Liturgical Language

The Liturgical Language Seminar attends to issues of the language of worship by examining liturgical texts, considering scholarly essays, and discussing ideas and issues related to liturgical language. We welcome guest presenters and occasional participants, as well as Academy visitors and regular members. We occasionally meet jointly with another seminar, and sometimes we sing. We also strive to maintain a seminar group of a manageable size to encourage full and active participation by all.

Convener

Rhodora Beaton
rbeaton@ost.edu

Seminar Report 2020

Convener

Rhodora Beaton, Associate Professor of Liturgical and Sacramental Theology at the Aquinas Institute of Theology, St. Louis, MO

Members in Attendance

Jennifer Baker-Trinity, Rhodora Beaton, David Bjorlin, Nancy Bryan, Lolly Dominski, Robert Farlee, David Gambrell, William Kervin, Judith Kubicki, Kimberly Long, Gail Ramshaw, Marit Rong

Visitors in Attendance

Erik Christensen, Chad Fothergill, Ching Yu Huang, John Weit

Description of Work

The Liturgical Language Seminar enjoyed a rich variety of papers and presentations this year. Paper topics clustered around the topic of inclusive and expansive language, and these principles were applied in discussion of the published and in-progress hymns that were presented by two members.

On the first day of our meeting, the seminar began with Judith M. Kubicki’s paper, “Images of Light and Darkness in Contemporary Hymnody,” which followed up on last year’s paper, “Images of Light and Darkness in Ancient Hymnody.” The practice of using the image of light for Christ is evident in both ancient and contemporary hymns. However, in contemporary hymns, darkness is valued for teaching the value of suffering, the necessity of gestation, and the hidden growth that occurs in the womb and in the earth. God is God of both light and darkness. Since Christ is light, the body of Christ is called to minister to all who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). Topics in Kubicki’s paper set the stage for a very fruitful discussion of inclusive and expansive language that continued throughout our time together.

At the end of the first day, Jennifer Baker-Trinity, in her role as Program Director for Resource Development at the ELCA and 1517 Media (Augsburg Fortress), led a discussion about the revision of some of the ELCA’s Frequently Asked Questions, provided on the website www.elca.org/worship. These FAQS are consulted by rostered leaders and lay people in the church. In the seminar this year, the group looked at possible updates and additions to the FAQ on language in worship. The seminar gave helpful feedback on how these particular FAQS could be revised or restructured for the church’s use. Baker-Trinity offered an additional contribution to the seminar on the second day when she led a discussion of Hear My Voice: A Prison Handbook which is a liturgical outcome of the 2013 ELCA statement on “The Church and Criminal Justice.” The seminar also gave attention to the use of specific words in liturgical prayer and theological reflection. In her essay “Liturgical Considerations of the Word “Heaven,’” Gail Ramshaw began this conversation by delineating three different definitions of the word ‘heaven’: the sky, the abode of God, and the location of the afterlife. She then identified places in the liturgy that adhere to at least the first two definitions, noting that the third definition is the most commonly assumed meaning of this ambiguous noun. Marit Rong’s paper “How is God Portrayed in Encounters with Death? Narratives about Heaven in Children’s Literature” examined a similar topic from the perspective of two Norwegian children’s books. The first of these, written by Eyvind Skeie, paints a picture in which everything is good and heaven is referred to as ‘the land of summer.’ The second, written by Alf Kjetil Walgermo juxtaposes the child’s experiences of earthly grief and despair with well-intentioned and positive metaphorical language about heaven. Rhodora Beaton’s paper “Worship and Ecclesiology: Liturgical Language of Church” drew from ecumenical documents, as well as ancient and modern prayer texts to examine ways that the liturgy presents images of “church” while simultaneously shaping Christians into ecclesial communion.

Finally the seminar examined new hymn texts from William Kervin and David Bjorlin. Kervin presented a collection of five published and six unpublished pieces. Included, for example, was: a Kyrie and three communion settings using inclusive/expansive language and folk melodies; a cappella gathering songs and prayer responses that encourage embodied participation through rhythmic percussion, processional movement, or contemplative prayer; a celtic air on the Lord’s Prayer; a Buddhist-inspired mindfulness chant. The pieces were offered as studies in the convergence of texts, tunes and liturgical function. David Bjorlin presented several hymns including “Advent Begins in the Darkness of Night” and “Stay With Me, The Night Has Come,” which provided opportunity for continued discussion about liturgical language of darkness. Also included were the following from his forthcoming collection Protest of Praise (GIA): “Ask the Complicated Questions,” “God We Fear Your Fire,” “The God of Sarah Praise, “Two Trees Rose from the Garden Ground,” “When God First Promised Abram” and “When  Pharaoh Came for the Children.”

Other Work and Plans for the Future

The seminar anticipates additional work on the language of heaven in hymnody, creation and new creation as they relate to biblical imagination, and the role of rhyme and word choice in hymnody.

Seminar Report 2019

Convener

Rhodora Beaton, Associate Professor of Liturgical and Sacramental Theology, Aquinas Institute of Theology

Members in Attendance

Jennifer Baker-Trinity, Rhodora Beaton, David Bjorlin, Nancy Bryan, Bob Farlee, David Gambrell, Judith Kubicki, Kimberly Bracken Long, Gail Ramshaw,

Visitor in Attendance

Erik Christensen

Description of Work

The Liturgical Language Seminar attends to issues of the language of worship by examining liturgical texts, considering scholarly essays, and discussing ideas and issues related to liturgical language. We welcome guest presenters and occasional participants, as well as Academy visitors and regular members. We occasionally meet jointly with another seminar, and sometimes we sing. We also strive to maintain a seminar group of a manageable size to encourage full and active participation by all.

Papers and Presentations

  • Judith Kubicki, Fordham University, presented a paper entitled “Images of Light and Darkness in Early Christian Hymnody.” Beforehand, she posted several hymn texts for the Liturgy and Language Seminar on Google Docs. The presentation included a consideration of the social and historical context of hymns sung during the Liturgy of the Hours, especially Vespers (Evening Prayer or Evensong). These included “Phos Hilaron” anonymous (2nd or 3rd c), “Hymn at Dawn” by Ambrose (4th c), “Conditor alme siderum” anonymous (7th c). A strong tradition of using images of light, particularly the sun, for Christ developed. A concern for the value of darkness in Christian life emerged during discussion. Kubicki offered to research the use of light and darkness in contemporary hymnody for next year.
  • Gail Ramshaw presented an essay that will be included in a volume honoring Gabe Huck, in which she enumerated the dozens of images for God, both traditional and innovative, found in three recent hymnals, two meant for Roman Catholics and one for Seminar members discussed how, given a common preference for anthropomorphic and relational categories for God, our assemblies can sing of the wonder of the otherness of the divine. The title of the essay is “Worshipping with Figures of Speech.”
  • David Bjorlin presented his paper entitled “Pentecostal Hymnody.” By exploring the most popular hymns of early Pentecostal hymnody, this paper argued that the sung theology of movements must be ascertained by moving beyond the texts to the liturgical, musical, and ecclesial milieu from which they came.
  • Kimberly Bracken Long led the seminar through a discussion of the revised marriage rite from the 2018 Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Her presentation included an explanation of the new liturgy for Prayer at the End of a Marriage.
  • Rhodora Beaton, Aquinas Institute of Theology, presented her paper “Song and Sacrament, Mind and Matter: A Tangled Web of Language and Embodiment.” Her paper engaged theological anthropology as well as recent developments in ecological theology and neuroscience to consider the importance of ritual and imitation in the relationship between God and humanity.
  • David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology and Worship, presented prayers of thanksgiving and intercession from the daily prayer resources of the Book of Common Worship (WJKP, 2018). These brief prayers seek to encompass an expansive range of topics: the global and ecumenical church, the mission and ministry of Christ’s body, the celebration and healing of creation, peace and justice in the world, the gift and calling of daily work, and the blessings and challenges of human life.
  • David Bjorlin presented several of his recent hymns for discussion.
  • Gail Ramshaw also provided copies of two different texts for the eucharist that mimic the rhetorical style of the Seuss children’s books. The seminar consensus was that, granting poor rhythm, inadequate rhymes, diminished biblical meaning, and a narrow understanding of children, these deplorable texts are not to be recommended!!