The Form is the Message

In keeping with the theme I introduced last week when I shared with you the significance of the Latin saying, lex orandi lex credenda (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith), this week I will share other examples of what happens when we play around with the order of worship.

Last week I shared how many contemporary attempts at creating new worship forms lack being Trinitarian. That is, you do not hear “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” being invoked or mentioned much, if at all. Prayers do not end with something similar to, “…for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

Many contemporary attempts that I have witnessed, unlike traditional liturgies, do not use Biblical language in the order. The traditional liturgy, as reflected in our Lutheran liturgy, is almost entirely composed of passages from Scripture, especially from the Psalms, the Book of Isaiah, and the Book of Revelation.

Many modern worship services emphasize informality. And this is in stark contrast to historical forms which from early on looked for exalted language and gestures, and were composed with a kind of formalism that bespeaks of reverence in the presence of holiness.

From early on the meal, that is, the Lord’s Supper, played an important role in the weekly gathering of believers. In Lutheran terminology, traditional worship was dually focused on Word and Sacrament.

Archeological and historical records inform us that the earliest gathering of the saints for the Divine Service may have been without seating. And later when pews became the norm, worshipers participated in a lot of movement – standing, kneeling, bowing, processionals, eating, drinking, making the sign of the cross, exchanging the sign of peace, and so on. Many current attempts at gathering allow for much sitting and can appear as, and allow for, mere spectating.

In all these ways, and more, we think we have not changed the message, just the form. But the form implies more about the message than we realize!

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose of the “Silence for reflection and self-examination” in the Brief Order For Confession and Forgiveness?

“The silence for self-examination and reflection should be an extended silence to enable personal application of the general phrases of the prayer that follows. Silence of one or two minutes is not too long” (Manual on the Liturgy – LBW).

This is a helpful time to reflect back on our lives over the past week and ask ourselves whether we have been disobedient or unfaithful, bad-tempered or dishonest, or whether we have hurt anyone by word or deed. By allowing for this period of reflection we are able to personalize what would otherwise remain quite general.