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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

A Modest Proposal Regarding the Common Service

This just in: the Common Service did not fall from heaven, aglow with baroque gold-leaf. This is bound to cause some consternation amongst the Gottesdienst-liturgico-hypo-Euro-hobbyist crowd: but I don't care. It's time that canard went the way of the dodo. Furthermore, I am not afraid to say - yes, even here on the Gottesdienst Online blog - that there is no special indulgence or grace attached to that form of the Lutheran reception of the Western Mass.

I'm glad we got that over with.

But I will say this for the Common Service (ELHB 1893, TLH 1941 [p. 15], LSB 2006 [p. 187]) - it's a faithful Lutheran interpretation of the Western Mass. It's catholic and Lutheran - obviously embodying the best in Luther's reforms while avoiding his idiosyncrasies.* Comparing it to the pre-Tridentine Mass, the Common Service is remarkably conservative while being forthrightly evangelical. Whether spoken or sung to one of the several musical settings to which it has been put, it continues to serve parishes well - and has served any number of given parishes for well over a century.

Truly, the men from a variety of English-speaking Lutheran churches who sat down around a table to hammer this out deserve our thanks - and admiration. (Can you imagine a similar feat being pulled off today with LCMS, WELS, and ELCA? Ha!)

From An Explanation of the Common Service: Not just bragging.

For more on the history and internal workings of this setting you can't beat Emmanual Press' reprint of An Explanation of the Common Service (click here and scroll down) - if you're the sort who can stomach reading books on a computer screen, it's available for free online from Google Books here.

Furthermore, if any service is likely to be familiar to a mixed Lutheran crowd (LCMS, ELCA, TAALC, WELS, LCC, ELS, etc.) this is it. It is in this special sense the Common setting of the Divine Service in English-speaking Lutheranism and her mission-planted churches. Most parishes that use one of the LW-LSB settings, or CW settings in WELS, or LBW settings in TAALC or ELCA, will also know the Common Service. In some places, undoubtedly, memory of it is fading - but it is equally certain just about everyone who was Lutheran and actively worshiping in 1978 will have a familiarity with it. Indeed, there are plenty of parishes (the two parishes I serve included) where this is the only setting of the Lutheran Divine Service in English that has ever been used.

So, to recap. You will not go to hell for using DS I, II, IV, V. In fact, it won't even offend God if you do use one of those. (I know, right?! Can you believe you're reading this in Gottesdienst?) But given the history, universal acceptability, catholic and Lutheran faithfulness, obvious staying power, and reach of this setting of the Mass, I'll make this modest proposal:

PROPOSED: That every English-speaking Evangelical Lutheran parish in North America would be well-served both for its own well-being and for the greater strength of all of North American Lutheranism to retain or gain familiarity and ease with the Common Service and keep it "in the rotation" if other settings are used.


* The three items from Luther's 1523 discussion of the Latin Mass that achieved almost no acceptance amongst the Churches of the Augsburg Confession: 1) doing away with saints' day Divine Services (he specifically mentions Stephen's and John's days for the axe; and Holy Cross day is "anathema."); 2) Alleluia should be kept in Lent, and Holy Week and Good Friday should not have special forms of service but rather a normal Mass; 3) The congregation should receive the Body, then the cup should be consecrated and everyone then receive the Blood. [LW 53: 23, 24, 30.]
Pr. H. R.13 Comments