Why I Love Liturgy

I love liturgy.

It probably sounds strange to those who know me, as I’m the contemporary praise band leader at Union Church. In fact, aside from very classic hymns, I don’t play very many songs that are more than about 20 years old.

I realize that this opens me up to criticism, as modern worship music is largely perceived as shallow, or as a poor Christian substitute for a rock concert. I don’t agree; however, that’s another discussion.

But I love liturgy. I love liturgical worship. A lot of modern-day Evangelicals don’t like liturgy; in fact, many believe it is an empty, boring form of worship. It’s bad, wrong, un-emotional. It presents barriers to a whole-soul connection with God, rather than making that connection easier.

I can sort of understand this. Modern worship is designed to break down the emotional barriers that we come to church with, to help us “open up” and begin to feel the way we think we should feel about God, his love, his mercy, etc. The progression of loud-to-soft music engages the emotions of joy, elation, excitement, and then devotion and love. These are all appropriate emotions to associate with God and using music to elicit these emotions is as old as the world, as far as we know.

People who are used to a certain type and progression of music might find it difficult to connect with liturgy. Reading or reciting or singing the same ancient prayers on a daily or weekly basis might sound dry and uninviting. But I like it, for several reasons.

First, liturgy helps people solidify their identity as part of a community. When everyone in the community comes together for a worship service and everyone knows what prayers to say when, it gives people a sense of belonging. In essence, the same things that make liturgy difficult for outsiders to connect with make liturgy a bonding factor for the community that practices it. Once you have been there for a while, and you know when to stand and when to sit down and when to say “Amen” or “Baruch hu u’varuch shmo,” you feel like part of the family, part of something bigger.

Second, it involves everyone. If you don’t know the songs in a contemporary worship service, you’re hosed. You have to work hard to learn them. While you’re doing that, they are not helping you connect with God. On top of that the music changes every week, and over time, older songs are dropped and newer ones are added. Liturgy, on the other hand, takes a long, long time to change. Many liturgical prayers are hundreds or thousands of years old. Once you know them, you’re golden, and you can participate freely and loudly as a member of the community.

Third, it provides a connection with the past. Knowing that you are praying the same prayers as great saints before you, or, as in the case of the Shema and perhaps some other aspects of synagogue liturgy, Jesus himself, makes you feel like part of an much larger, much older family than your local church.

Fourth, liturgical prayers are well thought out and meaningful. They have stood the test of time. Many times our prayers are vague or self-centered; rarely do they match the eloquence of a great liturgical prayer. Of course, there is absolutely a place for spontaneous and even selfish prayer, for prayers that come directly from the heart, talking to God as one talks to a friend. But the public sphere is not the place for these heartfelt, personal prayers. Liturgy lets everyone pray with the eloquence and depth of Milton or Shakespeare.

There are lots of other reasons to love liturgy; I only have time to relate a few. But if you’re one who has a hard time connecting with liturgical prayer, maybe try doing it for a while and see if it grows on you.

This entry was posted in Ecclesiastical Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why I Love Liturgy

  1. MacKenzie says:

    Craig and I love litury too. But we are often frustrated that the only churches who choose to consistently use a more liturgical style of worship aren’t very God focused. This is probably the root of our struggle to find a denominational home. I know many strong Christians who also love liturgy so I’m not sure why that is the case but it makes me sad to think that in 25 years, certain churches will not even have any remnants of a true Christian faith in them. (Example: My parents had/have been attending the same small military Episcopalian service for a long time and both of the clergy who are retired but continue to due services and are very conservative and focused on sharing the word of God so I respect my dad’s decision to go there still but there is absolutely no way Craig and I could bring up our children in the Episcopalian tradition I was raised in because they don’t even pretend to think the Bible is the truth and if it isn’t – what’s the point?)

    • Jacob Fronczak says:

      It is sad that some of the older and more traditional denominations have completely lost sight of their founding principles and no longer hold that the Bible is true. I have heard that the Anglican church USA is a lot more conservative, though. I know an Anglican priest in Ft. Wayne and he is a strong believer and very God-centered. I think that form-wise the two denominations are similar. So, there might still be some hope out there for those who prefer liturgical worship. But you’re right, many of the great old denominations seem like they have dried up and fallen off the tree.

  2. James says:

    I’ve always thought that emotions in a church service were highly overrated. More to the point, it seems like a lot of people substitute an emotional experience for a spiritual one or worse, they think the two are identical. Just because the music is upbeat and happy and makes you feel cheerful doesn’t necessarily mean you’re communing with the Holy Spirit.

    On the flip side of the coin, I find some of the traditional Jewish prayers to be very emotional at times. They are what you put into them.

    • Michele says:

      Interesting, Jacob. I had a similar conversation with Aaron at Shavuot … wondering how one can daven with kavanah when it’s so rote. He explained that praying liturgy becomes so automatic that the soul is allowed to commune on a deeper level with God because it (soul) is not preoccupied with reading, say, a new prayer in the bulletin (or on the big screen!), or with making something up. Interestingly, an Episcopal layman said the same thing to me 30 years ago, and a charismatic said, “That’s like praying in the Spirit!” Lots to think about.

  3. Pingback: Spilled Out | Morning Meditations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>