Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Complicating Matters of Worship

Those in the Church who think the liturgy is theirs to manipulate or tweak, who think the liturgy is their personal (or parish or bureaucratic) possession with which to tinker, have come to surround their position with notions now treated as axiomatic.  We can pass over the irony that a movement which sees its ideas as axiomatic also tends to be seen as courageous and brave.  More important is the fact that the very foundations of an idea are in question when its advocates treat them as beyond question.  I am here to challenge just such axioms.

For example, liturgical traditionalists are often thought (even by some liturgical traditionalists) to be advocating a complicated liturgical practice, while, conversely, the liturgical innovators are often thought to be advocates of simplifying the liturgy.  This becomes the template, the assumption, upon which all participants in the conversation agree, forcing the one side to come up with arguments for their complications and enabling the other side to assert that theirs is the side that is truly caring, pastoral, and user friendly.  Yet at its core there is something misleading about this line of thought.  Sure, a liturgical style freed from detailed rubrics may in one sense be described as simplified, but this dichotomy is well worth a deeper look.

Consider something as small as the salutation, "The Lord be with you."  The traditional response to this in Latin is always and everywhere "Et cum spiritu tuo," the traditional rendition of which in classic English is always "And with thy spirit."  Such language is at once precise and poetic, familiar and dignified, rich and simple.  And in that classic simplicity it is deeply memorable.  It becomes part of the comforting ritual of our common life together, a life which unites the family of baptized brethren in the worship of Christ our Immanuel, a family in all its intellectual, physical, emotional, cultural, linguistic, and generational diversity, a family which includes those who lack sight to see the printed page, those too young to know how to read, those who never learned, those without the mental capacity to follow along with frequent changes in liturgical settings, those with short attention spans, those whose hearing is waning, and whose liturgical response might be set on a sort of auto pilot set decades earlier, and those from sister parishes in other states, and other continents. 

By contrast, the situation which often prevails today is one in which there is no certainty about what one's response should be until he has had the chance to study which of the five masses in LSB will be used that day.  If it happens that Divine Service 1, 2, or 4 is being used, then he must know to say "And also with you."  If he is supposed to be turned to Divine Service 3, then he should say, "And with thy spirit."  If his church is using Divine Service 5, he is directed by the book to say, "And also with you" (despite the fact that this mass is often described as being based on Luther's German Mass, wherein the phrase "and also with you" will not be found in any language).  At Vespers, before the collect the response is not "and with thy spirit," as it is in Divine Service 3, but rather "and with your spirit," thus throwing everyone off.  In the Funeral Service, a rite which often brings together generations of family and friends, many of whom have fond memories of the liturgy of their youth, they are now called upon to say "and also with you."  Finally, with all of this diversity of forms in the book, what is a congregation to say when, outside of a printed service, the pastor opens a bible study or some other such meeting with the words, "The Lord be with you"?  Unfortunately, the result in our age will often be a slightly confused combination of responses. 

Which way is simpler and which has complicated matters, the traditional consistency of form or the modern service book's diversity of form?  It's really the people's fault, for they ought not be going into worship with expectations.  They should learn that those who have put such hard work into all of this material have done so out of love and care for them.  They should meet these planners halfway.  Seriously, though, sometimes the consistency is broken down even further.  I attended a Holy Week liturgy recently where two different responses were used within the same liturgy.  Consistency from place to place may be long gone, but now so is consistency within a parish, and even within the same hour of worship, necessitating the constant reading of the printed material in our hands, and thus stultifying our sense of worship.

Consider just one more small element of our liturgical life, the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father, etc.).  This is not a mere extra word of doxology we tack onto our psalms and introits, a little something we do for the sake of liturgical flourish.  In other words, it is not a mere formality.  It is, rather, a beautiful and immensely rich prayer.  And once it becomes part of the very heart of a man, once it is woven into the very fiber of his life of prayer, then, as with all of the greatest prayers, it may begin to elevate him to contemplation and true prayer.  Saint Francis said, "Study well the Gloria Patri.  In it you will find the whole substance of the Scriptures."  But the first step toward such prayer and contemplation is knowing the text by heart, just as before we can begin to appreciate how the Small Catechism can serve as a rich form of prayer, Luther would first have us settle on a form of it, and learn it.  Learn it to the degree that it soaks into the heart, mind, and soul.  Then one is properly fit to begin learning to use such forms as the vehicle for what Luther in his open letter on prayer calls true prayer

But what is the situation today with our use of the Gloria Patri?  In Divine Service 1 and 2, the following form is used at the Nunc Dimitis after Communion, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen."  The same will be used for introits.  In Divine Service 4 the Gloria Patri is not to be found at all, unless a church chooses to opt for the introit or psalm instead of a hymn before the Kyrie.  The hymnic paraphrase of the Gloria Patri found on page 211 of that service is not the Gloria Patri, but, as I say, a paraphrase.  A church could quite conceivably use Divine Service 4 and never have the Gloria Patri.  If a church uses Divine Service 5, the Gloria Patri might be heard once if the planners of the liturgy there opt for an introit, possibly twice if they opt for a psalm instead of a gradual (is the Gloria Patri used where a psalm replaces a gradual?), and quite conceivably not at all.  For the sake of throwing a bone to the traditional element, the makers of the LSB included a rendition of the Common Service, Divine Service 3.  And so one might expect to hear the classic wording, "Glory be the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."  Don't be so quick with your expectations, though, dear reader.  Yes, the classic form is found at the Nunc Dimitis.  But how about the introit?  There it gets a bit tricky.  The book tells the reader (you see that we are now first and foremost readers in church, rather than worshipers) that the classic form of the Gloria Patri may be used.  And what happens if they use the introit as it is printed in the normal LCMS material?  They get the modern version.  So the traditional service in LSB affords occasion for the most inconsistency of all.  That's hardly a bone that satisfies traditional notions of consistency of form.

Many more aspects of the liturgy could be discussed in their relation to the question at hand.  But the two we have explored here, the response to the salutation and the Gloria Patri, suffice to show just how deceiving some of our accepted notions can be.  The way toward a worship life that is spiritually edifying in its essential simplicity is the way of consistency.  That way is blocked by the current accepted worship forms.


  1. You have hit upon a true conundrum in our services brother Dcn.
    While admitting that LSB does have a rich hymnody (along with some real clunkers) there is still much to be said for parishes (such as my own) that simply (and possibly with prideful [Kyrie Eleison] and stubbornly hold on to 1941's TLH and do Page 15 week after week (all 52 Sundays and other Mass days) until the Eschaton. You articulate the problem well. I do not know the "fix." :(

  2. It is very confusing from childhood and your Elder’s who are Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Church of England, etc., when you have:

    The Tridentine mass always translating the forms of "Spirítui Sancto" to "Holy Ghost". And then the New Roman Missal telling you to say, “Holy Spirit” The Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory, St. James, and St. Mark using “Spirit” and “Ghost” throughout. St. Basil and St. Chrysostom only using “Spirit”

    Then the 1662 Book of Common Prayer using both “ghost” and “Spirit”

    And then those Lutherans who use “Ghost” and “Spirit” even in the same service, e.g., LSB - DS3, & Matins, Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book 1918, TLH 1941, LW 1982, Leupold translating Luther and using Ghost in one verse and Paraclete in another and Paraclete in the Te Deum and Ghost in the Magnificat

    And that Kyrie, should we sing it “not Thrice but nine times”?

    Boy and when my German cousins (Jenne) come to visit they are confused why their German Liturgy translates “Spiritui Sancto” to “Heiligen Geist” in the Gloria and Creed, but American version vary from service to service.

    Then what boggles my mind is that Luther said; “If it lay in my power, and the Greek and Hebrew tongues were as familiar to us as the Latin, and possessed as great a store of fine music and song as the Latin does, Mass should be held and there should be singing and reading, on alternate Sundays in all four languages-German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.”(Preface to Deutsch Messe) And Luther; “gave the option to the local pastor to “decide to omit [the Gloria in excelsis] as often as he wishes.””

    I suppose then once we 1) Decide on Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost then 2) we could decide if it was salutary to do German-Latin-Greek and Hebrew Services every other Sunday or if we should to this every Sunday.

    What/which is the Liturgy you wish to repristinate and/or promulgate

  3. Consider ... the salutation, "The Lord be with you." The traditional response to this in Latin is always and everywhere "Et cum spiritu tuo," the traditional rendition of which in classic English is always "And with thy spirit."

    The alternative (which in all decency should be unspoken by the layman, so lame it be) is simply a 1960's conciliar bow to the unclean spirit of the age, one which makes egalitarianism a right and a highest virtue. It reinforces the unconscious to envy along these lines: If humans cannot all be like God (and we've tried this to our deaths, in the Garden), then maybe we can all be like His liturgical officiant ... whose Divine authority to loose (and yes, to bind) makes us unbearably uneasy.

    For to be uneasy and to have fear is bad, and for such was the Kingdom of Diazepam created. But here I most egregiously digress.

    The responsive expression "And with thy spirit" is a fervent prayer of blessing and congregational endorsement, on the behalf of the liturgist ... who has been set apart, for the people's sake, to do some seriously breath-taking and Spirit-imparting business

    In the setting of God's House, in His holy and august Presence, and led by the under-shepherd whom the Tri-unity Himself has duly chosen to do so, by all Godly standards of decency we laity should be quaking in our boots like the children of Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai (cf. Ex 19 et 20). Keenly aware of our sins, like the contrite publican, we should gladly and earnestly entreat our dear under-shepherd to boldly advance to the uncurtained (but still very much existing) Holy of Holies, with a spirit enhanced and enriched by the Apostolic laying-on of hands.

    I am not overstating the case, or engaging in histrionics. Not if the risen and ruling Lord is truly present in the truly Lutheran gatherings ... and I AM most certainly is.

    In the (spoken) Holy Mass employed by Zion Ev.-Lutheran Church of Detroit at the rectory's Chapel site, throughout the year, the traditional (orthodox) salutation is shared at several critical junctures of worship: on the occasion of the day's first Collect (immediately after the six-fold Kyrie Eleison); immediately preceding the reading of the Holy Gospel:at the start of the Holy Eucharist's Preface; thence after the Communio is spoken and before the Post-Communion Collect is intones, and before the gathered are blessed to engage the often hostile and unwelcoming world: "The Mass is ended. Go in peace." All these instances represent critical times, you see.

    For these are occasions where the ordained liturgist is leading the faithful and beseeching God to remember and recognize His people with His mercy. He is directly confronting the Almighty and wrestling with God's Holy Angel for assurances and the blessings of His (and his) little ones. Our Jacob, our Moses needs our prayers too ... to courageously climb the mountain, to vigorously strive with God, and to watch and pray with a spirit truly willing, unbending, unfailing and unquaking ... in an encounter with the very face of our splendid Redeemer-God ... and to do so, with all fear and with all love. This is the ancient Church's way; and this is by default, please my Lord, the Lutheran way.

    The Lord be with thy spirit, man of God, indeed.