To understand what worship means in a more narrow sense, I suggest we look to the Bible. Here we see spontaneous worship (Genesis 24:26, Joshua 5:14, Judges 7:15, Matthew 2:11, 14:33, John 9:38, etc.), prepared, or regular worship, private and public (Genesis 4:2-7, 22:1-18, I Samuel 15:10-25 etc.), and public, congregational worship, which is usually more liturgical (Leviticus 1-9, I Kings 8:54, II Chronicles 29:21-36, Luke 2:42-43, Revelation 7:11 etc.). This more “formal” worship can happen with one person reading their Bible and praying to God, or when “a few are gathered together” to worship and/or praise Him, but the “pinnacle” of worship is when a congregation, representing the Body of Christ comes together for formal worship. Historically, this public congregational worship has been based on the model for worship given by God to his people in Leviticus (a whole book in the Bible about worship!).
In Leviticus, we have the all the sacrifices described in detail along with the description of the tabernacle with all the goats’ skins, brass basins, altars of incense and other stuff that can look boring to us, but in this book we have God’s model for our worship of Him is spelled out in great detail to His people. What follows is a summary of the model given in Leviticus and a summary of how this model is reflected in New Covenant (or New Testament) worship.
Worship consists of a series of sacrifices in a particular order with certain meanings. The basic order of worship is given very succinctly in Leviticus 9:22. “Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” Worship begins with the sin offering because we must be made clean and holy before we can come to God to worship. We confess our sins, and God is faithful to forgive and make us holy. This is represented by the Kyrie or its equivalent in the historical Christian worship service.
The sin offering is followed by the ascension offering, or the whole burnt offering. In this offering, the worshiper, represented by his animal was “torn apart,” and put back together again as a sweet smelling smoke ascending to God. In New Covenant worship, we are ascending to the throne room of God to worship. After God forgives us, we respond with song as He lifts us up to worship Him. This section of the Mass is the most musically involved and includes the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Benedictus. We glorify God for His forgiveness of our sins (Gloria), profess our faith (Credo), join with the angels in heaven through the Sanctus and Benedictus. The teaching part of the service also happens here. We are “cut apart” by the Word (Sword of the Spirit), and put back together again as people better equipped to serve God.
The whole burnt offering, or ascension offering was accompanied by the grain offering (also called the tribute offering) where we bring God representation of our work. The Israelites offered grain that God had given them improved by grinding, baking, and covering it in oil and incense. Some of it was burnt as an offering to God, but most of it was kept for the priests (think pastors, musicians etc.) to eat. This is the tithe that supports the Church.
Liturgical worship climaxes with the peace offerings as we sit down to eat a meal with God. Part of the peace offering was burnt as an offering to God, part of it was given to the priests, but the majority of it was eaten by the worshiper and his family. When we take communion, we sit down to eat a meal with God. He feeds us from His table. We also remember His sacrifice for us, which is greater than any sacrifice that we offer to Him. He administers His Grace to us through the sacrament of communion. In the historical liturgy, the Eucharist was accompanied by the Angus Dei.
When we worship, we offer our praises and prayers to God, but in the end, God has given us so much more back. Worship can almost be seen as a sort of transaction (I know that sounds kind of bad). We offer our praises and prayer, and covenant to serve God better, and God forgives us our sins, teaches us from His Word, and lets us enter into the community of God through Communion.