Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's 30, 000 liturgists at the bottom of the sea....?

Let's get some definitions straight first; There's are world of difference between a liturgist and a liturgiologist. The exchange of the two terms might be a bit loose these days and, admittedly, liturgist is a much older word in English usage. It would seem that liturgiologist was coined in the 1860s to describe somebody involved in a systematic and objective study of liturgical material as distinct from somebody involved in the interpretation and application of the rubrics. In a sense the liturgist is a practitioner, the liturgiologist the theorist. One may have done a course at an urban day care centre masquerading as a centre for theological studies. The other is likely to be less obvious plodding away in the reading room of some repository. They've likely to have spent many years at this before publishing their findings which will not set the world on fire but will contribute the the body of knowledge that we need to know. It's not a matter of degrees gained and, of course, there is some cross over often with some very unhappy results.

If I was adding to my imaginary forthcoming volume Liturgical Birds and their Plumage there would probably be three entries under the genus Liturgica.

(i) Common Garden (Liturgica ferialis) The basic variety of the genus which just gets on with the job and 'says the black does the red' whatever it's accustomed usus. By far the most common in numbers but, unfortunately, the least influential.
(ii) Rainbow Plume (Liturgica phantasmata) Some authorities add synchrotistica to the sub genus name due to it's ability, when nesting, to beg borrow or steal from a wide variety of suprisingly innapropriate sources. Probably evolving in response largely to the external stimuli of it's unstable environment it is, surprisingly the most numerous. In a strange twist the female of the species seems to dominate in general day to day life.
(iii) Liveried Long Beak (Liturgica Machiavelliensis) Curious development of the species almost totally domesticated. It prefers to dwell indoors favouring long corridors. Not highly intelligent their diet over the years has departed from the common fodder of it's cousins with a distinct taste for sherry and rich food. It is, however, very pugnacious and any perceived threat or deviation from the 'norm' will be dealt with summarily by the pack. Because of this flaw in character it's unlikely to propogate itself beyond the current generation.

There is a danger that 'liturgy' may become an end in itself and we lose the Christocentric activity that it surely should be. When it becomes purely a careerist past time for the otherwise unemployable, when it becomes the field of battle for various ecclesiastics to settle scores and gain points against each other, we have a serious problem.  It's not a modern 'thing' but a tension that has always been there. A reading of  the first chapters of Christopher Page's excellent The Christian West and it's Singers gives plenty of food for thought. Self interest groups can become industries in their own right. Industries seem to amplify all the worst things human beings are capable of. This is the point where you can insert your own favourite 'liturgist' joke. The riddle in the title of this entry was formerly applied to lawyers.

Now, appealing as it may seem,  I'm not advocating a 'final solution' for all liturgists - nor am I suggesting that they should be all confined on some sort of island ghetto. The latter has some appeal but in all fairness give them 20 years and there wouldn't be a soul left alive and there would still be at least two chapels. What I am suggesting is that there needs to be a little more balance. Those who shout loudest are not always right. What we do need is people guiding us who are known and proven in their piety and learning rather than their ability to feather their own nests whilst greasing the slippery corridors of power.


  1. I’m for the Liturgica ferialis which to me was epitomized by the Curè of Ars - and even earlier by St. Francis of Assissi. While this genus will be considered uncouth and unlettered by the self-important elites of the liturgical world, it is they who live out the Gospel in real life and ‘feed the lambs and sheep’ day in and day out. Not surprisingly, it is they who will be found more numerously in the canonized ranks.

    Apart from a Pope or three, I can’t think of one liturgical expert ‘raised to the altars’ – which may be due to the fact that they had already razed the altars in the first place!

  2. I can think of one 'liturgist' who I would love to see at the bottom of the sea... one of your compatriots Raven.


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