Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gracious Movement

I recently read the following description of military decorum from a widely syndicated columnist:

"Think about this for a moment. Suppose that your boss at the lab or law firm or newsroom demanded that, when he entered the room, you leapt spasmodically to your feet, stood rigidly erect with your feet at a forty-five degree angle like a congenitally deformed duck, and stared straight ahead until he gave you permission to relax."

I'll leave criticism of military ceremony to those better versed - but this much is certain: the ceremony of the Church is not supposed to be like this. The movements of the celebrant in the liturgy are not supposed to communicate discipline, rigor, and obedience. Rather, they are to communicate a loving respect, awe, and joy.

Military and liturgical movement are sometimes confused because of certain characteristics they share: uniforms, reverence toward physical objects (ever seen a flag folded?) and men of rank, and artificiality. But these similarities should be generalizations forced upon us - they should not obviously come to mind when someone watches us celebrate.

What I mean is this - liturgical movement should be gracious, rounded, full (but not fulsome), and natural - not mechanical, robotic, rote, angular, sharp, and arbitrary. There is no longer any practical reason for the military to practice parade march with weapons - the tactic is dead and the practice is retained merely for show and the discipline it teaches. Genuflecting, though, is not arbitrary. It is natural. It flows from the nature of what is going on in the service. Therefore the action should be carried out in a natural, not a robotic way.

Liturgical movement is not from the parade ground but from the bedouin tent - the host and guest have roles to play, movements to make, statements that have to be said: and it's all as natural as can be even though it is scripted. The scripted nature of the encounter is the space in which true intimacy can thrive.

How to learn this gracious movement? About the only way is to be privileged to see someone do it right. You'll know it when you see it. The Rev. Dr. James Brauer at St. Louis' chapel always seemed a good example to me. The Rev. Fr. David Fielding of Granite City, IL is another man whose celebration of the Sacrament is a joy to experience.

Seminarians and pastors who wish to improve the felicity of their service at the Lord's Table need more than rubrical guides - they need living examples, they need to find a seasoned "natural" and learn by imitation.



  1. As a member of the laity I have to agree. I have seen services with the most "respectful", rubric bound movements that lacked grace. They come across as arrogant, and the altar area seems cluttered with movement.

    I have been in services with more "liturgical movement" as well as with less that were more natural and and therefore more welcoming. It is a privilege to take part in worship such as that; true intimacy thrives even when there are language barriers (one such service was in a foreign country).

    Liturgical movement, when done graciously, is as seeker sensitive as they come. When it is done without grace, it can become an excentric throw back to a time the priest clearly does not understand and is truly alienating.

  2. "How to learn this gracious movement? About the only way is to be privileged to see someone do it right."

    Perhaps that privilege could be expanded to include some youtube videos. Not as good as in person, but still would be helpful.


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