Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Scripture's home

Our liturgy class went to a Medieval Latin Mass in NYC on Friday, and on Sunday we went to an Ethiopian Orthodox service followed by an Armenian Orthodox one. Because both of the last two are non-Chalcedonian break-offs from mainstream Orthodoxy, call Sunday my "Monophysite Morning." That may also be a new breakfast cereal.

I was unexpectedly floored by Friday's Medieval Latin Mass. Put simply, when Luther called it "such an abomination that I don't believe it could be sufficiently punished on earth if it rained pure fire from heaven" (The Abomination of the Secret Mass Luther's Works Vol. 36, p. 320), his judgment was off. And please don't give me the "that's just Reformation rhetoric" line. Luther was on more than I'll ever be, but at that point he was off.

On Sunday there was an extraordinary contrast between the less wealthy and more vibrant Ethiopians (power-point icons, a church basement's fluorescent lights, a hanging disco ball engulfed in incense, lively singing and drums, no web site), and the more established but still friendly Armenians (massive church, easy to follow translated liturgy, nice gift shop, good web site), but both congregations were more than worth the visit, and were deep confirmations of faith.

When Peter Jeffery (who embarrasses biblical scholars in his spare time) began this class he announced that understanding liturgy is as essential to the study of the Middle Ages as understanding advertising is to studying our own age. Like advertising today, liturgy spoke to people's deepest desires and needs, shaped their world, and was everywhere. But in addition to its indisputable value for studying the past, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that Christianity without the pricless historical deposit of liturgy is woefully and needlessly impoverished.

To put it in Protestant terms, liturgy is simply Scripture's home