I received a question the other day asking why it seems like our liturgy, or the speaking of our liturgy in worship is speeding up, especially within the last couple of years (which is when it became noticeable to this individual). This individual also asked why we, at Immanuel, don’t speak parts of the liturgy with more rhythm and cadence which can allow for better memorization and unity in speech.
If you’re regularly in worship to praise our Lord and receive his good gifts, then you know that there are certain parts of our liturgy that the pastor speaks and other portions where we speak together as the body of Christ in praise and thanksgiving. At Immanuel, specifically, our liturgical conversation begins with the invocation as we call out to the one true, Triune God, who we’re there to worship. Then we speak together during the confession and absolution and we speak responsively for the introit. Who speaks, when, and from where (in the building) has all shifted throughout history. There’s no specific passage that gives instruction regarding exactly what we are to do when in worship. We have some descriptive texts in Scripture, but no prescriptive texts for a specific order of service. What we do have is from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 about orderly worship for the building up of the body. We also have passages in Timothy about who is to serve and how, as well as how the original disciples broke bread together (a lot in the book of Acts) and were encouraged not to neglect joining together in worship (Hebrews 10:25). We have some early liturgies recorded for us to see what some of the first Christians were doing in worship and we can look through history to see how that shifted over time to what we see today. The history of the liturgy has been an attempt to faithfully relay God’s Word and worship our Creator, redeemer, and sustainer as the body of Christ. Some liturgical modifications have been beneficial for pointing our gaze to Christ, while others have not. Adding prayers to the saints during the middle ages…not so helpful. Drawing the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper to focus on God’s mercy and grace through Christ…super helpful.
When it comes to today’s question regarding getting out of sync with each other and losing the cadence of speech, I don’t know exactly why that is at times. Depending on where you’re from you may have heard a certain rhythm while speaking the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Every congregation probably has a slightly different cadence. That cadence can help us remember the words more easily. Whether we have a rhythm to speech or not, simple repetition is good, but we never want to lose the importance of the words that we’re speaking. We worship in order to hear and speak the Word, so if we can’t understand or aren’t comprehending the Word, there’s a problem. The loss of rhythm and cadence can certainly be a problem, but the bigger problem is if we’re just robotically going through the motions either way. We should always be thinking about what we’re saying in worship.
I can’t pretend to have all of the answers to this question. Apart from doing a lot of cultural studies, I’m not sure why we speak more quickly, and why we’re losing some of those articulations and rhythms that were once there? I could only spend some time making assumptions and doin’ some “supposin'” because there are so many variables that would need to be considered. Who’s leading? What’s the history of the particular congregation and where it’s located? How is the surrounding secular culture affecting the practices of the congregation? Is there an issue where the people can’t hear the liturgist? Is the fast-paced nature of our secular culture creeping into the church in such a way that people are just speaking quickly to go through the motions and check worship off the list? Have we, as pastors, not done enough teaching about worship so that people only see it as a thing they’re supposed to do rather than comprehending the beauty of it? One could even ask, “was it too warm in church or was there a big game that day so that people wanted to get through the service quickly?” I didn’t say they were all holy and sanctified reasons, I just said there were reasons.
I know this doesn’t help to answer the question completely, but the number of variables makes it a tough one to definitively answer. Very soon, I’ll do a post all about liturgy and the history of singing in church as it helps relay God’s Word. In the meantime, if you want to chat about this in more detail or discuss the liturgy one on one, just let me know.
Have a great day and God bless!