Monday, December 3, 2012

Liturgical worship

When I was a teenager, probably influenced by something I had read in C.S. Lewis, I bought a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer [the linked version is from 1662]. It is a treasury of prayers with which every Christian should be familiar whether or not inclined toward liturgical forms of worship. My own tradition is "non-liturgical" although every church I've ever attended had pretty well-established traditions about worship — the services followed much the same patterns from week to week.

Yesterday I came across this explanation for Episcopalian liturgy. I like many of the reasons Philip Jenkins' gives:
WHAT IS LITURGY?
In its origins, the Greek word leitourgia meant “people’s work,” better translated as something like “public service” or “public duty.”

Today, the word “liturgy” is used in two senses. Generally, it means following a set form of words, actions and rituals, as opposed to a free-form, open-ended kind of worship. This does not mean that non-liturgical churches are totally disorganized — they often plan their services according to familiar patterns and models. But they do not follow the precise sequence of texts, passages, actions, etc, which they regard as too formal and constricting. Often, a liturgy includes not just precise words but words that have become somewhat old-fashioned, and there is a temptation to modernize them to make them more understandable. ....
WHAT DO WE DO IN OUR LITURGY?
Liturgy takes us out and it puts us in
It takes us out of the regular world and tries to re-enact and return to a sacred moment or sacred time. It is a way of putting us in touch with a particular reality, of converging and conforming our world with the supernatural.

Paths cross here.
Liturgy explains why we are here but also places us somewhere else.

Liturgy uses particular forms of language.
Language speaks us. When we speak in certain ways, it puts us in certain frames of mind. Proper form and language are used to consecrate time. Formality is especially appropriate to solemn things.
Liturgy makes many one
The liturgy organizes and moves people through a common sense of participation, of shared action. It unites us and makes us a common body. We say and do things in the same way, we hear the same things and express agreement to them. It is communal action. It is Common (ie communal) Prayer.
Liturgy uses action to declare and reinforce common belief
The old phrase says lex orandi, lex credendi, "the law of prayer is the law of belief" — roughly, show me how you worship and I’ll know what you believe. ....
Liturgy consecrates time — or else, time consecrates liturgy
Liturgical actions depend wholly on the cycles of the church year. Participating in liturgy means we share in this cycle, we join its beginnings and share the route to its end. ....
That unity crosses boundaries of time and space
The fact that liturgy is fixed means that anywhere you go, you will hear the same words and the same patterns. Services are not “dealer’s choice” and they don’t depend on the whims of particular leaders. When you hear a liturgy today, you are doing essentially the same thing that countless others were doing a hundred or a thousand years ago.

Liturgy creates community with past and present, proclaiming a link with past and future. We see this for example when we use ancient terms like Kyrie Eleison.1
Liturgy unites the worlds
It breaks down divisions between natural and supernatural. At the Sanctus,2 humans celebrate with angels.
Liturgy allows earth to become heaven
The Bible repeatedly describes liturgical actions, on earth and in heaven, at God’s court. We see this especially in books like Isaiah and Revelation. In turn, those scriptural passages have had a huge impact on the actual practice and language of earthly churches. ....
  1. Lord, have mercy...
  2. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts....
The Liturgy and the Church