Monday, September 9, 2013

Liturgy and Rites

For more than 50 years, Louis Weil has been teaching liturgical and sacramental studies. He has  taught at three Episcopal seminaries, given programs for clergy and laity on five continents, and written a number of articles and books about liturgical renewal. In 2012, he was honored by the North American Academy of Liturgy with its Berakah Award in appreciation of his ministry as teacher of liturgy both ecumenically and in the Anglican Communion. His new book, Liturgical Sense, The Logic of Rite, introduces the Weil Series in Liturgics, which is “an occasional series dedicated to the sort of liturgical and academic scholarship that has been the hallmark of Weil’s professional life.” Seabury Books is publisher and can be reached at

Dr. Weil wonders: how did a rite get started, how did it develop and become part of a tradition? How did it make sense in the congregation’s worship experience? And does it still make sense? He is looking back through church history, examining how certain rites began, were they effective for the people watching and listening, and are they still important? Weil suggests that some liturgical practices may be meaningful for the one who uses them, but may be obscure, even confusing, to the congregation who watches.

Based on his 50 years of teaching, his own “person in the pew” experiences, and his looking back at church history, he notices the changes in liturgical practices and calls our attention to how the role of the priest in the eucharistic celebration changed. Rather than being the whole people of God worshiping together, “it began to look like the private devotions of the priest with the lay people watching,” but with no role. Over time, there were many other changes, including the loss of the catechumenate in the fifth century with its preparation for baptism and membership. This loss sometimes continues, when new people do not know the history and teachings of the church, and are not properly prepared for baptism and membership as people of God.

Weil admits that most of the people who teach liturgics have “very strong opinions,” but “their primary purpose is the service of the people of God, the building up of the Body of Christ.What they teach is rooted in what they have learned and experienced in their own lives of faith” and most of them have “a very strong sense of priorities.” Dr. Weil says his goal in this book has been to share that sense, and those who plan, prepare, or preside at worship services will appreciate his suggestions.

—Lois Sibley