We were quoting the last time from Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Although there is more in this work that is interesting and worthy of our attention, we will not quote it in its entirety now. Instead we will present a brief condensation of the history of liturgical practices in the early church. We noted that worship in the early church was largely patterned after the customs and traditions of the synagogue. Gradually changes were made. Innovations were added, but we must also remember that although public worship was engaged in and developed, Liturgies in any real sense was not cultivated and recorded. Various liturgical forms that dealt specifically with Christ, the Sacrament of Communion, the Holy Spirit, God the Father and the agape, or love feasts, were introduced.
Perhaps, however, the most significant aspect of worship in these early times had to do with the matter of prayer. In this connection we will quote from the above mentioned source:
It affected also the daily prayers. These daily devotions, which came to be called the Divine Office, had their beginning in the observance of hours of prayer. Two such hours were suggested by the natural instincts of the religious life; the morning, at cockcrowing, called matins; the evening, at candle-lighting, called vespers. These were at first observed in private or as times for family worship; but presently they were kept in the consecrated quiet of the church, people coming in at these seasons and saying their prayers, each person by himself. Gradually, other seasons of devotion began to be observed. First, the vigil, which in its original form was a night of prayer before Easter, and then came to precede ordinary Sundays, and then to be a time of spiritual preparation for saints’ days. On these occasions the morning prayer was in two parts, one in the night, called matins or nocturnes; the. other at dawn, called lauds. Then, to meet the eagerness for the privilege of prayer, three hours were kept in the day: the third hour, nine o’clock, called terce, remembering the disciples on the Day of Pentecost; the sixth hour, twelve o’clock, called sext, remembering St. Peter on the housetop; the ninth hour, called none, remembering how Peter and John went into the temple at the hour of prayer. Thus there were six times for daily prayer: matins, lauds, terce, sext, none, and vespers. The next step was to make these individual devotions public and congregational, and to have them led by the clergy. Of course, for busy people, such a continual exercise of prayer was impossible. For them, as is common today, the daily devotions were for the most part the private prayers which they said at the cock-crow and at the candle-lighting. The faithful who went to church six times a day were mainly ascetics, whose chief interest and occupation in life was the act of prayer. Presently, these devout persons were gathered into groups and societies, and disappeared from sight in monasteries. There they added to the six daily services two more: Prime, as the prayers before the daily chapter meeting, and Compline, before going to bed. Thus the cycle was completed. It had never had much place in the experience of the ordinary layman. It was understood to be intended for the clergy and for the members of religious orders.
Apart from a detailed evaluation of these practices, we may observe that the church in early times was certainly taught to pray; a necessary and spiritual art which in modern times is largely lost. The reason for this is not difficult to discover. In prayer the church is taught not only to rely upon, to trust in the living God but also to seek His guidance in all her ways. But heresy has enveloped the church, which gives the church the conceited notion that she really does not need God (God needs her) and she is quite independent and self-sufficient. When the spirit of such heresy takes hold, the consciousness of the need of daily prayer is lost and the church wends its way under the guidance of rationalism, logic and human intuition.
Another interesting observation of this time is the important place that the book of psalms occupied in the daily services. The faithful met at appointed hours to recite or to sing these psalms. The Psalter was arranged to be gone over in a week. Later Scripture readings were added to these psalms and a few prayers, with resicles and responses. The Latin Church introduced hymns in meter, and lengthened lauds and vespers with commemorations of the saints. At a later time all of these things were brought into a condensed, compact and portable form called the Breviary, and the order or form for Holy Communion was simplified in what is called the Missal. TheBrevkiary is the name of the Roman Catholic service-book containing what is called the “divine office” or the services for the canonical hours. It is a book of prayers and psalms as distinguished from theMissal which contains the altar-service, the rites for the administration of the sacraments, etc.
During the Middle Ages there was little change or development in the liturgy of the church. Traditionalism reigned supreme. Between 590 A.D. and 1200 A.D. there was very little scientific reflection upon the worship, of the church. The hierarchy was firmly established and this hierarchical public worship spirit utilized and was well-established in the minds of the people. Since religious conservatism is nowhere stronger than in matters of liturgy, the “power of the hierarchy” held sway here, even after it had been seriously undermined elsewhere as a result of the mental fermentation that characterized the period. The Western Church was undivided. It held to a uniform and stereotyped liturgy. There was little “thought given to study matters that pertain to public worship. Even after 1200 A.D. and up to the time of the Reformation, liturgies made very slight, if any advance.
The Reformation of 1517, wrought many changes, both in the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches. P. Drews writes, “As the era of the Protestant Reformation came on, the need of further liturgical revision was felt by many, and, steps in that direction were taken both with and without ecclesiastical authority.” Within the Roman Catholic Church these changes are described in the following quote:
In 1535 Cardinal Quingnon at the request of Pope Clement VII undertook a revision of the breviary. Clement died before the completion of this work, and it was dedicated to Pope Paul III, who formally permitted the secular clergy to substitute it for the breviary unreformed. Quignon altered some legends from the lectionary; he arranged to have the Bible read at length and not, as had come to be the usage, in detached fragments; he arranged the Psalter so as to be read in course and not interrupted by substituting special psalms. Also he took out two-thirds of the saints’ days and all the offices of the Virgin, and omitted a great number of vesicles, responses, invitations, and antiphons. In a second edition, however, he restored the antiphons by request of the theological faculty of Paris. This was the authorized breviary of the Western Church until it was superseded in 1568 by the present book, made by a commission of the Council of Trent.
Prof. Volbeda, in his Liturgical Notes, describes the changes effected by the Reformation. He writes:
The Reformation, 1517 A.D., onwards, was not only instinct with tremendous spiritual power, but also developed a wide Dogmatical, Ecclesiastical and Liturgical variety. If the old church had not stubbornly resisted reformation—which it did practically from the dawn of the later Middle Ages and particularly during the entire 15th century—and provoked the spirit aptly called Protestantism, the radical and revolutionary elements of the Reformation would presumably never have made their appearance. As it was, the great religious movement of the 16th century could not possibly escape developing a reactionary spirit. This situation perhaps accounts for the variety, liturgical as well as otherwise that works the Reformation.
Both in England and on the Continent the conditions of ecclesiastical strife were inducing among many a liturgical reaction. The Lutheran Church, indeed, held to many of the traditions of devotion, but the Calvinistic Churches of Switzerland and France, and the Puritan churches of’ England and Scotland, abandoned the old forms and adopted for the most part an extemporaneous worship. Whether all of the changes that were enacted were actually improvements is subject to question, for, as one author expressed it, “This was an incident in a bitter contention, and proceeded not so much from a dislike of the ancient prayers as from a dislike of the people who insisted on them.”
But even then, Prof. Volbeda points out,
In spite of the fact that the reformation of Public Worship was on the docket everywhere, Liturgies received rather scant attention during the 16th-18th centuries. In so far as the subject of Public Worship engaged the mind of the Protestant churches, it was canvassed in the Confessions and the Church Orders of the churches. Liturgies, as an independent theological discipline, was hardly in evidence.”
The 19th century witnessed, if not the birth, at least the pronounced development and efflorescence of the science of Liturgics. In all probability the factor that was most contributory to the genesis of Liturgies was the historical sense that sprang up in the 19th century as a protest against the romanticism and revolutionism, of the 18th century and that was profoundly stimulated toward the middle of the century by the rise of the Evolutionistic philosophy. The historical approach became the sign of the scientific times. Everything was studied in the light of its history. Worship, too, as a department of religious life was viewed first of all in its historical perspectives. Comparative study of the subject led to concentration on the principles of religion and life underlying the interesting phenomenon of Public Worship. Its religious nature naturally suggested Biblical research. As a result, the theological discipline of Liturgies emerged into view.
Today we have not only considerable differences in the liturgical practices of Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches but even among the divers Protestant Churches there is no liturgical uniformity. During the last century, when the church the world over began to concern itself with and study matters that pertain to worship, problems have multiplied so that it is not at all uncommon to find liturgical differences even in churches of the same denomination. What is especially interesting to note is that in the ecumenical movements of the present day, it is often liturgical problems, even more than doctrinal differences, that bog down the discussions and impede mergers. It seems as though a large fragment of the Protestant Church would be quite ready to merge with Rome if only some of the liturgical differences would be swept away. No longer does the question of WHAT one believes seem to be of great significance but the emphasis has shifted to HOW one worships.
We do not minimize the importance of either of these questions. They must be kept in proper balance and certainly we must know not only what we believe and why we believe what we do but we must also understand what we are doing in our worship of God and how our liturgical practices relate directly to the content of our faith. With this in mind we purpose to discuss our order of worship and compare our liturgical practices with those of others, past and present.