Posted by: celticanglican | June 30, 2007

Why Liturgical Worship?

Liturgical worship dates back to before the founding of Christianity, and has its origins in Jewish worship. In reading the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy), we see that God mandated certain ceremonies to be observed by His people. By the time of Jesus, weekly Sabbath (Shabbat) services had a regular structure that included hymns of praise, reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, and a sermon on the text. These elements, have survived in traditional Christian worship.

The earliest Christians were mainly Jewish converts who continued to worship in the Temple and synagogues as well as with the growing Christian community. However, believers in Jesus were soon expelled from the synagogues. Christians of the New Testament era, due to persecution, originally met in homes. The Hebrew Scriptures and the books of the New Testament, as they were written, were read. A sermon would be given. An offering would be taken and prayers offered. Then communion would be observed. At first, communion would take place as part of a meal, but would become a separate rite later. Originally, worship would have been in Koine Greek, the common language of the time. After Christianity become the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, Latin became the language of Christian worship and the forms of worship (rites) gradually became more unified. This unfortunately lead to some sad divisions that will be discussed in a later article. When the Protestant Reformation occured in the 16th century, some of the groups which separated from the Roman Catholic Church retained liturgical worship, most notably the Anglican Church. The liturgies of the various churches have evolved over the years and often allow much variety to suit the needs of the community. However, most liturgical services follow a basic pattern that is easily recognizable. (On a personal note, I’ve marvelled at the similarities when attending Episcopal, Catholic, and Lutheran services).

Despite its deeply-rooted tradition, some people from other Christian backgrounds may find liturgical worship “dead” or “dull” because they’re unaccustomed to it. Many Christian traditions now have a worship service that has less structure and is often referred to as “Spirit-led”. It’s believed, from an interpretation of Scripture, that a set form of worship is never to be used. Additionally, some believe that certain expressions of faith must be practiced (lifting up hands, dancing, speaking or praying in tongues) or the worshiper is not truly praising God. Worse yet, is the belief that the Holy Spirit is either absent in the service or is not “permitted”.

It’s worth noting that the New Testament is NOT a liturgical manual and was never intended to be. The instructions given in I Corinthians address certain abuses in the use of tongues/prophesy, women speaking out in a disruptive manner during the service, and abuses in the communion service. This should not be used as a blueprint to determine what is to happen during a service.

The use of a prayer book or missal is not meant to restrict worshipers from experiencing God. Rather, it helps usto focus on worshipping Him together as a community. By having a service where all actively participate, worshipers are not left feeling as though they’re merely on the sidelines while others sing or talk. A prayer book is also most beneficial for those who experience difficulty praying from the heart.

Liturgical churches vary in the music used. Some use old, traditional hymns; some prefer Gospel; some use Christian folk; and yet others use contemporary praise choruses. Usually, a variety of all of these are used. Worshipers should not be restricted to using only a particular style of music. It’s hard to compete with the timeless hymns Christians have been singing for hundreds of years, IMO.

A lectionary (plan for reading the Bible usually based on a 3-year cycle) allows worshipers to hear readings from most of the Bible and for preachers/homilists to cover a variety of subjects the Bible teaches. This helps avoid of the problem of a worship leader preaching on certain readings or subjects he/she prefers and ignoring most of the rest of the Bible.

Organized prayer for the Church, the world, and special concerns help remind us that we’re obligated to pray for others without ceasing. No Christian worship service should be without prayer! 🙂

Having the celebrant (priest or pastor presiding at communion) use a Eucharistic prayer helps us to approach the sacrament with proper reverence. Not only do we obey Jesus by receiving the Bread and Wine, but we remember more fully WHY we do so. Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary ceases to be a long-past event that’s easy to forget and becomes very real in our lives.

When we follow liturgical worship, we join ourselves to generations of Christians in ages past in a very real and meaningful way.

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