Liturgy Spirituality Contained

There always have been dangers in spirituality, as we have seen: a tendency to mistake some experience or phenomenon for a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, or to seek a spiritual religion in some sense free of 'rough, crude history' and the particularities of the first-century 'Christ-event'. Josef Jung—mann wrote in a brief study of the Eucharistic Prayer, that 'the remembrance of the facts of redemption is essential and fundamental for Christianity. This is what distinguishes Christianity from all natural religions, by they pantheistic, polytheistic or monotheistic' (Jungmann 1956:3).

Liturgy may correct and restrain the excesses and aberrations of spirituality. And this was necessary in the first decades of the Church. We learn from Paul of the institution of the Eucharist as he deals with the recalcitrant, charismatic Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:23-5). He is concerned to deter not only enthusiastic blasphemy, without quenching the Spirit, but also the making of the Christian table fellowship an orgy, which inter alia divided rich from poor. 'Let everything be done decently and in order' (1 Cor. 14:40). The heart of the Christian meal is the anamnesis, the proclamation of the Lord's death, as the Church awaits his coming. This must not be obscured or profaned either by spiritual exuberance, gastronomic excess or social divisiveness in the Christian community.

Centuries later, John Henry Newman, in his Anglican days, preached on 'Religious Worship, the Remedy for Excitements'. He is not concerned with religious excitements alone. The mind agitated by secular ambitions and anxieties may be steadied by the opportunity to be in church for Divine Service which lasts, uninterrupted, for a certain length of time, sufficient, he thinks, to compose the mind and save the person from restlessly hurrying to and fro. There is no doubt, though, that Newman is thinking chiefly of evangelicals, the rapture of the newly-converted, who often find opportunity for its expression in the free, less inhibited worship of sects, rather than in the staid and sober rituals of the mainstream Church. He wishes that his own Church would act more according to its professed principles, have 'more frequent Services of praise and prayer, more truly Catholic plans for serving God and man'. But liturgy does bring people to prayer and he appeals to those who need comfort and the presence of Christ in the heart, or who, filled with the energies of the Spirit would do 'the highest and most glorious things for the whole world':

Come to our Services: come to our Litanies: throw yourself out of your own selfish heart: pour yourself out upon the thought of sin and sinners.. .upon the contemplation of God's Throne, of Jesus the Mediator between God and man, and of that glorious Church to which the dispensation is committed. Aspire to be what Christ would make you, His friend: having power with Him and prevailing. Other men will not pray for themselves. You may pray for them and for the general Church: and while you pray, you will find enough in the defects of your praying to remind you of your own nothingness, and to keep you from pride while you aim at perfection.

(Newman 1875:348-9)

This is an anti-Methodist sermon, troubled by revivalism and the vulgarity of the corybantic. It is doubtful if the lower middle-class converts of the Wesleys and their successors, pitmen redeemed from drunkenness, or con— demned felons, brought to Christ in the cell or at the gallows, could have found their spiritual milieu in the Anglicanism of Newman's day, which he himself came to reject in favour of the Roman Mass, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming____There are little children there, and old men, and simple labourers and students in seminaries.there are innocent maidens and there are penitents; but out of these many minds rises one eucharistic hymn, and the great Action is the measure and scope of it.

(Graef 1965:106)

He would, presumably not without some wishful thinking with regard to so mixed a congregation, have seen this as the supreme containment of excess, where fears are calmed and devotion soars. But it must not be forgotten that early Methodism, though noisy, raucous and some would think over-excited, was saved both in England and the Caribbean from degenerating into hysteria by the Wesley hymns and The Book of Common Prayer. The former would be thought by the Tractarians, who feared that Keble's The Christian Year might be too Methodist for comfort, to be the very hallmark of enthusiasm. In fact, the hymns channelled enthusiasm into systematic biblical theology and the faith of the historic creeds. There has also been a tradition of using the Methodist hymnbooks not only in the assemblies and congregations, but in private prayer. Many of the Wesley hymns, little known outside Methodism, are especially suited for this, expressing as they do an intimate personal relation with God and a burning desire for holiness or perfect love. These would have formed a bond with Newman and the Oxford Movement had there not been the repellent danger of 'perfectionism', the doctrine of 'the second blessing', the perilous idea that a believer might become instantaneously perfect in this life.

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