I spent three days in hospital in Crete last week. It was not planned: a gout crisis transformed itself into chronic kidney failure. The medical staff were wonderful and I learned something about myself, not having been in hospital since I had had my tonsils removed when I was 6.
On the wall of the ward I was staying in was a notice about visiting hours. The actual Greek was Orario Leitourgías — literally “timetable of the services” — and, knowing that the derivation of the word leitourgía is “the work of the people”, I found myself contemplating how very appropriate it was that hospital visits should be viewed in terms of a work of service, by the people as well as for the people. Indeed, the hours printed on the notice were routinely ignored, with family and friends in the ward at all hours of the day and a number of wives actually spending the night sleeping on plastic chairs next to their husbands’ beds. In a situation where the economy is limping along and hospitals are understaffed, families are relied on to assist in the day-to-day non-medical aspects of their relatives’ care — a true ministry of service. In any case it’s part of the culture: the family’s care for each other continues in the hospital, just as it did outside. The medical staff, some of whom I suspect were probably not being well paid or even paid at all, were not only thoroughly professional and dedicated but gentle and generous, despite the language barrier.
After I was released from the hospital, I encountered the same phrase, Orario Leitourgías, in connection with the opening hours of restaurants. Once again, the same implication is present: these are the times when you can expect to be served.
I have the impression that liturgists tend to look down their noses at folk who talk about “services” rather than “liturgies” or “Masses”. We joke about people who say “What time is the service, vicar?” But perhaps these people have actually got it right. Liturgies should not be something that we lay on for others “because it’s good for them”; they should not be impersonal performances of arcane rituals. Rather, they should be true acts of service, in which we minister to each other at every level with the utmost care, love and respect.