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The Formative Power of Liturgy

The Formative Power of Liturgy

“Faith formation.”  A phrase heard in the church from time to time and often a goal of various evangelism and education committees in parishes. We hear it in homilies, in reference to catechetical classes, and in mission statements. The church has always been concerned with matters of faith formation, but one area of the church’s life that rarely receives the attention that it deserves in its role of faith formation is the most central and accessible practice of the church: worship.

We are blessed with a beautiful liturgy at Holy Trinity, usually executed with grace, thought, and care. I would imagine that the importance placed on liturgy and music resonates with those of us who call Holy Trinity “home” otherwise we’d be in search of a different worship experience. But how many of us fully understand the deep symbolism and historical development of why we do what we do? How many of us have wondered why the mass is structured the way it is or even simply what any of it means?  Why do the Presider and other liturgical ministers wear what they wear? Why do some people bow or make the sign of the cross or hold their hands up in the air at various points throughout the mass? How many of us recognize that the liturgy seems to have a rhythm but we can’t quite articulate what that rhythm is?

We as Christians, and particularly Lutherans, have a liturgy that is full of profound symbols and meanings, a strong heritage of congregational song and rich ritual.  For many of us, liturgical rites accompany almost every major life passage.  Baptism, confirmation, marriage, and funerals, in addition to our weekly worship life, are all centered on the acts of proclaiming God’s word through speech, song, and sacraments.  The liturgy of the church is around us and with us throughout our entire life, yet, worship can often be taken for granted, or in some cases, modified into something completely different.

Perhaps, in an age where the nurturing of “self” far outweighs the nurturing of community, the discipline of re-ordering one’s self from the ways of the world to the ways of the cross expressed through communal action, word, and song is so foreign to us that we’ve forgotten (or have never learned) how to distinguish the expectations of secular verses sacred.  The church at worship shows us a different picture of the world than what we usually see. The power of the church’s liturgy shows us God’s reign on earth, not our broken human orders.  It is at the very heart of why liturgy and music are so important to the faith formation of all people that we have a responsibility to get it right.

Why are liturgy and music effective means of faith formation?  The answer is simple; the words we hear and say, the actions we express, and the songs we sing are all proclamations of the gospel. In worship we are reminded again and again that we are a holy people advocating for peace, justice, and healing for the whole world.  When we repeat these ancient rituals week after week the ritual begins to shape our very identity; we daily recall our baptismal promises and Gather ourselves in Christ, we live out God’s Word of love and compassion for our neighbor, we give thanks for the Meal of food, clothing, family and home, and are Sent by the power of the Spirit into the world to bear God’s love.

And what about those questions in the second paragraph? The Worship Committee is currently working on a Worship Guide that will address these very questions. A handbook of sorts, you’ll be able to take this resource home and read it as you like or use it during the Mass as a “play by play” narrative that explains what’s happening and why as you experience it.  Look for the Worship Guide later in the fall!

–Donald Meineke, Director of Music, October 2014