Against Novelty

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 dancing but only learning to dance. A good show is a show you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were most 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 thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ “Tis mad idolatry makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion to waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was “Feed my sheep” not “Try experiments on my rats,” or even, “Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit.

—C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 13

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Don’t Change for the Sake of Change

Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was ‘Feed my sheep;’ not ‘Try experiments on my rats,’ or even, ‘Teach my performing dogs new tricks.'”

—C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Chapter I