|Approaching Christ through Liturgy|
The substance of Christian worship is the adoration of Christ who is present in the gathering of his people. Adoration, in the terms of thanksgiving, praise, prayer, confession and the hearing of Christ, takes many forms. The form used in Anglican worship is known as liturgy, and is common to a number of "catholic" churches. Liturgy is an ancient form of worship preserved for Anglicans in the Prayer Book. Liturgy consists of composed prayers, responses, etc. contained within a set form and usually repeated week by week with little or no change. In Anglican liturgy only the Collects, Psalms and readings change weekly.
Liturgical worship has a long tradition as a means of approach to God:
i] The psalter served as the "prayer book" for the people of Israel. We don't know exactly how the Psalms were used in worship, but it seems they were said or sung (chanted) antiphonally, that is, each verse was halved, the Cantor taking the first half and the congregation the second. The Psalms cover the whole range of adoration: thanksgiving, praise, affirmation of faith, prayer....
ii] Jesus sets the pattern of liturgical worship in the Lord's Prayer. Here we have a series of short liturgical intercessions to be repeated by the disciples. Around the Lord's Prayer and the Psalms, the early church developed liturgical worship as we know it today.
iii] Luke tells us that the disciples gathered in their own homes to "break bread" (a form of communion service), while attending the daily services at the Temple, Act.2:46. Here we have the origins of our services of the Lord's Supper and Morning and Evening prayer.
iv] The Didache (2nd Century) directs that the Lord's Prayer be said three times a day (the Jewish hours of prayer).
v] Justin Martyr (mid 2nd Century) describes a Communion service containing most of the elements we find in our own service: Bible readings, psalm, sermon, prayers, sharing of bread and wine...
vi] Cyprian (250AD) records the use of the liturgical Sursum Corda: "Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord", and the Sanctus "Holy, holy, holy...."
vii] The Christian faith moved into England after the Britons were defeated by the Romans 43AD. The date is unknown, but by 200AD there is a flourishing church in England. At the Council of Arles, 314AD, three British bishops are present. As the Roman Empire collapsed, the legions were withdrawn from England (407AD) and slowly Britain, a Christian country since the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 313AD, came under the control of the Picts (Scots - "the painted folk") and the Jutes (Germanic pirates), and later Saxon sea-robbers. By 580AD only Wales remained nominally Christian. In Wales the form of worship was actually Eastern rather than Western. That is, the early English church was "orthodox" in form.
viii] With the arrival of Augustine to Britain in 597AD, a Western or Latin form of worship was introduced, and finally set in 1085AD with the "Sarum Use", drawn up by Osmund Bishop of Salisbury. This consisted of five complex liturgical service books:
a) Breviary: Morning and Evening Prayer
b) Missal: Holy Communion, Collects, Epistles and Gospels
c) Manual: Occasional Services. eg. Baptism
d) Pontifical: Confirmation and Ordinal
e) Pie: Calendar, Tables, instructions for the Priest.
ix] At the Reformation, Archbishop Cranmer set about reforming the church. The Sarum Use was revised in a new single Prayer Book (1549 and 1552) by applying the principles of preservation, simplicity, purity, common tongue, and uniformity. He even made a point of retaining Eastern (Gallic or Orthodox) elements of the liturgy, eg the Gloria in Excelsis, Tersanctus ("Let us give thanks to the Lord....."), and the prayer of St.Chrysostom (from the Spanish rite). He added his own compositions and those of the reformers, eg. The Comfortable Words from Archbishop Hermann, the placement of the Ten Commandments in the Communion from Valerandus Pollanus.
x] The Anglican Prayer Book went through numerous revisions, but with minimal changes and additions: 1559, 1604, 1662, and 1928 (not accepted). Australia produced a replacement book for the 1662 book in 1978 and a further revision in 1995. Both these books introduced substantial changes.
Doing Anglican liturgy
Free-style worship forms have increased in popularity during the twentieth century. Even in the Anglican church, particularly in the Sydney diocese, there has been a move away from liturgical worship. Yet some Anglican churches still retain Prayer Book worship.
Set-form liturgical worship provides a constantly high standard while restraining the excesses of clerical indifference, experimentation, or poor taste. Yet for it to serve as a means of access to God, the worshiper must thoughtfully apply themselves to the right-doing of liturgy.
Morning and Evening Prayer were designed "that the people might continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God". The services have their origin in the Synagogue instruction service which focused on Psalm-singing, prayer and the study of God's word. The services were designed as instruction services for the edification of the faithful. In particular, Cranmer designed them to reflect the great Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith. So there is a stress on confession and the declaration of forgiveness. The movement of the service is from confession, absolution, praise and prayer, to the study of God's word. The services were originally designed to have prayer follow the sermon, but we have the sermon last for convenience rather than good theology.
The Lord's Supper is the fellowship meal of Christ's new community of believers. Its origins go back to the Passover meal celebrated by the people of Israel. They would remember that they were once wondering escaped slaves, protected by the mighty hand of God. In the Passover meal they remembered their escape from bondage, their test and trial in the wilderness, their victory over the powers of darkness and their gaining of the promised land. As Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal on the night before his crucifixion, he took bread and wine and made them new symbols. Now they represented Jesus' propitiatory sacrifice for his friends. The bread and wine represent his body and blood given for the life of an enslaved people. So now we released slaves eat and drink, and then rejoice in hope for the dawning day.
The movement of the service is actually drama-like and is best illustrated in Modern Order service. After a prayer of preparation we find ourselves at Mount Sinai hearing the "ten words", judged and condemned by them. "Lord have mercy" can be our only response. Confession and Absolution affirms our release from our Egyptian bondage. Then comes praise in the Gloria in Excelsis. Thus the journey begins, a pillar of cloud and fire guiding the way: lessons, psalm and exposition. Then we struggle against the enemy in prayer, and having entered the Promised Land we come before the Lord's Table in the prayer of Humble Access. Then comes the Great Thanksgiving which affirms our salvation by grace through faith. Thus we stand now in Jerusalem, in the Temple, before the throne of our Lord and God. As we eat and drink so we remember (believe) Christ's sacrifice and thus affirm our sure standing in the sight of God. The drama concludes as we go in peace into the world to live out the truth of our journey until we meet again to reenact the gospel of grace.
For a meaningful involvement in a liturgical service we need to understand each of the elements of the service, and of their place within the whole.
2. Constant repetition
It is often argued that liturgy is "vain repetition". Good liturgy is indeed repetitive, just as the Lord's Prayer is repetitive. Liturgy that is constantly changed and innovated, is more than a bother, it actually hinders our access into God's presence. Innovated liturgy forces us to focus on the words rather than the meaning. Liturgy that is well-known frees the worshiper to focus on the meaning of the words. They are released from the book. Church members faced with constant changes to their liturgy would be better off with a free-style worship form where they can just listen to the minister praying rather than try to follow the words and get the responses right. Even worse, many believers today are forced to focus on a blurry and ever-shaking overhead projection. They would be better off closing their eyes.
Constant repetition serves to free the worshiper from the actual words of the liturgy. They become familiar with the words, what is said and where it is said, and are then able to focus on the meaning of the words. This then leads to a personalizing of that meaning. Each element of the liturgy can then be used as a platform from which to personally approach Christ.
The Lord's Prayer best illustrates liturgical methodology. To get the most out of the Lord's Prayer it is best to consider each phrase in its own right, drawing out its meaning and then personalizing it. So "forgive us our sins" becomes "forgive me for my constant failure to faithfully serve you Lord, and in particular..............." Once the prayer is known off by heart and its meaning understood, the worshiper is able to use each phrase for personalized intercession. The mind simply locks onto the phrase and runs with it. So then, when each element of a liturgical service is remembered and understood, it is possible for the worshiper to pack their approach to Christ with a full range of personalized adoration, and to do that in unison with their fellow believers.
The repetition of each element of a liturgical service also enables children and those with limited intelligence, to participate at their level and to slowly develop their depth of understanding and involvement. Thus liturgy affirms our unity in Christ: there is neither old nor young, wise nor foolish.
For a meaningful involvement in a liturgical service we need to know off by heart the elements of the service and be willing to use the sense of each element to personalize our approach to the throne of grace.
Worship is substantially adoration, and God's people have long known that there is no better way for a community of believers to adore the living God than in a well-known, carefully-crafted, liturgical service.
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