Folks have asked me from time to time about why we do certain things during worship that they may not be familiar with, such as kneeling in the middle of the Nicene Creed. That made me think of an excellent little book written by Pastor Burnell Eckardt of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois. It's called
Why? A Layman's Guide to the Liturgy. In the catechism
Question & Answer format we know so well, he addresses the various parts of the liturgy and why we do that.
For example, the first question posed is: Why is Christian worship liturgical? Then he explains why the Church has always worshiped God in a liturgical manner. Pr. Eckardt is quite a scholar; but his answers, although full of biblical and historical references, are easy to read and understand. It is truly a book for the layman.
Other questions asked: Why do we worship on Sunday? Why is church music so different from all other kinds of music? Why is red the color of Pentecost? (He actually covers all the seasonal colors used in church.) Why do we make the sign of the cross? Why do we sing the Gloria right after the Kyrie? Why is the sermon preached from the pulpit? Why is the altar in the middle? Why are the Host and Cup elevated at the Lord's Supper? All in all, there are about one hundred different questions that he answers.
If you're interested in this little book, you may purchase it at Amazon. It's less than ten bucks and has a ton of interesting knowledge about our Christian faith and worship. I highly recommend it.
And to answer my initial example about the pastor kneeling during the Creed when we say,
who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man. We kneel or bow here in reverence and honor to Jesus and His incarnation-the single most important act to ever occur in human history, that is, God becoming man. So, we kneel or bow to acknowledge that the God we worship is also the Man we worship, Jesus Christ, true God, and true Man. The following is an interesting quote from Martin Luther on this practice, including an old story about the devil scolding a man for not doing it!
Luther wrote: 'Although the Pope and the devil frightfully mutilated and perverted all that is divine in the church, God nevertheless miraculously preserved Holy Scripture – even though it was darkened and dimmed under the pope's accursed rule – and passed it down to our day. Thus God also preserved these words of the Gospel, which were read from the pulpit every Sunday, although without the proper understanding. Also the words of the Decalog, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, as well as Baptism and one kind in the Sacrament have survived under the devilish regime. Although the Gospel was obscured and the proper understanding of it hidden, God still kept it for the salvation of His own. These words too,
And the Word became flesh, were held in reverence. They were sung daily in every Mass in a slow tempo and were set to a special melody, different from that for the other words. And when the congregation came to the words,
from the Virgin Mary and was made man, everyone genuflected and removed his hat. It would still be proper and appropriate to kneel at the words
and was made man, to sing them with long notes as formerly, to listen with happy hearts to the message the Divine Majesty abased Himself and became like us poor bags of worms, and to thank God for the ineffable mercy and compassion reflected in the incarnation of the Deity. But who can ever do justice to that theme? ...The following tale is told about a course and brutal lout:
While the words,
And was made man were being sung in church, he remained standing, neither genuflecting nor removing his hat. He showed no reverence, but just stood there like a clod. All the others dropped to their knees when the Nicene Creed was prayed and chanted devoutly. Then the devil stepped up to him and hit him so hard it made his head spin. He cursed him gruesomely and said:
May hell consume you, you boorish ass! If God had become an angel like me and the congregation sang: 'God was made an angel,' I would bend not only my knees but my whole body to the ground! Yes, I would crawl ten ells down into the ground. And you vile human creature, you stand there like a stick or a stone. You hear that God did not become an angel but a man like you, and you just stand there like a stick of wood!
Whether this story is true or not, it is nevertheless in accordance with the faith (Rom. 12:6). With this illustrative story the holy fathers wished to admonish the youth to revere the indescribably great miracle of the incarnation; they wanted us to open our eyes wide and ponder these words as well.
- Luther's Works Vol. 22, pp.102-103, 105-106
As Christ's servant in your midst,
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