The Liturgy And The Renewal Of Christian Community

The liturgical movement, which has restored the centrality of corporate worship, especially eucharistic worship, to the life of the Church, has also given to Christian spirituality and life a more earthy and material focus. At the heart of the renewal of the liturgy was an emphasis on the Church as the body of Christ and as an integral element in the proclamation of the Gospel. The origins of liturgical renewal go back to the nineteenth century, to such figures as Dom Prosper Gueranger, the Abbot of Solesmes, though the work of the Anglican socialists of the Percy Dearmer school in building up an early 'Parish Communion' movement in the first half of the twentieth century has recently been stressed (Gray 1986). But it was the 1930s and 1940s which saw a more widespread development of the concern to restore the liturgy to the people, and to create a more dynamic and active framework for the celebration of Christian worship. Pioneers included Odo Casel in Maria Laach, Pius Parsch in Vienna, and Virgil Michel in the United States, while Pope Pius XII's encyclical Mediator Dei (1947) placed the seal of official endorsement on the movement.

Within Anglicanism, Michael Ramsey's study The Gospel and the Catholic Church, published in 1936 (Ramsey 1956), was of fundamental importance in shaping a theological tradition which took seriously both the Bible and the liturgical renewal, and it did so in an ecumenical way. It undermined the theological liberalism of the time, with its impatience with doctrine and its division between Gospel and Church, and it prepared the theological path for later developments in the world Church. But its major significance was as a statement of the roots of spirituality in the very nature of the eucharistic and Gospel-living community.

It was many years after Ramsey's formative work that the movement made significant headway in both the Anglican and Roman Churches. Again the 1960s was a crucial decade, although there had been pioneering work by the movement 'Parish and People' prior to this. John Robinson's book On Being the Church in the World (1964) was significant in that it sought to relate liturgy to the concern for justice in the world. Robinson restated the belief that 'Christianity stands or falls by the sacramental principle that matter and spirit are not separate or antithetical' (Robinson 1964:34). In its work of celebrating the liturgical action, the Christian community manifested its character as the body of Christ in the world, and this doctrine of the body of Christ was 'the specifically Christian clue to the renewal of society'. The eucharist was the pattern of all Christian action, the germ of all society redeemed in Christ (ibid.: 70-1).

The recovery of the centrality of the eucharist has brought about a profound revolution in most Christian traditions as the Church has come to see itself as a liturgical community. It has been argued that this growing 'eucharistic sensibility' has been the most important event in the recent renewal of spirituality (Pannenberg 1986:31, 43), and has led to a spirituality which is more materialistic and more socially aware. The image of the officiant or preacher addressing a passive congregation has given way to the sense of 'being the Church', and of a dynamic and shared liturgical action in which there is movement and increased participation.

Robinson's other writing during the 1960s was important in helping many people to see the connections between prayer and engagement with human realities. It was Robinson (in Honest to God, 1963) who introduced the prison reflections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a wider public. Bonhoeffer stressed that whoever evades the world does not find God, and that any attempt to escape the world leads in the end to sinful surrender to the world. Yet, although Bonhoeffer's name was to become linked with the phrase 'religionless Christianity', he was a man of deep prayerfulness and ascetic discipline, strongly committed to liturgical prayer and the use of the Psalms. He wrote of the importance of the disciplines arcani (in effect, a reticence and shunning of worldly prominence) of the Christian community, and suggested that for the foreseeable future all Christian practice would be restricted to the two activities of prayer and righteous action. It was out of these two activities that all Christian thought, speech and organizing would be born (Bonhoeffer 1972:300).

Although the early work of Robinson and others tended to stress prayer as occurring in the midst of relationships, there was a growing need for deeper interiority and for spiritual resources which this emphasis could not satisfy. So as the 1960s moved on, there was a revival of interest in contemplative prayer and mysticism.

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