Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

Lewis, C. S.

Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1964

pp. 4 - 5

Where liturgy is concerned, laymen “should take what we are given and make the best of it.” Trouble is that the clergy want to change things all the time with “incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service.” But the majority of people just want things left alone. With good reason. “Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best–if you like, it “works” best–when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. . . . The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. . . But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different (p. 5) thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ ‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.’” Worse, “novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. If you have to ask yourself, ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ you will find that it lays your devotion waste.” All I want is “permanence and uniformity. . . . I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever if only it will stay put.”