Peter Leithart’s reflections on Christian liturgy

Peter Leithart recently wrote a longer-than-usual post on the proper goals and the historic and contemporary shortfalls of Christian liturgy. Here’s his conception of the purpose of liturgy:

The Christian liturgy is the fulfillment of the liturgy of the temple.  The temple was Yahweh’s palace, and the liturgical procedures of the temple constituted Yahweh’s kind invitation to His people to draw near.  The liturgical regulations of the temple were protocols of approach to Yahweh.  Yahweh brought people to His table, where they were permitted to eat in His presence.  At certain times, the priests in the temple read out the Torah to the assembly, and in the synagogues, outposts of the temple courts throughout the land, Israelites gathered to hear Yahweh’s Word read and taught every Sabbath.  Israel’s worship centered on Word and Table: Israel came into Yahweh’s presence so that He could speak to them, and so they could take the crumbs that fell from His altar.

Israel approached, entered Yahweh’s courts, but still remained at a distance.  Lay Israelites could not enter the temple, or eat the bread of the presence.  No one could drink wine in the temple itself.  In Christian worship, though, these restrictions and exclusions are broken down.  Worship still centers on Word and Table, but now everyone is brought near, equally near, and especially equally near to the table.  Properly liturgical, biblically liturgical worship is Scripture-saturated; properly liturgical worship includes the solid food of biblical teaching; properly liturgical worship allows everyone to come to the table every week (“when you come together”).  This is the kind of worship that was advocated, but for one reason and another, not always practiced by many of the Reformers.  This is the heart of Lutheran liturgics: You want to know where to find God, look for the Word, Water, and Bread, signs of the presence of the Incarnate Son.  In a different way, it is also the heart of Calvin’s liturgical theology: Worship is God giving us the gifts of His Word and His meal, and both, Calvin thought, should happen every time the people of God gathered. For the Reformers, that is a “properly liturgical” worship.   This was the impetus behind the early English Reformers as well.

The whole post is worth reading.


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