It struck me recently that liturgies don't occur without cities. Catharine Pickstock started her book,
After Writing, with discussion of Derrida and Plato. Liturgical behavior predated Christ. The
Hebrews had their temple in Jerusalem, and the pagans had many temples. To be a good Roman
citizen, a person was obligated to participate in liturgical practices- it was assumed that it was
necessary to keep Rome strong.
Today, however, we tend to see a few views on liturgy. One is a sort of globalist view- get everyone
on the same page, saying the same thing. This is often at odds with a progressive view, where folks
simply assume whatever new thing is made up to 'be relevant' is great, but both the globalist and
progressive views introduce change, dislocation, no sense of place, history, etc...
Then there are two views that are sort of intertwined, since they want the same things, but not
always for the same reasons. The elitist view and the traditionalist view. Both, would probably like
a Latin liturgy, but one could perhaps convince the traditionalist that a liturgy in the vernacular of
the people is necessary. The elitist would simply suggest everyone else learn Latin, or Greek, or
whatever else it is he has an intellectual fetish for.
Now of those denominations that have liturgies, we have liturgies from ancient cities, but we are
here in these urban environments with quite a magnitude of difference between us and the ancient
cities. We pretend that there is equality, back then inequality was accepted, yet everyone came
together. Now the intelligent try to find something authentic; and the not so intelligent try to find
something that makes them feel good. And a wide array of people avoid the nonsense altogether.
In many ways we are demonstrably not a city. Not in the way cities of old would describe
themselves. There isn't an ethnicity easily identified as from a particular city- certianly not in
America. People from Shreveport look like a motley crew of people from everywhere else.
The connection to the surrounding countryside was much strong as well. The hinterlands were vital
for local production of food. Indeed, one might consider the natural realm of a monarch to be a city
and its hinterlands. There are points at which a governing body is healthy- then they grow until
they are sick. Parliament tried to rule an empire upon which the sun never set; and a government
set up in direct contravention of them went from thirteen little colonies to fifty states and 300
million people without ever stopping to think whether it could handle the job it gave itself.
A similar structural defect can be found in the churches. People can certainly go to church and yet
be a stranger to the clergy; whereas in ancient cities you were known and usually had the same
confessor for most of your life. Bishops seem like administrators now.
An authentic liturgy would take time to cohere, much like it took time for the rag-tag group of
people those twins gathered around themselves to cohere into a people so that other folks could look
at them and think, “those people are Roman.” These sort of things happen in parallel, for parallel
reasons. A true communion must occur locally.