Notes on the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and their implementations at Christ Church Parish

by Jack Coogan, Ph. D.

The following notes by Dr. Jack Coogan, who was for a long time professor of liturgy at the Claremont School of Theology, are a testimony of the historical roots and the reasoning that brought Christ Church Parish and its rector, Jon Olson, to transform its liturgy of the Eucharist in the late 1960s, that is, more than ten years before the new Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church was introduced (1979).

Liturgical renewal: a Christ Church success story

—John XXIII calls for a council to help bring the church into the modern world

—The Second Vatican Council meets from 1962-1965, and among other projects, reforms the liturgy

—This reform is based on nearly a century of liturgical scholarship, loosely called “the liturgical movement”

—Its primary goal was to help the congregation “take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

—This had several results:

  • the liturgy in the vernacular

  • expanded inclusion of scripture

  • emphasis on preaching

  • introduction of congregational music

  • the expectation of extensive congregational participation

Incidentally, we might notice that this was what Luther had achieved in his German Mass of 1526.

—Alas, there have been problems:

  • considerable conservative resistance

  • challenge for clergy to learn and use the new liturgy

  • congregations are used to being spectators but now must learn a new and active role

  • the older tradition had almost no congregational music; now it is necessary to create an entire repertory. Protestants had a 400-year head start based on folksong, but by the 1960s, commercial pop had largely displaced this essential resource.

Christ Church had long been aware of the liturgical movement, and had long before reshaped its liturgy to take advantage of it.

It had a second advantage in its inheritance of the great English tradition of eclectic hymnody—Hymns Ancient and Modern, the 1906 English Hymnal, and of course the splendid Hymnal 1940.

It had a third advantage in a music program which, within serious limitations, accomplished what Luther thought ideal.

So Sunday by Sunday, throughout the Christian Year, our congregation actively tells and acts out what Jesus Christ has done for us, and in doing so, proclaims and participates in our saving history.

This requires focused effort our part, to make this serious liturgy effective. We are fortunate to have a service bulletin format to lead us through the service, and to explain what’s taking place.

In our liturgy, we have something of unique value, important to share with others who might similarly value it. Such sharing will be effective to the degree that we understand the service, and can explain simply and effectively what it contains, and what gifts it can give those who take part.

(published by permission)