Christmastime is upon us, and before too long hoards of folks who darken a church door only once or twice a year will be flooding into the churches. I have to say I can hardly blame them. One Christmas in law school my wife and I attended midnight Christmas Eve services as Trinity Church in Boston. It was a fabulous service — the music and the liturgy were gorgeous, the setting was spectacular, the sermon was uplifting and extremely polished. What is not to like? In short, it was a powerful set of rituals. I think of my friends who are otherwise unreligious, but get married in a church with a priest or pastor in attendance. I think of those I know who always make Easter and Christmas mass. It seems to me that long after commitment to creed and theology has crumbled; indeed, long after even belief in God has fled, liturgy and ritual remains for many. This is a bit of a problem for Mormons.
On the whole, Mormonism is not a liturgically rich religion. To be sure we have our ordinations, baptisms, confirmations, and sacraments, but in our weekly worship we have nothing to match the literary and performative beauty of the Book of Common Prayer. Even more striking, our richest liturgy is contained in the temple, which far from being the last thread holding the otherwise irreligious to the Church represents the esoteric core of the heartily committed. Doubters, of course, can get a temple recommend and attend to the temple. The point, however, is that temple worship is not costless. One cannot slip easily into the back pew in the endowment room once or twice a year without also spending some time in the pews of the chapel.
The liturgical thinness of the Church seems to me that this is a weakness. Certainly, from my point of view, having Christmas-time Mormons or Easter-service saints would be a good thing, in that these folks are now probably simply wholly inactive. We offer not liturgy or pageantry, however, to hold those whose commitment to theology — or even theism — has worn thin. What is more, I find that in my own spiritual life I end up creating ad hoc substitutes for ritual. For example, I generally try to read my scriptures while listening to Anglican music. I even enjoy a certain formality in my prayers. Rote repetition is frequently cited as a suplicatory sin, but I think that there is power to repeating scripted prayers despite their risks.