|Publication Date: 15 Jan 2015|
|Page Count: 256|
|Author: Cally Hammond|
|ISBN-13: 9780281069545, 9780281069552|
The Sound of the Liturgy
Her book will be of interest and importance to all who leas worship or wish to understand the nature of liturgy more deeply.
For Hammond, worship is an action of the whole person, physical as much as spiritual. Posture and physical effort are the basis of sound.
Worship that is "in spirit and in truth", that is worthy of God, in so far as human effort ever can be demands the highest human skills that we can offer, Hammond insists. It needs premeditation, practice, choreography, rhythm, repetition, and physical exertion. She confronts head on the pernicious assumption in our culture that what is "performed" savours of insincerity and deceit, and our nagging doubt whether repeating inherited words can have authenticity; and she assails the cult of false [...] because predictable spontaneity. She wants to bring back mystique [...] as a classist and patristic scholar Hammond is sympathetic to the value that the acient world place don the skills of rhetoric - namely, how to secure an entrance in the minds of your listeners for the message you want them to take on board.
Hammond's criticisms of aspect of 'Common Worship' are restrained, but strike home. The minimal use of biblical use of directions for gesture and posture, compared with earlier official texts, plays down the physical dimensions of worship.
Hammond believes that rhythm and stress are the most important factors in making liturgy memorable.
As Hammond puts it, "prayer with the body becomes an act of public witness to the faith"
AMID all the soul-searching in the Church of England about “leadership in mission”, who is giving thought to leadership in worship?
Dr Cally Hammond, Dean of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, sees that the whole liturgy is an eloquent sign to believers and unbelievers alike of Christian truth, and that the elements within it — words, gestures, postures, and symbols — are signs in themselves.
Her four deceptively simple topics, repetition, rhythm, punctuation, and posture — the “structural supports” of liturgy —conceal a profound exploration of the mystery of worship. Her book will be of interest and importance to all who lead worship or who wish to understand the nature of liturgy more deeply.
A liturgy is not merely a text, and a text is not a liturgy. Liturgy is enacted. It consists of words (mainly scriptural) spoken corporately and also dialogically, with the intention both of addressing God and of speaking to each other in the presence of God. In liturgy, we do all that with the help of an array of sacred symbols, together with a range of significant actions performed by priest and people.
How vital it is, then, that the Church should be equipped with priests and bishops, assisted by deacons and lay persons, who understand how the liturgy “works” and are able to celebrate it, with the congregation, in a manner that is dignified, uplifting, and God-centred, not jarring on the sensibility of the worshippers.
For Hammond, worship is an action of the whole person, physical as much as spiritual. Posture and physical effort are the basis of sound. The persistent mind-body dualism of the Western philosophical tradition has encouraged us to think that worship takes place in the head, and so to privilege words over actions.
The legacy of Romanticism suggests that authenticity lies in individual self-expression, in articulating our personal feelings. The current trend to turn worship into entertainment cannot be done without putting the “worship-leader” centre stage and making a celebrity out of a servant.
Worship that is “in spirit and in truth”, that is worthy of God, insofar as human effort ever can be, demands the highest human skills that we can offer, Hammond insists. It needs premeditation, practice, choreography, rhythm, repetition, and physical exertion. She confronts head-on the pernicious assumption in our culture that what is “performed” savours of insincerity and deceit, and our nagging doubt whether repeating inherited words can have authenticity; and she assails the cult of false (because predictable) spontaneity. She wants to bring back mystique.
The meaning of sacramental and other symbolic actions is encoded in the sign. The signs participate in the reality to which they point and which they truly communicate. We reverence the cross and crucifix as though it were the actual cross on which Christ died. The bread and wine of the eucharist “become to us” the body and blood of Christ. Our Bible, used constantly, becomes iconic of God’s word to us, though it is physically a book like any other. Transcendent realities can be apprehended only obliquely, in metaphor, symbol, and sacrament. These signs are fathomless; we will mine their depths all our lives.
As a classicist and patristic scholar, Hammond is sympathetic to the value that the ancient world placed on the skills of rhetoric —namely, how to secure an entrance in the minds of your listeners for the message that you want them to take on board.
Its antithesis is the familiar bluff style that strains to avoid any impression of artifice. Hammond emphasises that sincerity is not enough: worship demands our best skills. In practice, not all worship ministers manage even to project the voice, a skill that is still needed even with amplification; but the ability to modulate sense and meaning, to achieve the right tone, is even rarer. Who has not squirmed in their pew when a lesson-reader has declaimed the text, dramatising it as though it were a play or film score, or has misconstrued it with hilarious results?
Hammond’s criticisms of aspects of Common Worship are restrained, but strike home. The minimal use of rubrical directions for gesture and posture, compared with earlier official texts, plays down the physical dimension of worship.
Minimising repetition (this applies to modern Bible translations, too) undermines the function of a text to ingrain and embed Christian truths in the lives of worshippers. The transmission of the faith from one generation to the next relies on memory, and, therefore, needs repetition, leading to imitation. Corporate action, the unison of hearts and minds, requires the predictability that repetition gives. It creates a secure space, an ambience of trust, in which we can let go of petty egotistical concerns and give ourselves to God. It helps us to see more clearly, to focus on the object of attention. “Repetition is of the essence of Christian worship.” Hammond believes that rhythm and stress are the most important factors in making liturgy memorable.
When the liturgy, incorporating the sacraments, is competently and holistically celebrated, glory shines through, and worship becomes a window into God’s saving work in Christ. As Hammond puts it, “Prayer with the body becomes an act of public witness to the faith.”
This is a book which does what it promises on the cover in a way that
will take entirely by surprise most people curious enough to open it.
Whatever they expect, it is unlikely to be the expert application of the
principles of classical rhetoric to the language of contemporary Anglican
public worship. Some might be daunted, but there is no reason for
anyone to give up at the first mention of litterae notabiliores or clausulae.
Cally Hammond is as fine a communicator and teacher as she is a scholar,
combining practical and realistic accounts of the experience of being part
of a congregation with elegant analyses of the elements making up the
total act of corporate prayer.
The architecture of the book is clear and simple. Hammond takes
posture, repetition, rhythm and punctuation as routes into the nature
and working of words in worship. Her handling of each aspect shows a
mastery of outstanding theorists and practitioners of performed speech
– in particular, Cicero and Augustine – and a vast breadth of research.
Yet while she does not condescend to the audience, she has taken care
to digest difficult material into fluent, almost conversational, style. For
those keen to have quoted material in original languages, there are many
Latin and Greek footnotes, sufficiently amazing for their lack of printing
errors. For all readers, there are Hammond’s own elegant translations of
the same material.
One of the reasons why words work in worship is that they are uttered
by embodied speakers. The chapters on posture and rhythm show how
being an upright creature on two feet disposes the way in which we
make sounds, regulates the speed at which we move, and directs our
gaze. That is the givenness of being human. But there are also conscious
ways of using the body in worship and Hammond argues persuasively
for the importance of this additional expressive dimension. Her defence
of kneeling is powerful and personal, as is her explication of the value of
signing oneself with the cross at particular moments in an act of worship.
The subject of repetition enables her to tackle a thorny issue in
current practice, namely the objection in some quarters to the regularly
repeated prayers of the Church, on the grounds that such formulae are not
indigenous to a particular worshipping community and therefore incapable
of bearing any sincere value. There are answers to be offered, which draw
on the value of shared words to express incorporation into the life and
tradition of a larger body. Whether they would persuade the objectors is
another matter. Perhaps more engaging for a resistant audience would be
the striking demonstrations of the affective use of repetition. Think of the
sanctus, whose ‘Holy, holy, holy’ gives those who speak it time to imagine
themselves before the mystery of God, or the repeated petitions of the
Kyrie eleison that set human need before divine mercy. I was struck most of
all, though, by Hammond’s positive approach to what she calls ‘mind-slip’
in familiar liturgical forms (p. 80). Instead of dismissing as inattentiveness
the tendency to miss whole sections of the verbal action because we have
gone down independent avenues of thought, she suggests that it might in
fact constitute a deepening of spirituality.
The chapters on rhythm and punctuation are technically the most
demanding, requiring the reader to recollect distant lessons in prosody
or learn the principles for the first time. They are perhaps also the most
rewarding. Here, Hammond shows us why the way our liturgical language is
patterned is essential to its meaning. She provides the tools to make better
listeners and better speakers, practically illustrated from familiar texts,
whose artistry emerges through her careful demonstrations. Nor is the
presentation of printed material neglected, from typefaces and spacing to the positioning of page turns. This is timely instruction when attention to the quality of worship in all its aspects so often seems remarkably casual.
Printed paper, as Hammond acknowledges, is no longer the only
medium for presenting the content of liturgical rites to worshippers.
Screens are rapidly gaining an equal share in the market. While they
encourage people to look up, rather than bury their heads in orders of
service, their disadvantage is their failure to allow a sense of flow and
anticipation. The congregation cannot look ahead to see what comes
next (p. 149). Here is an example of the nearest thing to shortcomings in
this excellent study. The author is open about dependence on a particular
– and distinctively Anglican – mode of worship. This assumes the norm
of an authorised modern language rite, amplified by a repertoire of
hymnody and psalmody in the diction of earlier periods of Anglican
history. On a very few occasions, there is discernible resistance to other
styles of performance, and this may discourage some who suspect that
their way of doing things is not valued. Others may simply give up when
faced with technical detail.
Imagining these possible reactions, however, makes me uncomfortably
aware of the irony of responding to a book about the corporate experience
of worship from the silent and secluded position of the individual reader.
It is eminently suitable for discussion by groups eager to find out more
about their practice of worship and, in the hands of the right facilitator,
capable of addressing children as well as adults. Hammond has given us
a set of impressively authenticated and wonderfully illustrated practical
principles for achieving public liturgical speech of memorable quality. The
established Church and the emerging Church will profit by taking note.
In this rich, scholarly book, Hammond explores the question of how words work in
worship beyond their basic function of conveying information. She does this by
means of four themes – Posture, Repetition, Rhythm and Punctuation – each of
which forms a chapter in the main body of the work. The book also includes an
Appendix – ‘The Rhythms of the Coverdale Psalter’ – and an extensive
In relation to other books on this subject Hammond places this work in the
middle of a spectrum which has the predominantly practical at one extreme and the
overly theoretical at the other. From this middle ground the author presents a
challenge both to liturgical scholars and worship leaders to look again at the
words and structure of liturgy and to rediscover their potential to enhance the
experience of worshippers. Although Hammond presents ideas which have relevance
for all corporate worship, her primary focus is on the liturgies of the Church
Throughout the book, Hammond supports her arguments through extensive
reference to biblical sources, as well as those from Christian tradition and
Classical literature. Generally this is done to good effect, but occasionally arguments
and focus are lost in the density of detail. This emphasis on the importance
of historic development might imply support for the ‘old is best’ or ‘more
authentic’ approach to liturgy and, by implication, preference for traditional
worship over against the modern and innovative. However, Hammond’s aim
is more subtle and more radical than that. Although aspects of the arguments
in this book do have the capacity to speak to contemporary debates around
accessible, relevant worship, they do so obliquely. In encouraging a critical
approach to historical sources, Hammond’s primary aim is to open up the
potential in inherited patterns of formal liturgy – to enable participants to see
the transformative possibilities within them. For example, in her discussion on
the significance of repetition in liturgy, Hammond argues convincingly for its
presence as a means of embedding and ingraining truth and of freeing the mind
and spirit into deeper prayer – into ‘absorbing God’ (p. 68). In this way, repetition
can be seen first of all as creative opportunity rather than as a problem to
be solved in an attempt to ‘counter boredom and over familiarity amongst
worshippers’ (p. 64).
Towards the end of the book, commenting that both words and ritualistic
actions are essential to worship practice, Hammond adds, ‘Christianity needs
both; but it needs to know it needs both’ (p. 157). It might be safely presumed
that academic liturgical scholars are aware of this already. Ministerial students
should certainly be taught it and have access to this important text in libraries.
Primarily a work of scholarship, I do wonder, however, whether this book is
accessible enough to those who regularly lead worship in local congregations. I
hope so. There is much that is valuable here to enhance their knowing appreciation
of words within worship.
This brilliant, scholarly and kindly argued book may well outface some readers at points with its detail. But it is not just a book for scholars of liturgy. It is for anyone who really cares about how well done traditional and modern liturgies can inspire devotion and true sincerity of purpose in worship. It is both a resource and an encouragement to do better.
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