Saturday, 9 March 2013

"Follow along" - How projector screens and liturgical texts may actually be more a hindrance than a help in the liturgy - (Fr. Aidan Kavanagh)

Ask Samuel L. Jackson, the only thing scarier than 'snakes on a plane,' are projector screens in an Orthodox church! When you think of projector screens being hung above (or even in front of) an iconostasis projecting the liturgical text, your first inclination might be to assume that such use of modernity must obviously be a good thing. Rationally, it would only make sense that this technology would help parishioners "follow along" during a divine liturgy, allowing everyone to be fully engaged in the worship. Makes sense, right? Well, not quite. This well intended addition which has crept its way into our liturgical worship over the past few years may actually be more a hindrance than a help.

Participation in the divine liturgy involves every person in a parish, not just the clergy, and choir - it is to be participated in corporately. Our goal in liturgy is not to mindlessly recite prayers, neither is it to listen to someone else recite the prayers, but rather, it is to experience communion with God and with the body of Christ, that being the Church. The words being prayed and sung should become our words, expressing the groans of our heart. The liturgical text should not be viewed as some magical incantation someone wrote centuries ago that requires a congregation to patiently allow for the prayers to have their desired affect on the gifts placed on the altar, but rather, the liturgical prayers should be internalized, and 'chewed' on by our whole being. Therefore, it is also less important to be caught up trying to 'follow along,' and more important to truly be present in the corporate liturgical dance.

Some might be thinking here, "What about visitors and catechumens? Wouldn't they benefit from a projector screen?" – Great question! Of course all churches should make sure they have books available for new comers. However, making these texts available should be for the express purpose to encourage these individuals to also to participate in the liturgy, the books should never be allowed to be used as a type of distraction from what is happening around them. Imagine for a moment while you are watching a film someone hands you the script to the movie so you can 'follow along' - would it be safe to assume that most people wouldn't find that enjoyable? Imagine all that person would miss! Would you or anyone you know be just as involved in the plot of the film if they were simply reading, neither really watching and/or listening? This is one of the many reasons why musical and theater performances do not hand their patrons the text being used. A person is meant to live the experience, not to 'follow along.'

Typography, by its nature, separates and compartmentalizes information, making it impossible for a complete and rich experience. Applying this observation to reading off a screen while participating in liturgical worship, it comes as no surprise why many complain that liturgical prayers often lack a 'prayerful feel.' And how could such liturgies be prayerful when they are reduced to a 'read-along'?  

Delving into this dilemma further, it may be worthwhile examining just how text and typography actually influences our cognition and what affects it may have on our engagement with the world. Canadian communications theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, wrote extensively on the effects of typography and text on individuals and society. According to McLuhan, unlike in times past or in cultures where typography is not considered the primary mode of communication, we in our modern Western culture have significantly lowered our ability to synthesize the world around us. It may be worth mentioning that McLuhan also believed that the invention of print technology and its ontologically disjunctive nature contributed to the rise of individualism, capitalism, and nationalism - all of which could be argued are anti-liturgical ideologies.
Below is an excerpt from Fr. Aidan Kavanagh (a liturgical theologian) on the affects of text on the liturgy and our liturgical participation. Enjoy! 

Fr. Aidan Kavanagh
The affects of text on the liturgy and our liturgical participation
Fr. Aidan Kavanagh (1933-2011)
Catholic priest and Yale professor
"But an even more important development than liturgical hypertrophy was Europe's unavoidable slide into textual absorption, something stimulated by the invention of printing. Northern Europeans became literary humanists rather as southern Europeans had become aesthetic humanists, and proponents of the Reformation were largely men of the north who fell as easily into textual obsession with the Bible as they did into mistrust of urbane aesthetes from south of the Alps. The technology of printing helped to blow apart a moribund medieval world, unleashing forces which the modem world copes with uneasily still. And while it would be too much to say that printing reduced God's Word into words, since writing itself was responsible for that, it would be true to say that printing turned God's Words into a text which all people, literate or not, could now see as lines of type marching across a page. God's Word could now for the first time be visualized by all, not in the multivalency of a "presence" in corporate act or icon but linearly in horizontal lines which could be edited, reset, revised, fragmented, and studied by all—something which few could have done before. A Presence which had formerly been experienced by most as a kind of enfolding embrace had now modulated into an abecedarian printout to which only the skill of literacy could give complete access. God could now be approached not only through burning bushes, sacralized spaces, and holy symbols and events, but through texts so cheaply reproduced as to be available to all. Rite and its symbols could be displaced or got round altogether, and so could the whole of the living tradition which provided the gravitational field holding them together in an intelligible union. Rite became less a means than an obstacle for the new textual piety. And once rite receded, so did the need for that kind of assembly whose common burden was the enactment of rite rather than attendance upon didactic exposition of set texts. The truth lies now exclusively in the text; no longer on the walls, or in the windows, or in the liturgical activity of those who occupy the churches. Protestant iconoclasm was thus not, nor could it have been, selective or corrective. It was programmatic and across the board. It did not modify an old equation but wrote a new one.
The liturgy was thus constricted to a set of texts which could not only be put cheaply into the hands of each member of the assembly, but which could be altered quickly and controlled effectively even down to the details of layout and typography by groups of experts whose competencies were often tangential to the rite itself. Under such conditions, the liturgical action tended to shrink from being a complex diversity of intermeshing ministries and roles working together toward common ritual and symbolic purpose, to concern itself more with the individual reaction of the worshiper to a text held in the hand and followed with the eye. Sermons, exhortations, and biblical readings could be followed with the eye as they were being read aloud by the minister. The liturgy began to shift from rite as an enacted style of common life carried on in rich symbolic ambiguity to the simultaneous reading and recitation of printed texts which were increasingly didactic in nature.

It is not easy for us who live on this side of the invention of printing to sense how very novel this sort of liturgy was to one who had never seen liturgical texts during worship but had only heard them, to one who therefore never felt compelled to sit still in ranks of immovable pew resembling lines of type marching across a page and to follow what was said aloud by watching a text or reading a score."
Sam Jackson in 'Snakes on a Plane' 
The possible name for a sequel to this award winner is, "Projector screens in a church"

(Just to be clear, liturgical books are not inherently evil, but our obsessive need to 'follow along' may be pulling us away from experiencing what is happening around us and with us in the liturgy. The pinnacle of corporate prayer is thus reduced to an individualistic pursuit. We should lay aside all distractions, even the personal pious ones. )

  • Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology, pp. 103 -106
  • Marshall McLuhan, Gutenberg Galaxy, pp. 124 –126

1 comment:

  1. So that I know to avoid it when traveling, does anyone know what church that is in the photo?