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This article is taken from PN Review 13, Volume 6 Number 5, May - June 1980.

Liturgy and Drama John Bowker

IN the days when The Times existed, the end of each year used to bring in a small crop of calculations-calculations of the most popular names for boys and girls, or of those symphonies which had been most often played in London concerts. No doubt a similar calculation could determine how often the words of one of Shakespeare's plays had been repeated in the course of a year. And the answer would be that no matter how often the words of Hamlet's soliloquy are repeated, they are not repeated anything like so often as the words of the liturgy. And for words to bear that amount of repetition, and still to yield renewed meaning and inspiration as the plays of Shakespeare do, the dramatic and the poetic standard has to be set very high-still more so if the words are to be the vehicle of that most demanding of human exercises, worship and praise.

This does not mean that liturgy is thus reduced to play-acting. It is simply that for words to strike deep and to become resourceful both in life and at the approach of death, for words to say for us what we long to say but cannot ourselves express, they need to have a richness and complexity which may well (though not necessarily) conflict with other goals of colloquialism and simplicity. By all means let The Order for Holy Communion also called The Eucharist and the Lord's Supper (GS364A) and the other revised services ...


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