Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

On an Organic View of Liturgical Diversity

Our intrepid Editor-in-Chief crying out for the freedom to have an Easter Vigil, circa 1984.

I recently received the following correspondence from a conscientious lover of the historic Lutheran liturgy (i.e., a member of the Gottesdienst Crowd):

Why are the LSB One-year collects in Lent (and elsewhere?) not the historic collects? e.g.Laetare in my Latin sources (and TLH) has this collect:

Concede, quaesumus omnipotens Deus, ut qui ex merito nostrae actionis affligimur, tuae gratiae consolatione respiremus. Per...
But LSB has this significantly longer collect:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through...

While LW seems to have something in between the two. What's going on here?
I guess I was under the impression that the LSB One-Year "Historic" propers were, well...historic. Which ones do you use? Can I trust the LSB propers at all?

Perhaps our own Dr. Stuckwisch could best answer the wherefore and why behind LSB's translations and expansions of the traditional collects, introits, and intervenient chants. But what I want to comment on are the broader issues raised by this correspondence: should we be seeking to follow the books of our fellowship or the historic Lutheran liturgy? What is the former and what is the latter? What about the medieval inheritance? Should we all be doing our own thing? Should we acquiesce to the broadest accepted practice or seek what we view to be best in our common tradition? In short - what's a responsible Lutheran pastor who wants to worship like a Lutheran supposed to do?

Isn't that just the question of our age? It was not so very long ago - in living memory! - that North American Lutheranism of the overtly confessional sort enjoyed a striking degree of unity in liturgical practice from dress (Geneva gown or cassock and surplice), to lectionary (TLH's), to hymnody (TLH), to ceremony (minimal - nothing you wouldn't see in, say, a conservative Presbyterian congregation). Of course there were outliers - but they were, well, outliers: the exceptions that proved the rule.

Then came the mid-century revival in Luther studies and quick on its heals the ripples from the Roman Catholic liturgical changes. Turns out that a folk mass sounds a lot like an evangelical camp meeting. . . and in came the neo-evangelical seeker sensitive and contemporary worship movements. The push for a new Lutheran hymnal in the late seventies and early eighties could not put Humpty Dumpty together again, for the issue was not an "outmoded liturgy" but rather a desire to do away with Lutheran forms of worship altogether with the excuse that Lutheranism had no way of worship to begin with.

Reactions on the side of traditional Lutheranism have been diverse - but I will dare to group them into two camps. On the one hand, there are the Centralizers: everyone in a fellowship should follow that fellowship's liturgical sources in a straightforward manner for the sake of unity and good practice - and we who lament the loss of traditional Lutheran liturgy should be the first to sacrifice our druthers and knowbetters for the sake of leading by example.

The Centralizers would, therefore, answer the above correspondence in this manner: suck it up and do what LSB puts in front of you. Leave your obscure historical questions for your own private contemplation. You will do more good for our fellowship by providing a godly example of self-restraint to others. For how can you say expect a guitar wielding, polo shirt wearing, Worship Leader to use a Lutheran Divine Service if you yourself refuse to do what is in The Book?

I have a lot of sympathy for the Centralizing position. It's logical and simple. But like a lot of logical, simple things, it runs up against some difficulties in the real world. The first is this: the praise banders just don't care. Your keeping to the Synod's book does not inspire them to do the same. They honestly don't see the point of unity across parish lines. Having a more Arminian view of salvation they are apt to say that we need parishes with diversity of worship so that we can serve and save more people: all things to all men, and all that.

Second, we can run the Centralizing position through a sort of Kantian moral imperative: what if everybody in American Lutheranism had always and only done what was "in the Synod's book"? Well - with no outliers, liturgical pioneers, and guys who were willing to go beyond (but not necessarily contrary to) the Synod's book we would have no: chasubles, Easter Vigils, Tenebrae Vespers, Advent Midweek services, imposition of ashes, Compline, etc.

Now, no Centralizer likes everything on that list - but I bet there is no Centralizer who doesn't like at least one thing on that list. Enforcing "say the Synod's black and do the Synod's red", whether through force (kicking folks out of the fellowship who don't play ball) on the whole lot or by voluntary binding on a smaller group, would have prevented all of those things from coming into the wide acceptance that they now have.

But the main thing that the Centralizing position has in its favor is what debaters call the Bright Line. There is a clear demarcation between those who are doing the right thing and those who are doing the wrong thing: if you are saying the Synod's black and doing the Synod's red, you're OK. If you are saying some other black (using the Confiteor at Mass or writing your own creed) you are in the wrong. If you are going beyond the red (genuflecting after each consecration or giving a hand-clap praise to the Lord) you are in the wrong.

And therein lies the problem. A student of Lutheran liturgy should be able to recognize that Confiteors and genuflecting fall within our tradition while composing our own creeds and clapping applause to God do not. All of those would be innovations when compared to TLH - but not all of them are unLutheran and worthy of disapprobation.

So, I'm not a Centralizer. I did not advise the above correspondent to just do what was in LSB. The Church catholic has never been like that. The liturgy of the Church is the living result of God's Word being exhaled by the Church. New observances and actions continue to come into Christian worship - and not from central committees of professional liturgists, but from the people and pastors. The people saw Tenebrae vespers at some Anglican or Methodist church and they loved it. They forced their Lutheran pastors to go beyond the Synod's red and do it. The pastors ended up liking it, too: and a generation after it was really accepted, LSB finally comes out with an order for it. The pastors turned on EWTN and really liked the idea of Easter Vigil with all the stops - so they did it, and their Lutheran people ended up liking it, too: and lo and behold, LSB comes out with rubrics for it later on.

And so it has always been: the addition of the Agnus Dei in the 7th century, the addition of the elevation in the Gaulish liturgy of the 11th century, and so on.

You cannot cage the liturgy - it is a living growing thing. This does not mean that all changes are part of its growth - some growths are foreign - cancers, if you will, that will be rooted out over time after they just don't fit in with the Church's whole life or show themselves to be dead letters for the people.

It is antiquarian romanticism at its worst to wish that we were worshiping "just like the apostles on Straight Street in Antioch." No we don't - for then we would, ironically enough, be cutting off our link to those very same apostles. For our link to them is one of a living breathing history that goes back through the Reformation, medieval Europe, and the 4th centuries liturgical experimentation.

So I'm not a Centralizer - but neither am I for anything goes. I'm an Organicist - if that's a word. I'm for living out our tradition of worship as handed down to us by our fathers in all of its richness and beauty - and that includes, as all life does, diversity (yes, the D-word!) and growth.

It is meet, right, and salutary to use LSB's new translations and expansions of the old collects, introits, and intervenient chants. They are obviously an organic expansion and growth from our common liturgical tradition. But I don't think they will last. I think they will be weeded out as time goes on (where is LW's one-year lectionary today?). They are often not as elegant, beautiful, and graceful as a straightforward translation of the Latin collects (such as in TLH, but updated from the Jacobean diction). So I use the latter. There ought to be room in any Evangelical Lutheran Synod for such liturgical diversity.

Likewise, I think it would be very beneficial to recover the use of the Confiteor in the foremass. So we use that at our Wednesday spoken Divine Services. But I don't really see that catching on. We are probably the outlier here - a growth from our liturgical tradition that will eventually be pruned altogether when I die or am called away and the next guy axes it and no parishioner particularly cares. But the guys wearing chasubles were the outliers in the 1950's - and still the practice grows. So who knows, maybe the Confiteor will take off. It will be up to the collective wisdom and judgment of the Church.

Surely we can discriminate between such organic growth within our tradition and items altogether foreign thereto. If we can't, if we must fall back on a neo-papist Central Committee for Liturgical Permissions - then we've already lost the game.

Pr. H. R.12 Comments