Celtic worship service


Celtic worship service

People gather for worship on a Sunday evening. There aren’t as many present as there were earlier in the day, when the sanctuary was full with members going about the hustle and bustle of Sunday morning.

Tonight there is a different feel to the gathering. It’s more sedate, contemplative. Twilight has given way to evening; candles are lit to stave off the encroaching shadows.

A welcome is given, a prayer is said, scripture is read, someone recites poetry, the note of a flute hangs in the air, and then silence.

“When I was still in the parish we offered Celtic Christian worship on Sunday evenings once a month,” recalls Elizabeth Eaton, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod. “I got the idea from a story I read in Seeds for the Parish about a congregation in Minnesota that used Celtic worship.”

Eaton, who is of Irish and Transylvanian Saxon descent, was attracted to the idea of a Celtic service.

“It is a service of the ancient church. Nothing ‘new,’ it is worship people practiced long ago,” she said. For Eaton it was “another kind of worship service, for those who like prayer.”

Celtic Christianity developed in Ireland after St. Patrick introduced Christianity there in 432. The Celts, a nature-loving people, preferred the oral tradition to the written and they delighted in stories that engaged their imaginations and their senses.

They embraced Christianity with its parables, stories, poetry, songs, visual symbols and community.

They considered nature and creation sacred and recognized as equal the gifts of women and men, whether lay or clerical.

The Celtic service is contemplative, without a sermon. Worshipers commune with God through prayers, poetry, litanies, scripture readings, music and silence.

“I found the Celtic service to be a good addition to our worship schedule,” said Eaton. “It wasn’t a substitution, taking the place of another service, but an addition.”

“This type of service is not for everyone. Not all members of the congregation will come to this service. But for those who want a break from all the business of life, it gives them time to spend in worship, to be a part of the mystery.”

A Celtic service can be used during Lent.

According to Eaton, “In a society that says ‘indulge yourself now and all the time,’ the simple service makes room for God.” It can be a time of renewal, study, prayer and self-examination.

“There are a lot of resources available for those interested in this type of worship,” said Eaton.

For the services at her congregation she used:

- prayers and blessings from "Carmina Gadelica," collected and translated by folklorist Alexander Carmichae
- the writings of C.S. Lewis, an Irish-born writer, academic and lay theologian
- settings and music from "With One Voice"
- "A Celtic Primer: The Complete Celtic Worship Resource and Collection" by Brendan O’Malley
- contemporary poetry readings

There is also a wealth of material in the new "Evangelical Lutheran Worship."

Prayer at Rising
Bless to me, O God,
Each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me, O God,
Each sound mine ear hears;
Bless to me, O God,
Each odour that goes to my nostrils,
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips,
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue.
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul.
The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.
-- from "Carmina Gadelica"

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