Language has always been at the center of discussions about worship. In highly liturgical churches, concerns about language are focused on a fixed text. In free churches, choice of language is primarily the domain of a pastor or worship leader, whose selection of words for prayers and introduction of the various parts of the service may be either extemporaneous or written beforehand. In almost every tradition, texts set to music are scrutinized. Most often, when the language of worship is discussed, theological and cultural issues are central. Texts of prayers, sermons, and songs are analyzed for their faithfulness to Scripture and to the central tenets of the Christian faith. The same texts are scrutinized for how they respond to and are sensitive to all persons in the worshiping congregation. But language also has aesthetic qualities. Metaphors and images make language more imaginative and meaningful. The rhythm and rhyme of language make it memorable and momentous. This section will discuss the aesthetic qualities of language appropriate for worship in relationship to theological and pastoral concerns and will address general concerns related to liturgical language, concentrating on the language of prayer. The next section focuses more specifically on the use of poetry-the most self-conscious of all the uses of language-in worship. The language of prayer from one tradition to the next varies perhaps more than any other element of worship. Some liturgies feature carefully crafted prayers written by skilled poets and liturgists for use on a given occasion; others include prayers that have been refined through centuries of use; still others include only extemporaneous prayers conceived in direct response to what is happening in a given service. The following entries examine the implications of these various approaches to liturgical language. Each one at some point refers to the aesthetic qualities of language, including image, metaphor, diction, and rhythm. Each also combines these concerns with theological and cultural issues important to liturgical language. Taken together, these entries argue for giving more attention to the language of worship, including its aesthetic dimensions.
More than any other type of literature, poetry pays attention to the aesthetic qualities of words. As a result, poems can compress worlds of meaning into a mere few words or lines. Poems convey ideas, images, and narratives in ways that can hardly be forgotten. Poems can paint vibrant word-pictures of even abstract images and mysteries. And poems can stimulate the imagination and convey emotion to an extent that can not be achieved by other forms of verbal language. Given this potential for communication, poetry can be of great value in the practice of Christian worship. Poetry is most often used in the singing of hymns. Poems are also used in the contexts of sermons or homilies. This section discusses these common uses of poetry, but also goes further, suggesting ways in which poetry can be used throughout a worship service.