from martyrs to liturgy to invocation to the saints

Cuthbert at prayer in The Little Lives of the ...
Cuthbert at prayer in The Little Lives of the Saints, illustrated by Charles Robinson in 1904. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you ultra-protestant, almost anti-Reformation free churcher types, are going to bristle:

As martyrs fell, these public cemeteries became the repositories of holy relics. The bodies of Saints Peter and Paul, along with many others, were interred in such subterranean labyrinths along Rome’s Appian Way. The Liturgy was celebrated directly over their graves, and the Communion of Christ’s Body and Blood became a daily act of preparation by believers for the Lord’s Return. Saint Paul had reminded them that by doing this “you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Liturgy is the communal labor of devotion and prayer to God. Leitourgia, which literally means “the work of the people,” is, in the words of contemporary writer Benjamin Williams, “that celebration of the church, which has its origins in God’s revelation, by which believers worship God and in the process are formed into the church. That is why the Eucharist is the focal point of the liturgy; it is in the Eucharist that we receive New Life by the grace of God.”

During the Liturgy, invocations were commonly offered to the newly arrived citizens of heaven. Some of these prayers, scratched into the stone, can be seen even today. Prayer to the saints was a natural extension of normal brotherly communication. Since it was common to ask for the prayers and blessings of living Christians, how much better to ask the same of them once they had gone to the Lord?

A few things to draw from this.

One, is the daily life of the believer. What we do, we become. Lex orandi, et. al. If we celebrate the liturgy, we become more orthodox. If we speak as if they are merely departed, we learn that they are merely on the other side and thus awaiting us. Because of this, is it that far away to ask for their help as we would someone on this side?

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2 Replies to “from martyrs to liturgy to invocation to the saints”

  1. This looks like a solid read, and I’ve added it to my wish list.

    Having grown up and having been shaped by the Roman Catholic liturgy, I do believe that the liturgy is personally and spiritually formative, drawing us closer to God while equipping us to know God better as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, I don’t think that is true for many people. I think for many people, traditional liturgy is rote, boring, and uninspiring. I know there have been many times in my own life when I went to Mass (and later more traditional Protestant worship), and just went through the motions without seeking God. God reaches us where we are, and I’m sure my attending and participating drew me closer to God in ways I do not recognize. But I do think that theologians and liturgists can overstate the power of the liturgy in its own right. The believer has to approach the altar with a heart that seeks God in Jesus Christ in order to truly encounter him there. Otherwise, it’s just muscle memory, or it can be.

    1. I don’t know that it’s possible to “overstate the power of the liturgy.”

      Anything can become “rote, boring, and uninspiring.” Even food and sex can. But a steady diet of junk food and porn produces an entirely different kind of “muscle memory” than home cooking and intimacy with a beloved spouse. I believe the metaphor holds for worship. Pop-culture infused, entertainment-focused “worship experiences” can’t create Christians in the same way as Eucharist worship, centered on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and distilled through the two-millennia history of the Church.

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