chapter  10
16 Pages

Worship, Transcendence and Danger: Reflections on Seigfried Kracauer’s ‘The Hotel Lobby’

For some time now I have been struggling with what it was about the development of worship in Catholic, Anglican and other mainline churches in the West in the last quarter of the twentieth century that led a significant number of commentators to say that congregational worship in these churches had lost so much of its ‘mystery’. To some extent this is a debate specifically within the field of Liturgical Studies but many of those who complained about the loss of mystery were not themselves part of the mainstream of liturgical scholars who had been so instrumental in creating the new liturgies in the first place. David Martin, for example, a sociologist of religion in the UK, and others who opposed the move away from the 1662 prayer book in the Church of England put this down to the loss of Elizabethan language and perhaps also to the loss of a deep ingrained familiarity.1 Opponents of the move from Latin to English in the Catholic Mass, both in Europe and North America, pointed to aspects of doctrine, the sense of history and the removal of ceremonial, but essentially they were arguing that it was the ‘mystery’ that had been lost without being too clear where that mystery was situated. David Torevell, for example, also writing from a sociological perspective with a Catholic background, developed a more sophisticated argument but generally came to the same kinds of conclusions.2 There are similar, but less clearly articulated, comments from the Methodist tradition and the Reformed churches. All these critiques focused primarily on text and ritual, that which was set out in the prayer books, as though it was the revision of the liturgical text, and particularly the updating of the English, that led to the decline in ‘mystery’. A few have pointed to performance, specifically Kieran Flanagan, another sociologist coming from a British Catholic perspective, who argued that something changed in the way liturgy was presented, perhaps even a change in attitude on the part of

the celebrant and the congregation, although it is difficult here to distinguish the chicken and the egg and to point to specific causes.3