The importance of fixed forms of worship



Definitions can be dull but they are helpful. 'Liturgy', like so many other words in the Christian vocabulary, is a Greek word, meaning 'public service'. The word indicated the work of public officials in general, but it was used for religious ministry as well. The ministry of priests in the Temple at Jerusalem came under this description-it was a useful word to describe the ministries of all kinds performed by Christian folk but it could be applied specifically to public worship. It is this last meaning which is our concern.


The Anglican Catholic Church is a liturgical Church. This means that its public worship follows set patterns-liturgies. The custom of liturgical worship was received into the very earliest Christian communities from the Jewish synagogues. As a result all Catholic and Orthodox Churches are liturgical Churches. Some people think that set patterns must restrict freedom in worship. Far from it! Try driving a sports car across a freshly ploughed field and you will soon discover that a properly constructed road is better. A properly constructed liturgy is a means by which Christians can worship together effectively and purposefully. The liturgies of the Anglican Catholic Church, therefore, cover all our spiritual concerns from the cradle to the grave-from Baptism to burial, for everyday and special days, in times of rejoicing and in times of sorrow.


Liturgy is not only the public worship of all Catholic and Orthodox Churches, it is a manifestation of the saving presence of Christ. Behind all Liturgy stands the Holy Tradition-the abiding presence and witness of the Holy Spirit within the Church. Liturgy gives expression, through the Holy Spirit, to our salvation in Christ. When it is the liturgy of a Sacrament, such as Baptism or the Mass (Eucharist), it is far more than an act of worship or a profession of the Faith. The liturgy of a Sacrament is our human way of cooperating with the work of the Holy Trinity for our eternal salvation. In Baptism we receive the Life of Christ, in the Mass that Life is constantly renewed in us.


Liturgy helps the Church maintain its highest priority-the worship of God the Holy Trinity. This is the most important task the Church has to accomplish, for its very Faith and works of mercy grow out worship. If Christianity is a liturgical religion, the Christian's first duty is to worship, love and serve Almighty God, even before beginning to love his neighbour as himself. A major weakness of many Christian Churches of today is that they reverse the priority of the two 'Great Commandments'. The result is sectarianism-where man worships himself and his own ideas about religion, rather than lift his eyes to the revelation God has given to him in His Son. Worship and the vision of Faith go together.


In practical terms Liturgy is the collection of public rites of the Church: the forms which enable us to administer the seven Sacraments, provision for the daily round of worship in Mattins and Evensong, all special blessings, dedications, etc. We, in the Anglican Catholic Church, accomplish all these using only books approved by our Church, in accordance with the rule of the Holy Tradition of Faith. When we conform to what the whole Church purposes through its worship, we are truly living the life Church-fulfilling our membership of Christ's Body. If, deliberately, we do something else-something of our own invention-we are in danger of separating ourselves from Christ, the Life of the Church. The Liturgy is not our property; we are its custodians.


Liturgy is not a matter of a few ceremonies which can be easily exchanged in favour of private ideas about prayer, doctrine, and morality. It is still less the mere sharing of friendship by a group of Christians. It is the sublime expression of the Church's Holy Tradition. It sums up the whole Christian life and inspires it. Liturgy is manifestation of heaven on earth and the passage of the Church from this world into the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God. Through Liturgy the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, becomes a visible and a palpable reality.


Because Liturgy comes to us from Holy Tradition, it cannot be changed at every whim and will of priests or bishops, even under the pretext of updating or rendering it more relevant and meaningful to a particular culture of people. To change the Liturgy to suit changing beliefs is a false principle. This does not mean, however, that Liturgy is condemned to remain a 'museum piece'. As was said above: behind all Liturgy stands the Holy Tradition-the abiding presence and witness of the Holy Spirit within the Church. For this reason our Liturgy is not, and need not be, exactly what was celebrated by the Apostles, even by Jesus himself. There is growth in the Church's life but not change into something entirely different. This explains why there have been, and still are, so many different types of authentic Liturgy celebrated by Churches throughout the world.


All the rites (precise orders for the celebration of services) are derived from those used in the Primitive Church. These have all developed in different directions, each in a tradition (meaning here an established teaching or custom of the Church, rather than the Holy Tradition itself) reflecting the spread of the Gospel to different peoples and cultures. The rites of the East vary, as do those of the West-most of their development was complete by the eleventh century. The Mass of the Anglican Catholic Church, for example, is of central European origin, combining elements of the Roman and Gallican liturgies. Further elements were added at the time of the Reformation, especially in regard to the preparation of the faithful for the worthy reception of Holy Communion. These rites were not manufactured by committees of experts and foisted upon the faithful, they grew out of the life and experience of the Church in the light of the Holy Tradition. There is a need to maintain the integrity of our heritage.


The integrity of Liturgy is important for the whole of the Church. It is in the rediscovery of our liturgical tradition that we will become closer to our Orthodox brethren in the living of the Mystery of Christ. It is in Mass, Office and Sacrament that Jesus is perpetually present not only in the minds of the worshippers, but in reality. This is true especially of The Liturgy (another title for the Mass)where Christ is present sacramentally in the consecrated Bread and Wine. The awareness now of God in all his glory, as once in his humility, for our salvation, during the days of his earthly ministry-this is the true spirit of Catholic Liturgy.