Sunday, May 25, 2008

Where does the one hour service come from?

One hour Sunday services are almost universal in American Christianity.

Almost. Go to a Russian Orthodox or a black church service -- to give 2 examples -- and you might find a place that goes on for hours.

But the more mainstream an American church (or rather, how much they are in contact with the liturgical trends that culminated in Vatican II), the more likely they are to adhere to a one-hour-and-no-more routine. And woe to the pastor who goes over that hour! The wrath can be pretty acute.

What I'm wondering is where this rule comes from. We have -- in most services -- clipped even the least amount of silence from the service, since that's usually seen as a useless artifact that might needlessly prolong the service past an hour.

We are far more conscious of exact time than our ancestors would have been. Such things as jet travel, chemical studies, and a whole lot else require exact times, and close chronologies.

But I'm baffled by why we need such exactitude in church. Reducing the Mass to an hour limits the number and length of hymns we can see, feeds the Western desire to avoid redundancy in the service, shortens the length of Psalms used, and requires a shortened sermon.

None of which is bad in itself. But I wonder if the overall result of our one-hour-Mass is a lessening of our receiving of the gifts. I'm especially intrigued by the loss of redundancy in the Mass. In this book Catherine Pickstock works on the assumptions that underlie the West's loss of redundancy in the Mass over the last 100 years, a movement that sped quickly and permeated most of the Western communions after Vatican II.

Good things sometimes take time. Our fathers in the faith may have understood this better than we, and our obsession with foreshortening the liturgy given to us by them to bring us God's gifts may prove to have been a mistake.

No comments: