24 May 2013

What is Worship? Why Liturgy (& how we do it) Matters - pt. 2

via Pitt Theological
In my previous post, I unceremoniously dropped a dense syllogism with promises of unpacking it. Before parsing I wanted to take a post to discuss something even more fundamental than the Major Premise: what is worship? Or more specifically, what and whom do we encounter in worship, and what objective reality do we touch?^1

This broad question, 'what is worship?', has to be answered even if cursorily before we can discuss symbology in worship. If worship is not a function whose effects are objective, then we are no more than playing tea party with old china and dolls. I can think of more productive ways to spend a Sunday morning. But if we are touching some ‘greater reality’--if we are being pulled ‘further up and further in’, then this should be a frightening prospect.

“When you pray,” Rabbi Eliezer told his disciples on his deathbed, “know before Whom you stand.”


It is possible to go to an event involving a band whose music is Christian in theme, a speaker who explains biblical principles or ways of living, and which generally ‘recharges the spiritual fuel tank’ after the drudgery of the week. Without making a qualitative judgment, I propose that this is not worship. It might be considered ‘praise’. It might even be a Jesus-themed concert with a good message. The quality of the music, the speaker and even the theology is irrelevant here, it’s simply a question of category, and the category is not ‘worship’.

This is because worship touches that greater reality, what is called the Kingdom of Heaven. The prophet Isaiah saw it, and St. John saw it, describing it in his Revelation. This celestial liturgy is what worship is, and properly speaking there is no other worship. In order truly to worship, then, we must join them who are truly worshipping. So we come to the matter of symbology which answers the next question, “how then do we join them?”

We join them, really and truly, through symbols. It is a particular kind of symbol, not according to the popular meaning, that we use and it is the form and nature of these symbols that we will be examining in the coming posts.

^1 There is confusion among English translations about just what we mean (or are translating) when we use the word ‘worship’. The two Greek words we variously translate are λατρεία (latreia) and προσκύνησις (proskynisis). The former refers to rendering service in a cultic sense, the latter to prostrating down before the object. Latreia has frequently been translated both as ‘worship’ and ‘serve’. Proskynisis has been rendered as ‘worship’, ‘adore’, ‘venerate’ and most literally ‘bow/fall down before’. This discussion mostly revolves around latreia, as this is the form whose object is exclusively God.

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