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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Why Have Liturgical Worship and "Common" Prayer?



I find myself increasingly frustrated with modern attitudes toward ritual and liturgy. In the past it has been said that rote memorization is somehow unintellectual or unintelligent. After all, any animal can mimic back sounds like a parrot. Right? But if we stop to think about it rote memorization is an essential part of any child's education. The very first thing a child learns is to recite the ABCs by rote memorization. The second thing the child will learn is to count to 100 and to learn the multiplication tables by rote.

That being said, one of the purposes of "common" prayer is to bring to remembrance things that the people should be learning by rote through a weekly saying of the liturgy. It is sad that most people cannot list the Ten Commandments yet it is part of the rubric of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer that the Ten Commands are to be said in the worship service at least once a month.

Likewise, the catechism calls for the catechumen to learn the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. Almost everyone can say the Lord's Prayer. Why? Well, most learned the Lord's Prayer from saying it with the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools every morning before public prayer was removed from the public school system. But who can say the Apostles' Creed? Even I sometimes have trouble reciting this one because hardly any Episcopal Church uses it anymore. Why? Most use the Nicene Creed because they don't do morning or evening prayer services anymore and instead have a holy communion service weekly on Sunday mornings. Consistency lends itself to rote memorization, which is the specific intention for having common prayer and worship in the first place. Let us not forget that in a preliterate society oral recitation was practically the only way to transmit the Gospel. Thus the people were taught to pray and to recite the creed by memory because they couldn't read or write. A strong argument could be made for doing the same today. People don't read as much as they should in the Bible or the Prayer Book. So if we can help them to memorize the essentials like the Apostles' Creed, the Decalogue and the Lord's Prayer, then we ought to do so. Having a consistent liturgy lends itself to this pragmatic concern that worship and liturgy should both instruct and edify the Christian.

My other complaint is that using multiple versions of the creeds and services, i.e. using "alternative" prayer services makes it difficult to memorize the sentences. Churches ought to stick to either the contemporary OR the traditional prayer services and communion services so that the language is consistent. It is equally irritating to hear the minister ad lib the sentences or prayers to change the traditional service back to a more modern one. In fact, when the minister does this and then the congregation responds back, they always read the responses in traditional language with the correct readings. Why cannot the minister do the same? I grew up reading the King James Version of the Bible. Though I am by no means a KJV only fundamentalist, I find it appalling that some ministers think people don't understand traditional 16th century English. I have yet to find anyone who can't understand it, though admittedly there are some difficult and archaic words.

Personally, I prefer the traditional service because the language is much more beautiful and lends itself to memorization much better. Also, the traditional service tends to place greater emphasis because more ideas and nuances can be expressed. Phrases like "our bounden duty" and "dearly beloved in the Lord" and "we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness" just do not occur in modern English. The aesthetic quality of such language lends itself to awe and reverence and a truly meaningful experience of worship with God. The modern equivalents of these phrases lack the punch of the traditional English. "Yah, Lord. I'm a sinner. Forgive me." This sort of language is weak and languid as compared with the rhythm, beauty and strength of the traditional prayer book. I might also mention that modern versions of the prayer book edit out significant portions of the prayer and communion services that emphasize the Protestant character of the English liturgy, including justification by faith alone and that it is only by the merits of Christ that we are worthy of heaven.

Also, it is frustrating when the rubrics are not followed. When the rubrics do not allow for a shorter reading of the Holy Communion service then the rubrics should be followed rather than the personal preferences of the minister. If the service should be shortened, then perhaps the sharing time should be cut instead? The so-called "prayer request" session basically turns into a gossip session or a time for the women to take 10 minutes to say what could have been said in 2. It's a bit narcissistic to make the service revolve around the egos of individuals when the service is supposed to be focused on Christ and what He has done for us rather than on our own narcissistic self interests. The prayers for the sick become more a time for gossipping about how the person is taking their tribulation and how weak their frail faith is rather than simply focusing on the prayer for healing or whatever.

And finally, I find it particularly irritating when the readings, prayers and services are read at such a rapid pace that one has difficulty in finding one's place on the page. It is almost as if we are rushing through to get it over with rather than reading the services with reverence and a worshipful attitude. The articulation of the leader should be artistic and the oratory should be clearly audible and understandable. In other words, a worship leader should focus on a clear pronunciation and articulation of the words such that everyone can clearly hear what is being said. Who would buy an Alexander Scourby reading of the King James Version of the Bible if he simply garbled the words and rushed through the readings? By the same token in public worship the minister should be careful to read the services as if he were a Shakespearian actor. I suppose it is unrealistic to expect every minister to sound like Charlton Heston when he does the worship service. However, it is not unrealistic to ask the minister to slow down and read the service more articulately and reverently. If there is not enough time to do this, then something like the 30 minute sharing time should be cut from the service instead. Perhaps a Wednesday evening prayer service or a Sunday afternoon prayer service would be a more fitting place for a sharing time and extemporaneous prayer meeting?

The Book of Common Prayer was never meant to be ad libbed nor was it intended to become simply a book of Alternate Services where we pick and choose what we want to do or not do. Common worship means we're all on the same page and learning the same things from the liturgy. Otherwise, why bother? We might as well all become pentecostals or quakers and let the "spirit" lead the service into realms beyond our comprehension. Realms no one can remember later. Rote memorization has a place in the liturgy precisely because it hides essentials of the Christian faith in our hearts. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee." (Psalm 119:11 KJV). "But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." (Psalm 1:2 KJV). If we wish to dumb down the service the result is that we dumb down the people in the congregation as well. Are they remembering the creed? The Ten Commandments? The Lord's Prayer? Are they learning the lines from the services that emphasize what Christ did for us on the cross? If we are rushing through to get it over with on time, then the answer is no. But if we are taking the proper time to worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, to read the service in reverence and awe, to articulate the language in all its beauty, then the answer is an emphatic yes.

I am by no means a high church Anglo-Catholic. But that does not mean that we should trivialize worship or ad lib common prayer so that it becomes something less than what the English Reformers intended. Reformed and Evangelical Christianity need not be bland, plain nor profane. Worship should be the last place where the liturgy is mundane or irreverent. Let us give God our best in reading the services, not rushing, not hurrying but taking divine time to worship in proper order, rightly administering the sacraments and rightly preaching the Gospel.


May the peace of God be with you always!


Postscript: I forgot to mention that it is a great loss when the Gloria Patri is not said after the reading of the Psalms. The Gloria Patri is meant to teach us the Trinity. One can never drill these things home enough so that the people learn them by second nature. The enemy is ever vigilant to lead the sheep astray and the more that we can teach them the better!

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