Skip to comments.Genius of Reformed Liturgy
Posted on 01/08/2011 7:43:59 PM PST by Gamecock
When the Swiss Reformers rebelled against the liturgical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, they did so in terms of a coherent, controlling idea, a new vision. They had what we now recognize as a distinctively Reformed view of what we should do in liturgy and how we should understand it.
Under the leadership of John Calvin and others, these Reformers put their vision into practice and in doing so brought about the most radical liturgical reform that the Christian church has ever known. Note the word reform. The Reformers saw themselves not as beginning over but as returning to the liturgy of the early church.
The Beginnings of Christian Worship
We get a glimpse of what that early liturgy was like in the writings of Justin Martyr. On the day named after the sun, says Justin, all who live in city or countryside assemble. He then draws the following picture of a Christian liturgy in Rome around A.D. 150:
The service opened with someone reading the writings of the apostles and prophets for as long as time permitted. When the reading was finished, the presider addressed the people in a sermon, exhorting them to imitate the splendid things they had heard.
Following this service of the Word, the people offered intercessory prayers, as Justin says, for ourselves, for him who has just been enlightened [just baptized], and for all men everywhere. In Rome, as throughout the early church, the people stood during prayers with hands raised, and responded with Amen.
After the prayers the people greeted each other with a kiss. Then they celebrated the Eucharist, or Lords Supper. Along with other offerings, the people brought bread and a cup of wine mixed with water to the presider. The presider took the gifts and offered prayer glorifying the Father of the universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, uttering a lengthy thanksgiving [Eucharist] because the Father has judged us worthy of these gifts. After the people had assented with an Amen, the deacons distributed the gifts.
An important thing to note in this liturgy is that it had two main partsthe service of the Word and the service of the Lords Supperand that the intercessory prayers formed a bridge between the two. The church (except for certain sects) followed this liturgical structure in all times and at all places until 1525.
Equally important in the liturgy described by Justin is the absence of division between clergy and people. The extent to which Justin refers to the people as the subject or object of the actions is striking: we pray, we eat, we greet one another, we say Amen, the presider exhorts us. The liturgy belonged to the people.
How did these early Christians view the Lords Supper? As the Greek word itself suggests (eucharisteo = give thanks), the overarching context was one of thanksgiving to God for creation and redemption. But the eucharist was more than thanksgiving. It was also an act offellowship, an offering (in fulfillment of Malachis prophecy of the pure offering of the GentilesMai. 1:10-12), and a memorial, a remembrance of Christs passion.
Giving thanks, fellowshipping, presenting an offering, and doing in memorial all these are elements of devotion we address to God. But Justin also saw the eucharist as God's gracious act toward us. We are nourished and transformed by the eating and drinking, for through the word of prayer that comes from him, the food over which the eucharist has been spoken becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus.
The liturgy as the Reformers knew it in central Europe of the early sixteenth-century was profoundly different from this second-century liturgy described by Justin. The enduring structure of Word and sacrament was still there. But across the intervening centuries the liturgy as a whole had been radically altered.
The difference in how the liturgy looked, how it sounded, and how it was done would have struck one first. The people no longer spoke; priests and choir alone voiced words. The people no longer understood what the presider said; Latin had remained in the liturgy even when the people no longer understood a word of it. The prayers were no longer of the people; instead they were recited inaudibly by the priest. Sermons had all but disappeared. And the bread and wine of the Lords Supper were now rarely shared with the people.
To these and many other such practices and abuses, the Reformers reacted intensely. They recognized that the liturgy, which in the early church had given equal position to Word and sacrament, now placed almost total emphasis on its eucharistic component. The first half of the liturgy (the service of the Word) had lost its independent significance and was understood merely as preparation for the eucharist.
The eucharist too was understood and experienced in a far different way than it had once been. Gradually, over the years, people began to believe that liturgy was something the clergy did on behalf of the people. And at the heart of what God had assigned the clergy to do was celebrate the sacramentsespecially the sacrament of the eucharist.
By the time of the Reformation the church came to think of a sacrament as something that both symbolized and conveyed a gift of divine grace. That is to say,in the Lords Supper the bread and the wine effected the grace not God by way of the bread and wine, but the bread and wine themselves. The priest was thus a dispenser of grace.
The church went on to say that once the bread and wine had been consecrated by the priest, these elements actually became the body and blood of Christ. The bread and wine were transubstantiated. So, gradually the sacrament came to be viewed not only as a memorial of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross but also as a propitiatory sacrifice in which Gods favor could be secured.
What did all this mean for the layperson? If we keep in mind the insistence that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into Christs body and blood, so that Christ becomes bodily present, the answer will not be hard to guess: adoration. Adoration of the Christ who is bodily present under the appearance of bread and wine became for the laity the central worship act.
If we put all these features together, what leaps to the eye is that the medieval church had a liturgy in which, to an extraordinary degree, Gods actions were lost from view. The actions were all the peoples. The priest addresses God. The priest brings about Christs bodily presence, and the laypeople adore Christ under the bread-like and winelike appearances. When they receive the consecrated bread from the hands of the priest the people are infused with grace.
The Reformers rejected the sole emphasis on the Lords Supper, working to regain the balance between Word and sacrament
The great Catholic liturgical scholar J. A. Jungmann puts it like this: Hearing Mass was reduced to a matter of securing favors from God.
The Reformation of the Liturgy
The Reformers rejected the sole emphasis on the Lords Supper, working to regain the balance between Word and sacrament that had been present in the liturgy of Justin Martyrs day. In the medieval church, as we saw earlier, that balance was lost. The Scriptures were read inaudibly in an alien tongue, the sermon all but disappeared, and in theory and practice the entire service of the Word lost its significance and was treated merely as preparation for the Lords Supper.
Word The Reformers recovered the audible reading of Scripture, in the language of the people, followed by explanation and application in the sermon. They stressed the strong tie between the Scripture reading and sermon, and saw the sermon genuinely as Gods Word. Gods voice, said Calvin, resounds in the mouths and the tongues of preachers, so that hearing ministers preach is like hearing God himself speak. God uses the ministry of men to declare openly his will to us by mouth as a sort of delegated work, not by transferring to them his right and honor, but only that through their mouths he may do his own work-just as a workman uses a tool to do his work. In short, through the sovereign action of the Spirit the minister speaks the Word of Godnot in the weak sense that he now reflects on the anciently spoken Word of God, but in the radical sense that God now speaks through him. In listening to church proclamation we hear God speaking.
The Reformers also insisted that we must not hear this Word from afarthat we must receive this Word of God in humility and faith. For such reception, we need the work of the Spirit. So these Reformers introduced into their liturgies the prayer of illumination before Scripture and sermon, asking for the presence of the Spirit. Indeed, it can be said that it was the Swiss Reformers who brought the Spirit back into the Western liturgy.
Sacrament Already we have a good grasp of the controlling idea of Reformed liturgy. But it may help to also look at the Reformers views on the Lord's Supper.
Chapter xviii of Book IV of Calvins Institutes is a sustained attack on the Mass as it was practiced and understood in central Europe in Calvin's time. At what he calls the crowning point of his discussion, Calvin says that whereas the Supper itself is a gift of God, which ought to have been received with thanksgiving, the sacrifice of the Mass is represented as paying a price to God, which he should receive by way of satisfaction. There is as much difference between this sacrifice and the sacrament of the Supper as there is between giving and receiving. The Lord has given us a Table at which to feast, not an altar upon which to offer a victim; he has not consecrated priests to offer sacrifice, but ministers to distribute the sacred banquet.
To fully grasp what Calvin is saying here, it is important to realize that though he adamantly denies that the Lords Supper is a sacrifice of propitiation for sin, he repeatedly insists that it is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The Lords Supper cannot be without a sacrifice of this kind, he says, in which, while we proclaim his death and give thanks, we do nothing but offer a sacrifice of praise.
Yet the fundamental structure of the Lords Supper for Calvin is not sacrifice but sacrament: God acting and we receiving, rather than we acting and God receiving. And, just as in proclamation, Gods action must be received in faith and applied by the Spirit. The eucharistic portion of Calvins Strassbourg and Geneva liturgies opens with a prayer for faithful receiving.
Here and Now
By now the point will be clear: the liturgy as the Reformers understood and practiced it consists of God acting and us responding in faith through the work of the Spirit. The controlling idea in Reformed worship is that God acts in worship and that we are not to hold Gods actions at arms length but to appropriate them into our innermost being. Worship is a meeting between God and his people, a meeting in which both parties actGod as the initiator and we as the responders.
In the Supper, said Calvin, God seals (confirms) the promises he has made to us in Jesus Christ. Here and now he says that his promises are for real. Calvins point is not that the bread and wine are signs and seals of God's promises. His point is that God himself here and now acts, by way of the bread and wine, to authenticate his promises.
But more than that. Not only does God promise in the Lords Supper that we shall be mystically united with the flesh and blood of his Son. Through his Spirit he also effectuates this promise. If we approach the Supper in faith, our faith will be nourished and strengthened, and thereby our unity with Christ in his humanity will be deepened. In the sacred mystery of the Supper, says Calvin, God inwardly fulfills what he outwardly designates.
Along with this emphasis on God as active in the sacrament comes Calvins sharp criticism of the Roman church for the infrequency of its lay communion. What we have so far said of the sacrament, he remarks, abundantly shows that it was not ordained to be received only once a year It should have been done far differently: The Lords Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians All, like hungry men, should flock to such a bounteous repast.
Zwingli felt differently about the matter. He saw the Lords Supper not as a means of grace but as a mode of thanksgiving. And so, he took the momentous step of destroying the enduring shape of the liturgy, pulling apart its two high points of Word and sacrament, disposing them into two separate services, a preaching service and a Lords Supper service, and specifying that the Lords Supper service be held four times a year. It is ironic that all the confessions of the Reformed churches should side with Calvin against Zwingli on the theology of the Lords Supper, while their liturgies almost always side with Zwingli against Calvin.
Finely Tuned Balance
To understand why the Reformed liturgy acquired the character it did over the centuries, we should note one additional curious feature, present there since the beginning: although the people were frequently and lengthily exhorted to receive Gods actions with praise and thanksgiving, they were given scant opportunity to do so in the liturgy. This lack violated everything that the Reformers said about the liturgy. In their liturgical documents and theology they reveal a passionate concern that our recital of Gods actions not remain out there somewhere but be appropriated in faith and gratitude. Surely expressions of praise and gratitude are the appropriate implementation of this vision. Yet the exhortation tone overwhelmed worshipful expression.
Of course, one of the hallmarks of the Reformed churches from the very beginninghas been the vigorous congregational singing of psalms and hymns. And certainly such singing is rightly seen as an act of worship and praise. Yet it must in honesty be granted that over the centuries this praise function of the congregation's singing has all too often been lost from view. H. O. Old expresses the point well: The singing is often understood as a decoration of the service of worship, a way of achieving splendor, or perhaps as the means of giving the bitter pill of religion the chocolate coating of either culture or entertainment. At other times it has been understood as a way of achieving audience participation or as a means of getting the people to respond to the preaching or praying of the pastor. At still other times it has been understood as being primarily a means of expressing the theme of the sermon or the Christian year, making it a pedagogical device. Too seldom has singing been understood as the congregations response of praise to God's actions.
Perhaps this theme of response, along with serious reflection on the appropriate frequency of celebrating the Lords Supper, is the greatest challenge to us in the Reformed churches as we begin our fifth century: we should strive to enrich the response dimension of the liturgy so that it is no longer overwhelmed by the proclamation dimension, but exists with it in finely tuned balance. In most places preaching has rightly remained alive among us (though perhaps too seldom is it understood as God speaking). If now we can enliven the response dimension, then finally the genius of the liturgy as understood in the Reformed tradition will have come into its own: in the liturgy God and his people interact in the power of the Spirit.
Sacrificing someone on an altar smacks of satanism and human sacrifice.
Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice. Nobody did it for Him or to Him. It was on a cross, not an altar.
His blood was shed once for all and He was done.
Descendant of Calvinists,
Walloons, Huguenots and Anglicans
Plus a slew of Presbyterians and Methodists
Overall a good article- thanks for sharing!
I've always wondered why PCA Presbyterians have the (strange) tradition of standing during scripture reading, while sitting during prayer.
The Anglican (and Catholic?) tradition of standing (or kneeling) during prayer, while sitting during (longer) scripture readings (excepting the Gospels, where all stand) seems to make more sense, and, as shown here....is in accord with the earliest practices.
Justin’s “presider” ( now we call priest) consecrated common bread and wine, implored God to turn them into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, offered Him as the Perfect Sacrifice for atonement of sins. People alone don’t constitute the Divine Liturgy, just as without the Lord, there would be no Last Supper.
When sins stop, there will no more need for redemption, there will no more need for Sacrifice.
The Lord died once and for all. No, not for all, and the Sacrifice continues, and the imploring of Divine Grace continues, and the perfect form for it is the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Don’t trivialize the Sacred Mystery with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo human theological nonsense. The meaning of the Mass, just like the Sacrifice can be only fully understood with a perfect love.
May the Lord enlighten your soul.
My friend claims that Mathison proves that Calvin had a far higher view of the the Lord's Supper than your typical conservative Presbyterian Elder or Pastor ever suspected. Certainly Calvin was not Zwingli on the Supper, and your typical evangelical, even Presbyterian ones, is....
Not all PCA presbyterians stand during the scripture reading. We don’t in my church. And we stand during some prayers and sit during others. We also stand for most hymns, also.
I’m not aware that even the most conservative contemporary Roman Catholics insist that the Lord’s Supper is a re-sacrifice of Christ.
Pews in Catholic Church are mostly a post-Reformation addition. The Orthodox still stand for the entire Divine Liturgy.
If these reformers wanted an authentic early Christian liturgy, they could have just adopted the oldest of them all still in use today in the Orthodox Church from the 1st Century - the Liturgy of St. James.
I love the Divine Liturgy of St. James. I often pray most of it before the daily (Roman) Liturgy as time permits.
The Sacrifice of the Cross is unique, sole, final, perfect, there is no other. But the offering of the Sacrifice is perpetual. One cannot comprehend the meaning if one is not a “true” catholic. Still, it is easy to understand the Mass in human terms, it is not easy to love the Mass as a human subject. To love the Mass, one has to adore the Sacrifice of the Cross, and to adore the Sacrifice of the Cross, one has to have a contrite heart.
What an awesome privilege to be able to offer the Sacrifice togher with our High Priest at the Holy Mass. It is not an obligation, it is an act of love.
That is why the early Christians were willing to die instead of revealing the Secret!
How many Catholics today understand and love the Mass?!
Let Justin speak for himself:
“this food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake execpt one who believes what we teach to be true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink, but as Jesus Christ our Saviour became Incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also have we been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus”
First Apology Ch66
This was written when men who knew the Apostle John were still alive and has been believed by the Church from St John, all the way thru today. Of course, Calvin rejected all of this.
Catholics do not believe the Lord’s Supper is a “re-sacrifice of Christ” Christ was sacrificed once for all ( Calvin believed in limited atonement ) and the Mass is making that same once for all Sacrifice, present for those present.
Let’s let Justin speak again:
“God has therefore announced in adavance that all sacrifices offered in His name, which Jesus Christ offered, that is, in the Eucharist of the Bread and of the Chalice, which are offered by us Christians in every part of the world, are pleasing to Him”.
Dialogue with Trypho
To know history is to cease to be Protestant.
Read what Justin and all the Early Church Father’s taught and you will come into a deeper understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and how we are to worship. Didn’t you ever wonder why there were altars in the Roman catacombs and Christians were accused of cannabilism by the pagans?
I can read the Bible and come into a deeper understanding of Christs sacrifice and how we are to worship. I don't need to read commentary on it.
Didnt you ever wonder why there were altars in the Roman catacombs and Christians were accused of cannabilism by the pagans?
No. Obviously paganism crept into the Church early on. Sacrificing people on altars and drinking their blood is associated with Satanism.
The drinking and eating of blood was forbidden by the Council of Jerusalem in the book of Acts, by James, Peter, Paul, etc. God strictly forbade it from the time that He gave man meat to eat.
If you want to eat flesh and drink blood in defiance of God's explicit commands, you are obviously free to do so, but to call it worship of him is heresy and blasphemy and spitting in His face. You're not worshiping the God of the Bible.
“This is My Body” “This is My Blood” Please read John 6, please read St Ignatious who was taught by St John. Why stay with your Gnostic beliefs when you can believe Jesus and His Body, The Church?
don’t you love people sitting in their comfortable 21st century homes, accusing early Christians who were fed to the lions in Rome of being pagans??????
That is not entirely true. First, the Orthodox don't kneel except on the Pentecostal Sunday. However, in many American Orthodox churches, there are pews and people kneel before consecration, apparently something they adopted form Catholics and Anglicans, to their shame.
The Nicene Council in 325 AD explicitly prohibited kneeling during Sunday services for no other reason than uniformity. All Churches which officially recognize the First Ecumenical Council are canonically bound to abide by it. That includes Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc.
Clearly, it's a dead letter not only for all western Christians, but also for many western Orthodox Christians as well, i.e. Antiochans, American Greeks, many American Orthodox churches, etc.
Other western influences in Orthodoxy are uncovered women. You will almost never see a covered woman in American Orthodox chureches, even when recieving the Communion! However you won't see too naby uncovered women in a Russian church. But, hey, we are all for western equality and comfort, even if it is not biblical or traditional, right?
Well I've been Orthodox my whole life here in Chicago, and attended Serbian, Russian, Ukrainian and Greek churches and haven't seen anyone kneel before a consecration yet. Must be an OCA thing.
Pews here are about 75% with, 25% without, my usual parish pewless. The Greeks closer to 100% with pews.
Head coverings for women are becoming less common all the time in all of the churches. I think the priests have just grown tired of reminding people.
As for canonical, there must be at least ten Orthodox bishops with jurisdiction over parishes in Chicago. How's that for canonical?
oh, does that mean that the PCA believes in "the Great Apostasy" just like the Mormons?
I didn't even know this type of Protestantism existed outside of small southern hilltop towns prior to joining FR.
Oh well, I just remind myself that my church's liquor license is probably twice as old as their "denomination".
these early Christians beleived in the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence and many were killed for this Faith, yet they are accused of paganism! Do you think people who hold such beliefs ever think about what they are saying?
Not too hard anyway. And what's with this Protestant article quoting the writings of Justin the Martyr for guidance on developing a liturgy?
I thought they could just whip their Tyndale or KJV bible out, flip to the right page, and know how everything in the church should run.
Well, nice to have another Orthodox on FR. I see you are a recent addition, so welcome. I pinged Kolokotornis so can add you to the Orthodox ping list.
I am Serbian and, naturally cradle Orthodox, and Kolo is Greek.
People knelt before consecration in all Greek Orthodox churches that I have attended. In one OCA church, they fall down on their face in full prostration! Although the Divine Liturgy is the same (at least the part that begins with the Cherubic Hymn), the manner of service is as different as it gets in every church I have been.
As for canonical, there must be at least ten Orthodox bishops with jurisdiction over parishes in Chicago. How's that for canonical?
I know, but no one will share because it's all ethno-phyletism, or "ecclasiastical prejudice". Serbs won't even attend Russian churches, not to talk about OCA, but will wait until they can open their own. The Greeks are no better either.
That was part of the reason I left the Church. Nothing from God could be so selfish.
Bull! We'll go to Serbian Churches, and Arab ones too, any day and we are welcome as they are welcome in ours. As for the others, well................... :)
I personally had no problems attending any Orthodox church. However, ethno-phyletism is not only common in American Orthodox jurisdictions but prevelant. And Greeks certainly don't lag behind, Kolo mou. It's alarming.
James Likoudis is a thoroughly loathed apostate. I'm astonished you would quote him for anything!
I notice that is says, *breaking of BREAD.*
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
It’s very odd connecting Justin Martyr and John Calvin, Calvin would not be able to take the Eucharist if he was with Justin in 150AD. What a pity.
Jesus called it bread, fruit of the vine, and a remembrance.
I tell you that from now on I will not drink of THE FRUIT OF THE VINE.
Will Jesus be drinking His own blood in heaven with us???
Do this in REMEMBRANCE of me.
He did'nt say "Do this to re-present my literal body to create a new batch of "grace" that must be eaten to be recieved."
Catholics do not believe the Lords Supper is a re-sacrifice of Christ...
Did you read my post? I was criticizing God-fear-republican's post which DOES INDICATE a re-sacrifice (or continuing sacrifice) of Christ, while official Roman Catholic dogma does not.
To read and understand before replying is wise....
And knowing history--and the corruption, tyranny and outright butchery propagated by the leaders of the Roman Church in Reformation times--has definitely reinforced my Protestant convictions.
"a new batch of 'grace'"
This is the core of the RC delusion. Christ, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, became the one-time, perfect sacrifice for all the sins of His flock. God has accepted His sacrifice and marked the receipt for the guilt of its recipients "paid in full."
The grace of this free, unearned gift has been received and has accomplished that which God intended - the cleansing and freeing of His sheep.
There is no "re-sacrifice;" no "re-presentation." Anyone with a renewed mind will recall Christ's offering on Calvary and remember it with gratitude and thanksgiving as they partake of the Lord's Supper.
The Passover was a remembrance.
They didn’t recreate it with the firstborn of every household dying when the angel of death came if they didn’t keep it.
It was a remembrance of the first Passover in Egypt and a foreshadowing of Christ and His FIRST coming.
Christ told them that now the Passover was now being fulfilled in Him and it’s to be a remembrance now of His death and a looking forward to His SECOND coming.
God instituted ceremonies and celebrations as symbols of spiritual truths. Not as the actual events themselves.
Jesus death is finished. He’s seated at God’s right hand, not continually but mediating as the great high priest. We don’t need human priests anymore because the final, once for all sacrifice has been made.
The Catholic church makes coming to God too hard.
You used the word “contemporary” implying that Catholics in the past believed or taught differently. i am merely correcting your implication. Why did you say “contemporary”?
The Church was deluded for 16 centuries, makes sense to me!
I used him as an illustration because he quotes non-apostate sources, of which there are more. His own apostasy does not change the fact that ethno-phyletismwhile officially condemned by the Churchthrives in it nonetheless Kolo mou.