Top Ten Reasons Why We Use the Liturgy

This is a great article by the Rev. William Cwirla on why Lutherans worship according the western, catholic liturgy. Keep reading at Higher Things to find out what those 10 reason are!

“Why the Liturgy?  First a definition and a disclaimer.  By “liturgy” I mean the western catholic mass form as it has been handed down by way of the Lutheran Reformation consisting of the five fixed canticles – Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.  Pardon the Greek and Latin, but it sounds cool and we still use ‘em.  “Liturgy” also includes the assigned Scripture texts for the Sundays, feast days, and seasons.  Most of what I will say about the liturgy of the Divine Service will pertain to “liturgical worship” in general.

Now, why do we worship according to the western, catholic liturgy?”

via Higher Things : Top Ten Reasons Why We Use the Liturgy.

Where Do Lutherans Fit?

I personally have some pretty strong opinions on the Lutheran church (imagine that!). For example, I believe that the confessional Lutheran church fits in the group of ancient church bodies, along with the Orthodox and Catholic churches. After all, when Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation, he didn’t set out to create a new church; rather he wanted to fix what was broken in the old church. And since we still use his writings as guidelines, and his writings were inspired by an understanding that was getting back to the original church, doesn’t it stand to reason that we are still one of the ancient churches?

It has recently come to my attention, though, that the other ancient church bodies don’t see us that way. It’s not a total surprise to me–I think it’s more their vehemence that has caught me off guard. But I’ve read more and more that suggests that people who belong to the “original” ancient churches view us as interlopers, people who could not possibly understand the history they have. It doesn’t matter that we share their liturgy, their liturgical year, their respect of the early church fathers, and so on. All that matters to them is that some of our key writings come from a man who lived “only” 500 years ago, so what could we possibly know of history?

And then there are other Protestant denominations. They might consider “us” to be one of “them,” but then again, because of our historic liturgy, our adherence to a liturgical year, and our view of the Sacraments, they don’t really “get” us. And frankly, I don’t really get them, either, because they’ve thrown away history in an attempt to *not* be Catholic.

I know it doesn’t really matter. Who cares how Orthodox, or Catholics, or Baptists, or whoever, view us? But whenever I come across discussions like this, I have the unsettling feeling that I don’t really fit in. I see myself as part of an ancient church body, but there are others who turn up their nose at that, and claim that I can’t possibly be. And then there are others who look at my views on the Lord’s Supper, my love of the liturgy, and think that I’m bordering pretty close to those “unchristian” Catholics. I guess it’s hard for Lutherans to properly fit in with other denominations in these kinds of discussions, because we manage to have the best of both worlds!

Why I Love the Liturgy

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.

Children in Church

I hate church nurseries. At every church I’ve attended that has *had* a church nursery, I’ve been offered, encouraged and harassed to use the nursery. I know people have good intentions, but I grew so tired of hearing people to tell me to “let myself have a break,” or “let the children come and play,” or whatever other way they so nicely suggest that my children didn’t belong/didn’t need to be/weren’t wanted in church. This is why I am so glad that they church we go to now has no nursery in sight. Places where you can take your child during the service? Yes. Staffed nursery? No. So grateful.

I truly believe (and always have) that children belong in church from the time of their baptism on. I also believe that children should be baptised within weeks, if not days, of their births, ergo, children belong in church from the time they are days (or weeks) old, hearing the Word. And don’t tell me it’s too hard, because I don’t buy it. When I had one, or even two children, mothers with more “experience” would knowingly say that I’d change my mind when they were older/more mobile, or if I had more children. Well, I’m here to tell you, I didn’t change my mind, not when I had four children four and under, not when I found out that one of my children has autism (which can make sitting through church a challenge), not when my husband is out-of-town and I have to take them all by myself, not ever. Children are part of the body of believers, they need to be taught how to worship, and they need to be in worship.

So, to everybody who talked down to me like I had no idea what parenting was like when I was a younger parent: you were wrong. I stand by my belief that children *always* belong in church. To the other parents out there who are struggling to do the right thing and keep their children in church with them, here are a few ideas for you:

  1. Sit in front. This is just common sense. If you’re sitting in the back, facing the front, when your child is loud, that loudness travels in front of you, toward all of the rows of people sitting in front of you. If you’re in front, the sound is mostly just traveling toward the pastor, and he’s usually more understanding than the people sitting in the pews.
  2. Limit distractions. I know a lot of people swear by “church bags” full of toys, books and snacks. I used to do that, too. But I found that all that stuff really just provided more distractions, more noise, and more problems when they were dropped, lost or fought over. If you *must* bring something, bring a quiet toy (stuffed animals are great at being quiet) that doesn’t rattle, sing, squeak, or have wheels that make lots of noise. Better yet, bring a church related book. A Bible story book, or one of my favorite books for toddlers–The Things I…series from CPH. I think those are actually best used at home before and after church to talk about what you will be (or what you have been) seeing and doing, but in church would be OK too, if you have to bring something.
  3. Sit in front. I know I said this once already, but I’m saying it again for a different reason. Children love to see what is happening in church. There is so much to watch and listen to, and the closer you are to the front, the better children are able to participate. Yes, you will need to whisper to them what is going on, and yes, they will need to be taught to whisper their questions to you, but this is how they learn. They need to see, hear and understand what is going on in the service–this is how they learn to be part of the service themselves when they are older.
  4. Help them participate. Help young children learn to stand when you stand, sit when you sit, and fold their hands at appropriate times. Also, a benefit of attending a liturgical church is that even small children can learn when to say the appropriate responses, and what those responses are. And young children who can’t yet read still like to follow along in a hymnal, so show them the correct page, help them turn the page at the right times, help them to learn how to treat the hymnal with respect (just as you’re probably teaching them to do with story books at home).
  5. Talk about church. Talk about how you behave in church before you go. Talk about what happened in church on your way home. Play church with stuffed animals during the week, modeling correct church behavior. The more children know what to expect, and what is expected of them, the better they will do on Sunday morning.
  6. Be consistent. Go to church *every* Sunday. Yes, there are weeks when illness makes us miss out on worship, but those instances are usually few and far between. There will be Sundays that you won’t want to go. Go anyway–these are the Sundays you need to be there the most. The more often you go, the better you children will behave, so go regularly.
  7. Leave when you need to. Even with practice and help from parents, even the best child has a Sunday with a meltdown. So, if you need to leave because your child is being a distraction, just leave, as quickly and as quietly as possible (I know this is embarrassing when you’re sitting in front, but hopefully if you’re sitting in front, and your children are engaged in the service, you’ll need to leave less often, anyway). And when you get out of the sanctuary, sit with your child, or stand if there are no seats available, but keep participating in the service. No running around, no playing with toys, no going home. Even if you’re not in the sanctuary, your child needs to learn that Sunday mornings are for worship, and if they are not willing to sit in the pew (preferably in the front), then they are going to worship in the back, where they can’t see as well, and aren’t as much a part of things. I know from experience that this is not more fun than sitting in the pew, and the child will eventually realize that in the church, where they can see and hear well, is the better place to be.

Helping children to learn how to worship is not always easy–at times is may seem like a never-ending task. But, one Sunday you will realize that your toddler is singing the words to the liturgy, and you will realize that your elementary-school age children are listening to the sermon, and you may even notice that your special-needs child is at his best in church, and you will know what an important and rewarding task it truly is!