One of the great tests I apply when I visit a congregation is to listen to how the pastor reads (or chants) the collect of the day. A collect is not simple but compacts a great deal into an economy of words to express much more than first seems possible. Yet, to pray the collect requires you to read it (preferably out loud) a few times before Sunday morning. It is often clear from the pastor leading us in prayer that he is not sure what we are praying for in that collect and if he is unclear, it stands to reason it is hard for us to add our Amen to the prayer.
Now to be clear, I am not suggesting the liturgical language be obtuse. But neither am I advocating using a 3rd grade reading level as the target for the vocabulary, sentence structure, and complexity of the texts used in the Divine Service. Liturgical language explores the riches of our language and is not content with a poverty of grammar or style. That requires a bit from us -- those who lead God's people in prayer and praise and those who are being led. We need to take care with liturgical language. There is something wrong when, as one wag put it, we cannot read a sentence with more than 10-12 words in it. The problem lies not with the words but with the reader and the hearer. Worship requires a little work from us and part of that is preparation before leading worship and paying attention for those being led.
The problem with much of modern worship and contemporary Christian music is not that it uses language too well but that it barely scratches the service of the treasures of language. It is simplistic -- not simple -- and so it becomes tiresome and old very quickly. In contrast, the eloquent turn of a phrase never grows old. The enduring hymns are not the seven word choruses being produced today but words that challenge us even as they inspire us:
I make no apology for the eloquence of liturgical language and for the worthy hymns of old. Grow up. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. I read these things somewhere? Can you guess?Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
The truth is I am not sure who to blame. Texting and social media may have exacerbated the problem but they did not cause it. They are the fruit of our poverty of language. Whether or not we find a convenient target to blame, we should not be content to minimalism.