Sometimes I find it hard to explain to people what I think is so wonderful about a set liturgy. Yes, it's beautiful. Yes, it serves a catechetical function. Yes, it takes the guesswork out of the important rituals of the church, a very good thing. But all of these things don't really add up to the sum of why I have a love for liturgical worship.
Like so much else, that which can't be dissected rationally can be communicated in narrative.
Yesterday evening I had volunteered to lead Communion for our church (check out the new website!!!). Last year, with Brent's help, I adapted the Eucharist liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer for use in our church context--basically, trimmed it down and made it a bit more casual, and took out all the really "priestly" elements (inappropriate, of course, for a church with no priests). Ever since, when I celebrate the Lord's Supper, I use the form that we created. One of the elements we retained was the Lord's Prayer. Often we will pray this at the end of our worship service, if we haven't already during Communion.
Last night one of the residents at the YWCA where we worship on the 4th floor came in late during the sermon. Sorry I'm late, she announced in a loud voice while Joe was mid-sentence. Glad you're here, come in, Joe answered, without skipping a beat or losing his train of thought. And she sat down near me in the back. A couple of weeks ago when I first met her I quickly realized that it would be difficult to talk to her. For some reason, current impressions, memories, arbitrary connections, all spill out in a free flow of unedited rambling, so that no sentence is connected to the next in a way that anyone can really follow or respond to. Talking seems compulsive for her, and communication is lost in a maelstrom of time- and context-independent information overload. So it was unsurprising when she periodically would voice the random thoughts flowing through her mind as she sat in the chair near me during church.
Until we began to celebrate Communion, and came to the recital of the Lord's Prayer. And all of a sudden, the jumbled-up free-for-all slowed, and focused, and clarified, and she was able to voice along with the rest of us, in perfect unison, the words of our communal prayer. Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, for ever and ever.