The older I get, the deeper appreciation I have for our liturgy. Between my own personal experiences, and things I’ve talked over with others, and observed in others, I’ve come to realize what a true treasure liturgical worship is. When we participate in liturgical worship, we hear the Word proclaimed not only in the readings and the preaching of the sermon, but in the very words of the service itself. What a joy to be so immersed in the Word during worship! And while everyone benefits from this continual proclamation of the Gospel, there are some distinct groups that seem to especially take comfort in liturgical worship.
- Older people, with failing memories, often remember the words they learned as children in church. Yes, the words have changed a bit over time, but the basics are still there. I have spoken with many people dealing with aging parents, and they are so grateful that even as their parents’ memories fail, they can fall back on the teachings of their childhood–namely, the Bible, the liturgy, and the prayers they were taught. What a comfort to know that those words became so engrained upon their hearts that even as they age, they can remember and participate!
- Travelers, whether they be families on vacation, or business folks out for work, can take comfort in the fact that worship will be familiar wherever they go in the country (and to some extent, around the world), if they stumble across a liturgical church. This is actually something I really admire about the old Roman Catholic Latin services–you could truly go *anywhere* in the world, and know the service. Granted, to understand it, you have to learn what the Latin meant, but once you did, you could travel anywhere, and be assured that you could understand and participate in the service.
- Parents who often have their hands full on Sunday mornings also benefit from using a standard liturgy. I know many times I have been holding one child in my arms, and helping another find the correct place in the hymnal, leaving me no way to hold a hymnal of my own. But, the words are familiar, and so the hymnal isn’t as needed for the liturgy itself (remembering the verses to many different hymns is a different story!).
- Children, even those who can’t yet read, can participate in liturgical worship, especially if they are brought to church every Sunday from baptism on. Young people are notorious for being little sponges, and so it’s no surprise when we hear even toddlers singing along, saying the prayers, and participating. They can learn the words by heart before they can even read them, and fully participate as the part of the body of Christ that they are.
- Those with special needs especially benefit from liturgical worship. I have seen this in evidence in two very different ways in my life. My blind parents were able to fully participate on Sunday mornings because of the familiar liturgy. Yes, the hymnal is, and has been, available in braille, but for anyone who has ever seen a braille book, you know how cumbersome they are to carry. This is especially true while traveling–it’s impossible to even know which volumes will be needed. And then there are those blind people with poor circulation which makes reading braille difficult, if not impossible. But going to a church the uses the liturgy every week frees that person to participate just as any other member of the congregation.
- The other example of the liturgy being a comfort to those with special needs comes from observing my son, who has autism. Speech came late for him, and is still delayed, and so he hasn’t be able to participate in the liturgy the way his siblings have. He *does* recognize it, though, and that is everything to someone with autism. All children benefit from routine, but for a child with autism, routine can be the only thing that keeps you from a complete meltdown. And so, even when he couldn’t speak (or sing) the words, he knew and recognized them, and could hum along to the music when the words wouldn’t come. And now that speech is becoming easier for him, he realizes he already knows the words, and so participation is that much easier.
The liturgy is ancient, but it is timeless. I don’t think we give today’s young people enough credit when we assume that they don’t get it, don’t like it, and don’t want it in their churches.