Why I Love the Church – Liturgical Worship

September 11, 2013


Sometimes, people don’t “get” liturgical worship. Sometimes, people try it a few times and move on to a different kind of worship complaining about “set prayers” and “saying things by rote”.

This is totally understandable. When I first attended a liturgical service, I was lost. Among other irritations was a choreography that everyone (except me) seemed to know. I didn’t like it.

Now, I love liturgy. But not liturgy for the sake of liturgy (a snare that some have fallen into). I love liturgy because, through liturgy, I have the fullest possible experience of worship. Song, prayer, confession, absolution, Scripture, bread, wine… these provide a petri dish in which my relationship with God can be grown and nurtured. Thus, liturgy is a means to an end (God) not an end in itself.

Even so, liturgical worship is like many other valuable things in life. It must be learned through repetition. In this excerpt from the book Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis describes this learning process as well as the value of consistency (rather than “novelty”) in worship.

“Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like it, it “works” best – when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing, but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice… The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been fixed on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping… A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as we may to exclude it, the question, “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude…

Thus my whole liturgical position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity… But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, they I can never make any progress in the art of worship.”

Liturgical worship does require “long familiarity” to reach the point where we “don’t have to think about it”. But here’s what is cool. Once we lose our self-awareness, we gain the ability to connect with God in new, more profound ways. The very structure of the service is designed to take us places spiritually that we cannot reach in any other way. It is one application of the principal that in losing our life we gain our life.

Learning to dance take time. Learning to play a musical instrument takes time. Learning a sport takes time. But, the time spent is well worth it.

Learning to worship liturgically is similar. Only the reward is eternally greater. I love that.

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