Liturgy and the Sense of the Sacred


Traditional Synagogue Service

Traditional Synagogue Service

Every great religion is much focused on the distinction between the sacred and the secular. It is the basic religious distinction. This distinction is particularly relevant in public worship, by which it is made visible and tangible. There are sacred times and secular times, sacred places and buildings, and secular ones. But modern Christianity has very much destroyed the sense of the sacred because of its anti-ritual bias and its liturgical amateurism. Protestantism in particular has almost lost all real liturgical spirit, or fallen into the modernist error of confusing liturgy with art and performance. Even Catholicism, in its post Vatican II fashion, has fallen prey to this. The modern Mass betrays a mindset which is more concentrated on the community than G’d. Liturgy, however, is theocentric. It is about such things as “facing east” when praying, about following the rubrics, not the personal whims of the minister or the momentary wishes of the congregation. Only traditionalist Catholics and traditional Jews have real liturgies today.

Liturgy is about a consistent line of behaviour in all things which happen in the church or synagogue, for instance about not deviating from the calendrical structure and giving the proper weight and emphasis to each particular occasion. First and foremost it is about a theocentric spirit, which is to be cultivated by such things as the minister facing the Altar or the Holy Ark instead of the congregation, by acts of bowing and kneeling and really making the building a sanctuary. The modern cult of spontaneity and informality is deeply at odds with all this. This ‘spontaneity’ is secular and fed by the idea that we should follow our passions and emotions. This leads to arbitrary acts and an embarrassing informal way of behaviour which is very much the contrary of the aristocratic spirit which permeates traditional liturgy. The modern standard of informality is infected with the ideology of equality and betrays a lack of respect and revence.

Liturgy is not without emotion and passion, but its emotions are evoked and cultivated by reverence for G’d and all things sacred. It is based on making clear distinctions: between the sacred and the secular, and between degrees of sacredness, in a hierarchical order, and on upholding these distinctions in our solemn celebrations. It is essential for Messianics in Torah communities to maintain in their liturgy and worship this sense of hierarchical order, because this is the way we are related to G’d. The basic framework of Scripture is about the hierarchical order between G’d and creation, between the angelic world and the material creation, between the celestial bodies in the firmament and the things here in this earthy world, between men and women, parents and children, between kings, priests, levites and other ministers and lay people, &c, &c. This scriptural framework should be mirrored in the solemnities of messianic liturgies, as indeed it was from times immemorial mirrorred in traditional Jewish and Christian liturgies. Any intelligent person will know what liturgy is about by visiting just once a traditional, tridentine mass or an orthodox synagogue service.

For Evangelicals and Messianics the idea of liturgical worship is often associated with stiffness, constraint, and dulness. This may often be due to their Protestant background. Because of its abrogation of the Mass, Protestantism historically has practically lost the art of celebration. In fact neither the traditional Catholic Mass nor the traditional Synagogue Service fit this characterization of stiffness. Proper liturgical worship is characterized by aristocratic elegance and fluency. In contradistinction to Protestant and Evangelical worship it draws no attention to the person of the minister but only to his function. Perhaps a quote from C.S. Lewis’ A Preface to Paradise Lost (ch. III) is appropriate here:

To recover [the old idea of solemnity] you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people who enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a wide-spread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connexion with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast–all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual.

The sense of the sacred and of reverence for G-d can only be maintained and cultivated in a traditional liturgical culture. Tradition and liturgy elevate us to a higher order, the aristocratic order of the Kingdom of G-d. The liturgy thus explicitly and ceremonially reflects our true created being and eternal destiny.


1 Response to “Liturgy and the Sense of the Sacred”

  1. 1 Bart De Wilde September 7, 2015 at 5:18 am

    Very interesting analysis in which I can find myself. Though there are elements in your article that aren’t quite accurate. It seems that you limit somewhere your perceptions of ‘protestantism’ and ‘catholic church’ . I had to think on the orthodox christian churches, who are totally different from the catholic church you describe and where this sense of theocracy in liturgy and prayer (even personal prayer) is manifest there and even predominant. They presume they have never changed since their origin and claim to be the original church. On American websites they present themselves as the ‘ancient faith’ and reading their articles is amazing : in fact one discovers in their spirituality and approach so much ‘jewishness’ in their core theology, even so much ‘biblical approach and idea’ that I began to read more and more.

    I tend to conclude that in orthodox christian churches all things begun to go wrong from the moment the breach with judaism was a fact and non jewish people with a pagan background and with greek philisophical education took it over with the help of the (originally heathen) emperor. That explains the link between these churches and the power of the State (like in russia). But the original core spirituality and theology are jewish and theocentric from a biblical approach. For us it is interessant because we can discover the faith link (for instance through their aricles in theology and spirituality) from the first believers in Yeshua (after the Book Acts) till the official period of the churches in the later centuries). Even their church buildings are miniature temples: if you know the building structure of a traditional catholic church, then you know that the church took as a model the synagogue (fit in a roman classic fashion) and replaced the scriptures in the wall on the east, for the ‘sacrament’). But the orthodox christian churches constructed a whole wall between the part of the visitors and the place where the ‘mass was consecrated’ from the idea of a holy of holies etc … and the traditional building has a central tower from where light falls down (from heaven as it seems). Looking up, you will usually discover there a painting of the A’mighty ‘pantocrator’ — G-d Who reigns over all — reach out to you. The core of orthodox christian theology is 2Petr. 1:4 etc. (to get part of the divine nature). The liturgy is very theocentric. Normally you stand during the services in an orthodox christian church. You will never sit (there is nothing in the building to sit on during the service). Women have a veil. Prayer and reverance stand central and the overall impression is that you have a meeting, an audience at the Palace of the King, with the King of Kings. Ritual aims to enforce this.

    Another aspect I want to share, are the services in anglican and episcopal churches. Three times a day (such as in temple times) there are worship services. The glory of traditional anglican services with their choirs singing and chanting psalms are known and even famous. It is true you have to distance low church practices that tend to be evangelical and what you call ‘protestant’ in character. But the element of awe and of aristrocracy are present in their core worship. Formally one only has to look at formal gatherings where the queen is present and you will discover this core (for instance at Remembrance Day in november). Yet you cannot say this is catholic (as catholics like to pretend , because they still dream of one catholic church under the authority of the pope, something most protestants and anglicans are not aware of: they are ‘free’ since the reformation and they only look to the outward gentleness and decorum of the catholic church. In essence the catholic church is the first church who tore off from the (orthodox christian) churches in the east (byzantium) and their critic on the authority and ‘function’ of a pope (as a replace of Yeshua in authority) mirror that of evanglical and protestant christians.

    I think you understand by protestants, the calvinist and evangelical churches, such as these in Holland, for instance. You forgot the situation in orthodox christianity and the growth of prayer movements and desire for this ‘aristocratic’ theocentric form of worship in anglican and episcopal churches, which lead to catholic and orthodox christian inspired forms of liturgy (but also to pagan inspired practices in prayer and spiritual approach: such is the spiritual hunger). Another remarkable item is that in these churches with ‘aristocratic’ and theocentric approach prayer suddenly becomes very very important, and this hunger for prayer and intercession usually goes together with a revival of ascetic practices as fasting etc.. There is a whole prayer movement within anglican and episcopal churches. In Great Brittain there are min. 300 till 400 solitaries living a secluded and dedicated life of prayer. (People like to have someone living with them and praying for them, always available for spiritual guidance and assistence and ready even for practical service) Orthodox christian churches are known for their monasteries and people that dedicate their life in prayer (and spiritual and practical service in the community they live with).

    With this remark I hope to have broadened the perspective of your article: this can only bring a better perspective on this subjects and help further on.

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