Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

Although the ancient axiom appears in several different forms, lex orandi, lex credendi is the prevailing short-hand version. It means something like, “the law (or rule) of prayer is the law (or rule) of belief.” My simpler version is, “Our worship shapes our faith.”

There are those who say the phrase is so ambiguous that you could argue it just as well from the other end: “What we believe shapes our worship.” One would hope there is truth in that as well. Nevertheless, seeing worship as the starting-point for faith formation makes good sense to me.

Historically, the followers of the Risen Christ relied on common worship for some three centuries before a creed was ever crafted. The arena of liturgy was where they met the Risen Christ. Out of that experience they shaped their belief system. So it is, and must be for us.

Also, while theological instruction in educational institutions and church schools provides “faith formation,” it does only for a small minority. It is when gathered for worship that a much larger proportion of the people of God are in touch with the substance of faith.

Furthermore, it is my own experience that my early years spent at the side of my parents in congregational worship, listening to and speaking the prayers, having the words of the hymns pointed out before I could read them, watching the faith of my parents acted out, experiencing Christ present—all of this and more was significant in the development of my own faith.

So lex orandi, lex credendi has important implications for the responsibilities ministers and lay leaders have for the worship of the church. The big questions we need to be asking are, “What is ‘taught’ to the congregation by what we say, what we do, and how we say and do it? And how do we enable them to meet Christ?”

Once a solid member of the congregation was talking to me about the worship service and he made reference to “that thing you do at the Communion Table.” “What thing?” I asked. When he explained further I realized he was talking about the Eucharistic Prayer. What did I ever do to let anyone think that it was just a thing? How could I do it differently to include my friend as a pray-er?

Here are a few “things” to think about where we might be communicating something other than what we should:
Call to Worship – Is it really a summons to praise God, or a “howdy, folks?”
Confession – Does it help to open worshippers to God’s forgiveness? Does it speak of God’s grace or just judgment?
Scripture – Do you read from Old and New Testaments? Is it read well, or just gotten through? Does the manner of reading reflect the authority of Scripture?
Sermon – Is it prophetic? A corporate activity, or a solo? Comforting and challenging, or just entertaining?
Eucharist – Is it central to Sunday worship, or occasional? Is Christ recognized?
Charge and Benediction – Are people sent on a mission, or just to coffee hour?

Keep asking the questions, because how well we do things on Sunday morning will determine the strength of our faith.

1 comment:

  1. walt chura, s.f.o.July 27, 2009 at 9:32 PM

    How good to see Don writing of "lex orandi, lex credendi!" The depths of my faith were formed by my time (roughly from age 10-18)as an acolyte in the years prior to Vatican II at St. Patrick's RC Church in Watervliet, NY. It was then that I learned what it was to "pray" the Liturgy, participating--assisting--in the celebration of the Eucharist while the RC congregations of that day prayed their private prayers. The experience drew me to get a Missal (the full order of service of the Latin Mass with both the Latin AND the English translation.) I was puzzled at first as to why it was so important for the Council to authorize the Liturgy to be prayed in the vernacular, why commentators were saying "the people" needed the service to be in English so they knew what the priest was praying. Didn't they have missals? By the time I "aged out" of being an "altar boy," I knew the prayers of the Mass "by heart," in the deepests sense of the phrase. Today, all these decades later, I pray not only those parts of the Liturgy in which the congregation prays but ALL of the Liturgy, in my mind ad heart. I have grown to understand what I only intuited "way back then," that we are ALL "Celebrants" of the Liturgy ("work of the people")over which our ministers are Presiders in our divine work of praise and thanksgiving of the Creator, through the Christ, in the Spirit, One God, now and for ages unending. Amen

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