Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ritual and Simplicity in Sunday Worship Services

My daughter, her Greek Orthodox friend, and I recently attended a Sunday Greek Orthodox church service. This was a first for both my daughter and me. We were told that the particular church we attended was more conservative than most, meaning the service was a bit longer (2 1/2 hours) with a little more ritual than most other Greek Orthodox churches. Nonetheless, the contrast between the extent of ritual in the "typical" Sunday Greek Orthodox Church service and the Sunday Sacrament Service of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) church is quite stark.

Of the various churches I've attended, the Greek Orthodox service was on the ritual extreme side (give it a 10) on the Simple (1) to Complex (10) ritual continuum. I would classify the typical Roman Catholic service as a 6-8, a typical Presbyterinan or Baptist service a 3-5 and typical LDS service a 2-3.

Ritual has been an important part of both Jewish and Christian worship through the centuries. The earliest Christian church services had both extremes: the simple house church meetings as well as more complex, ritual laden temple-like services. As the Catholic church evolved, the content of the Sunday services changed from the dual nature (teaching/fellowship and worship ritual) to primarily worship ritual. Only in the last several decades has a portion of the Catholic service reverted back to some teaching (homiles and Scripture readings in English.) Protestant church services range between a balance between teaching and worship ritual to primarily teaching and simple praise.

The LDS Sunday services, or Sacrament Meetings as they are called, are comprised of taking the sacrament of bread and water as the symbol of the spirit of Christ, and talks about the gospel, faith, or work of the church in general. The LDS church is unique in that it reserves the most sacred, ritualized elements of it's "liturgy", so to speak, for the separate "Temple work." So, while the Sunday services are kept relatively simple, the occasional "Temple trip" events are rich in ritual. I have not yet experienced the LDS Temple.

The wisdom behind this arrangement is to avoid profaning the sacred by not having extensive, routine weekly rituals in ordinary semi-public places that most churches tend to be. When highly ritualized worship is repeated over and over, every week, my own experience is that it would soon lose its' significance - its' emotionally reverent feeling - its' feeling of connection with our Heavenly Father. The highest forms of worship are reserved for the most sacred place - the Temple, and not as a routine, but as very special events a few times a year.

The true Gospel of Christ is not considered to be contained in routine ritual so much as in the benevolent actions coming out of a loving heart mimicking Christ's teachings. That is a principle teaching of LDS. I believe that excessive ritual can easily lead to complacency, presumption, and ultimately dilute our sense of God's presence in our lives.

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