Tuesday, June 17, 2014

There Is More to the Ordo than Words

What does it profit a synod to recapture the Ordo, but continue to forfeit its theology?

This is the question I have for my confessional brethren who argue that, if we can come to an agreement in our synod that "the Ordo is non-negotiable," it will suffice in bringing a cessation to our worship wars. I wish I was as optimistic as some of them seem to be, and I do certainly appreciate their sentiment, but I just don't think that will do it. I should also add, before continuing, that I do realize that there are many of my brethren who acknowledge that making the Ordo non-negotiable would be but a first, salutary step in healing our synodical divide on the worship front. I can agree with that. It would indeed be a first, salutary step. But, it cannot be the last step.

Years ago, I had an LCMS pastor say to me, "The liturgy is still there; it's just hidden." This was in response to me questioning him about what had happened to the liturgical service, which was now replaced with a contemporary praise service. He believed that he was staying true to AC/AP XXIV by keeping all of the liturgical elements in place, but substituting them with CCM songs (e.g., "Here I Am to Worship" by Michael W. Smith in place of the Kyrie, or "Lord, I Lift Your Name On High" by Rick Founds in place of the Creed, etc.). He was wrong. These substitutions not only failed to keep the liturgy in tact, as he believed, but they also put forth a different confession of the faith that is most definitely not in line with our Lutheran confession of the faith. Which makes sense, of course, since the writers of these songs are not Lutherans.

Keeping the Ordo in tact is not a matter of counting the number of liturgical elements in the Divine Service and making sure to have the same number of songs to replace them in a pieced-together invention of a pastor's, or worship team's, creative imagination. The words of the Ordo must be kept in tact wholesale, or it's not the same Ordo. Words matter, after all. Those words were carefully and specifically chosen by our fathers in the church catholic for a reason. They are God's words (or, God's Word). They come directly from Holy Scripture and retell the story of our salvation through Christ, our Lord, each time we are gathered in His Presence, and, more than that, deliver that salvation to us via His Holy Word and Sacraments. Those words work together in the Ordo to become the language spoken and confessed by the faithful. They are Holy Words confessed by Holy People in God's Holy House in the Presence of their Holy Lord. They are not to be substituted with words composed by individuals, which pour forth from their hearts and emotions to reveal how they personally feel about God. To do so is to replace the Church's confession of the faith with this or that individual's love songs to God. It doesn't work. It can't work.

However, I would also argue that the Ordo is not kept in tact simply by keeping the words of the liturgy in place. I've witnessed the attempt to do this, and it doesn't work any better than substituting CCM songs for each liturgical element. In fact, I think these so-called blended services are even worse than full-blown contemporary praise services. I attended a District function once that began with "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord," then went through the liturgy until the Hymn of the Day, which was another CCM song (thus, NOT a hymn!), then followed the liturgy again until more CCM songs were used in place of hymns, and so forth. I know this was a well-intentioned attempt to please everyone, but it was just a train wreck. And, it didn't accomplish its goal anyway, as neither the liturgical crowd nor the contemporary crowd was pleased. Everyone was just confused. The only people something like that could please are those who simply don't know any better. If you're going to go contemporary, just go all the way. At least, then, people know what they're getting.

So, the Ordo is not kept in tact either with the substitutionary method or with the blended method. We can say it is all we want, but we're just lying to ourselves. The only way the Ordo can truly be kept in tact is if the words are kept in tact and the hymnody employed matches those words. But, even then, it can all be ruined through poor preaching and irreverent behavior. If the hymnal is used verbatim from the liturgy and only hymns from the hymnal are sung, that's great, but it can all be for naught if the pastor's preaching doesn't jive with what is confessed in the liturgy and hymnody. Granted, the liturgy and hymnody can rescue the people from poor preaching, which is something we liturgical folks like to point out as one of the best arguments for their employment, but a consistent dose of "how-to," motivational messages, rather than Law-Gospel sermons, can (and will) lead the people astray, despite the liturgy and hymnody. In other words, Lutheran preaching must accompany Lutheran liturgy and hymnody for the Ordo to be truly kept in tact.

Likewise, irreverent behavior and nonchalance can also prevent the Ordo from being kept in tact. We confess that ceremonies teach, and we are right to confess that, because they do. Ceremonies do not have to be the same everywhere, to be sure, but this does not mean that "anything goes," as many seem to believe. Reverence is not optional. We confess that we retain the Mass, religiously defend it, and celebrate it with the highest reverence. This, of course, doesn't mean that we all must bow at all the right places or genuflect and elevate or chant or hold our hands a certain way, and so forth, but what it does mean is that we must behave as if we're in our Lord's Holy House, where He continues to Tabernacle among us in His Flesh and Blood. All frivolity is out if we are to keep the Ordo in tact. 

All of this is to say that there is a lot more involved to keeping the Ordo in tact than sticking to the words in our hymnals. There is more to the Ordo than words on pages. I pray that we're not going to settle for some self-defined lowest common denominator, and then, once achieved (if ever), pat ourselves on the backs as if we've brought the worship wars among us to a peaceful conclusion. If we're going to shoot for recapturing the Ordo among us, let us keep plowing forward until our churches of the Augsburg Confession can be recognized as the "our churches believe, teach, confess, and practice . . ." described in that Confession. For that to happen, not only must the words of the liturgy be kept, but the hymnody must match those words, as well as the preaching and the ceremonies employed, all of which are focused on the voice of our Good Shepherd and His Bodily Presence at the Holy Altar.

Or, to put all of this another way, look at the picture at the top of this post and imagine that both of those congregations say the exact same words of the liturgy (i.e., follow the same Ordo). Would that really be enough? Really?     


  1. Amen Fr. Dean Thomas! YES....because we are not ethereal, gnostic fairies floating around in the cosmic aether... ORDO means "stuff" that engages the 1st Article senses we have. It's all about flesh because Our God Became Man...INCARNATION.

  2. I am not familiar with anyone who believes that the ordo is the words on the page. The ordo refers to the ordered action of the Supper. The traditional Ordo of the Mass is the same in Orthodox Churches, Roman Churches, Anglican Churches, and historically (sad qualifier) in Lutheran Churches. But what ordo is not merely text.

  3. As in, the text of the Western Mass differs from that of the Eastern Divine Liturgy and yet they share the same ordered action, so much so that commentary on either provides illumination on the other.

  4. P.S. I think what you are pressing toward might be called (to borrow a phrase!) "the spirit of the liturgy." And the spirit of the liturgy of the church catholic is not the spirit of pentecostal liturgy. "Let all mortal flesh keep silence and with fear and trembling stand..." fits exactly with Hebrews 12: "let us worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."

  5. Fr. William, is the ordered action of the Supper kept when different texts (which are anti- or non-sacramental in nature) are employed? That the Ordo is more than words on the page and not merely text is my point. But, perhaps you can help me understand better what brothers mean when they say, "the Ordo is non-negotiable." I think I know what that means, but maybe not. What I think it means is that the ordered action of the Mass (Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy/Rite of the Eucharist) is to be kept in tact, so that the structure itself (and certain liturgical elements of that structure) is not to be tinkered with. The way I've heard some talk about this is to even give a list of the "non-negotiable" elements, which means that anything beyond those is negotiable. That's the understanding that I'm writing against here, but, again, maybe I'm way off and you can help me better understand what brothers mean by this phrase.

  6. Also, you may be right that I'm pressing toward "the spirit of the liturgy" and moving outside of the Ordo in my post. If so, then my point is that the two must go hand in hand, and that merely having the "ordered action of the Supper" does not suffice in maintaining our confession of the faith and theology of worship.

  7. In other words, going through the motions isn't the same as living in God's Spirit. Cutting hairs on text...why not go back to Greek, Hebrew, and Latin? Most cannot follow it, therefore, perceived as motions. People grace through confirmation, like so many school classes, to get the certificate. Is it the numbers, or the spiritual conversions that matter? Who are we to judge the heart...know what's behind the action?

  8. Or, to put all of this another way, look at the picture at the top of this post and imagine that both of those congregations say the exact same words of the liturgy (i.e., follow the same Ordo). Would that really be enough? Really?

    Clearly you run a very real risk of being judged for a judging of Lutheran hearts, Dean.

    However, as Fr. Hollywood observes over at Gottesdienst Online this month, the critical assessment of some "Lutheran" time-pieces, if not the coronaries, is a thing most necessary.

    As suggested there, the congregation on the right, striving to stay "with-it" and on top of a competitive market dominated by imposing cross-less mega-edifices, may well come to be burdened not only with the riffs but with cramming all of the "exact same words of the liturgy" into 30 minutes, evidently the temporal target because of other more pressing priorities on the Sabbath. The problem is obvious. Fr. Messer, like the anguished, praying Lord of Gethsemane (cf. Mt 26:40) is simply not keeping up with the changing times and the age's speed, with the contemporary soul's accelerated "living in God's Spirit."

    But when we finally give in to the pressures to feel as a worldling does, to do a better sales-job, maybe, or simply because it feels good ... when it is finally concluded that it is all about us and our narcissistic wants, even as we supposedly revere and observe God at work in His Service, in His way ... then, yes, we will most certainly and openly act as a frenetic and bothered and twittering worldling would. This is a given. Necessarily, our behavior will come to betray and reveal what is "behind the action." No guessing, to arrive at a proper judgment or spiritual diagnosis, is required. Even the infidel Freud intuited this, correctly, long ago. Although Jesus beat him to it, by only some 2000 years or so. The heart, Ms. Asmus, will betray what resides there, through actions. The Lord wasn't kidding. He knows humans as if He made them (Jn 2:24,25), which He of course did (Jn 1:3). So, we the undisciplined will eventually disclose ourselves to be true undisciples; that is, worshippers of the self as god (a god to whom even the Tri-unity's created dimension of time should and must be sacrificed, so as to meet our "day of rest's" most rapacious of desires). To do so, we will fall to the old tricks and follow the deceiving artifices of Satan's temptations, all over again. "What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?" Actually, Bro, gotta tell Ya, we folks pictured on the right might have difficulties with thirty-one minutes. But that's okay, see, our pastor's very iced with thirty. So, umm, why don't You chill like him and like have a latte, while I answer my text-message?

    Self-idolatry is the repetition-compulsion of the ages, but it seems increasingly to mark our own age, and it is invading Lutheran circles ever more blatantly. And even within the LCMS of this era, one grieves and weeps bitterly to say.

    Stand fast, though; and whatever may come, whatever criticisms may be unloosed from whatever quarter, do stand fast.

  9. You Be the Judge!

    What do you think the prelate chose to relate, after breathlessly confiding to the Dean: "The liturgy is still there; it's just hidden."

    A. "... Like what I've done with your car keys, Tom. Accordingly, I fully expect you to start up your car and leave right now, so I can begin work on my crowd-pleasing worship service for tomorrow."

    B. "So you pray at your prie-dieu, and I'll play at my 'peek-a-boo.' Agreed?"

    C. "At my contemporary services, the candles are also there ... but under bushel baskets."

    D. "And it might be interesting for your to know, that at our great Festival of the Resurrection, my parishioners have a howling good time hunting for Easter eggs throughout the nave."