Tuesday, 4 March 2014

C. S. Lewis on Liturgy

The reputation of C. S. Lewis as a lay theologian waxes and wanes. Certainly one wouldn't...couldn't endorse all of his opinions, which can sometimes be very idiosyncratic (after all, he wasn't trained as theologian). He is at his most valuable, I have found, as a purveyor of common sense reflection on church life from the perspective of the educated lay person, and that is a type of rare voice that clergy need to heed. Professional clergy can easily become cocooned, as it were, in their own rarefied world. Lewis's greatest value to clergy is that he can jolt one out of that world, as he does in these quotes on liturgy (personally I'm very close to Lewis here, so maybe I'm an atypical clergyman):     

"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."
Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer

"I would ask the clergy to believe that we, laymen, are more interested in orthodoxy and less interested in liturgiology as such than they can easily imagine...  What we laymen fear is that the deepest doctrinal issues should he tacitly and implicitly settled by what seem to he, merely changes in liturgy.  A man who is wondering whether the fare set before him is food or poison is not reassured by being told that the course is now restored to its traditional place in the menu or that the tureen is of the Sarum [i.e. old Salisbury] pattern.  We laymen are ignorant and timid.  Our lives are ever in our hands, the avenger of blood is on our heels and of each of us his soul may this night he required.  Can you blame us if the reduction of grave doctrinal issues to merely liturgical issues fills us with something like terror? 
...I submit that the relation [between doctrine and liturgy-Acro.] is healthy when liturgy expresses the belief of the Church, morbid when liturgy creates in the people by suggestion beliefs which the Church has not publicly professed, taught and believed."
God in the Dock

“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 question "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 experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” 
Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer


Recovering Lutheran said...

Thank you for your post! It was C.S. Lewis' book Miracles that was the opening the Holy Spirit used to bring me to Christ.

Acroamaticus said...

You're most welcome, RL.