Through the habit of liturgy — the formal, repeated order of worship bearing the same components and shape wherever and whenever it is performed — we internalize the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. Liturgy plants in us our individual faiths; yet it is a public and communal act as we stand together in worship as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Because liturgy is central to Christian worship, it is unsurprising that arguments — often extremely bitter ones — have arisen for many centuries about the correct approach to liturgy. In the United States, debates about liturgy have persisted for years, particularly between “non-liturgical” and “liturgical” churches, with non-liturgical churches believing that formal liturgy is stifling and rote, preventing the fresh outpouring of the Spirit. Within some Evangelical churches, internal debates have arisen about using some elements of the liturgy in their worship services without committing to a full, formal, liturgical approach. A pastor at one such church, Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, says:
[F]or many years, the word liturgy was almost a four-letter word…We wanted to cultivate a free, Spirit-led worship culture, and wrongly assumed that creeds would lead to formalization and dead orthodoxy…we still want a “free and Spirit led worship culture,” but now we clearly see the place of responsive readings and creeds as a means of helping us offer our Triune God the worship he deserves and in which he delights.
The place of formal ritual in the church and what kind of ritual we should practice is an ever-evolving element of Christian practice. It is natural that Christians should discuss and challenge one another on points related to liturgy because how we worship God together is important. Worshiping together hones our faith and unites us in a framework of belief. Liturgy matters, so of course, we will debate about how we should be practicing it.
Churches that embrace a formal liturgy must consider the most effective ways to use the liturgy in worship. In designing liturgy, as one writer puts it:
Everything that is visible needs to communicate something of the mystery that we are celebrating: the altar cloth, the vestments, the flowers, the furnishings, the colors of the liturgical seasons…all these need to convey an invitation to worship.
In this course, Rosemarie Logan Duncan, Canon for Worship at The Washington National Cathedral, talks about designing liturgy in such a way that it conveys specific messages during particular seasons and addresses the heart, mind, and body for the purpose of elevating the spirit. She discusses ways to choose prayers, music, and decor, the incorporation of the church seasons, and conveying the thematic importance of certain ideas at certain times through liturgy. The mission of liturgy, she emphasizes, is always proclaiming of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ in the world.
We hope that you will find this class useful as you consider the role of liturgy in worship and the best way to design effective liturgies at your church. For a preview of the course, please click here.
Image 1: Formal procession during a service at The Washington National Cathedral. Danielle Thomas/Washington National Cathedral.
Image 2: Worshipers at Cornerstone Church in Toledo, Ohio. Wikimedia.
Image 3: Altar at The Washington National Cathedral decorated for Christmas. Washington National Cathedral.