Monday, July 20, 2009

How much variety is too much?

In the comments of the post below about the utility of keeping all of our parishes familiar with the Common Service, we wondered just how many options there really are for the ordinaries across LSB's five settings of the Divine Service. That is, using just the substitutions and options for the ordinaries listed in each of the five LSB settings, how many different orders of service does that make?

Enter the good vicar who took Altar Book and spreadsheet in hand and came up with the following.

The most conservative number we can arrive at is counting only the options listed for Confession, Kyrie, Hymn of Praise, Creed, Institution of the Supper, and Post-Communion Canticle in their various possible combinations as listed in the rubrics of the Altar Book (that is: we're not putting part of DS III in DS I or something like that). This yields 124 Divine Service orders in LSB - or, to put it another way, just using the options in the front of LSB according to the letter, you could go for over two years worth of Sundays without repeating the same order.

That's the conservative number counting only the ordindaries which the people sing and ignoring such things as placement of the Creed, having Communion or not, having an entrance hymn or not, differing distribution formulas, a common or proper Alleluia chant, the Introit/Psalm/Hymn option, different repsonses for the prayers, and different post communion collects. If all of those options are calculated you get 63,552 different options - or more than six score years worth of Sundays without repeating a service.

Now, that last number is more indicative of the vicar's zeal than anything else. But the first number, 124, is large enough and comes from what can only be called a conservative calculation based on a fair reading of the rubrics.

Of course, no parish is going to use all those. But it does point out the difficulty of really learning and being comfortable with all the settings and their major internal variations. And since just about all of those variations are used someplace on a given week, even if you happen upon a "hymnal only" parish on vacation, it's a roll of the dice as to whether you'll know the service coming in the door. As Fr. Beane said, this keeps noses in the book.

All the more reason for the modest proposal below. . .



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is sickening to me. I left non-denominational church for a happy-clappy "Lutheran" church. Then I became a Lutheran and left that mega-church for a tiny TLH church. I've had about all the variety I can stand, and now I want something I can count on. I've visited dozens of LSB churches, and I've never seen the same service twice. I'll stick with my tiny TLH church. I like the common service. I don't understand why Lutherans need anything else.

  3. Of course, this is an argumentum ad absurdum bordering on the absurd.

    Many, if not most, are simple rubrical options (entrance hymn or not). Some, like the eucharistic prayer or not, reflect a pastoral concern. Several affect only the presider. In practice, the degree of variation is much, much smaller. In our congregation, we use DS 1,2,3 in seasonal rotation with DS 4 for a a month or so in the ordinary time of Pentecost. We also use some options depending on the service. For example, we use the expanded eucharistic prayer of DS 1/2 on Sunday, but the reduced form for our weekday "low mass." There is hardly the liturgical chaos your "statistical analysis" would suggest.

    Intelligent and intentional use of rubrical options provide a helpful flexibility for pastoral care of the congregation.

    Speaking from an insider's perspective with regard to LSB's liturgical section, we quickly discovered through discussion, feedback, and threats that a hymnal in the LCMS is, like it or not, descriptive more than it is prescriptive of our practice. In a sense, the variations you counted and multiplied reflect the subtle though real diversity of liturgical practice among the liturgical churches of the LCMS today. It is a much different condition than 1941. While many of us would have preferred a uniform text and fewer options, this was simply not to be.

  4. Pr. Cwirla,

    Your last paragraph comports exactly with what I noted. Most parishes will not use anywhere near 124 different orders (your parish, for example, seems to use about 4, perhaps more if you rotate Kyrie and Hymn of Praise options within the settings) - but I bet this weekend around the country a majority of those 124 will indeed be being used somewhere. And that number of 124 only includes the options for the ordinaries that the people speak and thus have to learn.

    It's not absurd to note this. And it's not an argument of any kind: just an observation of the facts, the same facts you note in your comments: there's a lot of diversity and some of us would have preferred to see that diversity curtailed for a variety of reasons.

    But, as you note, we're not going to get our druthers here. In the current situation the best course, I think, is to keep the Common Service familiar to our congregations so that there might be a lingua franca we can all come home to at district and Synodwide events.

    And here's something else to think about. If a pastor serves in an area where he knows there is a certain time of year when he is likely to have a lot of out of town visitors (snow bird and vacation areas, for example) - that's probably just the time of year to bring the Common Service into the rotation.


  5. Reflecting on the title of this post. The question is not how much variety is permissible, but really how much variety is beneficial. (The flip side being what are the benefits of uniformity and what are the drawbacks.)

    This is aside from the very real, and primary question, of how theology does and must drive our rite and ceremony.

    R. Fehrmann


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