At our parish we celebrate the (truncated) Liturgy of St. James during Lent. I had always heard that this was the great-granddaddy of all liturgical experiences. Six hours. Only performed once a year. True dedication required; layabouts need not apply type liturgy. Though that may be true to some, I think I'm really going to miss it when we hit the Paschal season. After four weeks, I'm starting to get used to it, and I find I truly appreciate every element--including the length (though it doesn't take us six hours, partly because we don't do six twenty minute litanies). Following are some highlights and reflections. (All excerpts found at Schaff's Anti-Nicene Fathers v. 7)
Reflection: I have mentioned before how much I love the Cherubic Hymn. This version is slightly longer, but the basic element still remains strong even in its newest formation: We are about to receive Christ, forget everything else and focus. We, here and now, are taking part in the worship of the angels! This gives me goosebumps, especially as the gifts process and the incense forms a cloud around the clergy and the gifts. Very moving.
Text: Priest:Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.
People: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow
Reflection: the words from the Gospel about the Theotokos and her response to Gabriel's message about the incarnation and her role played therein. I was surprised by this the first time I heard it, and I don't know that I really appreciated that it was being "misapplied" to the Priests, until I realized that this is the role of all of us: to bring God with us wherever we go. It is the Priests who are the icons of Christ, and we are also the icons of Christ. We are living temples of the Holy Spirit, and He will/does come and overshadow us. When we pray this for the priests, we are encouraging them to perform the task they have been preparing to do, because it is the Holy Spirit himself who will make this liturgy possible and pleasing to God.
Text: Going on from glory to glory, we praise Thee, the Saviour of our souls. Glory to Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit now and ever, and to all eternity. We praise Thee, the Saviour of our souls.
Reflection: These are the last words that the congregation says in our parish. As the priest dismisses us, we return by committing ourselves to the work of salvation, having been strengthened by the Eucharist, we go into the world to pursue holiness and union with God. A hard challenge to be sure, but it's so encouraging during this particular time of year to know that, for centuries, the Church has sought its strength from the Sacraments, understanding that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that enables us to continue living out the Gospel--from glory to glory.