But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).
The whole Church is called a priesthood. Since the people of God are priests, they should be actively involved in worship. They should be the ones conducting worship. At St. Barnabas, Bishop Morse leads the service, but the people are actually performing the worship. The people are able to do this because they know how to worship. They have been trained with a tool called the prayer book. It is not intended to replace the Bible. The prayer book, though, is to worship what the hymnal is to music. It is designed to equip the people for doing the work of the priesthood.
The recited prayers are part of the training manual for worship. They are not the only kind of prayer, for there will also be “free” prayer during worship. Our Book of Common Prayer has special places for the ministers to say extemporaneous prayers. The set prayers follow Biblical examples such as the Lord’s Prayer. They are usually well-stated prayers that uniquely express the common needs of God’s people. They are called “collects” because they are a collection of the needs of Christians that are brought to God by the minister.
Set prayers are prayers that have a unique history to them. The following prayer has a special story attached to it: “O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; defend us thy humble servants in all assault of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” This prayer was written by a minister in the city of Rome sometime during the fourth century A.D. It was composed at a time when barbarians were about to conquer the city. On the night on which it was prayed, the barbarians mysteriously left and never came back. The Church has kept this prayer which God so profoundly honored.
The common objection to read prayers is that they are not sincere. But this is not necessarily the case. People read vows at a wedding or even memorize what they say. Does this mean that they are insincere? Hardly. In fact, human beings very carefully choose their words when they really have to mean them. Remember, this is how people act at special occasions before special people.
But how about the repetition? Doesn’t this lead to deadness? No, again. Humans usually like to repeat what they love. Favorite, oft-recited portions of scripture such as Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Beatitudes, all serve to illustrate this. How about certain hymns, Christmas carols, or simple songs such as Jesus Loves Me? These are repeated by the same people over and over. Does the repetition mean they are insincere or don’t mean what they say? Not at all. They are repeating what they love and mean. In fact, repetition is difficult when people don’t mean what they are saying. This is true of every aspect of worship.
Finally, repetition has been called the “mother of learning.” Repetition is a way of learning basic elements of anything, including worship. Most Christians don’t know how to worship because they have been led to believe that it comes naturally. It doesn’t, any more than anything in the Christian life comes naturally. It must be learned. And, since repetition is the most basic way of learning, the worship service involves repeating certain important parts.