Louis Weil: Rites Must Connect

During the “Stirring the Waters” conference held June 27-29 the Rev. Louis Weil made a spirited defense of the baptismal emphasis in the Book of Common Prayer (1979). The conference, sponsored by the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission and the North American Association for the Catechumenate, met at Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center in Waukegan, Illinois.

Weil said the most important change in the 1979 prayer book was its renewed emphasis on baptism, as a rite that enables Christians to recognize each other across theological and doctrinal divisions. “Theologically I find the prayer and the responses very convincing,” he said of the baptismal rite.

Weil, professor emeritus of liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a member of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, has reflected for many years on the role of the presider at the Eucharist. In Liturgical Sense: The Logic of Rite (Seabury) Weil describes assisting a bishop at an ordination many years ago. During the Eucharistic Prayer the bishop made “an extremely elaborate pattern of gestures … until finally the consecrated Elements were lifted up and the people responded ‘Amen.’” After the service, when Weil asked about the meaning behind the gestures, the bishop responded that he had celebrated that way for 25 years.

“In order to fulfill its purpose the liturgical rite must make a connection with the congregation,” Weil said, adding that new liturgies must also be grounded in historical precedent.

“Generally speaking, clergy may be expected to know what is intended in the rite, but what is it that the people see?” he writes. “[W]hat the people see is sometimes quite different from what is intended.”

During the liturgy the congregation is not merely observing a priest but fully participating, preparing for a life of worship and evangelism, he said.

“The problem is that a great many people do not understand the connection between baptism and the teaching of the faith,” he said. “Let’s not spend inordinate amounts of energy finding a whole new prayer book. There is not perfect prayer.

“We need to be engaging people who are essentially already outside of the body. They are out of touch with knowledge about the Church, its prayers, traditions, and history. Sometimes missionary activities can take on nonreligious forms. There are also a lot of variations in the liturgy which can be welcoming to the seeker.”

Steve Waring

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