Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, December 15, 2019
Worship by Liturgy
What is liturgy? The dictionary defines the word liturgy as “a form of public worship; a collection of formularies for public worship; a particular arrangement of services.’ Sometimes “liturgy” is understood only to mean “a written prayer service where all prayers are written down word for word” as we have at St. Peter’s Anglican Church Loveland. But the word means more than just written prayers for a church service.
If the word is given the meaning of “the structure for public worship,” then every church has a liturgy, a set format for conducting public worship. Many churches begin with a song, then a prayer, then the reading of a Scripture, then a set of prayers, a song, a sermon, a prayer or prayers, a blessing, a song. Others begin with several songs intermittent with prayer, then a reading from the Bible, a sermon, a prayer, and a song or songs. Every individual church maintains the same format in every worship service. That is a liturgy of sorts.
The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek word leitourgia which means “work of the people” which is a direct rendering of two Greek words litos and ergos which when put together mean “public service.” So, liturgy is the work of the people together to worship God in community. No one is a spectator in a liturgical service. No one other than God is being worshiped or is the center of attraction. Everyone takes part actively in the liturgy, the work of the people.
The younger readers might not be familiar with evangelistic meetings and gatherings of the nineteenth century which attracted big crowds and where there was evangelistic messages, extemporaneous prayers, altar calls, loud singing of informal songs of praise that followed no particular rules of music but to which people would sway with their bodies in exuberant fashion. The atmosphere would often get charged and people would go into emotional highs, feeling good inside. Over the years, churches were planted that followed that format for their worship services, and the written liturgy was summarily abandoned.
Some churches that came out of the Protestant Reformation reworked the liturgy that was in place at the time and reverted to the historical structure of worship handed down from the first-century Christian worship which itself borrowed from Jewish worship traditions. The Anglican liturgy was pretty much put together by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury (1533-1556). He translated the prayer for purity from Latin to English (Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known….) and others. He is the power behind the Book of Common Prayer.
Components of the liturgy:
The Anglican liturgy has two main parts: the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist also known as the Great Thanksgiving or the Divine Liturgy. The first part of the service is the liturgy of the Word. This includes:
1. Communal prayer: Some of the prayers are prayed by one person while the rest of the people remain silent but very present before the Lord and listening or reading along with the leader. Some other prayers are prayed by the congregation together. Every individual is called upon to participate actively in these prayers. We begin the service with the prayer for purity to implore God to cleanse our hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit.
2. God’s Law is announced. The summary of the law may be used or the entire Ten Commandments. It is a tradition in many Anglican churches to use the Ten Commandments during Advent and Lent and the summary of the law in all other seasons. There’s no hard and fast rule. Please listen attentively as God’s Law is read.
3. Reading and Hearing the Word of God: Here the Word of God is read out loudly. Every worshiper is encouraged to read along meditatively as the designated reader reads out the assigned reading. There will normally be four readings, one from each of the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels. The readings have been divided into three cycles, Year A, Year B, Year C. The idea is that every three years pretty much of the entire Bible will have been read in corporate worship. We’ve just started year A.
4. Proclamation of the Word: There will then follow the preaching of the Word of God. Please be attentive and follow the preacher. If at all possible take notice. If you are living with other people in your home, spouse, children, or other, go over with them what was taught at church during your worship time at home.
5. Affirmation of the Faith: Then follows the corporate proclamation of what we believe. In a Eucharistic service, we use the words of the Nicene Creed to tell the world what we believe. This creed adds the explanation to statements of the Apostles’ Creed to remove any ambiguity or nebulousness of meaning that might be said to be present in the Apostles’ Creed. The intention is to remove any doubt as to what we believe.
6. Prayers of the People: This is the time we present to God the needs of the world and our own. We pray for the universal church, the clergy and people; the mission of the Church, the nation and all in authority, the peoples of the world, the local community, those who suffer and those in any need or trouble, and we thankfully remember those who went before us and all the blessings of our lives.
7. Confession: We have heard God’s law; we have heard God’s Word read to us and expounded to us; we declared what we believe; we have interceded for others and for ourselves. Now it’s time to humble ourselves and practice the spiritual discipline of confession and lay our shortcomings and sins before God both corporately and individually. Then we will hear God’s pardon announced to us by an ordained minister. Please savor the moment.
8. Passing the Peace of Christ: This part of the service is far more than just greeting people. When we pass the peace to someone we are blessing him or her with the sweet words “The Peace of the Lord be with you.” The person responds to us: “And also with you,” hence blessing us back. It is a corporate expression of joy together as a family after being forgiven by our God. Please bless as many people as you are able.
9. Birthdays, travel blessings, anniversaries, miscellaneous prayers and announcements.
10. Worshiping in giving: We respond to God’s goodness by offering him from our means, as we are able. A song is usually sung as we make our offering. This marks the end of the liturgy of the Word. Now we move into the Liturgy of the Eucharist or the Great Thanksgiving.
11. The Great Thanksgiving: This is a meditation and remembrance of the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. He did all this for you. Your sins are forgiven. You are a child of God. Please listen and pray with solemnity and joy in your heart all through the Great Thanksgiving. God did for you what you could not do for yourself. Let gratefulness, thankfulness, and joy in the Lord flood your heart. At the Eucharist, Jesus is present among his people in a special was. So when you come to receive the elements bring your deepest prayers. At St. Peter’s we welcome to the table all baptized people, friends of Jesus, of all denominations that acknowledge Jesus Christ as God. We also welcome children to the table. We ask that parents talk to their children about the solemnity of the Eucharist so they begin early to understand holy things.