In the conclusion to her meticulous and lively study of the place of Biblical proclamation in Christian worship, Victoria Raymer asks searching questions about some of the elements of liturgical worship which we take for granted.
In collecting the material for The Bible in Worship I have encountered surprises. Amid details of practice and its interpretation in three traditions [Reformed, Catholic and Anglican] I have been amazed by how similar they are and yet how different. They share broad principles and ecumenical terminology. Able exegetical preaching in all of them can potentially converge in fresh, transformative proclamation of the Gospel.
But in-house understanding of each tradition’s approach to proclamation is unique and characteristic. I have been impressed by Catholic Christological focus, by direct linking of hearing in the Liturgy of the Word with active devotional ‘doing’ in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I am also persuaded by coherent, formative deployment of symbol and ceremonial.
I have noticed with admiration Reformed practices for alerting listeners to attend with expectation as the Spirit is invoked and participation in Christ anticipated in the proclamation of the word.
In considering my own Anglican tradition I continue to value the interpretative
responsibility assigned to individual members of the Church. I now question, however, whether three unfilleted readings, a Psalm, a sometimes lengthy ‘gradual’ hymn and elaborate Gospel ceremonial help or hinder people in attentive listening to the Scripture.
I wonder whether collects of the day, beloved as they are, by summing up retrospectively
prayers of preparation rather than prospectively opening up ministry of the word, may impede a prayerful momentum carrying worshippers into attending to the Bible.
Anglican theology has a strong Trinitarian grounding. Why then are people not helped to listen with more prayerful openness to the Holy Spirit enabling proclamation of the written word to become encounter with the living Word amid the actual circumstances
of their lives?
Reverence for the action of the Spirit nurtures a faithful openness that can resist text-bound rigidity, academic scepticism about what ‘really happened’ and bored wondering whether there will be time to cut the grass before it rains. The Spirit enables attention to
the word to become transformative encounter with the Christ, the living Word.
Awareness of the Spirit’s activity is liberating and challenging. Responding to the Gospel in the world is empowered. Collects may be treasure too great to dislodge.
Announcements and conclusions to readings, with their responses, are currently unsatisfactory. They could be refashioned to invoke the Spirit and give listening focus and energy.
In investigating innovative enhancements to proclamation I have become more aware of social processes that deepen collective faith and prompt some congregations to respond to proclamation with practical service in their communities.
A strong reciprocal link between faithful, expectant hearing and faithful action is evident. It may function independently of whether hermeneutics are ‘old-fashioned’, ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, or ‘academic’, although these differences in contexts of wise pastoral use or destructive pastoral abuse may be less ‘neutral’ in their effects on worshippers’ personal lives.
Looking at lectionaries has deepened my admiration of the achievement of the Lectionary for Mass and the Revised Common Lectionary. More awareness of their Christological focus and interpretations of salvation history also prompts questions. The Synoptic Lectionaries wonderfully serve the churches as a Christological core of Bible readings for worship.
Perforce they exclude much of the Bible. This exclusion is systematic in favouring salvation history and reducing consideration of material that seemed to compilers not directly relevant to salvation, especially Wisdom material. Also under-represented are narratives about people interacting and surviving in ways not so easily seen as part of historical and genealogical processes leading to Jesus.
Highlighting Gospel readings can leave in shadow texts from the Epistles, in terms of their own canonical narratives and contexts and their teaching about Christ. It is time for
Lectionary review. Agreed successors to the Synoptic Lectionaries themselves would be hard to achieve.
More possible, where permissible, may be small adjustments and shorter temporary lectionaries for occasional use in Ordinary Time to access biblical perspectives on issues of current concern as well as to introduce more of the Bible. Ideally these would be well resourced and widely shared. In a tradition that values collective reading of the same texts, a centrally produced sequence of options for each of several successive years might be appreciated.
Using the Bible in Worship is published on 28th February. Order before that date to benefit from our prepublication discount.
Victoria Raymer is Tutor in Liturgy at Westcott House, Cambridge. She qualified as a lawyer and earned a PhD in Church History at Harvard. She prepared for ordination at St Stephen’s House (as an All Saints Sister) and The Queen’s College, earning a theology degree from Oxford and a Diploma in Pastoral Studies from Birmingham. After two curacies in the Diocese of St Albans she served as vicar of a three-parish benefice. At Westcott she teaches liturgy and church history and serves as a tutor.