Sunday, 30 June 2013

Active Participation

The viral vicar video (you know the one, some woman vicar dancing at a wedding in what was inaccurately described as a flashmob - ok here if you really must) coincided quite closely with Felicity's wedding, and set me thinking, once again, about the whole 'active participation' issue.

Clearly, by the most superficial analysis, those bopping in the aisle at Gary and Tracy's wedding were participating more actively than those listening to the sacred music performed by the choir, the schola, or the soloist at Felicity and Tom's a week later.

But I think that is a superficial analysis, and I think it is superficial because it doesn't address the two underlying questions: what are we participating in, and how are we participating.  The two are, of course, related.

I will address 'what' first; (and I will leave aside the issue of the fact that Gary and Tracy's wedding was a CofE service, as it is only an example, and one could find similar in many Catholic settings).  A wedding ceremony in a Church is a liturgical action.  That is to say, it is part of the public worship of God the Father, in union with the Son, inspired and animated by the Holy Spirit.

I suspect that those who favour the type of active participation exemplified by Kate Bottley in the video have lost sight of that fundamental fact. Of course, they are right to think that they are there to celebrate the marriage of two people; but the liturgical celebration should be ... well, liturgical.  Afterwards, there is normally plenty of scope for other celebrations: indeed, we had a Ceilidh as part of the celebration of Felicity and Tom's marriage - but we did not do that in the Church.

So the 'how' really should be informed by that 'what.'  Participation that tends away from the worship of the Father and towards a secular celebration is not active participation in the liturgy. It may be active and it may be participation, but it is participation in a distraction from the liturgy, not the liturgy.

But there is more to say about 'how.'

As I say, we had a Ceilidh to celebrate Tom and Felicity's marriage, and I even danced (to the delighted amusement of the Trovati and indeed many others...).  But I have also recently been to an excellent concert of sacred and secular music, performed by an outstanding choir.  I sat in silence (as did many others) and listened. But I would argue - and argue strongly- that I participated more in the second occasion than in the first: I was more fully present, more fully open to the experience, and (and this may be the important bit) more profoundly affected by it.

The theatrical analogy is also relevant: if one goes to a pantomime, there is lots of active participation: 'He's behind you!' and all of that.  Yet, if one goes to see Oedipus Rex, one sits in silence.  Yet the catharsis provoked by the second suggests a more profound type of active participation than the enjoyment of the first.

And it was notable how many people, unused to traditional Catholic liturgy, said after Tom and Felicity's nuptial Mass that, while they may have struggled to follow or understand it, they had found it profoundly moving.


Ttony said...

Imagine all the poor revs and revesses who will now have to equal or better Rev Bottley's effort" Imagine her, as Anno Domini begins to take its toll, having to keep up with all of the latest trends as the "Wedding Dancing Vicar".

When you have a person of God (as it were) so completely desacralizing a wedding, it's not surprising the Government decides "Oh! We might as well allow gay marriage too."

The CofE will bring lots of other things down with it as it implodes.

Anonymous said...

Surely "He's behind you" is what you say to a priest who prays with his back to God?

Ben Trovato said...


You are right: one shudders to imagine the depths to which the well intentioned (but badly educated) will stoop in the pursuit of relevance: there is a law of diminishing returns here: soon dancing in the aisle will be so passe, and something more original and expressive will have to be found to make the service relevant and truly participatory...


That made me laugh...