The purpose of worship

Lauren Pristas, writing about the collects contained in the Old and New Roman Missals, reminds us that “we are shaped by our worship” (Collects of the Roman Missals, location 186 Kindle edition). This is well-known it seems since I have heard it said and confirmed many times over by many different people. What I do not often hear is what Pristas writes a few passages on: “The formation 0f which we speak is not the purpose of worship but its effect …” This is a helpful and very necessary reminder that even though worship catechizes that is not the purpose of worship. Again Pristas: “… it is unfitting to ascribe any utilitarian purpose to worship, for in true worship the human person adores and honors God for his own sake.” In other words: worship is not primarily for us but it is primarily for God. Worship is not the place for biblical, catechetical, or other studies.

This is, of course, not to deny that worship does indeed form and shape us. It most certainly does. The point is that worship was not designed to be catechesis or Bible study. Nor should it be. The opus Dei or “work of God” has two components. The first is the worship and adoration of God for his own sake. The second is, as Pristas wrote, the effect of the first we are shaped and formed by the kind of worship we perform. In other words the work of God is a work we perform to God for his sake, and it is also a work performed on us. For as we worship we are formed and shaped. Our habitual actions will – over time – become character and part of how we think and perceive. Worship is how we are re-created in the Image of God.

This is the point of traditional worship. The times, places and people that have been part of its creation have been “means” by which the Holy Spirit has created this worship or liturgy. The same process is to be recognized behind what we call “tradition” or perhaps even “holy tradition.” In fact, I would argue that it is the process which lies behind the Christian Bible(s). Anyone feeling any unease with changing, re-editing, or correcting a presumably outdated Scripture ought to have equal scruples concerning doing such violence to tradition and our worship. Even if such changes are deemed “necessary” for pastoral, theological, simplification, or any other such reasons (excuses? ).

It has been argued that there is – for example – great didactic value in the new liturgies designed under the direction of Annibale Bugnini. This may very well be so. The same could be said of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer it has great didactic value and no doubt great pastoral sensitivity, theological focus, and simplicity can be claimed for it. It is specifically designed to be so. Chiefly by Dr. Cranmer. In various manuals and introductions to the Book of Common Prayer one can find these claims made by middle of the road, Anglo Catholic, and even Protestant lovers of the Prayer Book. Talking to the various sorts of Anglicans, be they clergy or lay, will provide a very similar result.

And yet …

Is this pastoral sensitivity, theological (namely biblical) focus, and oversee able simplicity really a benefit? Has our worship since the Reformation not been (and for Rome since the Liturgical Revolution) been re-oriented from worship for (toward) God to the interests (no matter how carefully couched) of man? Iow has our liturgy become anthropocentric rather than theocentric? To put it more bluntly and simply: has our worship of God become too much the worship of self? It seems to me that a good case could be made that the Reformation and the Revolution mentioned above had done more damage than good. If such a case convinces us that it is indeed so, than a return to tradition, a return to traditional worship, may very well restore not just the didactic benefits of the (Anglican) Breviary and the (Anglican) Missal but it first and foremost reorients our worship toward God. As worship of God, for God’s sake, it will once again have its “side effect” of recreating us in the Image of God.

Gregory Wassen +


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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5 Responses to The purpose of worship

  1. Dale Crakes. says:

    As to Cranmer’s 1552 BCP didactic value I’ll just add this quote. “His purpose was to give an exact liturgical expression to the fulfilment of the command “Do this in remembrance of me”.’
    E. C. Ratcliff, The Liturgical Work of Archbishop Cranmer­ Journal of Ecclesiastical History, October 1956; reprinted in Thomas Cranmer, Three Commemorative Lectures, Church Infor­ mation Office, 1956.
    ‘Compared with the clumsy and formless rites which were evolved abroad, that of 1552 is the masterpiece of an artist. Cranmer gave it a noble form as a superb piece of literature, which no one could say of its companions; but he did more. As a piece of liturgical craftmanship it is in the first rank-once its intention is understood. It is not a disordered attempt at a catholic rite, but the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of “justification by faith alone”.’
    Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of Liturgy, p. 672.
    Every change since has been an attempt to alter Cranmer’s “effective attempt”.
    Part IV of Praying the Breviary???

    • Father Gregory says:

      I agree with the authors you have quoted. The BCP – especially its 1552 form – is a masterpiece. And as Dom Gregory Dix further clarifies its didactic value is that it gives liturgical expression to the (Protestant and heretical) doctrine of “Justification by faith alone.” The present day Prayer Books have strayed away from Cranmer’s intent and to that extent fail the purpose he had for it. This is – I would guess – at least one of the reasons the Anglican Catholic Church does not authorize the 1552 Prayer Book but (nor the 1662) but does specifically authorize the 1549 and more recent editions still considered “classic Prayer Books.” The trouble is, of course, that the way this authorization is phrased in Canon Law sources a case could be made that they are “implicitly authorized” since they can be said to conform to the other BCP’s that are specifically authorized. It is my contention that for Anglicans to be (or become) Catholics they will have to distance themselves not just from Cranmer’s theology but also from his liturgical creations. That is not to say that *nothing* from the BCP should remain, but it should at least mean that the various Missals and the various “amplified” Office books most prominently the Anglican Breviary and Monastic Office (but also English Office and Prayer Book Office) become the “standard for doctrine and worship” and that any Prayer Book rite used should conform to them (not the other way around). It is simply too much, I think, to expect or demand that Anglicans abandon the Book of Common Prayer simply and entirely.

      The problem is that too many people view the Office as a “didactic tool” rather than as “prayer.” The heavy emphasis on bare Scripture reading in Morning and Evening Prayer is precisely such a didactic mutilation of the Divine Office. A reform of the liturgy which respects the divine givenness of both liturgy and Scripture would have introduced adaptations to the length of Scripture Lessons in Matins and the Sanctoral vs. the Temporal cycles (for example). But even Matins is not the place for “Bible study” so much as it is the place to “pray” – that is be attentive toward God (by means of the Psalms, hymns, responses and readings). The Divine Office – like the Mass – is first “aimed” toward God and only secondarily is the Divine Office “for us.” Worship/prayer edifies. Certainly! But the edification is not the goal but an inevitable “side-effect” if you will.

      In conclusion: I was trying to express in this article how one of the benefits often touted for the Book of Common Prayer (its Bible heavy content and great didactic value) are not in fact benefits at all. In fact these specific benefits seem to me to undermine what worship IS and thereby fail to be what God has given us in traditional Liturgy and the Bible.

      Gregory Wassen +

  2. Dale Crakes. says:

    Agree with your commentary. An aside, may Yahoo email has been down for over a week now so I haven’t been able to send some related material to you. Two sites for your perusal. Martin Thornton oriented but a little difficult to navigate and The second one has a downloadable 2 yr lectionary but very Trad. The then Abbot of Pluscarden (sp) is the man B16 wanted to appoint directly to Cardinal of English Church at Westminster rather than the current one. Unfortunately the Abbot felt his work at Abbey was not complete. Later B16 appointed him Bp of Aberdeen. Also have run across a book from St Meinrab Abbey of the complete pre-55 Matins readings and commentaries.

    • Father Gregory says:

      Sorry about you Yahoo account problems.

      I read several of Thornton’s works. Most recently his “Pastoral Care” … I cannot escape the distinct impression that Thornton is idiosyncratic. I think he basic presumption of Office – Mass – Private Devotion is fine but once we start hashing out that that means I could not disagree with Thornton more if I tried. His “remnant” idea seems a convenient way to express an ecclesial reality, but I am not sure this is so much God’s plan as it is a result of human disinterestedness in practicing a spiritual life. I also think he has pretty much zero understanding of what liturgy is. That said – it seems he was a good confessor and spiritual mentor to those who were directed by him. I don’t know. I would neither recommend nor discourage reading him.

      The Pluscarden two-year lectionary is geared for use with the Ordinary form of the Mass & Office. Notice that instead “Time after Epiphany or Pentecost” there is “Ordinary Time.” I’ve used a few years ago while I lived in Ireland. It is much better than many others I have seen, I do wish one would be made for the traditional lectionary (see Battifol p. 78). But until that time this two-year lectionary will do ok. I do not know of anything better at the moment.

      St. Meinrad published a Matins book for pre-55 rubrics? I had no idea … That sounds very interesting. in English or … ?

  3. Dale Crakes. says:

    As I remember Thornton is later books got of into a Vatican II kumbaya NO style which really disappointed me. Meinrad in English. Are the readings in Pluscarden 2yr closer to the trad breviary or the LOH? Or some type of overlapping?

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