Miscellaneous Liturgical Reflections from Robert Jenson

A. The Liturgy and Embodiment

The disappearance of ritual and art and physical expression from our ordinary communal life is the heart of our practical atheism.

from Visible Words (Fortress, 1978), 28.

Why has the church always said we should absolve by putting hands on the head of the person being absolved? That sounds like a rather silly procedure, as if some kind of fluid flowed from one to the other — so now in Protestant churches we do not do it that way. Instead we confess everyone once just before the service and absolve them in a mass. And nobody feels forgiven: that this absolution is directed to me was the point of the hands of the priest on the penitent. Or why at a football game do we not sit down to cheer? Because you cannot cheer sitting down: the motion of the body is part of the act.

Liturgy, with its sitting, standing, parading, gesturing, and so forth, is the most comprehensive example of the way in which the body belongs to our communication with each other. Those who have been so misguided as to try to make the liturgy more personal and intense by eliminating the standings, sittings, paradings, crossings, and kneelings achieved, of course, the opposite result. It is exactly in these motionless liturgies, where we just sit for an hour and fifteen minutes, that it becomes impossible to experience rhetoric about “God” as in any way true about us. [43]

B. The Liturgy as Art

The liturgy is the church’s specific art form. Let me in this connection draw only one conclusion from this essay’s positions: the reality of the Spirit in worship, the spiritedness of the church’s praise and petition, is not another thing than the beauty of the church’s worship. Labor on the liturgy’s beauty is not accidental to labor on its authenticity, and what may be called liturgical aesthetics is a vital part of the doctrine of the Spirit.  [155]

from Essays in Theology of Culture (Eerdmans, 1995).

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