This weekend, my family enjoyed attending the Bolton Fair. As a mainstay of local life, you could say that the Fair is part of the “liturgy” of living in that area: it’s a part of life that is recognized, acknowledged, and shared by many people which has a result of bringing lots of people together. I call it part of the “local liturgy” because I want to highlight, before we begin, that liturgy is not just about how worship services work (as us boring clergymen sometimes make it seem to be); rather, liturgy is the stuff that people do together that builds and shapes a community! For Christians, worship and prayer is one of the major things that brings us together as the Body of Christ – not just on Sunday mornings, but at other times and in other ways as well. As we approach the topic of worship and liturgy today, I want that to be kept in mind: this is what binds us together as God’s people.
Psalm 28: a prayer in time of trouble
There are two things I want to point out about how to pray Psalm 28.
First is an important dynamic of “revelation and response” that shows how prayer and worship work.
Revelation: v1-2 pray to God, the only one who can help me
Response: v3 prayer for protection/survival amidst evil
Response: v4 prayer for justice upon evildoers
Revelation: v5 acknowledgement of God’s judgment upon evil
Response: v6 trust in God’s faithfulness enables praise
Response: v7 we can rejoice even now because of who God is
Revelation: v8 God saves his people, his anointed
Response: v9 final prayer, accordingly
Second is the issue of enemies. Last time we looked at external, now let’s consider internal.
- We pray for justice, knowing that we are sinners.
- v3,8-9 cry out for salvation despite the evil around us
- When praying against evil, don’t lose sight of your guilt;
acknowledge and confess it, seeking God’s cleansing forgiveness.
Revelation & Response: a model for how worship works
The Summary of the Law is a revelation of Christ’s law for us. The Kyrie is our first response.
The Collect of the Day, as with most of these collects, models the dynamic of “revelation and response.”
God’s Revelation: God declares his almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity.
Our Response: Grant unto us such a measure of your grace that we, running the way of your commandments, may obtain your gracious promises.
The Old Testament Lesson is a revelation of God’s Word to us. The Psalm is our first response.
The New Testament Lesson is revelation of God’s Word to us. The Hymn is our first response.
The Gospel Lesson is a revelation of God’s Word to us. “Praise/Glory to you, Lord Christ.”
What other examples of revelation and response can you find in our worship service?
Regula: what is it?
“Regula” refers to an overall approach to worship that creates an environment of complete and continual relationship with the presence of God by a community.
By means of a regula we respond to Christ’s presence:
- In creation and all his creatures
- In the gatherings of the baptized
- In the Word proclaimed
- In the Sacraments
When we live out a regula, how we understand worship services (or liturgy) is changed:
- The Liturgy is no longer just a worship service, but a dynamic system that taps in to the grace that God has offered to give us.
- The Liturgy is not just our way of declaring God, but God’s way of declaring himself.
- It becomes less about how we imagine God to be, and more about how God imagines us to be.
Regula: the threefold Rule of Life
Acts 2:42 gives us the basic apostolic regula: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This formula set the stage for how the Early Church ordered its worship life, how St. Benedict ordered the Rule of Life for his monks, and how the Book of Common Prayer was put together.
- Apostles’ teaching & fellowship = Devotion
- Breaking of bread = Communion
- The prayers = Office
These three pieces of the regula correspond with the full revelation of God as three-in-one.
- The Divine Office is our responding to the transcendent nature of God the Father.
- Holy Communion is our responding to the presence of God the Son.
- Devotion is our responding to the activity of God the Holy Spirit.
The Office is a response of praise and thanksgiving to the presence of God the Father that is made by the entire Body of Christ. That is why the Daily Office hardly ever changes its content: the formal and consistent set-prayers, centered around the Lord’s Prayer, together thank and praise God for who he is, regardless of the ever-changing world in which we live at this moment.
Holy Communion is a response to the presence of God the Son, Jesus, who is both God and Man. Thus the Communion liturgy has both changeable and unchangeable elements, just as Christ is the eternal unchanging God who took on human flesh and lived among us. Centered around our daily and eternal bread of life, the Communion liturgy points us backwards as we examine our conscience and look to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, as well as points us forwards as we receive a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven that he is preparing for us even now.
Devotion is a response of openness to the presence of the Holy Spirit within each and all God’s people. Because the Holy Spirit dwells not just in the Church, but also in each one of us individually, devotion is the most variable part of the regula. How I live out my life as a Christian and praise God in my actions will look very different from how you live out your lives as Christians and praise God in your actions. But even here, the diversity is not incoherent: the Bible remains the ruling guide for all of us as we strive to follow the calling of the Holy Spirit upon our lives, and it binds together us all under one Teacher.
Regula: keeping the balance
Because each of these three elements of the apostolic regula respond to a different person and revelation of God, they need to be kept in balance if we are to have a healthy life of worship and discipleship.
- De-emphasis of the Office diminishes our sense of divine transcendence and can lead to subjectivism, sentimentality, pantheism, earth-bound faith. (This has become a problem for many modern Christians today who have largely given up the practice of objective daily corporate prayer.)
- De-emphasis of Holy Communion diminishes our sense of sacramental fellowship (throughout the world and throughout history), and can lead to idolatry and a disconnected lifestyle. (This has become a problem for many protestants who have ended up seeing smaller and smaller pictures of the Church. If the Church becomes so small that they no longer feel like they’re “part of something bigger than themselves,” then they’ll join something else to restore that feeling – like a political or social justice movement, or a club or some other fellowship.)
- De-emphasis of Devotion diminishes our sense of divine immanence and can lead to rigidity, formalism, and insularity. (This has become a problem for many Catholics who think they just need to ‘show up for Mass’ each week, and fail to allow the life Christ in them to flourish during the week.)
So, only a complete and full regula expresses the complete living faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through this regula, the whole person and a whole people, together respond to God.
Regula: how does the Prayer Book help?
The Book of Common Prayer is often misunderstood today. “Common” does not mean that the book contains prayers that people use a lot, it means that it contains prayers that everyone is supposed to use together! Originally, it was made in 1549 as a solution to the various problems in the Church throughout Europe at that time. Since then it has been refined a couple times in England, and a few more times in other countries. But its basic shape and contents have always remained the same.
- It begins with the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer), grounding us in the basic response of praise to God the Father.
- It continues with the service of Holy Communion, grounding us in the basic response of repentance and commitment to God the Son.
- It then supplies liturgies for Baptism, Holy Matrimony, Ordination, anointing the sick, burying the dead, and a number of other events that happen in the Christian life which bind us together as one Body.
- All of this, then, provides a corporate habitat in which we are invited (and actually commanded) to pursue our individual callings, vocations, and devotions to God as directed by his Holy Spirit.
Conforming our lives to the fullness of the apostolic regula
The Christians in Acts 2 devoted themselves to apostolic teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. How are we doing the same?
Last week we looked at praying Psalm 17, and today we glanced more quickly at Psalm 28. Praying the psalms is one of the core ingredients of the Daily Office. Together with the Lord’s Prayer, the psalms teach us how to pray to God, using his own words, and often identifying with his own Son. This is a very important and valuable practice that Christians need to recover, for we have become very focused on two extremes: showing up at Mass every week to listen to the priest pray, or upholding a free-form open prayer style where anybody can pray in any way they want. Sometimes people think that the measure of a mature Christian is someone who can both pray “freely in the Spirit” and silently follow along during a formal worship service. That is almost true. What’s missing is the element of Office-style worship: where everyone prays together with one voice. With the psalms, you don’t need to be an eloquent speaker; you don’t need to be brave enough to stand up front; you don’t have to follow along silently.
Rather than throwing Prayer Books at you, I’d like to suggest something simpler. If you don’t already do something like this, consider this 4-step prayer time: 1) pray a psalm, 2) read a chapter of Scripture, 3) pray the Lord’s Prayer, 4) close with a prayer of your own. Psalm, Reading, Lord’s Prayer, and other prayer is the absolute basic outline of the Daily Office. As you get used to that, once a day, you can try adding to it as you grow, or re-grow, a daily discipline of prayer and praise to God.
And it won’t just be about you, but as we grow in this regula, this liturgy, this life of worship together, we will also grow closer together as a family, both as a local church and with the global Church. Just like how the Bolton Fair unites a region of town together every year, so will our shared life of worship unite us with one another and the countless other Christians across the world and throughout history who are doing the same.