If by liturgy we mean a pattern or form of worship, then every church has a liturgy. Some liturgies are more formalized than others. Nonetheless, church worship tends to fall into a routine over time. There may be differences from Sunday to Sunday, but if one attended any church regularly one would sooner or later observe a familiar pattern to the worship. This pattern is not necessarily bad, especially if the pattern follows the leading of the Holy Spirit.
But some might say that the Spirit is free and spontaneous. Yes, the Spirit may often spring surprises that will glorify God. Change for change’s sake is not the work of the Spirit. The danger in leading worship under the expectation that there will always be spontaneous elements in worship could lead to arranged “surprises” by the worship leader. This would be especially true when a congregation begins to worship the form of worship more than God. This occurred in heaven we may remember and the praise leader was tossed out.
The Early Church developed a liturgy. It did not necessarily constrain the service. We read of the Apostle Paul preaching all night on one occasion. The liturgy, like any good liturgy, no doubt was altered from time to time to suit the occasion and venue. However, the liturgy contains certain elements in the service that were common in the Early Church. In the Book of Acts, we read:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. (Acts:42-43)
What was more important is the fact that the worshipers were filled with awe because God was in the service. Note also the reference to the Holy Communion. The meal that the Church observed in worship was not a fellowship meal but the Lord’s Supper. Paul wrote:
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Another definition of the liturgy is the work or response of the people. How should the congregation participate in the worship service? Do they just have a passive role of listening only or should they actively participate in the service in some way? Many Churches that define themselves as liturgical assume that the congregants will take an active role. By doing so they are practicing the way they might carry out their Christianity in the world. Let us examine how this might occur.
After hearing the sermon and reflecting upon it the congregation is invited to make a general confession of their shortcomings during a prayer time that follows. They are then encouraged to hug one another in what is often called the passing of the peace. Offerings are then brought to the altar before the celebration of Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. How might these mirror activities in life? Jesus gave this commandment:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
Those who describe the liturgy as a meaningless ritual might not realize that a good liturgy is full of meaning. If carefully developed with the help of the Holy Spirit it is one of our most valuable teachers.
Many liturgical churches follow a yearly pattern of worship called the Church Year or the Liturgical year. This is divided into various liturgical seasons (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost or Ordinary Time) which emphasize related topically lectionary readings. See Calendar.