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.
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