Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kurt Marquart's "Liturgical Commonplaces"

by Larry Beane

Lutheran Blogger Wild Boar of the Forest has posted a link to this prescient October 1978 article (CTQ 42:4) by the sainted Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart called "Liturgical Commonplaces."

The article is worth a fresh read, especially now that 31 years have passed, and we have been through two new hymnals since the article was written. It is classic Marquart: scholarly without being pedantic, deep without being ponderous, witty without being flippant.

On a personal level, Prof. Marquart was one of my favorite professors during my sojourn as a seminarian at Concordia Theological Seminary (2000-2004). It was a privilege to study the whole of the Book of Concord with him. I also took other classes with Prof. Marquart, including an elective on Lutheran Worship, and another on Apologetics. I found every moment in Prof. Marquart's classroom to be edifying.

He is also the first Lutheran pastor that I ever saw genuflect at an altar (which was his own parish church, Redeemer - Fort Wayne). He was a tireless defender of the traditional liturgy, and was fond of relating the account of how Russia became a Christian nation, with the Grand Duke's envoys being so impressed by the Greek liturgy that they could no longer tell whether they were in heaven or on earth. Prof. Marquart often mused about what their reaction would be today in many LCMS churches.

But what stood out most was Prof. Marquart's kindness, gentility, and compassion, his never being too busy or proud to chat with lowly students (in a half-dozen different languages). He was the type of Christian who would be completely and equally at ease in a palace, a parliament, or a Pizza Hut.

Anyway, we Lutherans don't believe in eulogies, and Prof. Marquart would likely tell me to stop singing his praises at this point and focus on the Lord, the Gospel, and the Holy Word and Sacraments, so I will.

Here are a few salient quotes from the article "Liturgical Commonplaces":
"'Hearing the Word of God' was once a weighty phrase, corresponding to an awesome reality. Today, in the thinking of many, the whole thing can be taken care of without inconvenience or loss of time, if need be, by tuning in to the 'Lutheran Hour' while devoutly chewing Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way to Six Flags!"

"The notion of 'worship' in popular Protestanism does not seem to suggest anything so formal as a church service. It is more likely to be associated with rousing choruses of 'How Great Thou Art,' either at a Billy Graham rally or in a rugged setting out of doors, preferably round a campfire, holding hands. Mawkish gimmickry of various kinds is marketed as making for "effective" worship. Church services themselves, however, are seen as rather drab and dreary on the whole . They tend to be viewed not as banquets, but as menu-reading sessions."

"Repelled by this bloodless, Law-oriented, moralizing religiousity, multitudes seek solace in the murkiest, mumbo-jumbo and readily fall prey even to celluloid absurdities."

"Lutheran understanding of worship can still be aborted by means of a facile doctrinaire schematism which thinks rather abstractly of 'Means of Grace' or 'Word and Sacraments,' rather than concretely of Baptism, preaching, absolution, and Eucharist."

"If the Lutheran Church is serious about representing, not sectarian whims, but the pure Gospel of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ, then she cannot in principle wish to squeeze the devotion of Zulus and Spaniards, Chinese and Americans, Brazilians and New Zealanders, all into one narrow sixteenth century Saxon groove.... Here and now we must concentrate not on liturgies in general, or on some pseudo-cosmopolitan hotchpotch, but on a form or forms suitable to an English-speaking, specifically North American, environment."

"Granted the substance, then, form is relatively indifferent. But only relatively. 'Surely,' asks C.S. Lewis, 'the more fully one believes that a strictly supernatural event takes place, the less one can attach any great importance to the dress, gestures, and position of the priest?'. The argument holds only for a choice among equally acceptable alternatives. For surely nobody would care to complete C.S. Lewis' sentence like this: 'The more one fully believes that a strictly supernatural event takes place, the less one can attach any great importance to whether the celebrant is dressed in jeans or smokes cigarettes at the altar.'"

"It is indeed, an adiaphoron whther the Introit is spoken or chanted. It does not follow, however, that the Introit may, therefore, be spoken or chanted indifferently, negligently, or perfuntorily. That can never be an adiaphoron."

"A traditionalist Roman Catholic observed very perceptively of the post-Vatican II liturgical changes that a doctrine like the Real Presence can be materially altered and even surrendered without any explicit pronouncement, simply by a more permissive ceremonial (e.g. heedlessly dropping particles of consecrated bread to the ground)."

"To plead for mercy before a human court, for instance, while remaining seated, hands in pockets, and chewing gum, would be insufferable. It seems even more incongruous for a clergyman to sit down comfortably during the Kyrie or the Gloria in Excelsis, legs crossed so as to give maximum exposure to canary-colored socks, and gaze into the congregation to see who is there."

"The idea, for instance, that the Service should be 'meaningful,' that is, clear and obvious to any casual visitor who might pop in from the street, is short-sightedly pragmatic. A 'service' tailored to such a misguided ideal would comprise a melange of threadbare banalities, which even the casual visitor is likely to find unbearable after the third time - not to speak of the faithful who attend regularly for threescore years and ten."

"[Preachers ] must constantly build and reinforce a soundly, uncompromisingly Christian perspective. Preaching is this sort of spiritual battle for men's minds and souls. It is not an anemic recitation of pat formulas and cliches. That is merely sermonizing. Preaching is the ever-fresh exposition and application of God's living Word for today."

"If the liturgy is boring to children it is usually because the parents do not find it very interesting either. If children saw adults treating the Sunday Service as the most important activity of their lives, they would respect it too, and would never dream of treating it as a pop-event, to be tinkered with by every Tom, Dick, and Harry. A church which has won the conscientious loyalty of parents - particularly fathers (Eph. 3:15; 6:4)! - will have the devotion of their children too. But a church which abjectly capitulates to the whims and tastes of adolescents will have, and deserve, neither."
These are just a few gems plucked from their setting. I would urge all to read the piece in its entirety.

The article is chock full of Scriptural references, citations from the Lutheran confessions, and narrations of historical precedent in the Church - presented in a scholarly, yet almost conversational delivery that is anything but dry. It is as relevant today as it was three decades ago. Prof. Marquart will often challenge you to dig deeper theologically, will always make you think, and will occasionally make you chuckle out loud.

Once again, the link is right here for download. Coffee not included.


  1. Thank you, Father, for the timely dose of Marquart. If I may, let me share here one more snippet from this article, this one a particularly juicy attack on the narrating liturgist, who thinks he is being helpful by opening his yap every other minute:

    "Or consider the disruptive effect of hackneyed 'traffic-directions' being given every few minutes: 'We now continue Our so-and-so with this or that found on page such-and-such, in the front, middle, back, etc., of your hymnbook!' Imagine what a total disaster it would be if a stage manager were constantly to interupt a gripping drama by appearing on stage to make announcements like these: 'Ladies and gentlemen, will you now please turn to page 285 of your paperback edition of Four Great Plays by Henrik Ibsen...' 'As it is very hot today, please skip pages 158 to 176. We continue with Act III of An Enemy of the People, line three, at the top of page 177.' If even the presentation of mere fiction and make-believe forbids all sorts of disruptive rehearsal chatter, how much more the very embodiment of the living, eternal truth? Verily there is here One greater than Shakespeare or Ibsen! His minister, therefore, who leads the People of God in the celebration of the mysteries of His new covenant (1 Cor 4:1), has no right to sound as if he were announcing Walt Disney mummeries to tired tourists for the twenty-millionth time!"

    Also, please let me highlight a line you quote above:
    "...a doctrine like the Real Presence can be materially altered and even surrendered without any explicit pronouncement, simply by a more permissive ceremonial (e.g. heedlessly dropping particles of consecrated bread to the ground)."

    We know now that this has come to pass, unfortunately, in the modern Roman Rite, in America anyway, where at least one survey has shown (as reported by the New Oxford Review) that some two thirds of American Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence. I do not know what the Lutheran numbers might be; I am afraid to find out. These problems are ecumenical; we moderns have been all to willing to share our germs with each other.

    A major facet of our teaching of the Real and Personal Presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament must be our behavior at the altar. And despite how some have employed certain quotations of Dr. Marquart, his own practice, as you pointed out, was and is an example in this regard.

  2. I'm sorry; I meant that we are too willing, not "to willing," to share our germs. mea culpa.

  3. So if Prof. Marquart paid this much attention to the ceremonial, then perhaps he wasn't talking about paying attention to the cermonial, in and of itself, when he made his comments about "liturgical pietism."

  4. Phil,

    Methinks you might be onto something! :)

  5. This article presents Prof. Marquart at his best. I had the honor and pleasure of learning from him during my seminary days, and for many years afterward. He was a mentor and personal friend for whom I have a great respect.

    He had an understanding of, and respect for, the Divine Service which would put the majority of us to shame. He had a preference for the historic, one year lectionary and the historic calendar. He found comfort in the annual cycle of readings which, he thought, was changed by the introduction of the (post VCII) three-year series.

    The liturgy and ceremonial are in place to show us that we are participating in something holy. That this is where God and man come face to face to offer prayer, praise and thanksgiving, and to receive the Sacramental gifts of the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.

    To dissect the language that Prof. Marguart uses in too great a detail will only divert you away from what he is actually saying. He does acknowledge that ceremony can work in two directions. It can support a doctrine or surrender it, depending upon how it is used or misused. But the object of this article is only to present the liturgy and ceremonial in such a way as to teach us that our worship is about things greater than us, and to create in us an understanding of the sanctity of those things which we come together to celebrate.

  6. Vintage Marquart! This phrase stands out in this reading: "Here and now we must concentrate not on liturgies in general, or on some pseudo-cosmopolitan hotchpotch, but on a form or forms suitable to an English-speaking, specifically North American, environment."

    I always marvel at Marquart's grasp of the core Gospel issues, something one rarely finds in "liturgical" discussions. His rhetoric is refreshing, his reasoning always impeccable.

    This paper needs to see the light of day again. It had been years since I last read it. Thank you for drawing attention to it.

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  8. Indeed, it is a wonderful article. My dear father in Christ, Professor Marquart, had a uniquely profound love of the liturgy and an even more profound love for orthodox Lutheranism. In his later years, he decried, often, the "liturgical fussiness" that had taken hold of some in our Synod, in over-reaction to the church growth inspired nonsense going on. He even took to dressing in shockingly casual clothing at conferences and conventions, pointedly telling me he did so to make it clear he was not associated with those who wore their clericals as a point of pride and derision of those who did not. He was a soundly balanced man in theology and practice.

  9. Rev. McCain,

    I would be interested to read some of Marquart's later writings where he articulates his shift in emphasis; I haven't noticed it. Could you point out some of those?

  10. The photo of Prof. Marquart above is from the last CTSFW Fort Wayne symposia that he was able to attend. In the years I attended his lectures (2000-2003) he always wore an Anglican collar when lecturing - quite in contrast to the majority of profs who typically wore shirt and tie.

    When not presiding over the classroom or at the altar, he often wore casual attire (he was particularly fond of FUBU), and he often explained that his vesture was an expression of solidarity with his beloved international students, many of whom were francophone Haitians and Africans.

    I'm not alone in saying that I treasured my time in Marquart's classroom and study, and found him to be not only an intellectual giant, but even more importantly, a humble Christian gentleman. He is certainly missed.

  11. While it is known that Fr. Marquart at times voiced his concern about liturgical fussiness (and while I certainly think it was misplaced), I don't hold such a thing against him, especially since he has now been cleansed of such thoughts, as he now takes part in the heavenly liturgy in purest worship of the Christ, without distractions, face to face.

    It would be another matter altogether to entertain McCain's rumor about what Marquart may have said to him personally. Both the Large Catechism and common sense advise against it.

    What is less than explicable, and one is tempted to think it is also less than credulous, is McCain's endorsement of this article, even calling it "wonderful." Among other aspects of this piece, I again call attention in this regard to its strong warning against the modern sloppiness and lack of care in the handling of the Blessed Sacrament. This is precisely the sort of thing McCain has derided in others, lamely and falsely labeling it not only "fussiness," but also things like "liturgical pietism," and "hyperritualism."

    One of the truly noteworthy and amazing things about McCain's straw man of liturgical fussiness is that we have real problems, such as the liturgical fuzziness, to put it mildly, so rampant today. To put it another way, the nonsensical talk of "liturgical pietism" ignores the fact that there is actual pietism alive and well, with enormous liturgical implications and ramifications, so that we might even call it the true liturgical pietism. McCain's offices, as well as his "hobbies," like his blog, could be taking on the liturgical wasteland fostered by the ablaze program, creative worship, the CoW with its diverse worship, etc, with the same fierceness as he takes on the horrors of the "Gottesdienst crowd."

    However, more productive than mere tit for tat would be to advance an actual theological question, which seems to me begged by McCain's inconsistent reaction to statements about dropped particles at the altar. Namely, do you, Paul McCain, agree with me that such a particle is the very Body of Christ?

  12. I always enjoyed when Prof. Marquart visited our congregation when he was in southern California. He taught some Bible classes on apologetics and evolution. His logic was always impeccable, something I greatly admired about him. Even when you disagreed with him, you had to concede that his reasoning was sound.

    My memory may be mistaken here, and I'm certainly open to being corrected, but I believe it was at that Symposium or the year prior, when Prof. Marquart made that oft-cited public remark about "liturgical pietism." I recall that it caused quite a bit of hallway conversation. Perhaps if there are recordings of these presentations, or transcripts, one could place his remarks in a firmer context.

  13. I also appreciated Fr. Marquart's great wisdom and gentlemanly conduct, and I can't recall the "liturgical pietism" remark in particular, either because I was not present when he said it, or because I forgot.

    In any case I wonder whether he may have had in mind certain seminarians who had a habit of making their ceremonial dictates into a kind of game. For some, many moons ago, such liturgical sensitivities became also a facade behind which some rather sordid personal activity was hidden, as I recall. I have no proof that he had these charlatans in mind, but I surmise it is possible.

  14. The question (posted just a couple comments up several days ago) for Paul McCain still stands. That is to say, in light of the fuzziness of your confession on this point, and your mixed testimony on the matter, please tell us in plain words, whether the particle of the consecrated bread that has dropped to the floor is the very Body of Christ. Your wholesale endorsement of Fr. Marquart's article would imply a 'yes.' The ridicule by which you have assessed the rubrics which protect the Sacred Species is one of several ways in which you have implied 'no.' This is no trick question. You could even say 'I don't know.' Though it seems to me that this too would beg the question of why you would give an unqualified endorsement of Marquart's article.


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