Teaching liturgy today is both a wonderful opportunity and a challenge. There are so many possibilities! Where does one begin? We asked a number of excellent educators to give us a snapshot of where they begin, and why. Here are some of their responses:
In recent years, I have moved away from liturgical “knowledge production” as such in my teaching, and certainly in the first session of the core introductory liturgy course, here at Yale titled “Foundations of Christian Worship.” Instead, I try to capture my students’ interest, and thereby their imaginations and energies, for the subject-matter of liturgical studies. [The students who are there for the first session include “shoppers,” i.e. students who are simply taking a look at the course, in order then to decide whether to take it or not; for most of our students, courses in liturgical studies are optional rather than required].
So these days, I begin briefly with a sketch of what liturgical studies attends to, stressing how I was lured to this particular scholarly field, among all the other theological fields, because liturgical studies allows me to do (almost) everything: history, theology, Bible, ecclesial life and contemporary practice, music, art, architecture, cultural studies, etc.
I then invite students to take a look at a YouTube video that shows a contemporary liturgical events. In the last two years, my video of choice has been the “JK Wedding Entrance Dance”. When I ask students to reflect on what they witnessed in this lighthearted video of a very non-traditional wedding entrance and why liturgical studies might be helpful as a conversation partner when trying to understand what is going on here, I find that most of the students present are eager to engage these questions. Since Yale Divinity School has many different denominations represented, I try to cast the net widely, especially in this first session, so that students from seemingly “non-liturgical” churches understand that liturgical studies engages their worship too.
Teresa Berger teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School.
I have the privilege of teaching both undergraduates and graduates at Catholic universities in the Midwest of the United States. When I teach my undergraduate “Christian Worship” survey course, I normally start by trying to establish what worship might be as a human activity exhibited in many formats and religious traditions and then move to worship practices in Judaism, Greco-Roman state religion, and the mystery religions as contexts for understanding the worship practices of Jesus and the early Christian movements. I tend to use the framework of “Sanctifying Time, Space, and Life” to categorize the practices we examine. When I teach graduate students, I normally start by adverting to three major approaches in liturgical studies — historical, theological, and social scientific — and then indicate how the course will attempt to present and synthesize the three perspectives based on the topic we’ll be covering (e.g., Liturgy of the Hours, Rites of Healing, etc.).
Michael Joncas teaches at the University of St. Thomas and at Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary.
I always begin with how the assembly is seated. This wasn’t always so, as parishes usually have an idea for a new piece of liturgical furniture – often a new altar- and at first I was happy to go along with that (I love doodling new designs!).
Gradually however I came to realise that unless we can help a congregation to become a liturgical assembly — i.e. to gather in a configuration which gets them out of audience mode and into full and active participation — all the new furniture in the world won’t do much good.
A congregation seated in straight rows looking ahead to a liturgical ‘stage’ up front is a group of people waiting to be informed or entertained, not an active community of faith about to do together the work of the people of God. Let’s get them looking as though they mean business, and the rest will follow.
Richard Giles teaches occasionally at a theological college in Durham, U.K., and in parishes upon invitation.