How I fell in love with liturgy

Liturgy conveys the unity and the catholicity of the church.

I don’t like to apologize. Apologizing means taking responsibility for something you have done wrong, which is never fun. Over time, I have realized it is a necessary part of living as a sinful being in a fallen world, but when I was younger, my mom had to force me to apologize. I protested that “I don’t feel sorry, so why should I say I am?” This battle of wills always ended in a victory for my mother, and I always sullenly muttered “I’m sorry” to the sibling I’d wronged. I rarely meant it.

While I now apologize of my own free will (usually) without sulking, the slight hypocritical feeling born of saying something that doesn’t feel true lingers, particularly in my faith life. Should I say something that is right to say, even if I don’t feel it in the moment? How can I say that I believe something, even when I don’t feel it is true?

My mom made me apologize because she knew I was in the wrong; she was showing me the right response, giving me the correct script. It’s like the script we follow during the time of confession at the Christian Reformed Church I attend in Grand Rapids. Initially, this kind of communal prayer was foreign to me. I grew up in a non-denominational New England church that very rarely used any kind of liturgy or had congregational participation. I was taught that the most genuine form of prayer was a personal, original one.

Aligning my heart

This may be because my home state of Massachusetts is one of the least religious U.S. states. In that context, churches tend to be seeker friendly; services where everyone knows the words to a liturgy might feel alienating. It took me almost an entire semester to get used to saying “Thanks be to God” after a Scripture reading! Yet even though the style of worship was a bit weird for me at first, I realized that it was exactly what I needed in this season of college. The busy-ness, the uncertainty, the lack of feeling God’s presence: these all contributed to a kind of apathy. But when I didn’t have the personal strength or ability to draw close to God, saying the words given to me by generations of other Christians helped me to align my heart in a way that I would be unable to do on my own.

Liturgy became a tool for when I don’t feel as if something is right or true. When I don’t feel like God has my back; when I don’t feel forgiven; when I don’t feel as if God cares about me, and when I feel like justifying all the things I’ve done instead of repenting of them, liturgy helps me to still say things that are true, right and powerful.

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” Can having a script lead to complacency? Yes. But I still think liturgy is a beautiful way to worship; it conveys to me the unity and the catholicity of the church. When I am in church, I recite true things about God and myself together with my community, the communities that came before, and the communities that will come after.


  • Savannah Shustack

    Savannah Shustack is a second-year English student studying at Calvin University and has been attending Shawnee Park CRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

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