As pandemic conditions start to improve, we at the Rose of Sharon Catholic Worker are opening up our house liturgy to the wider community! You are welcome to join us for sung vespers (i.e. evening prayer) every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 7:30pm starting the week following Easter. Here is an FAQ to help you know what to expect.
IN GENERAL, WHAT’S IT LIKE?
We start out by setting up in our kitchen and assigning roles. We lay out the candles and one of our liturgically colored burp cloths in the sign of the cross. As we are setting up, we assign roles. One person holds the child and leads the liturgy while the other person is responsible for the candles, the incense, and the bible readings. If you are facing the table, you will see an incense station to your right and the bible to your left, where whoever is doing the readings sits. One spot on the couch is reserved for whoever has the baby and is leading liturgy. This person wears the other liturgically colored burp cloth on their shoulder both in case Abbie spits up and also as a substitute for a stole. At the head of the cross, in front of the Christ candle and sitting on the liturgical burp cloth, we place reserve sacrament (consecrated by a Catholic priest), which we reverence during the service (e.g. by censing it and making a slight bow whenever we pass in front of it).
We use the setting in Evangelical Lutheran Worship as a “base,” but we make a number of changes to make the liturgy more ecumenical (specifically along protestant-catholic lines). There are two places in this setting where hymns can be sung–before the daily readings and at the very end of the service. For the first hymn, we alternate between a protestant and a catholic hymnal. For the second hymn, we sing a different Marian anthem according to the season (e.g. Ave Regina caelorum, which is assigned for the days in between Candlemas and Easter). In celebrating particular saints and martyrs, we emphasize commemorations common to both Lutherans and Catholics, but we also include some key Catholic feasts that Lutherans tend not to celebrate (e.g. the Purification, Annunciation, Assumption, and Nativity of Mary). When we are praying for leaders of the church, we always specifically pray for the Holy Father and when naming the saints in prayer, we always specifically name Mary. None of this is actively prohibited by the Lutheran or most other protestant churches, but, between the candles, the incense, the latin, and the repeated mentions of saints, the pope, and Mary, it does have the effect of making the service seem much more “Catholic” overall than most protestant services.
SO, IS THIS A PROTESTANT SERVICE OR A CTHOLIC ONE?
Both and neither. Our goal is to be ecumenical. For us, concretely, that means that we aim for the entire liturgy to be something that both Catholics and protestants can participate in with good conscience while following the official teachings of their denominations. So, for example, Catholics are not forbidden to use Evangelical Lutheran Worship in their own prayer practices at home. In turn, (most) protestants are not forbidden to reverence the blessed sacrament, pray for the pope, or ask Mary to intercede for them with her Son. We also try to use as many resources as possible that protestant and catholic churches have specifically created together for ecumenical use. The most important of these is the daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). While the weekly RCL is probably more familiar to most people (since, whether you are protestant or catholic, you are likely to hear these readings more Sundays than not), the World Council of Churches also created a daily lectionary to go with it. The readings for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are meant to help readers reflect back on the readings from the previous Sunday; the readings for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, in turn, are meant to help readers prepare for the coming Sunday. Just to be clear, these daily readings were not developed to supplant the existing daily readings set by any given denomination–so if you go to, say, morning prayer at an Episcopal parish, you may hear a different set of scripture readings (e.g. those assigned for daily use in the Book of Common Prayer). Rather, they were created by a group of protestants and catholic representatives to the WCC, empowered by their denominations to help create an optional resource that anyone could use. “Anyone” includes us and we are choosing to use it.
Just as importantly, we are choosing not to do things that protestant and catholic churches have not yet learned how to do together. Most importantly, we do not celebrate holy communion during this service. This is not because we don’t think holy communion is important (we wouldn’t reverence the blessed sacrament if we thought that) and it is not because we don’t think that protestants and Catholics ought not to worship together (again, we wouldn’t have an ecumenical service if we thought that were true). Rather, we are trying to be honest about the brokenness of the relationship between protestants and catholics. While we respect and often participate in liturgical spaces (including many Catholic Worker gatherings) that conscientiously disobey denominational rules about who can and cannot receive communion, we have chosen a different kind of witness for this particular service. By not receiving communion together in this space, we are confessing that everything is not alright in our ecclesial relationships with one another; we are declaring with our bodies that there is work to be done. We are waiting and praying for the day when protestant and catholic churches will come back together and, indeed, when the visible unity of the whole Church–catholic, protestant, eastern and so-called “oriental” orthodox–will be restored. We believe that the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran (and now also Reformed) “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” and Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit to Westminster Cathedral give us reason to hope that that day is not too far off (especially if by “not too far off” we mean decades rather than centuries). In the meantime, we can contribute to the coming reconciliation of protestants and catholics by faithfully engaging in those spiritual practices where there is either overlap or explicit agreement between protestants and Catholics.
IS THIS A CHURCH PLANT?
Absolutely not. Part of the reason for that is what we have said above about ecumenical relationships. We are not offering a substitute for anyone’s individual worshiping community. If someone is a lutheran, we hope that they will attend a lutheran church on Sundays and receive the sacrament there. Same thing if someone is catholic, presbyterian, or any other denomination. Rather than being a new church, either in the sense of a breakaway sect or a new congregation, this is a place where people can come together from multiple different traditions, drawn together by our common faith in Jesus Christ and our understanding of the implications of that faith–a life that is radically different from the way that the American Empire expects us to live because it is characterized by simple living, a sharing of material goods, and resistance to the machinery of the “giant triplets” of capitalism, white supremacy, and war. This way of believing in and living out the gospel is not based in any one tradition or denomination, because it can be found in the pages of holy scripture and in the very person of Jesus Christ, encountered directly and materially in the prayers and sacraments of His (universal, invisible, and already unified) Church, and in His mystical presence in our lives as His disciples. It is therefore something we have all committed to in our one Baptism into the Trinity of persons in which He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
OKAY, OKAY, ENOUGH THEOLOGY ALREADY! WHAT ARE YOUR COVID PROTOCOLS?
Ah, yes, that. This is going to be inside (in our kitchen, as mentioned above), so we’re going to set a boundary that everyone who participates needs to wear a mask. We are not requiring proof of vaccination, though we also encourage everyone who comes to get vaccinated and/or boosted if they haven’t done so already. Please also don’t come if you are showing symptoms or may have been exposed to COVID and haven’t gotten a negative test result back. If food and drink ever become a part of this (we don’t really know if it will–just scheduling liturgy is hard enough already), we’ll likely do that part outside.
WHO CAN I BRING?
You, your partners, lovers, friends, family, comrades, assorted randos, anyone!
HOW ABOUT KIDS?
Hopefully the presence of “liturgical burp cloths” has shown you what our attitude is in this department. We have a six month old child and have set up the house as well as we know how to be welcoming to them. There is a play gym and toys appropriate to a child under one year old that your kid is welcome to share with Abbie and we also welcome you to bring anything else with you that your child might want or need, especially if they are older and therefore might not be interested in Abbie’s toys. If there are things we’re not doing that we could be doing to make this space even more child-friendly, please let us know and we’ll do our best. Odds are you’ll be doing us a favor by helping us improve our own parenting, which, God knows, is far from perfect.
OK, BUT WHAT ABOUT, LIKE, CRYING BABIES?
You’re free to do what you feel comfortable with. What we do is let Abbie cry and, if it ever gets to the point where the crying is disrupting the liturgy, we pause the liturgy until they are calm enough for us to continue. Greg likes to call this “praying at the speed of baby.” Of course, we are also willing to pause if your child starts crying, too. However, we also don’t want to make you sooth your kid in front of a bunch of people you may or may not know. So you are also welcome to step out for a moment. We have a nursery (where, incidentally, there is also a changing table) and a parents “break room,” both of which you are welcome to use.
CAN MY CHILD BE AN ACOLYTE?
Actually, believe it or not, yes! Greg and Abbie already have a practice of snuffing out the candles together at the end of the service. Any other role, including setup, lighting the candles and the incense, is also open to any child whose caregivers think that it is age appropriate for them.
WOW, THIS SOUNDS GREAT! WHERE IS IT AGAIN?
At the Rose of Sharon Catholic Worker–3164 Rose of Sharon Rd., Durham, NC 27712. We’ll start setting up at 7:30 and begin prayer at 7:40. The whole service ought to take no more than 45 minutes.