Sunday, July 19, 2009

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.]


  1. Thanks (at least partially) to the Good Doctor's "idiosyncrasies," a couple years ago, the Gospel was omitted on Reformation Day at my parish.

    We were using "LSB-DS5 / LW-DS3" for the feast, and I read the OT and Epistle lessons, we sang the Hymn of the Day, and during the last verse (as is my custom) I headed to the pulpit. When the hymn was completed, I stepped out and preached.

    I did not realize that the Gospel went unread until after my sermon was almost done. I thought to myself: "What idiot put the Hymn *before* the Gospel?" And then one of the GO editors told me who the "idiot" was. Obviously, Dr. Luther was no idiot - but there *were* times when he was a little nutty. That whole "On the Jews and their Lies" thing was, in retrospect, not Luther's greatest moment. I think maybe the 1526 Mass was along the lines of a "liturgical bad hair day."

    This plethora of choice is one of the downsides to having hymnals that have adopted the Chinese Restaurant motif ("Pick a canticle from Column A or Column B"). All that's missing are the CPH fortune cookies (just give them time...). And now it's my understanding that there is software to actually facilitate the personalization of the liturgy. Please remember to take a clean plate on each trip to the buffet - state law and all that.

    I guess this is why the Good Doctor wisely said (concerning the catechism) to pick a translation and stick with it. When it comes to liturgy, variety is not the spice of life.

    Of course, now we have five (count 'em, five) Masses in our hymnal. Four more and we can have a Lutheran novena.

    But I do appreciate Divine Service 6 - which is used at St. Stephen's in Milwaukee - in Latin on Mondays, and in English the rest of the week.

    It is nice to see so much acceptance of settings of the Divine Service (none dare call it Gottesdienst) that are *not* the Common Service. This has made DS6 possible. Maybe we can look forward to a new hymnal supplement from GPH (Gaba Publishing House) with DS6 and other Traditionalist liturgical alternatives, now that Heath has debunked the Myth of the Golden (Bronze?) Plates!

  2. We use DS 3 (LSB) for the seasons of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany. It is well received and greatly loved by young and old alike. I appreciate its sparseness and simplicity, as well as the Scottish-Anglican chant which our choir always does in harmony.

  3. Fr. Beane,

    I've got a friend who says, "Once we had two settings of the Divine Service, it was bound to be 200."

    I, too, think that the growth in the number of settings of the Mass has been a net loss for the bene esse of North American Lutheranism. The different church bodies and even parishes within church bodies are now more liturgically isolated from one another - and in some cases seem to speak mutually incomprehensible languages. This does not serve Christian unity.

    NB for those who insist on misreading between the lines: having a single setting of the Mass in North American Lutheranism is not of the esse of the church - but I think it serves for the bene esse. Likewise, a broad-based unity in ceremonies is not "worship or any part of it" as the Confessions point out, nor is such agreement necessary for Christian unity. But I believe that such a liturgical unity serves and encourages Christian unity better than the babble of liturgies we have in North American Lutheranism today.

    And outside of fierce debates against strawmen, does anyone seriously disagree? Isn't it too bad that when you go on vacation you never know what you are going to get when you visit a place with LCMS on the sign? Isn't it discomfiting and troublesome to go to a District Convention and encounter a setting of the Mass you've never sung before? When generations that came of age after 1980 are old and gray, what "setting" will pastors be able to bring to bedsides, confident that the words will be recalled, even in the fog of dementia, due to endless repetition over a lifetime?

    But that ship has sailed. We have 5 settings with almost infinite variety in the ordinaries between them (someone should do the math here, like how Sonic can advertise 168,894 drink flavor combinations). Maybe I'll have the vicar do this. It sounds like a vicar job.

    Which is, I think, all the more reason for my modest proposal. Even though we will almost certainly never go back to the days of all parishes using only the Common Service all the time - surely, there is good cause and great benefit to all of our parishes at least being familiar with a given setting - a liturgical lingua franca. There is and can be only one serious candidate for that lingua franca: the Common Service. Hence my modest proposal.


  4. Pr. Cwirla,

    Spot on. That's just what I'm talking about. For those who use the LW/LSB settings, your example or rotating in the Common Service via the liturgical year is a great way to keep a liturgical lingua franca alive among us.


  5. Dr. Luther put the HOD after the Epistle but before the Gospel because the early HOD was typically a translation/paraphrase of the Sequence, which, in the medieval liturgy, was sung between the Epistle and the Gospel.

  6. Dear Heath:

    In retrospect, it would have been fitting to keep the words of the Common Service while offering different musical settings.

    Music is a powerful way to set the "tone" of worship based on seasonal themes. Music is also a connection to the Church of the past.

    The Anglican Catholic Church, for example, has one "common service" - the Mass from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The BCP has no musical notation. The words are the words, and everyone, pastor and people alike, know the words. They do not change - not from season to season, week to week, parish to parish.

    However, the musical settings are fluid. They can sing the Mass of the Angels. They can sing the more common musical setting known by American Episcopalians (which is musically like our Common Service in parts). They can have a setting that is entirely Gregorian. They can also simply speak the service.

    They can do this because the words don't change.

    In the LCMS today, we have two major wordings (DS1/2 and DS3). And even this diversity was not enough, as we also have the wording of DS4 as a liturgical setting.

    And this is not even to consider how even the prayer offices are no longer standard. We have Matins and Morning Prayer. We have Vespers and Evening Prayer - with different sets of wording even for the same canticles! We have *three* distinct responses to "The Lord be with you!"

    But, as you say, there is no getting the toothpaste back into the tube, so we will likely continue to see the tension between the centripetal force of those who want to hold the line at only (!) five Eucharistic services (by appealing to legaism or synodical rubricism) and the centrifugal force of those who want to expand the number ever outward (in celebration of diversity or simply out of dissatisfaction with *all* the options offered on the lturgical buffet).

    Both sides will claim the mentle of being geninely Lutheran and will cast aspersions upon the other side. However, as your friend pointed out, this process was set in motion when the second set of words were codified in the experiments of the 60s and 70s, and were codified into LW.

  7. Dear Gifford:

    I'm sure it made good sense to Luther at the time. It might have even made the best sense to keep it that way across the board. But in our context, we have different configurations of where to say the Creed, sing the Hymn, say the Prayer of the Church, and sing the Sanctus.

    All of these configurations have reasonable explanations and partisans who defend them.

    But when multiple liturgies are said in the real world, it becomes easy to skip something (I also once skipped the Creed when we changed settings). Whereas the point of liturgy is to provide regularity, I find myself constantly having to check the book to see what I'm supposed to be doing next - which kind of defeats the purpose of having liturgical constancy. There is nothing "ordinary" about our "ordinaries."

    The current paradigm also helps to keep the noses of the congregation in the book.

    In that sense, the multiplicity of service settings is not all that different from "creative worship" - and it does present the same problems. One such problem is which words to use on sick calls. Even the pastoral care companion has to either present both options, or pick one for us (to the exclusion of the others).

    Again, in retrospect, more standardization would have been better - but that ship has indeed sailed!

    As for me, I've learned not to trust my memory, to use the hymnal as a crutch, and to make sure I have my reading glasses at all times when celebrating. Unless I can convince my parish to stick with one setting, we're going to have to pray the American Mantra as one of the collects: "Diversity is our strength." ;-)

  8. Fr. Grobien, do we have available those sequences turned Hauptlieden (I'm guessing on the Deutsch plural ending here!)?

  9. The plethora of liturgical (and antiliturgical) settings has less to do with the options available in the hymnal (s) than with the advent of the word processor and photo copier which made every parish a print shop and every pastor an expert at cutting and pasting things together that were never meant to be connected. Long before this I suffered through the oft repeated novelty of Matins to which the Verba Christi were added to provide another alternative to page 15 TLH.

  10. Referring to the texts of the various liturgical formats as "settings" of the DS is a bit misleading. It would be better to refer to them as "ordos." A setting is most commonly understood as the choice of music to which these ordos are sung.

    The multiple choice format that was adopted by Rome following VC II, which has been willingly copied by a majority of non-Roman communions, has diluted the character and solemnity of the historic Common Service (Mass) of the Western Rite. This is true for the Lutheran and Roman church alike.

  11. Fr. Hollywood,

    I agree that the HOD should remain in our accepted configuration. I merely wanted to point out Luther's rationale.

    Mr. Westgate,

    Indeed, a few of the Hauptlieder are well known to us: Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands (from Victimae Paschali); Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord (from Veni Crator Spiritus) We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth (I don't recall the source). Uncovering more connections would take a little research both into the Sequences (which, except for a handful, were suppressed by the Roman Church at Trent) and the 16C Hauptlieder, which I have not done. Other examples in our hymnals include those translated directly from the Latin, such as O Savior of the Fallen Race, and O Day of Wrath O Day of Mourning (Dies Irae).

  12. Fr Hollywood:
    "I'm sure it made good sense to Luther at the time. It might have even made the best sense to keep it that way across the board. But in our context, we have different configurations of where to say the Creed, sing the Hymn, say the Prayer of the Church, and sing the Sanctus."

    Judging by the various Church Orders, Luther's placing of the Hauptlied in between the Epistle and Gospel made sense to pretty much the entire Lutheran Church up until the composing of the Common Order. For that's where it was most commonly placed. In fact, the "Chief Service for Sundays and Festival Days" from the LCMS' 1856 Agenda put it in that place as well.

    It would appear then, that in the general estimation of the Lutheran Church, Luther was not quite as "nutty" or "idiosyncratic" as you think.

    Since I'm not at all inclined toward thinking that Luther was any kind of a liturgical hack (quite the opposite), I am also curious Fr Hollywod, what is it about the German Mass that makes you judge that Luther was having a "liturgical bad hair day"?

    Rob Lawson
    Escondido, CA

  13. "...what is it about the German Mass that makes you judge that Luther was having a "liturgical bad hair day."

    Dear Rob:

    I think it was a rather radical departure from the Western Mass as he received it. Instead of being a simple German translation of the old Latin Mass, it was an entirely new order, a different configuration.

    It has also been used to justify all sorts of liturgical experimentation in our own day, such as folk Masses, contemporary services, and cut-and-paste liturgies. Luther unwittingly set a bad precedent for monkeying around with the liturgy.

    Obviously, hindsight is 20-20 and Luther had no way to see the abominations that would mark modern liturgy. But on the whole, the German Mass is a more radical change than what is more typical of Luther and the Lutheran reformation: to keep that which doesn't contradict Scripture, and only excise that which does. The 1526 Mass goes beyond this principle.

    In other words, I think Luther set the ball rolling toward a hymnal with 5 Divine Services when he set the precendent with the 1526 Mass.

    Your point is well taken that the Hauptlied was more commonly placed before the Gospel until the Common Service. That's why I said: "in our context..." - for we now have five different Divine Services with four different wordings, and multiple options in the various settings.

    Having said all that, it is a part of our heritage, and my congregation uses DS5 on Reformation Day.

    I hope this helps!


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