1 September 2022

Theologies of Posture (1)

Some time, I think in the 1980s, I recall being very struck and not a little horrified when on holiday in Cornwall I attended the Eucharist in a nearby evangelical church. Not, perhaps, as recollected as I should have been, I suddenly awoke to the fact that the celebrant had just told us that "Maureen" was going to read to us. And that Maureen was reading the Gospel Passage appointed for the day. And that she, and all the congregation, were sitting comfortably.

A forage into Jungmann affords the information that, for as far back as the data go, it has been the practice throughout the Ecumene for the Gospel to be proclaimed by a Minister, and proclaimed with as much solemnity as circumstances allowed.

Early liturgical texts tend to be erratic in the information they give about bodily posture among the laity. Sarum gave no guidance; and the Anglican Books of Common Prayer provided no information until 1662. 

But in that year, the occasion of a catholicising revision and under the influence of Bishop Cosin of Durham, "the people all standing up" was added to the rubrics.

Surely, this Standing represents an important sacramental of Catholic Worship. We stand because of our immense respect for the One whose Words are being proclaimed. But I incline to think that there is even more to it that that.

I think I would go so far as to speculate on the propriety of using here the word Transsubstantiation.

The Words which fly from the lips of His authorised Minister become, as they fly through the sound-waves to our ear drums, transsubstantiated into the very words of the Incarnate Lord Himslf.

I do not think that, at Holy Mass, we are listening to a historical account. I suspect I am hearing the living summons to obedience from my living Lord.

Or, as I write this, am I allowing myself to get over-excited?


Joshua said...

I seem to recall that, according to Anglican custom (I speak of the BCP in its various incarnations, not of the increasingly disparate and variable replacements thereof) when the Second Lesson at Mattins and Evensong is taken from the Gospel, the congregation sits; and that the reader of such a Lesson need not be at least a deacon.

Could you comment upon this, Father?

william arthurs said...

I have attended such a communion service, in the Church of England, at which 'the second Bible reading' was not the Gospel appointed for the day or indeed from the Gospels at all --- it was simply whatever passage came next in the preacher's grand plan for expounding scripture, for which all must be comfortably seated, and which overrides all lectionaries.

My general rule of thumb is that things were written down only when they became matters of dispute. For example, the creeds, 39 Articles, rubrics. If standing was specified for the first time in 1662, I would conjecture that sitting had recently become standard practice amongst those who regarded it as conclusive that 'the disciples were seated at the Last Supper, therefore we should be seated too.' If so, the seated posture is related to a memorialist theology of the Eucharist.

David J Critchley said...

In the traditional rite, everyone turns to face the Gospel as it is read. This indicates that it is now the Gospel, not the altar, that represents Christ.

Stephen said...

And why not? The Incarnation is not limited to just what is visible and touchable (as in first, second and third class relics), so why wouldn't it extend to all that is sensible (auditory, olfactory, etc) and non-sensible (memory, emotion, etc.)?

David J Critchley said...

pdm, The deacon reads the Gospel because he represents the New Testament. The subdeacon represents the Old Testament, and the celebrant represents Christ as he is now, in glory. It is for this reason that the celebrant presents the Gospel book to the deacon and commissions him to read it.

Unknown said...

If, as I believe to be the case, the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy transports us beyond mere sensible existence to join the Choirs of angels and of the blessed in their eternal song of praise, it seems reasonable to me that the readings proclaimed in the liturgical context in similar manner transport us into the presence of those persons and events of which they speak.

Little Black Sambo said...

"the Gospel, not the altar... represents Christ"
Indeed! Which is why we say "Glory be to THEE".

John Vasc said...

As pews were not introduced until after the Reformation, surely the Sarum Rite - and all medieval Latin rites - would have been attended by a standing congregation (perhaps occasionally genuflecting or kneeling).