The Reasons For Traditional Worship

orthodox worship

Will McDavid finds this passage from Andre Dubus’s short story, “A Father’s Story,” to get at the heart of liturgical worship:

Each morning [at Mass] I try, each morning I fail, and know that always I will be a creature who, looking at Father Paul and the altar, and uttering prayers, will be distracted by scrambled eggs, horses, the weather, and memories and daydreams that have nothing to do with the sacrament I am about to receive. I can receive, though: the Eucharist, and also, at Mass and at other times, moments and even minutes of contemplation. But I cannot achieve contemplation, as some can; and so, having to face and forgive my own failures, I have learned from them both the necessity and wonder of ritual. For ritual allows those who cannot will themselves out of the secular to perform the spiritual, as dancing allows the tongue-tied man a ceremony of love.

Frederica Mathewes-Green makes related points on behalf of un-trendy, liturgically-oriented worship:

[Worship] was aimed at God, in adoration and supplication, not at attracting non-believers, or even at giving fellow-worshippers a good worship experience. This focus on God was the case until very recently; now our immersion in a consumer economy has led us to think of everything in terms of appealing to potential customers. We are so mentally saturated in advertising that we have come to think of ourselves and our faith as products that need to be persuasively sold.

That’s how worship gets redirected from the Lord to outsiders, who have no ability yet to understand or respect Him. The church becomes an organization that is primarily occupied with planning a billboard, because the most important goal is to capture non-believers’ attention. When someone responds to a billboard and becomes a member of the community, he discovers that he has joined an organization that — is planning a billboard. The main goal of members of a church is to attract more members to the church. It’s like Ponzi scheme.

Dreher remembers his first experiences at Orthodox worship services – and appreciates that what he found there was strange to him:

When I first started attending an Orthodox church, I thought, OK, this is really beautiful, insanely beautiful, like no other Christian worship I’ve attended … but I don’t understand what’s going on. People were really friendly, but they didn’t try to dumb the worship down for my sake, or any seeker’s sake. They just did what they always do. The beauty and integrity of it drew me in.

(Photo by Flickr user bobosh_t)