blog.sinden.org

Eastertide 2017

13 January 2017
liturgy - civic

There has been much conversation and consternation among Episcopalians since the St. Louis (hooray!) Post-Dispatch broke the story that Choirs of the National Cathedral will sing at the inauguration of Donald Trump.

I appreciate very much yesterday's statements by the Very Rev. the Dean, the Right Rev. the Bishop, and the Most Rev. the Presiding Bishop, and I commend them to you.

I have great respect for my colleagues at the National Cathedral. And I don't envy any of them, especially not now. The National Cathedral is a tremendous place that has chosen to intersect with civic life in our nation's capital, and in so doing it has taken seriously its role to serve as a kind of spiritual locus of the nation at times of national significance.

But in light of the decision to have the Choirs sing at the inauguration, I want to reflect on something for which I believe they fail to account: the inauguration itself is a liturgy.

At its center is that sacramental holy of holies, the oath of office (administered by a secular cleric in robes!). Then follows the homiletical inaugural address, the ritualistic ascension of the past president by helicopter, the eucharistic presidential luncheon, the processional to the White House, etc.

Then there are poems (if the inauguration is for a Democrat!). And of course the whole thing is surrounded by music.

It is a tightly scripted pageant of civic liturgy we see every four years, and it is meant to evoke a certain kind of feeling.

In a marvellous essay about worship the theologian James Alison draws a distinction between civic liturgies, like presidential inaugurations, and what he perceives to be "True worship."

Using the extreme example of a Nuremberg rally to help draw the distinction between the civic ("Nuremberg") liturgy and the "True" liturgy (the "un-Nuremberg"), Alison writes:

The liturgical organisers of the Nuremberg rallies knew exactly what they were doing, and did it remarkably well. You bring people together and you unite them in worship. You provide regular, rhythmic music, and marching. You enable them to see lots of people in uniform, people who have already lost a certain individuality and become symbols. You give them songs to sing. You build them up with the reason for their togetherness, a reason based on a common racial heritage. You inflame them with tales of past woe and reminders of past confusion when they were caused to suffer by some shame being imposed upon them, the tail-end of which woe is still in their midst. You keep them waiting and the pressure building up. All this gradually serves to take people out of themselves; the normally restrained become passionate, unfriendly neighbours find themselves looking at each other anew in the light of the growing “Bruderschaft”. Then, after the build up, the Führer appears, preferably brought in by means of a helicopter or airplane which has been seen from beneath by the gradually effervescing crowd, and before long, the apotheosis takes place, and he is in their midst.

(The whole essay is worth a read, now more than ever).

Alison's point is that civic worship is about getting people excited around a particular person for a particular purpose; it is "dangerous and dehumanising." On the other hand, the True liturgy of Holy Communion is actually supposed to be "boring" because there's nothing left to achieve. God has already won the victory! We're not supposed to "get" anything from Christian worship.

So yes, as the Bishop of Washington notes, the inauguration is "an occasion for prayer and an opportunity to offer the balm of beauty." And yes, as the Dean writes, "[m]usic is a precious gift that holds the potential to point our hearts toward something larger than the things that divide us."

But when music is used in the service of Alison's "Nuremberg", the "something larger" may be rather incongruous with the mission of the church.


Update: 13 Jan 2017, 2:12 p.m. Earlier today the Washington Post published a story called "Washington National Cathedral’s decision to participate in Trump’s inauguration is creating tension".

On Facebook, Diana Butler Bass laments:

For any of you holding out hope that this would be a "truth to power" moment, please note this line from the article:

"Trump asked that there be no preaching during the interfaith service, she [the bishop] said. 'This is not the occasion that we will use to address particular issues of policy or concerns we might have about the direction he’s taking the country.'"

Maybe it is time to stop being so naive and admit that Trump is creating his own religion reality show here? And that it is being legitimized by the Episcopal Church?

Labels: , ,

 
 
Comments:
I am not used to thinking of civil ceremonies as liturgy, but that seems a helpful notion.

I would, however, quibble about not “getting” anything from Christian worship. The prayer from Eucharist Prayer C (BCP p. 371) comes immediately to mind. It suggests that we gain solace, strength, pardon, and renewal at the Lord’s table. (This was the the inspiration for my hymn “Holy Eucharist.”)
 

Post a Comment

The page you're reading is part of Sinden.org

©MMXVII Sinden.org: a site for fun and prophet

Organ and church music, esoteric liturgics, and a site that changes color with the liturgical year.

Archetypes

Looking for Carol Spreadsheets?

Hungry? Try the Liturgical Guide to Altoids Consumption

Thirsty? Try the Tibia Liquida

The Eric Harding Thiman Fan Page: The greatest composer you've never even heard of.

Infrequently Asked Questions

picture of a chicken

Questions? Problems? email the sexton.

Archon

The author of this website is an organist whom the New York Times calls “repeatedly, insisting that he pay for his subscription”. He likes to read parking meters, music, Indianapolis Monthly, and weather forecasts in Celcius, particularly whilst wearing cassock and surplice. He serves lasagna, overhand, as an example to many, and on ecclesiastical juries. He takes photos, lots of dinner mints, and a little bit of time to get to know.

about

contact

Archbishops

Anglicans Online
Alex Ross: The Rest is Noise
Book of Common Prayer
Brain Pickings
The Daily Office
The Lectionary Page
Sed Angli
Ship of Fools
The Sub-Dean's Stall
Vested Interest - Trinity Church in the City of Boston

Archenemies

Andrew Kotylo - Concert Organist
Aphaeresis
Anne Timberlake
Bonnie Whiting, percussion
conjectural navel gazing: jesus in lint form
Friday Night Organ Pump
Halbert Gober Organs, Inc.
in time of daffodils
Joby Bell, organist
Musical Perceptions
Musings of a Synesthete
My Life as Style, Condition, Commodity.
Nathan Medley, Countertenor
Notes on Music & Liturgy
The Parker Quartet
Roof Crashers & Hem Grabbers
Steven Rickards
That Which We Have Heard & Known
This Side of Lost
Wayward Sisters
Zachary Wadsworth | composer

Archenemies Aviary

@DanAhlgren
@dcrean
@ericthebell
@jwombat
@larrydeveney
@nmedley
@samanthaklein
@sopranist
@voxinferior

Arches

Advent (Medfield MA)
All Saints, Ashmont (Boston MA)
All Saints (Indianapolis IN)
Atonement (Bronx NY)
Broadway UMC (Indianapolis IN)
Cathedral of All Saints (Albany NY)
Christ Church (Bronxville NY)
Christ Church (Madison IN)
Christ Church (New Haven CT)
Christ Church Cathedral (Indianapolis IN)
Christ's Church (Rye NY)
Church of St. Stephen (Hamden CT)
Congregational (Belmont CA)
Coventry Cathedral (UK)
First UMC (Lancaster SC)
Gloria Dei ELCA (Iowa City IA)
Immanuel Lutheran (St Paul MN)
Immanuel Lutheran (Webster NY)
John Knox PCUSA (Houston TX)
St Andrew (Marblehead MA)
St Andrew's, Oregon Hill (Richmond VA)
St Bartholomew the Great, (London, England)
St James's (Lake Delaware NY)
St James's (Richmond VA)
St James Cathedral (Chicago IL)
St Mary's Cathedral (Memphis TN)
St Matthew and St Timothy (NYC)
St Paul's (Cleveland Heights OH)
St Paul's (Indianapolis IN)
St Paul's Cathedral (Buffalo NY)
St Paul's, K Street (Washington DC)
St Peter's (Lakewood OH)
St Peter's ELCA (NYC)
St Stephen's (Richmond VA
St Thomas (New Haven CT)
St Thomas ELCA (Bloomington IN)
Second PCUSA (Indianapolis IN)
Towson Presbyterian Church (MD)
Tremont Temple Baptist (Boston MA)
Trinity (Indianapolis IN)
Trinity on the Green (New Haven CT)

Auraling

BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong
New College (Oxford, England)
St John's College (Cambridge, England)
St Thomas (New York NY)

Argyle

Like the site? Buy the shirt.

Areyou . . .

selling diphthongs?
Yes, but they're not the kind you buy on Wheel of Fortune.

the owner of a bower at Bucklesfordberry?
Full daintily it is dight.

interested in touch lamps?
And fountain pens.

Archives
this site used to be better:

March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009
January 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011
July 2011
August 2011
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011
January 2012
February 2012
April 2012
May 2012
June 2012
July 2012
August 2012
September 2012
October 2012
December 2012
January 2013
March 2013
April 2013
May 2013
June 2013
July 2013
August 2013
September 2013
October 2013
November 2013
December 2013
January 2014
February 2014
March 2014
April 2014
May 2014
June 2014
August 2014
September 2014
October 2014
November 2014
December 2014
January 2015
February 2015
April 2015
May 2015
June 2015
July 2015
August 2015
September 2015
October 2015
November 2015
December 2015
January 2016
February 2016
March 2016
April 2016
June 2016
July 2016
August 2016
September 2016
October 2016
November 2016
December 2016
January 2017
February 2017
March 2017
April 2017