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Ordinary Time 2017

29 September 2005
liturgy - announcements therein

Grace Cathedral, San FranciscoUnfortunately, the streaming audio of the Choral Eucharist from Grace Cathedral, San Francisco on Sunday 25 September 2005 has been taken down, but you can listen to the current Choral Eucharist (Real Audio) if you really want to. You can also download the 25 September service leaflet (PDF) which I saved.

This liturgy writ large got me thinking about the dramatic power of liturgy, specifically the entrance rite, and how announcements can interrupt what I see to be a very important, unified portion of the service.

Before we go any further, let me acknowledge that the example that follows is in now way a typical service, nor would it be remotely possible to undertake a similar service in most churches in the country. But precisely because the this liturgy is so bombastic, celebratory and exaggerated, it is a marvelous example of what is possible and what is desirable in the worship of God (at least by Californian Anglicans)

The service begins thusly:

One of the most useful tools in my liturgical analysis toolbox is a simple question posed to Mystery Worshippers: "What were the exact opening words of the service?"

The question is an interesting one, and it assumes the service has two things: an opening and words.

So, first things first, when is the opening of the service?

As an organist, it's easy to assume that it's the prelude. I mean, it can't just be mere entertainment, can it? Bells have long had a role in calling people to worship. If the service is to be conducted at a certain hour, wouldn't this signal the beginning of the service?

Introits, (fanfares?!) and hymns have long been sensed as vaguely extra-liturgical. Pope Celestine (422-432) began the practice of accompanying the entrance with a psalm and it has been subject to all kinds of variation since. For the tone-deaf, all of this cacophony must seem an aberration and a hindrance to the start of the service which, as God intended, occurs with . . .

The celebrant speaking the opening acclamation.

A point to consider here is that the modern entrance rite serves to ease the transition from World to Word: the banality of everyday life to the incredible intersection of memory and hope rehearsed in Christian worship. The service isn't supposed to have a "opening" per se. The Prelude serves a transitional function as the congregation enters: a musical threshold. The introit, (fanfare?), and hymn serve as entrance music for the clergy and their cronies. The prelude, however, is not about the congregation any more than the processional hymn is about the clergy. This is music about God. Through circles of increasing participation--organist, choir, (brass and timpani?!), congregational song--all present enter into the worship of God gradually. (Note that the congregation also participates auditorily).

So what are the opening words in the worship of that God anyway?

Working backward, certainly the hymn in the liturgy under consideration is wordy enough, with four verses to consider. (Brass?!) The introit likewise is textual, based on a psalm.

The case for bells as textual is hard to make, unless one considers their inscriptions.

The case for bells as textual is hard to make, unless one considers their inscriptions. Preludes are occasionally hymn-based (making them text based?), though usually no text is sung.

So the conclusion here must be that the service, at least as it is understood by contemporary Mystery Worshipper practice, begins with the spoken word. In this case, it begins with "Blessed be the one, holy, and living God . . ."

So do spoken words of announcements create a "false opening" when placed after the prelude? Consider a hypothetical order of service:

I would argue that they do, or at least they interrupt the opening significantly enough to be noticed as out of place. This is especially true at the opening of the service because it is awkward not to have some sort of impromtu greeting like, "Good morning," or, "Test, test. Is this mic on?"

The entrance rite is designed to draw us into the mystery of the triune God.

Announcements are designed to draw us out into the minutiae of everyday life.

I for one take comfort that this is not a new problem.

There seems to be no perfect place to make announcements in the liturgy . . . The sixth-century papal mass put announcements at the beginning of communion, when there was some delay while the considerable numbers of ministers were busy preparing the plates of broken breads and the wine cups for the people.

Kavanagh, Aidan. Elements of Rite. Collegeville: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1982

Tangents: You'll have to take my word on this, but this Grace Cathedral liturgy was so festive, everything the congregation sang was transposed up a step.

Spell checker wants to replace "timpani" with "tampon." If I were a percussionist, I'd be really upset.

Since you're wondering, Grace Cathedral does announcements after the Peace. Rarely do the announcements include mention of tampons timpani.

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