Liturgy refers to the public service we engage in together on Sunday mornings, or whenever we happen to click on the service at home now. Basically, it is what we normally print in our bulletin and in the past have used from the prayer book.
This is a bit of a misnomer, because one could easily argue for all sorts of "traditional liturgies". As Anglicans some of us might refer back to the Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1549. As Canadians, we've used versions of this prayerbook, most recently found starting on page 230 in the Book of Alternative Services (BAS). For many growing up in the church since the BAS was published, that has become their "traditional liturgy".
The most 'traditional liturgy' for us as Christians is what we find in the New Testament. There we find an order of service (the people met in each other's homes to pray, sing songs and share in the breaking of the bread - as seen all through The Acts of the Apostles) and the first liturgy or institution of the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist (Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The Lord's Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13. Spiritual songs are found through both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
We do find comfort in the familiar. And there is something beautiful about that. God created us in that way. To say liturgies that we learned and prayed as children or when we first started following Jesus, well, these strengthen, sustain and comfort us. There is something to be said for using prayers that were published 2000 years ago, 500 years ago or 40 years ago.
We are also invited into a deeper understanding and experience of faith when the words change. In recent decades the church has understood, like the rest of the world, that inclusive language invites people in, welcomes them and helps them to know they have a home. This has not always been an easy or comfortable adjustment. Sometimes it is done well, sometimes quite awkwardly. As we've become more accustomed to being inclusive in our language, we find those changes less jarring.
It needs to be acknowledged though, that the church should be, in this constant time of transition, a bit of "both/and". We need to visit the older more tradtional liturgies. They have rich theology and spirituality that we can all benefit from. We also need more contemporary or progressive forms of liturgy to challenge our understandings of who God is, what it means to be a follower of Christ, what it looks like to be the Church in 2020. These newer liturgies also use language and images that are more familiar to younger people, more comfortable for those of us who grew up having to use inclusive language professionally. If you doubt the differences in language between our older generations and our younger ones, just watch a couple of videos on YouTube.
Here is a small example of a traditional form and more modern or contemporary form - both approved by the Anglican Church for use. The Collect Prayer for the Fourth Sunday in Lent:
1. From the Book of Common Prayer (Canada, 1962) - Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
2. From "Sundays and Seasons" a Lutheran Liturgical Planning resource: God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy. By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
No doubt, our language has changed as has our approach in liturgy.
Ascension has been through all sorts of variety when it comes to the liturgy. That naturally happens as priests come and go, as different voices in the parish hold more sway than others.
Currently, the idea is to use liturgy that is approved by the Anglican Church of Canada. This means liturgies that have been given prior approval, and when that is not clear, we go through the Bishop's office for approval.
Since we are now in full communion with the Lutheran Church, we have access to a rich tradition of resources from there as well.
We are, of course, in a "liminal" time - that is, a space in-between gathering together. Our online liturgy is produced so that people can use it easily from home. As we become more technologically savvy (yes, it is taking a long time!!), this will change as well. We attempt to use a mix of traditional and contemporary language in an effort to include everyone.
Ultimately, liturgy is meant to be a tool. It is meant to help us be in conversation with God - creating a posture of listening and receiving and opportunities to speak our hearts to God, as individuals and as a community. As we change, as circumstances change, so do the tools we use. Despite that inevitable change is an underlying constant spirit of worship, love and hope.
Do not underestimate the moments you take to read the prayers, to sing the songs and to offer your own heartfelt prayers when you use the liturgy we now use in this liminal time. As our spirits gather in this way, we are strengthened and God's Spirit is made manifest in our world.