Founded in 1962 by Wiebe Vos (a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church), and now published by Societas Liturgica, Studia Litugica is a peer-reviewed journal published twice a year. It aims to encourage research in the field of worship and allied subjects and explore the pastoral implications of such research, facilitate the exchange of results and other liturgical knowledge, and deepen the mutual understanding of the various liturgical traditions and seeks for ways to make clear the relevance of liturgy in the contemporary world.
Presidential Address 2021
The 2021 Congress of Societas Liturgica found the Society operating in new territory, as it embarked on its first online gathering. The presidential address sought first to acknowledge the pressures and difficulties experienced in different ways by participants all over the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. It went on to reflect on the Congress theme—Liturgy and the Arts. While enormous practical and financial limitations have been placed on the arts, including the liturgical arts, in recent times, new possibilities have been discovered. These include new ways of paying attention, not least, thanks to digital means. While some worshipping communities may choose to abandon many of the elements of pre-pandemic liturgy, others will continue to draw on the riches of tradition. In these conditions, there is a need for the kind of intelligent openness that both recognizes the potential for transformation in ordinary things and makes space for the transformative power of extraordinary things.
Liturgy as Essentially Poietic
The Christian liturgy is far more than a simple mobilization of a diverse range of artistic expressions in service of its ordinary performance; in fact, the liturgy is in essence a poiesis of the faith. Nor does this poiesis function as a system in harmony with Christian dogma and ethics, because in many regards it transcends these other two approaches. In the midst of the contemporary questioning concerning faith and life, believing and living, the centuries-old poiesis represents an invaluable resource. Truth alone cannot be imposed, nor should it be. More than ever, the symbolic translation of the faith, or to put it in other words, its aesthetic mediation, as expressed in its communitarian practice, will prove itself worthy of faith.
The Poeisis of the Ordinary Being: A Cosmic Liturgy
Marie Noël, a 20th century poetess from Auxerre in the Burgundy region of France, said “The Saint offers sacrifice. The Artist furnishes the victim.” The quest to understand the far-reaching root system of the liturgy inevitably brings us into contact with the artist, and with all the words, colors and heavy stuff of the world that shape the artist’s work. It is the artist who harvests from deep within the human person the wheat, the dew and the lees of the world, to bring them in offering. Whether or not humanity is conscious of this ascensional mission of the liturgy, human beings must remain open above all to what the ministry of the artist reveals about their universal mission. It is in the words of the poet and in the flesh-encrusted canvases that the ascent begins, that the momentum builds, and so makes possible the eminently human activity which is liturgy.
Liturgical Constraints and Openness in Divine Address
While some constraints are necessary to the correct performance of liturgy, both the nature of liturgical language and its wider setting argue for openness. In the case of language, examples are drawn from scripture, formal liturgy and hymns to suggest that their power derives in part from their open, poetic character. The multivalent character of metaphor can help draw worshipers into dialogue with God. Because all metaphors are partial and inevitably fail at some point, elimination is not the best response to perceived inadequacies but the introduction of complementary images. Equally, instead of viewing the setting as a constraint, as in the Hindu concept of darshan it should be seen as an opportunity for God to speak through human artifact. While architecture is briefly addressed, the main focus is on stained glass. Pope Gregory’s “Bible for the illiterate” is quite wrong. Once the rules behind particular styles are appreciated, not only can its power to communicate divine presence be activated but also at times original reflections that go well beyond the merely “illustrative.” Examples range from medieval glass at Canterbury, Chartres and Sens to the work of modern artists such as Harry Clarke, Tom Denny, and Douglas Strachan.
Christian Liturgy: The Gift of Devotional Digressions
Gerald C. Liu
The article responds to a keynote address by David Brown from the 2021 Congress of Societas Liturgica hosted online from Notre Dame in July 2021. Brown’s address explores liturgical constraints and freedom with regard to liturgical poesis, tradition, and art, with special attention to stained glass. The response argues for a more nuanced and panoramic view of liturgical meaning and history, especially given the twists and turns that established liturgical practices took as they came to be, such as Thomas Cranmer’s Prayer of Humble Access and the Agnus Dei as mentioned by Brown. It also argues for more attention to be given to the contemporary trend of decline plaguing many congregations around the world for the sake of liturgical openness, hospitality, and suppleness. The response looks to the invention of the Common Era Time according to the liturgical calendar, the Christianization of leitourgia, and the long history of Crusade violence in order to support its recommendations for foregrounding in liturgical practice and expectations and a healthy sense of liturgical mystery and charity. The response also references the artwork of Arthur Jafa and Titus Kaphar as models for liturgists to consider in order to imagine new kinds of liturgical engagement with art that not only work within sacred genres such as stained glass, but also dare to consider the theological profundity of pieces not readily identifiable as conveying knowledge of God. The response aims to widen liturgical welcome and concludes by raising the question of English as a centralizing language for an international liturgical congress.
The Work of Visual Art in Liturgy
Liturgy and the arts make similar claims about inviting people to take a journey beyond price; to bear witness to the world as it is and as it should be; to experience truth and beauty even in tragedy; and to remind them of their intrinsic right to exist. This similarity leads many people to believe that the arts are essential to good liturgy. It also is the source of the suspicion that visual art, in particular, is a worldly distraction from the serious work of the people. The work of visual art in liturgy is not to decorate, not to give a platform to individual artists for their personal expression, not to serve as empty representations or diagrams of intellectual ideas. Rather, it is to bring all our senses into worship as the living Body of Christ, broken and poured out for the need of the world.
“Inextricably Intertwined”: Response to “The Work of Visual Art in Liturgy” by Deborah Sokolove
Our ancient ancestors instinctively enacted their stories onto and within walls that resonated with the sound, and reflected the light, of their gatherings. Those of us who care for the liturgical needs of our communities have the same task and, I believe, are instinctively compelled by the same Spirit. We call on all of the senses through every expressive medium we have at our disposal—the arts of color, texture, line, movement, intonation, inflection, crescendo and legato. We curate symbolically-significant occasions and act as prompters for the participation of the people in their ritual art-making. We do it because it is what we have always done, because we can’t not do it, and if we are not doing it, it is because it is being actively suppressed by our own or other’s notions about what is “right and good.” The relationship of liturgy and the arts is not primarily a conversation between entities, but an inextricable part of our very anima, our pneuma. The stories handed down to us come alive when we come alive.
Ars Ludendi: Urban Liturgies as Public Service in a Secular World
Liturgy as art is one of the various particular relationships between liturgy and the arts. This article engages with “liturgy as public art” and addresses the question “how can urban liturgies be understood as public art in secularizing societies?” It presents three examples of contemporary “urban liturgies,” against the backdrop of the transfer and transformation of Christian liturgical forms and repertories from the church to the wider culture in post-Christian, post-secular Western societies. It then offers an anthropological interpretation of such liturgies, using the notion of play, but highlighting an aspect of play that has, so far, remained underexposed in liturgical studies. Afterwards, it unpacks how this anthropological interpretation is anchored in a Lutheran theological view of God as a playful God (deus ludens), which also gives theology a critical position vis-à-vis liturgical practices. The last section answers the central question by concluding that urban liturgies are alternative occasions that offer a playfield emphatically addressing and challenging people’s hermeneutic capacity to meaningfully deal with the sacred, thus inviting them into God’s play. Offering playfields is how these urban liturgies serve the common good: they open up the possibility for people to be drawn into God’s play. These liturgies are not just rituals—they are a public art: the art of playing.
The “Second Program” between Common Practice and Reflected Faith
Celebrations of Blessing for newborns are examples of a group of services that have a high sensitivity toward a certain milieu, social context, or occasion. These services are described as “second program” or alternative services. But are they actually “liturgy” at all? In order to approach this question, this article first analyzes various excerpts from an interview. As a next step, a historical discourse is outlined that was dedicated to a similar question. Already in 1933, the theologian Josef Andreas Jungmann raised this question in his article “What is Liturgy?”. A conclusion connects both approaches: The close connection between liturgy and church classifies these celebrations as liturgy. In a reverse direction these liturgies also raise the question of an image of church that emerges from these celebrations.