2007December17, Monday

German Reformed Revised Liturgy

Posted in Worship at 13:03 by Trey Austin

Well, i had a pleasant surprise today. A couple of weeks after i purchased it, a liturgy book i purchased on a lark on Ebay finally arrived today. Of course, one reason i bought it was that i have always been interested in Christian liturgy and forms of worship, and prayer books and liturgy have been of great interest to me since i became Reformed. Since i was introduced to the writings of John Williamson Nevin, i appreciated his Calvinistic principles as well as his High Church leanings. Along with him, i have all but rejected “Puritan Presbyterianism”—though, i haven’t abandoned Presbyterianism, because i don’t believe you have to be a Puritan or follow the Neo-Puritan path in order to be a good Presbyterian.  

One of things that i had long looked for was the much maligned Revised Liturgy of the Reformed Church in the United States (AKA, the old German Reformed Church). Mark Horne has part of Nevin’s defense of that liturgy (the baptismal part) on his website, but even beyond the defense of it, i wanted the actual liturgy itself so i could read what all the fuss is about. I inquired on several email lists i frequent about the liturgy, but no one knew where i might find a copy of it.

Well, i didn’t even think about it when i bought it, because the description of the book just said “Liturgy of the Reformed Church.” However, i was very pleasantly surprised this morning when the mail came and i opened up my package and saw that it was the very liturgy in question. It is the Revised Liturgy of the Reformed Church (US) which that Church so wrangled over in the middle of the 19th century. It’s not the best copy, but it is complete.

Some observations just from skimming through it:

  • The overwhelming bulk of this book is taken up with lessons for the feasts and seasons of the Church year. The seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, and the “Church Season” (what today most people call “Ordinary Time”) are all present, including some minor days in there (like St. Stephen’s Day, St. John the Evangelist’s Day, Innocents’ Day, and Christ’s Circumcision, which is New Year’s Day). All of the proper Scriptural lessons and collects are included in the lirugy.
  • There are scores and scores of prayers included for all occasions of the Church. In addition to the proper lessons and collects of the days, canticles and prayers are included for festival days. These are full petitions that, on the various occasions, replace the general petition included in the regular order of worship. There are also a great many litanies for use in worship (i.e., the responsive prayers, where the congregation gives a refrain in response to the petition made by the minister or other leader).
  • Of course, there are also forms for the administration of the two sacraments, confirmation, marriage, visitation of the sick, ordination and installation of officers, excommunication and restoration, laying of a cornerstone of a church building, consecration of a completed church building, consecration of a burial ground, reception of immigrants (understandable in a Church comprised almost wholly, at the time, of first- or second-generation immigrants from Europe and particularly Germany), burial of the dead, and family prayers. There is also a guide (it is not exactly a form or liturgy) to private devotion. Finally, there is a selection of psalms and hymns (no musical notation; 104 psalms/hymns, and 9 doxologies at the very end) arranged according to various topics and occasions.
  • There is copious use of the “Glory Be” prayer (what we call the Gloria Patri, and Presbyterians usually sing it only) in many of the various contexts, especially as a response to Scripture readings.
  • In the liturgies for the sacraments, there is strong instrumental language, that God would accomplish what the sacraments signify, not along with somehow unexplained, but in and through the sacramental activity. And, of course, the prayers after the sacraments speak with full confidence that God has indeed accomplished in the sacrament precisely what the sacrament signifies. This goes along with the very purpose Nevin gave in his defense of the liturgy, that the sacraments would be seen as of great importance and that the grace promised always be seen as being present objectively to all those who receive the sacraments—of course, with the understanding that those and those only who receive with true and proper faith will subjectively receive the grace.
  • There is repeated reference to what may be assumed is the the front central part of the sanctuary as the altar; it is where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, where the minister stands at particular times in the services, where candidates for various purposes come and present themselves before the Church, &c. Strange that reference, i thought.

I will be typing in or scanning in the text from the liturgy here and there here on the blog. If there is anything in particular that you would like to have or read from the liurgy, let me know so i can see about typing or scanning it in particular.


  1. David Gray said,

    Great news! Looking forward to seeing more. I wonder when the last press run for that would have been.

  2. Trey Austin said,

    Mine is a printing from 1861, and the original was completed in October of 1857. I don’t know of any reprint more recently, and i have looked for it.

    Maybe i could find someone who wants to reproduce this thing and make some money. 🙂

    Actually, my friend, Tim, and i have spoken before about the possibility of drawing up a Presbyterian Prayer Book or Liturgy Book for public and private use in worship. This could be of great use in compiling that sort of thing.

  3. David Gray said,

    Presumably the copyright has expired. Probably doable to make a PDF of it, although a fair amount of work.

  4. al said,

    Prayers for use during the sacraments if you could! We have a high liturgy, but we are looking to make some changes.

    al sends

  5. Anon said,

    Any chance you could get me a photocopy of this book?

  6. Anon said,

    Nevermind — I just bought it online! =)

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