnshire, is carved an English inscription, which runs

Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Criede,

Leren the childe yt is need.

“That injunction was directed to the godparents and was a formal part of the rite of baptism in late medieval England. Just before the blessing of the font at baptisms the priest was required to admonish the godparents to see that the child’s parents kept it from fire, water, and other perils, and themselves to ‘lerne or se yt be lerned the Pater noster, Aue Maria and Credo after the law of all holy churche’. The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Apostles’ Creed were in fact the irreducible core of a more elaborate catechetical programme for the laity which had been decisively formulated for the English Church at Archbishop Pecham’s provincial Council of Lambeth in 1281.”

Duffy’s book won the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award, for good reason.

Writing in Sixteenth Century Journal, the late Stanford Lehmberg said Duffy’s book “presents a marvelously detailed new picture of traditional religious belief and practice in English during the century prior to the Reformation and it shows exactly when and how the customs of faith and ceremony were stripped away in the sixteenth century. Our interpretation of the Reformation and our understanding of Tudor religion will never be the same.”

In English Historical Review, the late Margaret Aston said Duffy’s book “takes a major step toward better understanding of the English reformation.”


The story of the Reformation needs reforming


Here’s an Odd One: Carl Jung’s Endorsement of Catholicism & Liturgical Worship For Mental Health

You might think Carl Jung was crazy, or wicked, or insightful, but no matter what you think, you’ll probably acknowledge the man formed at least some decent observations.

Along those lines, I tend to stumble across some of the weirdest stuff (I hear regular readers laughing).

Read these two excerpts from Memories, Dreams, Reflections for your own inferences and extrapolations:

“The play of fantasy [in artistic self-expression] is also helped by religion, an indispensable auxiliary for the psychologist. Catholicism in particular, with its ceremonial [sic] and liturgy, gives fantasy a priceless support, for which reason I have found in my practice that believing Catholics suffer less from neurosis and are easier to cure than Protestants and Jews.”

And later:

“Even so, as a Protestant, it is quite clear to me that, in its healing effects, no creed is as closely akin to psychoanalysis as Catholicism. The symbols of the Catholic liturgy offer the unconscious such a wealth of possibilities for expression that they act as an incomparable diet for the psyche.”

Infer and extrapolate at will.

Flip the Ritual switch

Rod Dreher recently published some thoughts on ritual that reminded me of a passage from Jaroslav Pelikan, a passage I’ve used on this blog before: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

With Pelikan’s words in mind, here’s what Dreher said about ritual:

Rituals can be deadening, but the absence of rituals can also be deadening. A ritual only works to order the soul and instruct the conscience if you do it even when you don’t feel like doing it. It teaches you that there is something more important than your individual desire at that given moment.

That’s from “5 old-timey rituals that should make a comeback,” which appeared in the December 2014 print edition of Real Simple magazine. Dreher’s ritual? “Dinner at six.” With the entire family.

Consider for a sec that these passages from Pelikan and Dreher could be applicable in a number of areas of life, including habit formation and learning.

With this topic at hand, I should include, like the Pelikan quotation, another repeat from a previous post, this one by 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.

11 things I love about the Episcopal Church

“I don’t always believe the words of the Nicene Creed. But I say them anyway. Sometimes they’re more a confession of desire than conviction, a statement of what I desperately hope to be true.”

Ben Irwin


My faith was saved in a gutted-out shopping mall.

I had reached a point where I no longer believed in God’s love—or rather, I didn’t believe it was meant for me. I thought it was something reserved for God’s “chosen ones,” and I just couldn’t imagine myself as one of the lucky few.

It was a trendy church with a famous pastor and a hip worship band that helped me reassemble the pieces of my faith. I will always be thankful for that church.

At that time, I had no idea my journey would lead from that gutted-out shopping mall to an old red door. But it did. Today it’s the Eucharist, the stained glass windows, and the liturgies of the Episcopal Church that are breathing new life into my faith.


I’m not alone, either. Lately I’ve been sifting through the stories of fellow travelers like Rachel Held Evans, Jonathan Martin

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‘Value in Ritual and Ceremony’

Writing in his Abstract Notions blog, Utne Reader editor Christian Williams recently posted a short piece entitled, “Finding Value in Ritual and Ceremony.” Here’s an excerpt that touched on topics frequently mentioned on my blog:

I became reacquainted with ritual and ceremony this past October when my wife and I spent a week in Spain. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey outside of Barcelona. We went in the evening specifically for Vespers, which features Gregorian chant by the Benedictine monks who live there. It’d been a while since I’d spent time in a church, and watching the evening prayer service unfold reminded me of what I missed most about the faith of my youth: the familiarity and comfort of the liturgy, the feeling of singing in unison, and the opportunity for contemplation that being in a church provided. Above all, I remembered how those aspects of ritual and ceremony were essential in preparing my mind and body for the spiritual experience I was there to have. They served to establish my intent, clear my mind of distraction, and help me remain in the moment.

Read the full post here:


e.e. cummings for the offeratory


N.T. Wright’s comments on Christian worship, and a subtler implication

“If you have the right beliefs, then approaches, methods, and manners do not matter.” Innumerable American Protestants seem to take this point of view as axiomatic.

At first blush, the following defense of liturgical worship, a gentle defense from N.T. Wright, seems to fit perfectly with the axiom at hand: “If you have the right beliefs, then approaches, methods, and manners do not matter.”

In Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, Wright says, “Sometimes formal liturgy enables those who attend it to relax into the love of God in a way which the frenetic informal style, so popular in some quarters, never does. Beware of worship which simply reinforces the wrong kind of behavior patterns” (64).

Consider, however, Wright’s use of the word “frenetic.” It’s more subtle than perhaps even he realized.

According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, the origin of “frenetic” situates the word as a description of undesirable mental states.

The dictionary’s website says, “Middle English frenetik insane, from Anglo-French, from Latin phreneticus, modification of Greek phrenitikos, from phrenitis inflammation of the brain, from phren-, phrēn diaphragm, mind”.

More raw emotion, less organization, more spontaneity, less theological intention — these worship services become frenetic, or insane.

The internal experience of the worship service — we might say, the mindlessness of the worship service — becomes more important than the mind’s and body’s interaction with the worship service. The experience of the soul’s elevation to new heights diminishes the human body.

And yet when Jesus heard Lazarus had died, he wept. And Jesus did not say, “Rejoice! Lazarus has been freed from this earthly prison!” Rather, Jesus resurrected Lazarus, calling forth “Lazarus,” his entire being as one.

And furthermore, consider that the early church rejected as heretical the belief that Christ only appeared to have a bodythus affirming the physicality of the human frame.

Also consider The Fall, however mythological (in the best sense) the Genesis account is, involved humans as unified selves that did not become flesh-and-bone, did not tumble down into bodies, after sinning.

Liturgical worshippers want to have their bodies and senses engaged in worship because that’s how God made them. I’ve rarely heard a sermon about God’s created beings doing normal, creaturely things — as if created beings, doing creaturely things, by design of their Creator, cannot involve serious theology!

So I’m putting all this emphasis on embodiment and the created order and the Incarnation as an point of reference in all this. (Much Christian talk about the soul depends, after all, on shaky grounds.) Sure, you can reply with various proof texts. And I can reply with the promise of resurrected bodies. And you can throw angles on my comment. And so on.

I can bring up recent insights into the human brain and add speculation about the connection of the “mind” or the “soul” to the body. And you can throw doubt on science and certain philosophical commitments.

At least consider, as a possible movement toward a middle ground, C.S. Lewis’s defense of ritual — ritual is certainly a form of embodying beliefs through habits, repetition, and re-enforcement.