"I feel a feeling which I feel you all feel." -- Bishop George RiddingWhy do we use two words, "pray" and "worship," and what do we mean by them? In particular, is there any meaning at all to "worship" as an ecclesiastical act?
We get "pray" from Latin "precari," but in the Vulgate prefers "ora" for "prayer." English derives "worship" from "weorth," according to online etymologies ("worthy" "worthiness"), but another possibility is that it derives from "ora". If so, both English words would derive from Latin terms for "to ask," although there are very slight distinctions between them. "Ora" has a slightly more formal quality as "entreat" or "petition" the way one does before a court of law, and "precare" has more of a "beg, crave" element. How "worship" as a verb evolved is not entirely clear, and it is possible that the repetition of the word "ora" in the Latin mass might have allowed a parallel formation with "weorthscip."
However the two separate words came into existence, we seem to mean different things when we use them. One, "prayer," implies an entire range of activities -- all spiritual -- and the other. . . has an even less exact meaning. In very general generality, "worship" refers to an intramural or ecclesiastical function -- church. "Prayer," on the other hand, means both the petition of the people to the divine, the petition of the person to the divine, the praise of the individual for the divine, and query of the divine. The question I want to ask is how "worship" changes in the various speech communities and therefore what political and community formations are implied. It seems to me that today's evangelical churches, with their organizing into political action committees instead of orphanages, is at least attendant, if not a consequence of, the way that prayer has taken away worship in their services.
 A note: officially, "worship" derives from "worth" in American Heritage. I have not consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, but "worship" derived from "worthy" makes sense for the honorific of "Here is your tea, your worship," but not the verb, "worship."
"Complaint is the largest tribute Heaven receives; and the sincerest part of our devotion." -- Jonathan SwiftWe may take for granted these days that the subjective self had to be invented. Whether we look at the slow valuing of the individual over the social man in the 18th century, the way Odo Marquard does in “Burdened and Disemburdened Eighteenth Century Man and the Flight into Unidictability” or the invention of bedrooms and hence a domestic self separate from family business, the way Lawrence Stone did in Family, Sex, and Marriage (and Stone has dozens of other insights, of course), or the affective consequences of industrialization in the concept of “privacy” in general (plots of romantic love on the rise in fiction, sermons and tracts on obedience increasing), the idea that there is a thing called “me” that is “mine” and, most especially, unique, and valuable needed inventing. However, while all of that seems true, to think that there was no subjective self prior to the industrial person is foolish.
Augustine famously remarked that St. Ambrose read silently. The very idea of the thing was revolutionary. Reading silently was rare for centuries, and we have to assume that most reading was not merely vocal but at least tacitly social prior to the sorts of wealth and social stratification that would allow for silent reading to be practical. Before printing presses, reading matter would be legal or Biblical, and either case would imply an immediate audience. Readers would be in a monastery or convent, and so they would, of course, be reading aloud, as their lives were in common. It would require wealth and separation for a secular reader or a private reader to occur.
Christianity had set a contrast, if not a contest, between the social and subjective self from its outset. We know little about the first Christians and their prayers, as humility prevented much of that discussion, but the earliest Roman reference to Christians mentions that they "sing hymns antiphonally." Pliny the Younger was commenting on their worship, as that is what concerned a Roman authority. (Roman religious tolerance and intolerance was entirely a matter of rite. If a group performed human sacrifice, it was illegal. They investigated practices and never paid much mind to beliefs they encountered.) Furthermore, the words of institution ("Take, eat. This is my body") from Jesus commanded "Do this in memory of me" and, at the very least commanded a social act.
Against this is prayer. Prayer, in Christianity, is private, solitary, autonomous, and to some degree sovereign (or at least not dependent upon the social setting for its validity). Matthew 6:6, from the Sermon on the Mount, says,
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (KJV)The prayer proscribed by Jesus is a private prayer, a secret prayer, and a prayer inaccessible to the community, so as to avoid blame or praise by any but the one to whom it is intended. Further, the examples of Christ's own prayers given in the New Testament, and especially the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22), are personal, intimate, and emotional. In other words, the interaction of the person with God that Jesus commands is personal rather than social. The earliest examples of Jesus praying in Mark have him going to a "deserted place" where he could be alone (in Caesarea) (Mark 2). Just as Jesus condemns the theatrical prayer, the "Lord's Prayer" employs plural pronouns and implies a group prayer ("Our father, who is in heaven, your name is holy" and "Do not lead us into temptation. Protect us from evil").
Nor did Christians of later eras experience their prayers differently or miss the point. Although taking the testimony of mystics is a bit iffy (they're already aberrant by choosing to be contemplative), Saint John of the Cross's Long Dark Night of the Soul may have a Thomist facade of proving the goodness of spiritual dearth, but it has a heart of personal agony. It shows that the mystic experienced prayer as a personal matter, an emotional matter, and a metaphysical necessity. Prayer and contemplation are written about as encompassing, as being aesthetic, emotional, and physical, and minimally intellectual, by the mystics with positive accounts, such as Theresa of Avilla, The Cloud of Unknowing, and Juliana of Norwich. Sixteenth and seventeenth century Christians also speak of prayers as private.
Even as such authors as we have write of the private prayer, many of the same wrote public prayer. Thomas Moore and Samuel Johnson both wrote Latin prayers. "Prayer" was both the solitary pursuit and a public function. This is the other sort of prayer -- the worshipful prayer. There was always a practice public prayer, state prayer, and liturgy/litany, but this was in tension with the sufficiency of the private prayer. There were the prayers of the person and the prayers of the people, the petitions of the soul and the community in communion.
The Reformation emphasized the "priesthood of all believers," and Calvin further emphasized the sufficiency of the individual with the Gospel and grace. (Pimutant's recent diary runs down the practical effects of Calvinism on the approach of the believer.) These become readerly and interpretive moves, as the individual rises in importance, and assessing whether the Spirit and Grace are present moves onto shaky ground. A serious change in Christian practice would explode in the eighteenth century. Just as contemporary historians say that the subjective self is developing as a legal, familial, and philosophical entity, a stress inside the church emerges.
The wars of religion (17th - 18th century) meant that there were many religious groups that were in hiding, and they met up with the print revolution (at the end of the 17th century, England's publications were a river of religious pamphlets (see J.R. Hill, "Popery and Protestantism, Civil and Religious Liberty: The Disputed Lessons of Irish History 1690-1812," in Past and Present 1988). Nation states found themselves either wishing to embrace latitude or tolerance, and that put piety back on the individual (for example the growth of books of Meditations (Boyle, William Law, Bishop Hall, and others)). That individual who was newly empowered by law and culture to be a sovereign over him and herself was attending to prayer and reading meditations. The Protestant churches on the Continent fractured, and in the United States the rapid expansion meant that tradition and permanence had to be manufactured on the cheap.
The explosion came when Wesley met George Whitefield, in the U.K., and when the Great Awakening crossed the geographic expanse of America. Both offered a reorganization of the church service by putting an emphasis on the sermon. Furthermore, that moment created "evangelical" by placing the thematic emphasis entirely on "salvation" of the sinner (i.e. the sermon is approaching all congregants as sinners in need of conversion).
While the old line churches set most of the emphasis on a set order of worship, with set hymns, a set lectionary, and either a litany or at service that makes a delicate balance between rite and ritual, the enflamed churches emphasized hymns without leaders (all "sing along") and the sermon. Older churches set "worship" as an entity that orchestrated the congregation, "singing antiphonally," as it were. They were loathe to change the choreographed service that had been in place since Rome. The new churches had the sermon expand to fill most of the time in the pew. The sermon takes a teacher/student model, or a prophet/penitent model. The congregation does not participate in the sermon-dominated service. Further, wherever the sermon is thematically dominated by salvation, the congregant is disabled and incoherent in worship, because unsaved.
In brief, the Whitefield method and what it inspired addressed the congregation as individuals and asked them to engage in prayer. The sermon engages reason, passion, and aesthetics and asks for spiritual reflection, but always private reflection.
At nearly the same time that the Methodist movement and the Great Awakening occurred, the Protestant churches began social organizing. The sermon-dominated service deferred social religion into the salon, onto the disenfranchised female believer, and we almost instantly see the Methodist Prison Reform societies. The abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, and the anti-war movement during World War I were organized outside of the walls of the churches by the churched.
Perhaps this is a coincidence. Perhaps the same individualizing impulse that valorized the solitary Bible reader is responsible for the extramural organization. The churches as churches commonly minimized their organizational claims. Together with a Calvinist world view, they would have little emphasis on "deeds" and much more on "mission." The theology does not lead to ameliorating prison conditions, and the church does not do it, but the believers form their own societies to do so. (An interesting book is Martha Verbugge's Able-bodied Womanhood. OUP 1988. She is interested in how self-improvement for women.)
However, when we look at contemporary affairs in the United States, we see a prolonged moment of Awakening. The evangelical churches have grown quickly, and megachurches have sprung up. (The latter, incidentally, reinforce the isolation of the congregant with the use of Power Point and projection screens, as they essentially have the believer watching on television while present.) However, women are no longer disenfranchised, and the extramural organizing is done through disconnected, alienating means.
I have been told that "listening to Christian radio and singing along" is "worship." I have also heard ministers tell their flocks that "working to shut down abortion" is "worship." I have heard that driving their cars and praying is "worship." I am, of course, in no position to disagree. Instead, I wish to note only that the public portion of worship is part of the definition of religion, and so is the passion of prayer. When either gets shoved, it merely moves.
Today's mainline churches have debated enlivening their services, and some have emulated the sermon-heavy and orator-centered method. The evangelical churches, meanwhile, have had parallel lines of lay communication that organize. Without "church" sanction, believers write inspirational e-mails and newsletters, and wealthy deacons organize. These gatherings of persons are community, but they have grown weaker in recent years rather than stronger.
While radio remains potent in providing a sense of community, the underlying need of public prayer and community prayer that we see throughout human history, from stone altars and animal sacrifices to UFO cults dancing on shag carpet in a basement, is frustrated. Where the spiritual are kept frustrated alone, sent to "Friend God" on Facebook, and made alone all together, they will push to unite. When they do, what they accomplish can be the best or the worst element of religion.