Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bottom of the form

In trying to demonstrate the (shall we be polite) unsuitability of Christian "worship" songs for Mass it seems I've hit upon something that is affecting the whole Church.

It seems that it's a modern disease of separating form and content or form and function and it's eating at the very fabric of the Church.

Let's consider the following problem. Supposing that a headmaster were to come into school wearing a floral dress, stockings, a fox-fir and a straw hat, there would be no way on earth that he could exert any authority over his staff or students. His form has an effect on his function.

For the Church, form and function or form and content are more important as we deal with sacramental realities which have their existence beyond the scrutiny of a directly observable universe. If we go to the rather glib definition of sacrament as "outward sign of invisible grace" then we are faced with what something looks like being coupled with what it is or does.

I've spoken about Transubstantiation quite a bit: to wit bread and wine before consecration become Body and Blood afterwards - their reality changes. Of course, one may reject the Aristotelian physics here of a substance being changed but not the accidents. However, there has certainly been some change and that change is substantial in that what exists after transformation is substantially (i.e. with a changed reality) different from what existed before.

Yet the form and function of the sacrament are very precise. A packet of Doritos and a bottle of Tizer clearly cannot produce the same sacrament - it's too divorced from the pattern the Lord set us, that has been established in Church Praxis and indeed sends out a very different message from the notion of spiritual sustenance and communion that wafer and wine have always provided.

I notice with some dismay that there is an attempt to remove weightier Christian themes from the service of Baptism in the CofE. Again, we have this divorce of form and function, by making the service less Christian, who can we Christen a baby? If the family are not going to play a part in the Practice of the Christian Religion, how can they be said to bringing up a child in the Christian Faith?

Form and function and form and content are inextricably bound. By changing how the religion is practice changes the religion. The exchange of the sign of Peace used to be a holy action in itself which had the practical benefit of demonstrating to someone who may not understand the high-falutin theology that he is meant to be an instrument of the Peace of God. Originally the action was practiced only at the Altar by the Sacred ministers, but today it has become a way to start a conversation in the middle of the Mass. The change of practice means loss of focus on God.

The same is true for "worship songs". I will admit that these do have a place in the correct assembly. A gathering expressly to sing songs of a Christian nature may well encourage people to find some emotional and spiritual expression, however the form of these songs is not often appropriate for the solemnity of Mass where a clear focus of one's attention is needed in order to meet God where the veil is thin.

The Ordination of Women (yes again! I am a one note tuba, aren't I?) is the same problem.

The fact of the matter is this: change the form of the sacrament and you change the sacrament. Change the practice of the community and you change the community.

Yet this is precisely what Fresh Expressions and Mission-Shaped XYZ are doing. Have any of the dioceses which have leapt aboard these bandwagons thought about this?

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