Last week I attended at class at Gettysburg
Seminary that focused on our Lutheran worship history and
current practice. One item of interest that came out of our
class discussions was, “What is liturgy?”
If I asked you what the word “liturgy” meant to
you, what would you say? I have always thought the liturgy was a
highly structured service or one of the settings in the hymn
book. It is amazing just what this word really means. The
Liturgy is the “work of the people”. Everything we “do” in the
Sunday service is the liturgy.
The church adopted a definition of liturgy from
a political science view to mean a public duty or public work.
The things you do to keep the community going. For example:
shoveling the walk in front of your business, voting on election
day, and keeping your property in good shape.
Liturgy is an event, an occurrence - an example
of this would be: a script itself is not a play - it takes the
actors to “do” the play for it to become a play.
Liturgy is something done - not something felt.
If worship is liturgy, then it is the work of the people in the
congregation - not primarily the leaders. The best examples of
this working liturgy is found in America, in the Quakers and an
African American church.
What exactly is it we DO in the service? We
listen, sing, participate in the Eucharist, welcome strangers,
help others, pray, confess, receive forgiveness and so much
more. The service is meant to be an hour to be honestly
Notice that I listed “listening” first in the
things that we do in a service. Listening is hard work - for
example: the choir sings alone - not to show off their talent
but the choir is proclaiming the meaning of the lessons in a
different way than the preacher. We are to hear the meanings
differently than in a sermon. Therefore, the congregation works
hard with the choir to receive the messages of the music.
In the last forty years the structure of the
service has changed quite a lot. One of the changes is there are
many more people participating in the service. The work of these
leaders is to allow the assembly do its work. The alter guild,
reader, greeter, choir, worship assistant, acolyte, secretary,
janitor, and others all have “liturgy” to help the assembly do
The next time you are in church, observe the
liturgy you do during the service. And thank you for all that
you “do” in the church and outside it’s doors.