Why Liturgy?

In my Evangelical youth the Protestants would criticize liturgical forms of prayers saying, “You can’t have a real realtionship with Jesus if you just read prayers out of a book. You need to have a heart’s love for Jesus and speak to him in your own words. All that formal stuff is just ‘vain repetition.’”


There are a couple of problems with this. First of all, it is a negative criticism based on ignorance. You don’t like a particular thing so you assume the thing you do like is unavailable and then blast away. So, for example, you go to a burger bar, but you want a toasted cheese sandwich. You then blast the burger bar for not having toasted cheese sandwiches because they have burgers. But if you stopped and asked it just might be that they do have toasted cheese sandwiches on the menu. You end up blasting away without knowing what you’re talking about.


In fact, the Catholic Church encourages a ‘heart to heart’ relationship with Jesus. The saints talked quite happily with Jesus and Mary and their patron saints, and most forms of Catholic spirituality encourage the heart’s true devotion to Christ in an intimate way. It’s just that we have liturgy too. Once again the Protestants are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. Right in affirming heart to heart prayer–wrong in denying liturgy.


So what do we get out of liturgy? First of all, we’re using the words of worship that the Church gives us. As we do, we use the same words used by a billion Catholics worldwide. This unison in words of liturgy brings unity of heart and mind at a very deep level. Furthermore, not only are we sharing the words of a billion Catholics worldwide, we are also using the same words with our brothers and sisters down the ages at all times and in all places for the last two thousand years. When you think about the reality of this is is breath taking in its beauty and depth.


Also, using the words that the Church gives us helps our ordinary prayers to transcend our ordinary lives. It’s kind of like writing a love letter to your beloved, but you also include a sonnet by Shakespeare. Shakespeare expresses your feelings in a much more exalted and beautiful way than you are able. So it is with liturgy. We use the words of worship given to us by the Church and this lifts our prayer to a higher level.


Finally, when I pray using the words of the liturgy my prayer becomes something greater than I was capable of on my own. I am using the words of Scripture I didn’t know myself. I am praying through the doctrines and mysteries that I only partially understand on my own. I am entering into new and deeper dimensions of my faith that, on my own, I was only partially able to glimpse.
The new translation of the liturgy will help all these aspects to come alive for us in a new way, and I for one, am looking forward to the change.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    My 'Bible-believing' uncle is quite good at those spontaneous prayers- especially at mealtime….they go on and on and on…and we are all wishing for a nice Church prayer

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07272003035464034763 tubbs

    Priest's Wife, What is so annoying about such spontaneous "prayers", is that they are NOT prayers at all, but but just ego-tripping sermons! When I watch televangelists go through this schtick I must confess to finding it amusing; Their facial expressions make them look like they belong on the commode, and not in the pulpit.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10705270251238023966 Quanah

    Thank you, Father, for getting at the breath and beauty of liturgical/devotional prayer. For years I have struggled with how to pray. I would either recite what I had memorized which was very little or lazily come up with my own words, which, while from the heart, were always clumsy. A priest recommended I get a copy of "Manual of Prayers." I cannot tell you how much using this book attentively has improved my prayer life and made my own spontanious prayers more substantive. On another note, this is one of those issues that really annoys me. It is mind boggling to me how "Bible Christians" either overlook or write off that, when asked how to pray, Jesus gave us a set prayer and didn't just say, "Pray with your own words."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00858195676825602917 Bill Meyer

    My brother tends to pray as so many Protestants I have heard: "Lord, we just ask… we just… we just…"It can go on for minutes, and almost every hope or request prefaced with "we just ask". Just? Really? It's a laundry list, for Pete's sake!Contemporaneity doesn't preclude forethought or coherent thought.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02677700018308197978 truthfinder2

    I usually have to remind my husband to pray a "Catholic grace – not Protestant!" for family holiday meals. He seems to have developed a penchant for extemporaneous prayer at those times, and the food gets cold. We're the only Catholics, so I guess he just wants to make our non-Catholic family members feel at ease.

  • BaptistMin

    “It’s kind of like writing a love letter to your beloved, but you also include a sonnet by Shakespeare.”
    I like this analogy. I can appreciate the beauty of words that someone who is a more gifted author or has a stronger sense of verbosity can bring to worship and prayer.

    “Finally, when I pray using the words of the liturgy my prayer becomes something greater than I was capable of on my own.”
    I don’t mean to sound crass, but…get over it. Grab a copy of God’s Word and learn what the scriptures say. Study the Psalms. Dive into the teachings of Christ. Learn the prayers of Moses, Elijah, Mary, Jesus and others. But also understand that the Holy Spirit will give utterance.

    “I am using the words of Scripture I didn’t know myself. I am praying through the doctrines and mysteries that I only partially understand on my own.”
    This can be a bit dangerous.

    Though I appreciate liturgy, I don’t regularly use liturgy when I pray. However, most of the time I include Scripture in my prayers. I also don’t pray superfluously. I try to be concise and complete.


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