Made to be Heard: Audible Words in Christian Worship

submitted by Mark Mummert

When Christians gather to worship, all are invited to full and active participation in the events of the liturgy. The word liturgy is Greek for “public action.” Christian liturgy is an event in public that enacts Christian identity and receives from the Triune God the gifts and promises of God. We bring all of our senses to worship – our ears to hear, our lips to taste, our eyes to see – and by those human receptors we receive the means of God’s grace – in word and sacrament. Our whole body is engaged in the act of worship.
“The word of God is living and active…” says Paul in his letter to the Hebrews. Lutherans trust that in the hearing of the word of the gospel, we encounter God’s living presence and God’s active, forgiving love. However, in our world today, so many words are received by us through our eyes: we read words in books or on screens without also hearing the words aloud. God’s word is made to be heard.

In worship, when the words of scripture and prayer that are read aloud are also reprinted in a bulletin, modern people tend to place priority on the printed material and pay less attention to the audible character of the text, or even to the person reading or praying the words. In our congregation, our presiding ministers, assisting ministers, lectors, and intercessors practice so that the readings and prayers can be heard clearly and understood by those who listen. Further, we want to encourage worshipers to listen to the leaders, to look at them and watch them as they lead and read, and to be engaged with them actively – participating in the worship together.

Beginning on January 8, our worship bulletins will not include the texts of the scripture readings or the extended prayers of the presiding and assisting ministers. Worshipers are encouraged to raise up your head, watch and see – and listen to the prayers and readings, using our ears more than our eyes. For those who really do prefer to follow printed readings as they are being read, we will make available a simple sheet, titled “Today’s Readings” at the entrance to the nave. We further urge each worshiper to come prepared for worship by having read the appointed readings in advance. The scripture readings appointed for worship next Sunday will be listed in the worship bulletin each week. You can view the words of the liturgical rites in Evangelical Lutheran Worship as you wish. We will continue to work so that all of the readers read slowly, loudly, and clearly so that the readings and prayers may be understood.

By limiting the printing of these texts that are read aloud, we will also achieve a slimmer, leaner worship bulletin, using less paper. We encourage you to either take the worship bulletin home with you or place it in the recycle bins at the exits from the nave and narthex. By working together to use less paper and to recycle the paper we do use, we participate in the care of God’s creation.

Often, when people are speaking about worship, they will say “the liturgy is on page 55,” or “we do the liturgy” – referring to a book or a printed worship bulletin. The liturgy, however, is first and foremost an event and not a script or a text. By providing in the worship bulletin the elements that we need to enact the liturgy — and only those elements, we can turn our attention and our gaze to the event of the liturgy, where the many faculties of our bodies enact the meaning of Christian identity and encounter the grace of God.