Liturgy: Divine and human service

Heythrop Journal 38 (2):144–164 (1997)
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Abstract

Liturgy has been the forum for the enactment of a diverse range of theologies, at times stressing the human, at times the divine. Following Emmanuel Levinas, this article understands the meaning of liturgy as ‘a movement of the Same towards the Other which never returns to the Same.’ Whether directed towards God, or expressive of human longing, the structure of liturgy is essentially ‘for‐the‐Other.’ This movement out of self is seen when one considers liturgy as the ‘work of the people,’ where ‘work’ is understood as Œuvre rather than travail. To say that liturgy is œuvre is to situate its significance not in the activity of the subject who has a concern to achieve or realise something through his own effort, but in the Other who inspires the work. The activism of travail finds its counter in the essential passivity of œuvre. By recognising this the horizontal and vertical elements within divine liturgy can be brought together in a mutually indispensable way. As essentially ‘for‐the‐Other,’ responsible service, which is at one and the same time divine service and human service, is at the heart of the liturgy. In liturgy we are drawn out of ourselves in a ‘movement of the Same towards the Other which never returns to the Same’ and which is positively experienced as responsibility. It is not that we first worship and then are called unto service in a movement out of self towards the Otherness of God and thereafter towards the Otherness of the other person. The movement out of self – liturgy – is at one and the same time worship and ethics, an ethical worship, in which justice is rendered both to God and to the other person

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