Saturday, September 17, 2011

Of Rood Screens

The chancel screen at Westminster Abbey. It might say
something about the state of the Church of England that
they erect a temporary altar here and cut the church in half
so it doesn't seem so cavernous when no one shows up.
In a great many churches there is a screen, or at least a beam, dividing the nave (where the people do their thing) from the chancel (where the ministers do their thing). A lot of the time this screen is all the average parishioner would be able to see. At King's College Cambridge the rood screen is actually a wall 6 feet thick. You may have noticed at the Royal Wedding that the screen at Westminster Abbey is so thick one passes under it via tunnel and the orchestra camp out on top. It even has a gate in it.

There is something to be said for this separation of the average Joe from the most sacred action being performed up front. Wait a second, you might say, isn't it important for all of us to see what's going on and be a part of it? Isn't Church all about coming together and being a community? Doesn't "liturgy" mean "work of the people"? Yes, but that is exactly what it means: work of the people, not you, or me, or anybody else considered singly. Worship is the eternal work of God's People, the Church Universal, enacted here and now by her ministers, not us.

We laypersons play a part in this action of worship, but in a very different way. We are participants insofar as we are members of the Universal Church, and it is the action of the Church which is being undertaken. In other words, our participation in the worship of the Church doesn't depend on us doing anything; it depends on us being something: namely, a baptized Christian. The sacred ministers, on the other hand, (those in Holy Orders) are they that actually perform the work, if only on behalf of all of us (the Church on earth and in heaven). Nevertheless, it is only they which can do so, never us, for they are the only ones who, by virtue of their Ordinations, have been given the ability to stand on behalf of the Church Universal. I can only act as an individual.

This is why the Sacrament of Holy Orders has the name it does. Because by bestowing on individual men the ability to act on behalf of the whole Church, it creates order out of chaos. And that is how St. Paul tells us we must worship: "decently and in order," (1 Cor. 14:40).


  1. A rood screen seems rather antithetical to NT worship, considering that "Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom..."

  2. Ah, yes. The curtain was torn in two, God reveals himself and comes to his people. But was the veil removed? No. The New Covenant equivalent to the veil is the conopaeum that covers the tabernacle, which is the Ark of the Covenant in which God resides. This is inside the Sanctuary, equivalent to the Holy of Holies, which is inside the chancel, which is equivalent to the Holy Place, where the priests convene. Outside the Holy Place is the Court of the Jews, which is the Nave, where the ordinary People of God gather to participate in the worship of him, distinctly separate from the action as individuals, yet united to it as a communion via the ministers.

    Just because God has deigned to come to us, doesn't mean we should treat his presence as something familiar. He is still God, and we should still quake in his presence, humbly aware that we deserve nothing.

  3. "Just because God has deigned to come to us, doesn't mean we should treat his presence as something familiar. He is still God, and we should still quake in his presence, humbly aware that we deserve nothing."

    Ummm, yes.

  4. My point is, yes, the veil is torn. God is with us. That doesn't mean we shouldn't recognize our place in the hierarchy of creation and put some distance between our lowly selves and God on his throne behind a rood screen.


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