Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Liturgy as a Way of Living Differently

David Russell Mosley

My prayer station at home.

My prayer station at home.

29 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago now at our church, St Nicholas (an Anglican church in the Church of England), our rector, Steve gave a sermon on Acts 2.42-3.10. The gist of the sermon (you can listen to the whole series here) is about our public impact as we attempt to live life together. At the end of the sermon, Steve enjoined us to start a conversation about how we could live differently. You see, Steve pointed out something I think often all too true. If you asked a Christian what Christians believe, they could give you some kind of answer. If, however, you asked them what do Christians do? They might have a much harder time answering that question.

There are, of course, many answers to this question of what Christians do and how we can live differently within our communities. The most obvious answers are perhaps social justice and evangelism. Feeding and caring for the poor, the oppressed, the widowed is an essential aspect of Christianity. In fact, in the passage Steve preached from, Peter and John, in healing the lame man, were doing an act of social justice that was also an act of evangelism. These two things are essential in any attempt to live in our world, but differently from it. However, there is another that I think often underplayed as an aspect of living differently.

I’ve written more about liturgy on this blog than almost any other topic, which is perhaps ironic since I do not come from a particularly liturgy affirming tradition. That being said, I want to suggest that liturgy is the other main way we can actively live differently within our societies.  Consider how different it would look if on high feast days and high solemnities, like Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, etc., we all went to church for a service and then had a feast (on the feast days). And not just go to church, what if we actually had day long events and did our best to get out of work for the day? What if we invited people over for Twelfth-Night? What if on Ash Wednesday we all showed up to work with an ashen cross on our foreheads?

What if we actually treated Sundays as the first day of the week and not simply the precursor to the Monday work week? What if the start of Advent was more important to us (as the start of the Church Calendar) than New Year’s Eve? What if all our churches offered at least Morning and Evening Prayer services so people could come and experience fixed hour prayer? What if we thought of time differently? What if our day was broken up into set times of prayer (whether following a set liturgy or praying on our own)?

I firmly believe that if we treated the Church Calendar, the week, and the day as the Church has understood them in centuries past as what is really real, as opposed to the way modern society has chosen to organise our time, we would stand out. Liturgy is more than a method, but I would suggest it is as important as social justice and evangelism for living differently in the world. You can look over some of my past posts to see why I think this is, but ultimately, it is because I think God upholds every minute of every day and liturgy helps to live within such a rhythmic way as makes this reality known.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Essay Extract: The Liturgy of the Year

David Russell Mosley

English: Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 c...

English: Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 cm (detail) Polski: Popielec, akwarela, karton, 78 x 113 cm (frag.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Week of Advent
3 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is an excerpt of an essay I am working on provisionally entitle ‘The Reclamation of Time’. I thought it would provide a good accompaniment to my letter from yesterday. Please, let me know what you think in the comments below.

The Liturgy of the Year

I want to begin, then, with the liturgy of the year. This is the macro-level at which Christians can look at time. As each year roles through, beginning with Ad- vent in late November or early December and ending in Ordinary Time in late No- vember, a kind of non-identical repetition emerges. The movable dates, like Advent, Ordinary Time, Ash Wednesday, Easter, etc., are now on different dates and some- times different days of the week. Nevertheless, despite the change, they remain in many ways the same, Ash Wednesday is still Ash Wednesday, Lent is still a time of fasting. However, we are different, the year is different, and the readings are differ- ent. Our experience of any particular date will change from year to to year and yet the structure remains the same. This is the big picture, which tells the story of Christ’s coming to Earth, his life during that time, his death, his resurrection, his as- cension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit. In between the major feasts (besides the lesser festivals and Saints’ Days) are the seasons that accompany them. Seasons of feasting and fasting. It is at this level that Christian explores the notion that all of his- tory is pointed toward the coming and return of Christ, that time, on a grand scale, is here to tell that story. The roots of the Christian year, can be found in the Scriptures, to which I shall now briefly turn.

David Russell Mosley

That there is a religious calendar for the ancient Hebrews is indisputable. When it came into its final form is beyond my purview. The point is that for the He- brew people, the theological and cultic ancestors of Christianity, the year was to be viewed through the lens of the various celebrations and commemorations of God’s actions in the history of Israel. The question then becomes, is this something, on the macro level, that was taken on by early Christianity. This seems equally clear from Luke’s use of Pentecost in Acts as well as Paul’s mention of it in 1 Corinthians 16.8. Still, however, there is little mention of any other major celebrations or commemora- tions in the works of the New Testament. It is, perhaps, a bit inconclusive to what extent the earliest Christians were beginning to think of the year in terms of God’s interactions with humanity throughout history, and especially in the sending of His Son. Nevertheless, with celebrations of the Old Testament in their blood, it at least provides a foundation on which to build a more intentional understanding of the year rather than a simple progression of months and seasons.

As the year developed over the centuries, it worked itself, like the Hebrew calendar before it, around the comings of God into human history. Louis Bouyer writes, ‘God’s intervention in the history of mankind since the Fall, God’s word mak- ing itself more and more perfectly heard and understood by men, all this Divine ac- tion seems from the beginning to be founded on one clearly defined objective:––the formation, out of common and fallen humanity, of a people which should eventually be God’s Own People.’1 These interventions, as he calls them,2 are for one purpose, to create a community known as the People of God. Thus in the yearly celebrations of God’s interactions with humanity, the people who celebrate form that very com- munity. They participate in the divine actions by commemorating them and even re- enacting them by their very celebrations. Bouyer writes concerning the homilies of

men like Gregory of Nazianzus and Leo the Great, ‘On every page, these [homilies] remind us of the fact that in the liturgical year we are not only making a commemo- ration of the past but also actually living again the realities on which we are meditat- ing with the Church.’3 The Church, which is forming itself and being formed into the People of God by participation in the celebrations and solemnities of the Church Year, is also participating in the realities being celebrated. In Advent we await the first and now also the second coming of Christ; in Christmas and Epiphany we live again the reality of his incarnation; in Lent we relive the reality of his death; in Easter his Resurrection and defeat of sin and death; in Pentecost, his sending of the Spirit. Even in Ordinary time we relive with the Church the reality of the times be- tween God’s obvious interactions with history. All of this points us ultimately to the return of Christ. Schmemann, commenting on Pentecost, writes, ‘No matter what the original liturgical expression of Pentecost may have been, its preservation in the Church––as the fifty day period following Easter––points again to the Christian ‘adoption’ of a definite understanding of the year, of time, of the natural cycles, as having a relation to the eschatological reality of the Kingdom.’4 In fact, as Bouyer argues, the Church Year is both an expression of the Word and Mystery entrusted to the Church, but it is also a kind of creation of that Mystery. That is, by participating in the liturgy, the Church calls forth Christ in the mystery. As he writes:

For the liturgical year, seen as a whole, is the great proclamation by the Church of the Word with which she is entrusted. In the celebration of the li- turgical year, therefore, the Mystery is proclaimed, communicated and par- ticipated in. Since the liturgy is, according to the fine phrase of Pius XI, “the principal organ of the ordinary magisterium of the Church,” and as liturgy is all set out within the framework of the liturgical year, the framework contains not only an expression of the Mystery, working by faith through charity and tending toward its final revelation. For the Word of the Mystery cannot be so solemnly proclaimed by the Church without thereby creating what it proclaims.5

The importance of the year cannot be underemphasises. It is preeminent to all the other liturgies of time which follow it. Therefore, I shall now move from the liturgy of the year to the liturgy of the week. It is, perhaps, interesting to note that there is no real liturgy of the month. This could possibly be the case because Christians, in part due to the Julian calendar and a rejection of things that appeared too Jewish, no longer followed a lunar calendar. It is also likely, however, that as the seasons of the Church Year developed, this implicitly became their liturgy of the month, or more appropriately, their liturgy of the season. Thus rather than having twelve months the Christian Year has six seasons (five if Epiphany is only a feast day and not a season).

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 23.
2 I would prefer a different word here from intervention, perhaps interjection, though even that provides too deist an account of the God who upholds the cosmos at all times.
3 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 186-7.
4 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 69.
5 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 189.

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Baking Bread and the Body of Christ

David Russell Mosley

 

30 October 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I want to talk to you about something very theological; something so very theological that it often goes right over our heads. Today, I want to talk to you about baking bread.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the River Cottage Fruit-share project. In that post I focused on the necessity of having a better connection with where our food comes from because this is a better connection with Creation, of which we are a part. Baking bread, in some ways, takes this a step further. While currently I do not bake bread from wheat I’ve grown and ground myself (nor always from organic or locally sourced wheat, though I hope to someday), baking bread is perhaps an essential part of the Christian life.

Bread makes up half of one of the most important events in Christianity. It represents the oneness (as well as diversity) of the Church, which is also to say it represents and becomes for us the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Now, whatever theology of the Eucharist to which you ascribe––I’m personally somewhere between consubstantiation and transubstantiation (that is, I believe Christ is really present, but don’t want to get enmeshed in talking about how)––the Bread still stands for the body of Christ. This means, to some extent, every loaf of bread participates in the Eucharistic bread. Every loaf of bread we eat should remind us of the Loaf in the Lord’s Supper (just as every glass of wine we drink participates in the Cup of the Blood of Christ). To this end, then, baking bread can remind us of the Eucharist which is our thanksgiving for the body and blood of Christ.

Baking bread is a relatively cheap and easy enterprise. The recipe I’m going to give you is from James Morton’s book Brilliant Bread. 17612890 This is a great recipe for beginners, such as myself, and results is delicious and healthy bread. This is just a plain white loaf, so it could be a bit healthier, but believe me, it is infinitely better for you than most store-bought sliced loaves.

Bake Time: 3-3 ½ hours; Time in Kitchen 10-15 minutes.

Ingredients:
500g Strong White Flour (Bread flour)
10g of Salt
7g or 1 sachet of yeast
350g (a little over 11 ounces) of tepid water

In a large bowl add your dry ingredients. Morton recommends rubbing in your salt on one side and your yeast on the other as yeast deactivates salt.

Then add your water and mix until a cohesive dough is formed. I recommend holding on to the bowl with one hand and mixing with the other. It goes quickly and leaves you a clean hand.

Cover with a damp tea towel and rest for 30-40 minutes.

After its rested, wet the fingers of one hand and slide them between the bowl and the dough. Take a portion of the dough and fold it back in on itself. Turn slightly and continue this until you’ve knocked all the air out.

Cover with a damp tea towel and rest for a full hour or until doubled in size.

On a lightly floured surface turn out your dough to begin shaping. Begin by pressing your hand firmly on half the dough while stretching the other half out with the other hand and then folding it back in on it self. Turn slightly and continue until the dough feels tighter. Then turn the dough over and begin shaping into a ball. Do this by cupping each hand and bringing them together under your loaf turning slightly. This helps remove the seam on the bottom. Do this until the seam is gone and the dough is in a nice ball.

Put the dough on a well floured surface to rest for an hour. Also, using a serrated knife or razor blade make a few deep slashes in the bread to allow to expand while baking. During this time prep your oven. Put a baking sheet or rock in the oven and make sure your bread will have plenty of room to rise.

At about forty minutes into your dough’s final rest, pre-heat your oven and baking sheet to 210˚C.

After the oven has had about 20 minutes to pre-heat, put in your dough to bake for about forty minutes or until a nice golden brown.

Once its done, take your loaf out of the oven and let cool before digging in.

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A whole-meal bread I made last week.

And now you have a perfectly good loaf of bread. I find a loaf lasts my wife and I around 4-7 days. The flour costs around 80 pence and, if you just make plain white bread with it, should get you three loaves (considerably cheaper than store-bought). All you need is a few cheap ingredients, and about 3 hours at home (not all of which must be spent in the kitchen) in order to make your own loaf. Give it a try, and reflect on the one Loaf that is, for us, the body of Christ.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

 

A Life of Rhythm: The Church Calendar and the Divine Hours

David Russell Mosley

5 October 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Students,

Welcome, first and foremost, to my blog. I asked Pete a few days ago if it was alright to do a quick response to what we heard from Steve on Tuesday. He said yes, so now I’m burdening you with my thoughts. Please, take them for what they are, my personal, albeit reasoned and studied, thoughts.

As Steve so rightly taught, it is essential to have rhythm in life. Just like the vine in John 15, we cannot, yet, always be in fruit. Still, we may be left wondering how we develop a rhythm, what a good rhythm could look like that includes both times of action and times of rest and yet always fits under the umbrella of abiding with Christ. There is one way, a rather excellent one, I think of having intentional rhythm in your life that has come down to us from Christians in centuries past; it is called liturgy. Specifically, I am talking about the liturgy of the year, also known as the Church Calendar, and the liturgy of the day, otherwise known as the Divine Office or Divine Hours. Being more intentional about including these two aspects of the Christian Tradition can help you live your Christian faith more intentionally and with a sense of rhythm.

If you want, you can look back through some of my older posts on the various aspects of the Church Calendar. Right now, I just want to encourage you to start thinking of your year in these terms. The Christian year begins with Advent (usually late November or early December). This year Advent begins on the first of December. And goes until Christmas Eve Advent is a time of waiting. We remember the waiting the world did for the first coming of Christ, and yet we also recognise that we are waiting for the return of Christ. Advent is often a time of fasting From Advent we move to Christmas, which begins on Christmas Eve and continues until the the eve of Epiphany on January fifth. Christmas, of course, is the time where we celebrate the coming of God into the world in human flesh. From Christmas we move to Epiphany (6 January to the 1 February). Epiphany celebrates the life of Christ, especially his baptism. After Epiphany is the feast of Candlemas celebrating the presentation of Christ at the temple by his parents. Starting on February third, then, we enter Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time reminds us that God is also present in the everyday (where we spend most of our lives) as well as the special events. Ordinary time continues until Ash Wednesday (5 March 2014). Ash Wednesday kicks off the second main time of fasting called Lent. During Lent we remember that Christ died for our sins, we confess our sins and remind ourselves why we needed a saviour (on a side note, people often fast or give something up during Lent. It is important to remember that for Christians Sundays are always Feast Days, because we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This means we cease fasting for every Sunday in Lent). Lent goes until Holy Week, which is the Week before Easter. During this time we remember the events that led up to and include the Crucifixion of Christ). Easter begins Saturday evening and goes until Pentecost fifty days later. Pentecost is a one off celebration to remind us that Christ has given us the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost is another set of Ordinary Time until the year begins again with Advent.

The Christian Year, in my opinion, offers perhaps the best way to live the year out rhythmically. It allows us to both feast and fast with purpose. One way to make sure you pay attention to the Church Year is to take part in the Divine Hours.

My prayer station at home.

My prayer station at home.

The Divine Hours, or Divine Office, is a series of daily times of prayer. Most monks and nuns use some form of these prayers every day. Here in the Church of England with Common Worship  we have provided for us Morning Prayer, Prayer During the Day, and Evening Prayer. Common Worship has set readings and prayers for each of the seasons so we can be more aware of what season we are in. You can find all this for free on the Church of England’s website here: Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in Ordinary Time, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in Seasonal Time, Prayer During the Day Ordinary Time, Prayer During the Day Seasonal Time. I myself say Morning Prayer at 6, Prayer During the Day at or around Noon, and Evening Prayer at about 5. Having set times of prayer helps us organise our days around God and worshipping him (which is what liturgy means, worship), rather than organising our days around work or television or the things of the world. These prayers are set up to be used corporately, but can be done on your own as well. Morning and Evening prayer can also be accompanied by Scripture readings from the Lectionary which you can find here (note: we’re in year C until Advent when we switch to year A). Morning and Evening prayer take about 15-20 minutes and Prayer During the Day takes about 10-12 minutes.

Well, this has gotten too long as it is and so I will bring it to a close. Nevertheless, allow me to encourage you once more to consider using the Church Calendar and the Divine Hours to help you find more rhythm in life. They have been immensely helpful to me. This is, of course, not suitable for everyone and there are many ways to introduce more rhythm into your life, but this is the way I have found most useful and it is also a very traditional way to do so.

See you all on Tuesday.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

My Time with the Monks

David Russell Mosley

26 September 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Lauren’s parents left us bright and early this morning at 4:45 after a tearful good-bye. It’s been a good visit with lots of time to relax. This trip did, however, mean for me no time to do a proper post on how I spent my weekend before my in-laws arrived.

From the 13 to the 15 of September I stayed at Mucknell Abbey down near Worcester, Worcestershire. There I lived and prayed with the monks and nuns. Mucknell Abbey is an Anglican Benedictine Monastery with about 12 Brothers and Sisters. I went there both to refresh my soul and to discern the Lord’s will for some things coming in our future. What I got, in many ways was so much more.

One of the first things I realised when I had spent just a few hours at the Abbey is that I’ve become too dependent on technology to fill the silences in my life. I tend to describe myself as a self-abnegating  neo-Luddite. IMG_0704Well I certainly despised myself for how often I would turn to my phone (having left my computer behind) during the silences in my room at the abbey.

I had brought a few books with me, two of them unnecessary as it turns out, as well as a couple of journals to record any thoughts or ideas I had while there. Nevertheless, having no one else there with me to talk to about these experiences made it difficult for me. I am most definitely a people person, but I need to learn to better appreciate disconnected solitude. In the end, I think I would have been better off bringing my computer so I could do some writing for my thesis or for fun. Equally, an option I did not take advantage of or perhaps should have, was to do some work with the monks and nuns of the abbey. I would have loved to work in the garden, but thought I should try for almost total seclusion. In the end, this was a bad idea for me.

The morning of the second day was perhaps the worst and the best. As I said, I went to discern the Lord’s will on some choices I had before me. In the silences of the abbey, my soul was laid bare. All the fears and doubts, all my trepidations were laid out before me. I could hear the voices telling me I wasn’t good enough, I was too sinful, this was too hard. I spent much of my time wandering about the grounds of the abbey, taking in the beauty, and arguing with myself, the tempters, and God.IMG_0713

 

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In the end, the main thing that saved me were the divine hours. These monks keep seven hours, or at least seven in which I was allowed to participate: Readings at 6; Lauds at 7; Terce at 8:45; Eucharist at 12; None at 2:15; Vespers at 5:30; and Compline at 8:30. IMG_0707I only had one full day of the hours, but it was so very moving. In the divine hours time and eternity meet in Liturgy. You begin to understand what time is in the hours. You learn that time is, like you, a creature of the Creator, longing for its own transfiguration, longing to more resemble Eternity in which it participates. In the hours you learn that time was made for us, not us for time. Time is our brother, not our master nor out slave. We work together with time to proclaim the Lord’s Incarnation, the Lord’s death, the Lord’s resurrection, and the Lord’s promised return. Both before and since my time at the abbey, I have tried to keep three of the hours, for me, Mattens, Sext, and Vespers. I’m not always successful, but I will continue to work at it.

My time at the abbey was difficult. It was perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a long time, but it showed me God. God’s glory, God’s will were in those brief moments I allowed myself of silence and in the longer moments when I read were made clear to me. In the weeks to come I will be able to divulge more about why I went to the abbey, but for now all I can is highly recommend going to a monastery if you have things you need to sort out with God, and to make sure that you work as well as pray while you’re there. Below are some more pictures from my time at the abbey.

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Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

A Day in the Life of a PhD in Theology Part 2: The Differences between and American and British PhD

Dear Friends and Family,

It dawned on me the other day that my post describing my typical day left out a few important details. You see, a British PhD and an American PhD can be quite different. I have no hopes of explaining all the differences between the two (I can’t really since I’ve never done an American PhD), but I thought I would try and highlight some of the main differences. I’ll also throw-in some other aspects of being a PhD student here at the University of Nottingham that didn’t get mentioned last time.

Classes

In an American PhD you often have several years of classes you have take before you begin working on your thesis, or as they often call it, your dissertation. Typically, these are more broad classes relevant to your field, but not necessarily to the specific thing on which you wish to write. A PhD in theology would probably have to take classes on historical theology, systematic theology, philosophy and more depending on where they are studying.

In the UK, however, it is quite different. A PhD student in the UK shows up with a proposal for what they want to write their thesis on, and then start writing. We, at least here at the University of Nottingham, have no required classes we have to attend. Instead, we’re encouraged to sit in on classes at the Master’s and undergraduate levels that we might find useful. We get no credit for these courses, but we can sit in on them for free. In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve sat in on: Elementary Latin I and II; a course on Theological Anthropology; a course called Plato-Hegel studying theology and philosophy; and this term I’ve been attending a course on Christology, a course on Religion and Fantasy, and a course on Theology, Philosophy, and Post-Postmodernism. The way I decide what classes to sit in on is by asking myself if the class will either be directly relevant to my thesis or if it will help me plan courses I hope to teach in the future.

John Milbank in Theology, Philosophy, and Post-Postmodernism

John Milbank in Theology, Philosophy, and Post-Postmodernism

Teaching

In many American PhD programs, PhD students are given the opportunity to teach, sometimes whole courses. This depends entirely on how much funding the University and the department have for such things. Sometimes, also, students will be Teaching Assistants to specific professors for whatever courses they teach.

Here at Nottingham it is a little different. It is rare, though not altogether unheard of, that a PhD student would be the lecturer for a specific class. However, when there is need and funding, we can become assistants for specific classes. This usually entails leading seminar discussions and marking essays and exams. Last semester, I was a teaching assistant for the course History of Christian Thought to 1600. I led discussions on texts the students read dating from the second century the sixteenth. I also had to do a fair bit of marking (grading) of essays. I probably could have done a whole post of funny things undergraduates write, but would have hated it if someone had done that to me. Next term I’m doing a similar job for a class called Great Religious Texts which reads texts from the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Islamic religions.

Sometimes there is an opportunity to lecture as well. I’ve only had that opportunity once, but hope to have more. The one time I did lecture, I prepared too much material and had to skip over some interesting bits to make sure we covered everything.

Seminars

The last thing I want to mention is to make clear what I meant in my previous post on this subject when I said, ‘By the late afternoon, if I don’t have a seminar to attend or a class I’m sitting in on, I pack up my things and head home.’ You see, our department occasionally puts on seminars where either visiting professors from other universities, or our own, give hour long talks on something their researching. These can range from formal paper presentations to more informal presentations on the general ideas being worked on. We don’t have these every week or even every month, though that is supposed to change once the Easter Holiday is over. I don’t always attend these because we usually have home group on Wednesday evenings (the usual afternoons on which we have these seminars) and it can make for a cramped day where supper is hard to come by if I attend the seminar and then walk home and then have to walk to home group (all total would be about 3 miles). Nevertheless, I make the effort to go as often as I can. Past presenters have included: Lewis Ayres, Helen Hunt, John Milbank, and many others.

Well, that’s about everything I can think of that can provide augments during my usual routine. Well, there is one other thing, but perhaps I’ll save that for another post.

Yours,
David