Senn, Frank C. "Chapter One: The Repertoire of Rites." Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997, 3-29.
Senn opens by discussing worship as less than liturgy due to its relative lack of ritual, but more than liturgy by its lack of spatial and temporal boundaries (Senn 1997, 3). While ritual may be looked down on by some rationalists, Senn finds it has a close relation to important social, psychological, and even biological developments. Liturgy of one sort or another is universal to Christianity. Senn also finds this the case in other religions and ordered societies, where people engage in a variety of rituals which can often identify the group (Senn 1997, 4).
Senn distinguishes between a sign and a symbol where a sign indicates something outside itself and a symbol has to do with participation in the symbol itself (Senn 1997, 5). For this reason, Senn understands "only a symbol" to be fallacious. By its nature, a symbol is never "only" or "merely."
While symbolic actions easily lead to allegorical interpretations, Senn observes that allegory has often been used in inadequate ways. He prefers the liturgical use of typology, which "suggests that there is a pattern in God's redemptive activity" (Senn 1997, 6).
Ritual plays an important role in society and particularly in the Church. Senn finds it both preserves the past and that it changes the way we look at the future (Senn 1997, 8). Senn classifies rites as those which sanctify life (baptism, marriage, burial, etc.), those which sanctify time (daily, weekly, or special occasional services), and those which sanctify space (consecration or blessing of a building, anniversaries, etc.). Though many rituals maintain strong meaning and function, some lose their power over time, leading to the idea that rituals are unimportant or even negative (Senn 1997, 9).
Senn points out that many rituals are rites of passage, crossing various thresholds, including that of death (Senn 1997, 9). These rites of passage mark steps in a greater process. As an example, baptism, whether it signifies death with Christ, washing, or adoption, still demonstrates a passing from the old life to the new (Senn 1997, 10). Senn discusses the symbolism of the washing in some detail. The question Senn would have us ask in regard to a sacrament or any other ritual is not what is minimally required for the ritual to be valid but rather what the full meaning and purpose of the ritual is (Senn 1997, 12). This leads to a greater appreciation for the act and its underlying meaning.
Senn sees myth as belonging with ritual, though the way they are related has historically been unclear (Senn 1997, 13). Myth has historically been understood as an explanation of something which is indisputably true, at least in its native culture. By this definition, "the Christian gospel serves the function of myth in that it relates a story that is regarded as absolutely true and that is intended to provide a pattern of behavior in those who hear it" (Senn 1997, 14). The Bible, further, takes mythic ideas and recasts them in such a way that the worldly myth is subservient to God. For instance, Senn notes that Genesis 1 describes the heavenly bodies, often an object of worship, as being put in place by God (Senn 1997, 15). Liturgy further takes on mythic ideas and uses the images and stories in Christian worship to God.
Another important element is ritual chanting and singing. Senn observes that it not only serves a mnemonic purpose, but can build cohesion in a group recitation and urge thoughtful meditation on a text (Senn 1997, 16). Use of music in Christian worship has a long and significant history.
Sacred meals are very important rites, especially within Christianity (Senn 1997, 17). Senn recalls that the Eucharist has sacrificial connotations within the ritual meal. He further provides a summary list from R.F. Yerkes of ways in which ancient concepts of sacrifice differ from modern concepts. In particular, the sacrifice had no secular meaning, was a joyful occasion offered specifically to a god, with an emphasis on thanksgiving and on giving something away (Senn 1997, 18).
Ritual celebrations often are observed at particular times in the solar or lunar calendar. Senn observes that if an event meets with God, the source of life, it should not be surprising that it happen regularly (Senn 1997, 19). Senn sees even the Sabbath as something derived from Babylonian religion and intended to provide for rest at an appropriate time which could be favored (Senn 1997, 20). Likewise, Senn thinks that various rituals, such as the Jewish feasts, had been gradually adapted from other observances (Senn 1997, 21).
Historically rituals are associated with particular sacred spaces. Senn notes the development of sacred space in Israel from altars set up by the patriarchs, to Sinai, the Ark of the Covenant, and eventually the temple (Senn 1997, 23). The temple provided a permanent place for sacrifice, though it was subsequently destroyed, being replaced, in Christian thought, with the Church, a living temple. The church buildings which were eventually built came to be seen as sacred spaces, but because of the Eucharistic celebrations which took place there (Senn 1997, 24).
Within Israel, and in other cultures, a priesthood holds sacred authority. Senn observes that, while in most cultures a monarch would exceed the priesthood in that authority, in Israel the prophets and priests represented God's sacred nature (Senn 1997, 24). The characterization of Israel as a priestly kingdom (Ex. 19:6) implies that the people were rooted in liturgy rather than the acts of a king (Senn 1997, 25). The people of Israel, though they didn't always succeed in practice, saw themselves as people who were set apart from surrounding foreign cultures as a people of God with a distinct culture. As the Christian period began, it was only the sect of Pharisaic Judaism and the Christians, identified as people who took the Torah as the important unifying element, who flourished. Those who depended on temple observances or a culture rather than definitive teaching, failed (Senn 1997, 27).