THE Book of Common Prayer is one of many forms by which the religious life expresses itself in worship. Before we can study the Book intelligently, we must first consider its purpose. That, very evidently, is to provide an authoritative form for the expression, in public and corporately, of the human desire to worship God, as it is found among members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The meaning and value of its contents can only be judged when we have settled what we are to understand by worship, and that in turn must be governed by what we know of the character of God, who is the object of our worship. To have a false idea of God's nature must give a false tone to our worship. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him." (Heb. ii: 6). The angry God must be propitiated with the blood of men and beasts, the sensuous God with the odor of incense, the God who is far off will be worshiped differently from the God who is within; if God is only the great theological Purist, we need only approach him through the Westminster Catechism, which is a different approach from that of the prodigal to his loving Father. The God whom we worship in the use of our Prayer Book is the one revealed to us by his Son, a Person who is Spirit, a Person who can be loved by us with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, because we too are spirits, and because he is our Father and we are his children. It is that sense of relationship at the root of our religion which constitutes our right to approach this God, and which, once felt, draws us to worship in this way.
Given the true God, then, our worship is what we do when we are conscious of him, of his worthiness and his presence. Because worship's root meaning is worth-ship, the acknowledgment of the dignity, the infinite value of God. Worship is the attitude and the act of man when he realizes how much God is worth. The thought of God comprises everything that we can conceive as most worthy. What he is,--all powerful, ever-present, infinitely righteous, loving and merciful,--is worth more to us than anything else in the world. If he were not, or if he were not all this, then life would be not worth living, nothing would be worth while. But in him all life gains a value and all we are and all we have and all we hope to be becomes of worth to us because God is and is what he is. The vision of the worship of God in heaven, so beautifully set forth in the Apocalypse, is only the vision of God and his perfection, the adoration of his worthiness. "And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders shall fall down before him that sitteth on the throne and shall worship him that liveth forever and ever and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 'Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.'" (Rev. 4:9-11.)
This acknowledgment of the infinite worth of God, this adoration of him for his perfections, this dedication of ourselves to his service, is the expression of our religious life, and is not to be confined to certain times and places. Religion is all inclusive and so is worship. It takes in all of life. It is not an appendage or attachment to life. It is constant, not recurrent. Laborare est orare. "Services," as we call what we do in church, are only a part of our "bounden duty and service," which Christians are trying to render all the time.
"True worship," says Charles Kingsley, "is a life, not a ceremony." And before him St. James had said, "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27.) And the word translated "religion" here, means service, or worship; the truest expression of our reverence for God is always and everywhere to do his will in ministering to his children.
This is all true. But in studying the Prayer Book, we are justified in confining ourselves to this particular aspect of the religious life, which has come to be commonly known as Worship--what we do when we are definitely conscious of God's presence and worth and have, or ought to have, nothing else to do.
We are also justified in still further narrowing the scope of our study by eliminating the worship of the individual. It is possible and very general and very valuable to worship God, in private. But the Prayer Book we are to study is the Book of Common Prayer, and implies the corporate character of its worship. Religion not only takes in the whole of each man's life, but is distinctly social and is only true religion when it feels its brotherhood as one family of God. Because God is the Father of a family, he is never truly known except as a Father. So Christ taught. And no father can be known except in relation to his family, in his home and around his family board. We may use no selfish, personal pronouns in addressing him. We must say "Our Father," remembering his other children.
So we believe that the highest form of worship must be social, the most effective prayer must be Common Prayer. The sense of God's presence may be very vivid to the man who has shut the door and is alone with God, but there is a promise of a more special presence to the group of even two or three, and then the communion with God comes, as we know, not only directly, as in the closet, but communicated with a thrill from soul to soul, in the worshiping assembly. The mere fact of aggregation enhances the ability of each individual in the crowd to realize a great fact or spiritual truth. In all great crises men naturally flock together. So in worship, as in sorrow or in joy, men learn by gathering together and feel more deeply than any could alone.
"Psychologists have noted," says Streeter, "this power of mutual stimulus as the explanation of the fact that bodies of men acting together under a single impulse are capable, whether for good or evil, of a sensitiveness to impression, of a depth of emotion, or of a strength of purpose far beyond the individual capacity of their constituent members. Is it strange, then, that experience should show that a group of men or women are capable of realizing and appropriating the inspiration of the Divine Presence, or of submitting themselves to the guidance of the Divine Will, to an extent far exceeding anything which would have been possible to them alone? The Divine Presence is always there; the gathering together of the faithful is not a magic spell which attracts to a particular spot what was previously absent, but it may and does enable them individually to realize and appropriate that which was always there, and enables them to see clearly what before was hidden by a veil."
To sum up, therefore, we shall say that public, corporate worship, which our Prayer Book attempts to express and give, while mysterious, as must be all intercourse with the Infinite, is simply the attitude and act of man, sensible of God's presence and feeling God's worth. Now this feeling and its expression may take many forms. Whatever is natural for a child of God to think and do in the felt presence of his Father is a form of worship. It may be confession of sin, as he sees himself and his past life in the presence of God's holiness; it may be the yearning to know of God's nature and will, as revealed and heard in his Word, whether God is forgiving or not, loving or not; it may be fervent petition for some benefit sought or it may be a burst of praise, in the face of his glory. These are all aspects, or parts, of worship. It is to the consideration of the question whether, and if so, how, our Prayer Book gives fitting expression to this worship, as we have defined it, that the following pages are devoted.
But before we take up the study of the Book itself, a few words are necessary on the need and method of expressing this worshipful attitude in act. The ideal worship is before us: and the ideal is always the real. But the ideal must have its visible, concrete expression. What the soul feels in the presence of God must come out in some form. Just as the ideal man must take flesh, just as the ideal Church must take form in the organized and visible church, just as the organized church must express and perform its functions through a ministry, so the Church's desire to worship God must find for itself some outward, and organized and authoritative expression.
We encounter here two conflicting theories which must be discussed before we can understand the principle on which our Prayer Book is framed as a vehicle of expression and a guide to our common worship.
A genius for comprehension is one of the marks of our church. This may and sometimes does degenerate into mere compromise, but at its best it means giving fair play to contradictions, allowing each its chance and holding both to be essential to the perfect whole.
In this matter of worship one man feeling intensely the spiritual in his intercourse with God, even in its public form, regards the quiet of silence as the only worshipful atmosphere. He regards as distracting and intrusive any motions, or sounds, and would worship him who is Spirit only in spirit. Thus the so-called Quaker thinks and he is being joined by many in our own church, who appreciate and depend more and more upon services of silence to feed their souls and render spiritual worship to God.
At the other extreme one sees the service of the Holy Orthodox, or Eastern Church, and notes the elaboration of posture and act, of music and incense, each act full of meaning and the whole of worship strikingly dramatic and appealing to the senses by every avenue. Any error in act or word vitiates the worship.
In which of these two ways should we worship God? In neither, but in both, using each to curb the other, and finding only so the full expression of all the soul desires when it comes to meet God. To take two very loosely defined and much misunderstood terms, let us call the first of these the Puritan and the other the Ritualistic position. Both are right, but only when joined, both as extremes and alone fail to express the whole heart of man's worship. For man is body and spirit and as the body without the spirit is dead, so the spirit without the body is dumb and expressionless. In this world, certainly, neither is without the other, though one may be higher than the other. Just as the government is not the denial of the primary fact of the sovereignty of the people, but makes it operative, just as the organized church with its appointed ministry is no denial of the priesthood of all believers, so the outward forms and symbolisms of our worship are no contradiction to the truth of the spiritual access to God. As a matter of fact, they are absolutely necessary for the appreciation and expression of the larger truth.
The danger to the Puritan is that his worship after a while dies of inanition, for that which is unexpressed dies; while the danger to the Ritualist is that he, after a while, dies of a surfeit because the body has become to him more than the soul.
There should be no question of partisanship with regard to what is called Ritualism. For that only means the science of Rites, of any sort, plain or ornate, and even in its ordinary meaning to-day is only the use of symbolic emblems and acts to express spiritual things.
According to this definition, we are all ritualists because we are human and we cannot express the spiritual in us save by the use of symbols. The Puritan is a ritualist when he permits the sweet tones of the organ to lull him with a response; he is a ritualist when he stands to sing a hymn or bows his head in prayer. The "Low" churchman who wears his surplice in a cruciform church and lifts his hand in blessing over his congregation, is a ritualist, for he is making use of symbols, as he must, to express the otherwise inexpressible.
On the other hand we must remember that any act of worship is not only expressed towards God as adoration, but has its reflex action towards the worshiper as education. And just as we may be sure God wishes us to worship him not only in spirit but in truth, so we must be very careful that what we are doing in church trains us in the truth. For that is, or should be, the basis of any objection that may be felt to much that is called Ritualism. It is not its use of symbols that is objectionable, but its use of symbols to express that which our church has repudiated and deems false. The symbols and symbolic acts must not be used to express a theory of transubstantiation; they must not set forth a false sacerdotalism. If Ritualism means these things, it is bad, but not as ritualism, simply as untruth and so disloyalty. If what it does in church means nothing, then it is petty, unworthy and irreverent. If it is used to teach error, it is worse than this. But when it expresses the truth of the child's loving approach to his Father, then the more we have of it the better, art in all its branches to beautify our churches, and adorn our services, the most expressive and affecting liturgy we can compose or compile, using all the riches of the past and calling in all the contributions of the present.
Does our Prayer Book, in word and act, fulfill all these demands, and if so, how?
Freeman: The Principles of Divine Service. Gratacap: Philosophy of Ritual.