Tag Archives: liturgy

Reflecting on Church #18: More Liturgy, More Struggles

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #18.

We’ve now been to three liturgical services (Church #5, 17, and 18), and I’ve struggled at each one. I’m quite sure God is present, but we don’t connect. I could blame the church, the priest, or tradition, but it’s no one’s fault but my own.

The people arrive silently, worship subtly, and exit quickly. Without interaction, connection, or community, I leave feeling alone and isolated. The ritual and rhythm of Catholic practices intrigue me, but the impersonal nature of their gathering discourages me.

God, may I learn how to connect with you in all settings and circumstances. May my worship be sincere and true, regardless of the style of church service.

[See my reflections about Church #17 and Church #19 or start with Church #1.]

Reflecting on Church #17: Learning to Embrace Liturgy

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #17.

This high church experience gave me much to contemplate about worshiping God in a more formal, liturgical manner.

Recalling Jesus’ warning against “vain repetition” (although he was addressing prayer, Matthew 6:7 KJV), part of me rebels against their rote practices. The liturgy, the solemn ritual, and the prescribed responses all fit my understanding of “vain repetition.” I want nothing to do with a routine, mechanical connection to God; I desire a Spirit-led directness: organic, passionate, and real.

Yet at the same time, there’s a certain rhythm to grasp – and to embrace. Though it eludes me right now, I want to pursue it, not as a regular spiritual practice but as a refreshing break from my normal non-liturgical connection with God.

Liturgy can expand my relationship to God, if only I can learn how to comprehend it.

[See my reflections about Church #16 and Church #18 or start with Church #1.]

A Simple Gesture (Visiting Church #32)

We ascend the steps of the church, and a gregarious woman approaches. She’s wearing a white vestment, and I spy a clerical collar underneath. We’ve never been received so cordially.

She thanks us for visiting and asks if we’re familiar with the Episcopal Church. We say no. She smiles broadly, “Here’s what I’m going to do.” She quickly scans the sanctuary. “Our services can be hard to follow if you’re not used to them, so I’m going to seat you by someone who can guide you.” She introduces us to a couple our age and explains the situation. I sit next to the husband, and he’s eager to help.

The choir starts our service, and he cues me on the liturgy as we bounce between two books, often in quick succession. Plus, we sing one song from the bulletin. The priest also provides verbal cues when possible. My new friend takes his assignment seriously and performs it admirably. The simple gesture touches me. It makes so much sense, but no one’s ever done this for us before.

After a short message is the Holy Eucharist. Open to all, the priest thoroughly explains the process. When we go up, if we just want to receive a blessing, we cross our arms over our chest and she will bless us. To partake in the Eucharist we receive the bread (and it really is bread, not a cracker). Then we proceed to the wine, where we can dip the bread or drink from the cup. Most dip their bread and so do we.

Though we’re growing to understand liturgical services, they’re still daunting. Having someone to guide us is most helpful and much appreciated.

The service ends. I sincerely thank our guide for his assistance; today was good.

[Read about Church #31 and Church #33, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #32.]

I Want to Learn More (Visiting Church #28)

Sunday we visit another small church. I expect a traditional, liturgical service. The sanctuary is simple, filled with color and symbolism. Several lit candles mesmerize as incense fills the air. A worshipful instrumental piece, courtesy of a CD, plays in the background.

The music stops and the opening liturgy begins. We hear the minister but don’t see him. He enters the sanctuary and performs a series of rituals, perhaps preparing the altar for worship. His actions produce a mystical aura, both comforting and confusing.

Ornately attired, he wears a combination of what I suspect a priest and a rabbi might wear for their respective services. The liturgy progresses and we follow along in the Book of Services: The Celtic Episcopal Church.

One member has already prepared us for the liturgy. Now, each time the service jumps to a new section in the book, she slides up behind us, whispering the page numbers. We appreciate her assistance.

To start his message, the minister looks at the congregation for the first time. He smiles, suddenly affable. The service, once solemn, now becomes casual. The sudden switch from the formal to informal confronts me with a contrast I can’t fully grasp.

His concise message lasts only ten minutes. Then we celebrate communion and with more liturgy, conclude the service in the original reserved manner. Without any singing, the meeting ends an hour after it started.

Although most foreign to me, this tiny church and their worship intrigues me. I want to learn the meaning behind their rituals, understand the history of their practices, and discover the rhythm of their liturgy. It’s there but will take repeated exposure for me to grasp and then to embrace it.

Though they worship God much differently than is my normal my practice, it’s no less viable and offers valuable illumination. I want to learn more.

[Read about Church #27 and Church #29, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #28.]

Catholicism, Part 2 (Visiting Church #18)

The sanctuary of this Roman Catholic Church is grand without being ostentatious. Modern and airy, it seats several hundred, with pews arrayed in four sections, each group angled to face the front. Behind the platform is an impressive marble wall with a large crucifix at its center. To one side, at floor level, is a statue of Mary.

As people enter, most dip their fingers in a vessel of water mounted by each door and touch their foreheads. Some then turn towards the crucifix, bowing slightly. Many, upon reaching their desired pew, quickly drop to one knee (genuflect) in the aisle. Once seated, about half flip down the kneeling rail. Some kneel as a quick ritual, while others linger in pious contemplation. For each of these actions, making the sign of the cross is a common conclusion.

Perhaps my memories of Church #5 have faded, but this Roman Catholic gathering seems more steeped in ritual, with a service that’s harder to follow. While the hymns are announced, the rest of the liturgy proceeds without direction. We think we’re prepared, but we aren’t. Some of the service uses a “Mass Prayer and Response” card and other parts use “Today’s Missal,” while much of the service follows neither, though perhaps we aren’t looking in the right place at the right time.

Much ritual surrounds the presentation of the Eucharist. Once again, I’m so fixated on the process that I miss contemplating its meaning. Then the service ends.

[Read about Church #17 and Church #19, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #18.]

High Church (Visiting Church #17)

The church has a contemporary service followed by a traditional one; we attend both. A Lutheran congregation, I expect a high-church experience (more formal and liturgical). However, their idea of contemporary is far different from mine. Their music is modern, yet shrouded in formality.

Reading from the lectionary, we stand for the third passage, this one from John. After an informational message is “prayers.” The minister concludes each petition with “Lord, in your mercy,” and we add, “Hear our prayer.” Then there’s the offering, and we recite the Lord’s Prayer.

For communion there’s no invitation for outsiders to participate, but the usher motions us forward, affirming that communion is open to all. From the bulletin we know the minister will say “May the peace of the Lord be with you always.” Our response is “and also with you.” The “bread” is a thin wafer; dry and flavorless, I struggle to swallow it. Next is the juice, only it’s wine; I’m quite unprepared for it. It wasn’t the soothing sip of grape juice I expected to wash down the crumbs. We return to our seats, sing the final song, and are dismissed.

* * *

An hour later, we re-enter the sanctuary for the traditional service, receiving a different bulletin. This one is void of lyrics and full of liturgy. We sing hymns from the Lutheran Service Book to organ accompaniment, followed by the same lectionary readings and message. Afterwards we stand to recite the Nicene Creed. Next are the offering, “prayers for the day,” and the Lord’s prayer.

For communion, ushers dismiss the congregation by rows and people go forward in groups, kneeling to receive the elements. Some partake individually, some with their row. It’s more solemn than the first service and several people do not participate.

[Read about Church #16 and Church #18, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #17.]

Is Liturgy an Enigma to You?

Is Liturgy an Enigma to You?I grew up attending non-liturgical churches. So when I participate in a liturgical service it is an enigma to me. While there is something that draws me to it, something mystical, almost magical, I am more so repelled by its distance, a cold aloofness that seems foreign for the God I love.

Even though things are spelled out with unmistakable precision, I feel only vague pretense. The liturgy serves to keep me from connecting with God; I am unable to engage with him and the community that is happening around me.

I could lament, “But, I don’t get anything out of it.” While that might be true, it misses the point. I wonder if simply being there is what’s important; perhaps trying to engage is the goal.

I think God is honored by my presence and with my efforts, so maybe that’s enough—for now.

Perhaps when I grow up I will eventually understand, but until then I will persist because it’s not about me and what I get out of it—it’s about God and what he gets from it.It’s not about me and what I get out of it—it’s about God and what he gets from it. Click To Tweet

What is the Blessing of the Palms?

An area church has invited other nearby churches to participate in a joint Palm Sunday service for the “Blessing of the Palms.”

That phrase in an unfamiliar one to me, but with over 4 million exact matches of Google, it is likely known to many within the Christian community. (If you are perplexed by this like I am, some quick research — Wikipedia notwithstanding — indicates that the “Blessing of the Palms” is a liturgy often used on Palm Sunday.)

Whenever I encounter a church practice I see if I can connect it directly with what I find either prescribed or described in the Bible. This is not to imply that everything that lacks a direct biblical connection is wrong, but it is a reason to proceed carefully.

Though Palm Sunday is a remembrance directly related to Jesus’ celebratory procession into Jerusalem, just days before his execution (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter), there is nary a biblical indication of any blessing being afforded to palm fronds. Again, this is not a reason to disregard the practice, but it is a sign to carefully consider its relevance.

While, the “Blessing of the Palms” is a foreign concept to me, to others it is normative. This causes me to contemplate the opposite. How many practices that are normative to me, give others pause?

May we all carefully consider the things that comprise our faith practices, embracing the relevant and dismissing the rest.

Have you ever participated in a Blessing of the Palms?