(excerpts from a sermon by Blessed John Henry Newman)
Now what did the Pharisee do? He did not even go so far as to behave in an unseemly, extravagant way: he was grave and solemn, and yet what he did was enough to displease God, because he took too much upon himself, and made too much of himself. Though grave and solemn, he was not reverent; he spoke in a haughty, proud way, and made a long sentence, thanking God that he was not as other men are, and despising the Publican. Such was the behaviour of the Pharisee; but the Publican behaved very differently. Observe how he came to worship God; “he stood afar off; he lift not up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” (cf. Luke 18:13) You see his words were few, and almost broken, and his whole conduct humble and reverent; he felt that God was in heaven, he upon earth, God All-holy and Almighty, and he a poor sinner.
Now all of us are sinners, all of us have need to come to God as the Publican did; every one, if he does but search his heart, and watch his conduct, and try to do his duty, will find himself to be full of sins which provoke God’s wrath. I do not mean to say that all men are equally sinners; some are wilful sinners, and of them there is no hope, till they repent; others sin, but they try to avoid sinning, pray to God to make them better, and come to Church to be made better; but all men are quite sinners enough to make it their duty to behave as the Publican. Every one ought to come into Church as the Publican did, to say in his heart, “Lord, I am not worthy to enter this sacred place; my only plea for coming is the merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour.”
When, then, a man enters Church, as many do, carelessly and familiarly, thinking of himself, not of God, sits down coldly and at his ease, either does not say a prayer at all, or merely hides his face for form’s sake, sitting all the while, not standing or kneeling; then looks about to see who is in the Church, and who is not, and makes himself easy and comfortable in his seat, and uses the kneeler for no other purpose than to put his feet upon; in short, comes to Church as a place, not of meeting God and His holy Angels, but of seeing what is to be seen with the bodily eyes, and hearing what is to be heard with the bodily ears, and then goes and gives his judgment about the sermon freely, and says, “I do not like this or that,” or “This is a good argument, but that is a bad one,” or “I do not like this person so much as that,” and so on; I mean when a man acts in all respects as if he was at home, and not in God’s House,—all I can say is, that he ventures to do in God’s presence what neither Cherubim nor Seraphim venture to do, for they veil their faces, and, as if not daring to address God, praise Him to each other, in few words, and those continually repeated, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth (cf. Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8).
What I have said has been enough to suggest what is to serve God acceptably, viz. “with reverence and godly fear,” as St. Paul says (cf. Hebrews 12:28). We must not aim at forms for their own sake, but we must keep in mind where we are, and then forms will come into our service naturally. We must in all respects act as if we saw God; that is, if we believe that God is here, we shall keep silence; we shall not laugh, or talk, or whisper during the Service, as many young persons do; we shall not gaze about us. We shall follow the example set us by the Church itself. I mean, as the words in which we pray in Church are not our own, neither will our looks, or our postures, or our thoughts, be our own. We shall, in the prophet’s words, not “do our own ways” there, nor “find our own pleasure,” nor “speak our own words” (cf. Isaiah 58:13); in imitation of all Saints before us, including the Holy Apostles, who never spoke their own words in solemn worship, but either those which Christ taught them, or which the Holy Ghost taught them, or which the Old Testament taught them. This is the reason why we always pray from a book in Church; the Apostles said to Christ, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and our Lord graciously gave them the prayer called the Lord’s Prayer (cf. Luke 11:1-4). For the same reason we too use the Lord’s Prayer, and we use the Psalms of David and other holy men, and hymns which are given us in Scripture, thinking it better to use the words of inspired Prophets than our own….
Thus all we do in Church is done on a principle of reverence; it is done with the thought that we are in God’s presence. But irreverent persons, not understanding this, when they come into Church, and find nothing there of a striking kind, when they find every thing is read from a book, and in a calm, quiet way, and still more, when they come a second and a third time, and find every thing just the same, over and over again, they are offended and tired. “There is nothing,” they say, “to rouse or interest them.” They think God’s service dull and tiresome, if I may use such words; for they do not come to Church to honour God, but to please themselves. They want something new. They think the prayers are long, and wish that there was more preaching, and that in a striking oratorical way, with loud voice and florid style….
Let all persons, then, know for certain, and be assured beforehand, that if they come to Church to have their hearts put into strange and new forms, and their feelings moved and agitated, they come for what they will not find. We wish them to join Saints and Angels in worshipping God; to say with the Seraphim, “Holy Lord God of Sabaoth,” to say with the Angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and in earth peace, good-will towards men,” to say after our Lord and Saviour, “Our Father, Who art in heaven,” and what follows; to say with St. Mary, “My soul doth magnify the Lord;” with St. Simeon, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace;” with the Three Children who were cast into the fiery furnace, “O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord, praise Him, and magnify Him for ever,” with the Apostles, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord; and in the Holy Ghost.” We wish to read to them words of inspired Scripture, and to explain its doctrine to them soberly after its pattern. This is what we wish them to say, again and again: “Lord, have mercy;” “We beseech Thee to hear us, O Lord;” “Good Lord, deliver us;” “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.” All holy creatures are praising God continually—we hear them not, still they are praising Him and praying to Him….
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, where he had been forty days and forty nights, his face quite shone and dazzled the people, so that he was obliged to put a veil over it. Such is the effect of God’s grace on those who come to Church in faith and love; their mode of acting and talking, their very manner and behaviour, show they have been in God’s presence. They are ever sober, cheerful, modest, serious, and earnest. They do not disgrace their profession, they do not take God’s Name in vain, they do not use passionate language, they do not lie, they do not jest in an unseemly way, they do not use shameful words, they keep their mouth; they have kept their mouth in Church, and avoided rashness, so they are enabled to keep it at home. They have bright, smiling, pleasant faces. They do not wear a mock gravity, and, like the hypocrites whom Christ speaks of, make themselves sad countenances, but they are easy and natural, and without meaning it cannot help showing in their look, and voice, and manner, that they are God’s dear children, and have His grace within them. They are civil and obliging, kind and friendly; not envious or jealous, not quarrelsome, not spiteful or resentful, not selfish, not covetous, not niggardly, not lovers of the world, not afraid of the world, not afraid of what man can do against them. Such are they who worship God in spirit and in truth in Church; they love Him and they fear Him….
God hates the worship of the mere lips; He requires the worship of the heart. A person may bow, and kneel, and look religious, but he is not at all the nearer heaven, unless he tries to obey God in all things, and to do his duty. But if he does honestly strive to obey God, then his outward manner will be reverent also; decent forms will become natural to him; holy ordinances, though coming to him from the Church, will at the same time come (as it were) from his heart; they will be part of himself, and he will as little think of dispensing with them as he would dispense with his ordinary apparel, nay, as he could dispense with tongue or hand in speaking or doing. This is the true way of doing devotional service; not to have feelings without acts, or acts without feelings; but both to do and to feel;—to see that our hearts and bodies are both sanctified together, and become one; the heart ruling our limbs, and making the whole man serve Him, Who has redeemed the whole man, body as well as soul.