My father was a pastor in a very non-liturgical church. In fact, I would call it anti-liturgical in many ways. We would stand to pray, not kneel. Communion was grape juice, not wine. And sermons were long and pedantic, not pithy and pointed. There was a choir, but the music was led by a song leader who would wave his hands to keep the congregation going. There was an organ, but it was just playing alongside the piano, which was the principal instrument.
When I discovered the Anglican liturgy 25 years ago, it was not just eye-opening, but heart-opening. I had been taught that liturgy was dry and meaningless, yet I found more Scripture in the Anglican services than in my childhood church. I found prayers that were deep and powerful. I wanted to know more.
Then I came to St. Michael’s in 2009. Here, liturgy was at a different level — sometimes deeper, often higher. As I watched the young acolytes, I was impressed at how well things were conducted. The more I observed them — especially the teenagers — the more impressed I grew. They understood what they were doing, they were not just going through the motions. They understood that they were serving the living and true God. I wish I had understood these things as a teenager!
Of course, going through the motions is a habit that is easy to fall into. When we say The Lord’s Prayer three times a day (as The Book of Common Prayer suggests), we may not engage our minds as we should. And if our minds are not engaged, chances are our hearts are not engaged, either.
One might wonder if liturgical comfort level is an indicator of mind and heart engagement. I find the better I know the liturgy, the better I engage in the words and in the meaning of those words.
Because we corporately pray through a common liturgy, we are never alone. Liturgical prayers are prayed with the Church on earth and the Saints in heaven.
In my early days as a Christian, I would read my Bible every day, and read through the entire Bible every year (my grandmother read through the Bible every year until she died at age 93). I would do this Bible reading alone. Now, I follow the Daily Office in The Book of Common Prayer. I may not get through the whole Bible every year (the Office takes two years), but I am no longer praying alone. Whether I’m with a few others in our historic chapel for Daily Office or Daily Mass, or in my prayer closet at home, I know that others are praying the prayers and reading the Scriptures as a body.
In the liturgy, we are together. Whether (as we said in my dad’s church), “Here, there, or in the air!”
This article was written by parishioner Ben Conarroe and published in the 2015 Winter Messenger.