One of the critiques I repeatedly heard at the LCMS Model Theological Conference on Worship was that a person can mindlessly run through the liturgy and not apply it in their lives. This is a slightly different critique than the one I heard in the Ohio District talks, that liturgy is justification for one's weekly misdeeds.
I suppose theoretically one could divorce one's mind from the meaning of the words, but this isn't a charge unique to liturgical worship. In fact, it's more likely to happen when one is getting lost in ecstatic music.
The aversion to rote worship and memorization is counter to how we learn and harms our ability to use knowledge. Do we memorize multiplication tables, or do we sit down with a piece of paper and do the basic math every time? Do we turn screws each way to see what works, or does "righty-tighty-lefty-loosey" come into the mind without effort?
Rote worship — liturgical worship — is part of the institutional knowledge of the church. It is the shorthand of our vocabulary to convey bigger ideas. It is also a guard by which we ensure we believe the same things. We do not live in Wonderland, where Humpty Dumpty chooses the meaning of words.
How many times in a Lutheran's life do the following phrases fit various situations?
These are the church's tools, and we make them ours. We do not get the opportunity to collect every little question about God during the week, seek a judgement of appropriate application by the pastor, then run it back to our daily vocations and apply it. No, some situations simply call for a nice, polite, "I'm a poor, miserable sinner." That's simply the best explanation for stuff I have done and stuff I haven't done (oh, there's another one…).
The liturgy will not tell you how to have your best life now, prescribe a program for evangelism, or communicate some vision from the pastor regarding where he wants the congregation to be in five years. It will tell you that you are a sinner, that you need to be and have been redeemed by Christ, and that He has provided His Supper to strengthen your faith. That's not bad stuff to recite every week. If it loses meaning to me, then the fault is mine, not the liturgy's.