Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 8, 2011

Liturgy, Repetition, and Flexibility

The Liturgy is important because it has repetition. It has been said that the Liturgy is boring. It is like water flowing over a waterfall and boring into a rock. Eventually the water has its way with the seemingly impenetrable rock. Repetition ingrains the Word of God deep into our minds and hearts. Thus, the Word of God is there in times of crisis, persecution, sudden tragedy, and old age to comfort us with what is familiar and sure. Times of tragedy and trial do not require novelty. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in the Liturgy sometimes seems tiresome. Yet when the pastor gathers with the troubled, sick, and dying, their confident recitation of liturgical prayers brings comfort and often tears. Estranged spouses pray together, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” A dying Christian whose body is ravaged with cancer receives the Lord’s Supper and confesses with his pastor and family, “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” 

The historic Liturgy has both repetition and variation. Within the unchanging structure there is plenty of room for a variety of hymns, Introits, Psalms, Graduals, prayers, sermons, and other components. As in all areas of human life, creativity needs boundaries. Routine in life frees the creative process of the mind. Most people require the discipline of a morning routine. Getting dressed, showering, and shaving in the morning are best done with routine, which allows one to wake up and to prepare creatively for the coming day. You do not have to think about what comes next, where to find your toothbrush, or where to get a cup of coffee. The morning repetition and routine free the entire family for creative thought and conversation regarding the day’s activities.

Painters are confined by the borders of the canvas. One cannot paint very well if one is plopping paint all over the room. One need not look very far to find examples of incredible creativity expressed within the framework of traditional liturgical worship. Sergei Rachmaninov’s Opus 31 setting for the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and J. S. Bach’s cantatas in Leipzig demonstrate the wide latitude available for creativity within the bounds of liturgical forms. There is great room for freedom in musical, ritual, and ceremonial expression within the confines of the classic liturgical structure. The same Liturgy is used in both a small country church and grand cathedral. The same Liturgy is used during solemn penitential seasons and joyous festivals. By its very nature, the traditional Liturgy possesses a character that is very flexible and adaptable to different places and seasons of the church year.

-Duncan, J. Ligon, Dan Kimball, Michael Lawrence et al. Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views: Ligon Duncan, Dan Kimball, Michael Lawrence & Mark Dever, Timothy Quill, Dan Wilt. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009, pp 37-38.

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