'There's a difference between ritual and routine'. That's a line from a talk this morning about liturgy. We'll see where it takes us.
If I got it right, ritual is worship that we enter into that the Holy Spirit can empower and routine is where a habitual action has become unthinking and automatic. Ritual is intentional and active, and routine is mindless and passive.
There's more to it than the 'say the black, do the red', although that is a necessary part which enables us to be in unity with those in worship across the globe and across time.
It is how you 'say the black and do the red' that makes the difference. For example you can say the black like it is a chore to be got through as quickly as possible. On the other end of the spectrum, you can have so many bits of silence between the 'say the black' parts that the flow is lost and micro-sleeps multiply. When as Goldilocks would say, 'it's just right'; then something worthy and magnificent comes into being which is worthy of being offered to God.
Being creatures of habit it is important to use the options for variety that the liturgical ritual affords us. That is our best defense against routine. Always using the shortest versions does no one any real good. Certainly our ears get dulled if we hear the same long prayer and we pay more attention to prayers we haven't heard in a while or of ones we've never heard before.
It is a very good reason for thanking God for providing us with four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Can you imagine how dreary things would be without the subtle differences in each of those four texts? They enable us to catch onto the words that seem a little out of place and ponder them afresh, even when we've heard the same Gospel scene a few hundred times before.
Taking our cue from God's providence in the seasons of winter, autumn, summer and spring we can see that variety in liturgical ritual also needs to be seasonal and at different layers of intensity. There has to be a difference between ordinary, and 'pull-out-the-stops' super special, with graded steps in between. Normally this is regulated with music, incense, numbers of candles, colour of vestments, and length of processions – among other things.
Yet all of these things, good as they are, only set up conditions favourable for an encounter with God. It takes preparatory prayer and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit to enable the liturgical ritual to become the encounter and dialogue of love between the soul and God and the community and God that it was designed to be from the beginning.
Apart from the black text, the red rubrics should never be discounted, since they balance the wordy texts with actions. Every so often it is worthwhile sitting down with a few others and discussing where the red rubrics are being followed and where they aren't, and why that might be so. An annual review, as long as it is truly honest, is probably sufficient.
Getting it right is worth aiming for.
May the holy angels assist and help us to achieve this. Amen.