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The Role of Liturgy
by The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond

Liturgy is simultaneously the work of the Church and the work of God. Each liturgy, we celebrate God and His power, purposes, and priorities. Entering into our Lord’s ongoing sacramental mysteries through the dynamic action of the Holy Spirit, we are compelled to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

A brief examination of Holy Scripture, as well as the history of the Church, clearly demonstrates one of God’s eternal priorities: evangelism. We are called and commanded to share the “good news” of Jesus Christ with the whole world. Jesus emphasizes this at the end of St. Matthew’s gospel. Saints Peter and Paul were exemplars of the priority of sharing ones faith.
What may not be clear to us, however, is the evangelistic power of Liturgy. Well-ordered and orchestrated worship can help a person say “yes” to God. When the Church worships well, with heart, soul, mind, and strength, the world will take notice. When the Church worships well, we will want to share the good news of what God has done --- How does this work? How is liturgical worship evangelism? A brief examination of the order of the Mass (our Sunday Service of worship) will answer these questions. The Mass is broadly divided into four parts has a unique part to play in both celebrating God and communicating to the world.
The first part of the service of worship is the processional. The priest (presbyter if you like), those who serve at the altar and others process forward as we sing a hymn of entrance. What is happening? We are celebrating God who is entering our midst, represented by the priest/presbyter. We understand that God is always with us. Psalm 139 is abundantly clear about this. We live in a God-saturated world. However, during Mass, God takes up a unique place among us --- very much like God dwelling in the Holy of Holies as depicted in the Old Testament. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus says, “There I am in the midst of you.” What are we celebrating? We are celebrating God for who He is (worship) and what He has done (praise). And such a God should be celebrated! When we understand this concept, when this idea captures our hearts and minds, we will want to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.”
The second part of the service of worship is the Liturgy of the Word. Here, through both the written (Scripture) and spoken (Homily) word, we recall not only what God has done, but what God will do. The Liturgy of the Word proclaims our living history, a history we are called not only to celebrate but to live. It was not just, as one example, Israel being delivered from bondage and crossing the Red Sea. We too, through our baptism, are delivered from bondage and washed clean. Similarly, when our Lord told His disciples, “This is my Body…This is my Blood,” He was not only saying this to them, but also to us. The Liturgy of the Word reminds us of the truths of God, truths which we are commanded to communicate to others.
Next is the Liturgy of the Sacrament. This is the Great Thanksgiving. Here we celebrate, receive, and seek to proclaim what God in Christ by the Holy Spirit has done for us upon the cross. Here we receive the “Real Presence” of God, the precious Body and Blood of our Lord. But, as with each part of worship, it does not end here. The Sacrament is not simply intended as exclusively a benefit for us. Jesus said to “do this in remembrance of me.” We are to carry this message to others. That is, within the context of the Eucharist itself, we are challenged to live incarnarnationally self-sacrificial lives. We are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live holy lives. A holy life, which is a sacrificial life, is a life that “speaks” Christ’s good news in word and deed.
Finally, within the process of liturgical worship, there is the dismissal: “Go in peace.” But this peace is not only personal, it is social. The Old Testament tells us that the feet of those who proclaim the good news of peace are blessed. St. Francis of Assisi was an example of this. So was Mother Teresa. We also -- as those who know God in and among us, who know His word, who have experienced His saving grace through the Sacrament -- are to take these words of peace into a warring world. Looked at in a certain way, the Mass actually begins when we leave the Church to do God’s will in the world.
Poor worship (which is improper worship) impoverishes the Church and inoculates those who attend these services from actually hearing and responding to God’s good news. Moreover, poor worship leads to impoverished preaching to a lost world. Good worship, worship in “spirit and truth,” moves people closer to God, to each other, and into the world.
As we go to church this week, we must remember that we are there to worship God. If we do this with all of our might, we will not only be built up, we will also be sent out “into all the world and preach the gospel.” To be built up in God through worship is to be sent out to do His will. Worship and evangelism go hand-in-hand.