Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CS Lewis on the Liturgy

This is perennially quoted and relates to the conversation which Fr. Beane's manifesto Real Worship incited.

From Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer

It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain -- many give up churchgoing altogether -- merely endure.

Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don't go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best -- if you like, it "works" best -- when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was "for what does it serve?" "'Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god."

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the questions "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try expirements on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks."


  1. This quote should be given or at least the ideas it contains to every new ordinand either at their commencement or their Installation/Ordination as a warning. My favorite part is the quote at the end. "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks."

  2. My wife and I have been thinking about the contemporary evangelical way of worship (which always seems to be in the process of tinkering with the service to find an acceptable or "popular" form, one designed to attract and hold an audience) in contrast to a liturgical form of worship. Lewis characterized the contrast as between "novelty" which he said is little more than entertainment, and a service which doesn't focus on itself or the ministers, but which makes it possible for the worshiper to focus on God, rather than on the service. Some time ago I realized that most of "worship" in the contemporary evangelical setting actually distracts from worship. The focus is on what's going on up front rather than attention directed toward God and the possibility of an encounter with Him in the worship service.


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