All Anglican worship services are ‘liturgical’ (meaning that our services are structured, fairly traditional, with set forms, and are filled with ‘calls and responses’). Why do we go through all of this? Why do we use Liturgy in worship and not simply ‘wing it’?
Until rather recently in Church history, the majority of Christians (including Protestants) used liturgical forms in worship. Though it may surprise some people, free-form worship is (mostly) an American innovation of the last forty years or so, and itself follows a basic liturgical form. While we don’t ‘knock’ the free-form expressions of worship, we think that biblically grounded, theologically rich Liturgy is profoundly helpful. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Liturgy Connects. Our Liturgy (from the Book of Common Prayer) connects us with the historic, world-wide Church. Christians have used this particular Liturgy for well over 400 years (actually, some elements of the Prayer Book go back to the 1st century). And good Liturgy connects us with millions of Christians from all over the world, some of whom are (even at this moment) saying the same prayers to the same God. Locally speaking (that is, congregationally speaking) liturgy helps to connect with one another in worship. Our individual voice is united with the whole as we say, in union with our brothers and sisters in Christ, prayers, confess our sins, express our faith, and respond to God’s word as one body.
2. Liturgy Teaches. Good Liturgy enriches the mind and heart with truths about God. The Book of Common Prayer was written by thoughtful Christians who had a profound and deep understanding of the Bible and, as such, we can trust that these prayers say true things about God and what he’s done for us in JesusChrist. Because of their solid and rich content, our prayers and creeds have stood the test of time, informing the hearts, souls, and minds of millions.
3. Liturgy Focuses. Liturgy can lift our eyes, taking the focus away from our selves and onto something and someone ELSE. Put simply, a common and set Liturgy can direct our thoughts Vertically – that is, toward God, who for our sakes became enfleshed. Utilizing historic liturgical forms also draws us out of the many distractions continually assaulting us in our modern lives by drawing us into a form of worship that has been developed over millennia throughout much of the world.
Some will ask, “Can’t people ‘go through the motions’ with Liturgy and not really mean it?” Well, sure—though people can ‘fake it’ through almost anything in life. But we think that if you get past the ‘learning curve’ of Liturgy (that is, stick it out for a month or so in order to get used to it), you’ll begin to appreciate the Liturgy and find it helpful and meaningful. Liturgy, when it brings us close to Bible-ideas that are good for our spiritual diet, offers a substantial and nutritious meal. And when the Liturgy frames the Gospel-Word preached and the Sacrament administered, Liturgy helps to satisfy the spiritual stomach. Dig in!
(*this writeup is adapted from other sources)