Notes on Liturgy and Language

Those unfamiliar with liturgical worship often object that it is repetitive and, thus, devoid of the spontaneity they desire. But repetition is precisely the point of liturgy. C. S. Lewis wrote:

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. {Letters to Malcolm. Chiefly on Prayer}.

As we learn the words and actions of the liturgy and come to understand what they mean, we develop the ability to pray from the heart.

A Note On Language

Liturgical English is necessarily different from everyday language. There are words in the liturgy with a long history of theological meaning that cannot be translated into modern English. If a word is unfamiliar, look it up in a dictionary. It will help you learn the faith.

Liturgical English retains the “thees” and “thous” because they are poetic, reverent and more precise than “you.” The body of Christ is “given for thee,” meaning the particular individual.

While it is not necessary or desirable to use liturgical English in personal prayer, it is highly desirable and appropriate to retain a majestic, reverent and theologically accurate language for liturgical prayer. Liturgical English reflects the “beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9) and has the capacity to lift the heart, mind and soul to God in worship.