Thursday, March 11, 2010

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.



  1. Amen.

    The problem with the centralizing argument is that it is the approach of the communists and fascists. It is harder to be free than to be told what to do. So also freedom always suffers abuse. To cite again my favorite example, there was no libel in Soviet Russia. We could end all libel in the US. We just have to stop the freedom of the press. It is tempting to look at our church body and think that we are smarter than they are and they should all do it our way, what we tell them to; but we never like it when the roles are reversed, when we are the ones being told by someone else what to do.

    So also, it is easier for a pastor to simply tell his people what they can and cannot do based upon the binding laws of the LC-MS, rather than teaching them, but is that really the way we want to live as Church? Pastors are not called to enforce the synod's latest ideas of liturgical purity, but to teach. Teaching is harder, slower but it bears better fruit. We don't really want our people confessing the creed just because the law says they have to, but because they recognize the value in it, same with hymns, etc.

    - Petersen

  2. But pastor, we need our mantra! We like mantras! Can't we please have our mantra? They're so easy to follow! Say the black, do the red! Rah! Rah! Rah!

  3. Hey man, I like that mantra. That's a good summary of how to do the liturgy. That's why I made it a little more explicit. Because what is meant is Say the Synod Black and Do the Synod Red.

    But that is too parochial - in that it shuts us off from much of our tradition. And yet not parochial enough in that it would outlaw the individual customs that make a given parish a given parish.



  4. I very much enjoyed reading this post. I have to give it some more thought. I understand what you are saying. However, it seems that it could end up being rather subjective. What you see as an organic growth may not be seen as such by others. What you see as something that is not organic may be seen as such by others. In fact, I would argue that much of the church growth nonesense we have seen and its accompanying innovations in the Divine Service have come about not because people are purposely trying to do something that is not organic - but because they believe what they are doing does stem out of Lutheran theology. And there exactly lies the argument.

    So, while I understand what you are saying - and I think you and I likely would agree on much that is organic and not organic - I still think there is great value in Synod consensus and unity in practice - particularly in our more mobile society. There is a certain comfort in "doing the red and saying the black."

    Thanks for the great post - I will keep thinking about what you have written.

  5. If I may make an ever-so-minor clarification to your post: rubrics for Tenebrae and Easter Vigil services were not new with LSB, though this is the first time that they appeared in an Altar Book. CPH published a small paperback for LW titled, "Ash Wednesday and Holy Week Services." It covers everything the title indicates, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (Word, Sacrament, Tenebrae Vespers), and Vigil. This book was essentially republished in the LSB Altar Book. I haven't sat down to compare the two yet to see if there were any revisions, though I suspect there were. There are always revisions (hence the reason you posted this).

  6. As one of the Praise Banders who stumbles through here on occasion, let me say that I really do find the post pretty convincing.

    That is, if I were holding to a centralist or organic tradition...

    I will say, that if I were a centralist, my argument would be "We need to be united in our speaking to this--because when we fracture, then we will not be able to act!"

    Because, we know, the centralist position is a pragmatic one, that seeks to use power to force its position upon others. I mean, seriously is there any doubt about that?

    So, your doing your own thing just dilutes the use of power to force us (the praise banders) to bend to the will of the majority.

    Which the centralists are not right now. Not if you organics don't play by the rules...

    In such a way then, you and I have a similar view of the situation: we both are doing what we think is right and best for the future of our church. And if another group complains about it...well, so be it.

    "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."

    I'd rather have the more Arminian view than the calvinist view that says "God's sorted 'em out already. We can do the liturgy and not care." :)

  7. I am not a centrist - because I've never seen a congregation that is "centrist". Every place has it's own customs and traditions that have grown up organically - some beneficial, some not-so much, and some basically indifferent. However, we should not want disunity - we don't necessarily want everyone and every congregation simply doing whatever they will - whenever Scripture says, "And everyone did what was right in his own eyes" is not a good thing -- nor is the fact that if I am traveling and walk into a random LCMS church I have no clue what I can expect to find.

    Of course, part of this is that we all like the rules if they say what we like.

    I think the Reformers were wise when they said that rites and ceremonies don't have to be the same everywhere -- the fact that I most likely will never have a Confiteor shouldn't mean one of the Gott. Crowd would feel out of place here in Lahoma or call for my head. But there needs to be a unity of approach, a unity in theology, of what worship is for - and that is more what I think has fractured.

  8. Josh - thanks for the correction, I didn't know about that LW resource. I think the wider point still stands: Tenebrae, Imposition, etc., were all newcomers to North American Lutheranism that required some liturgical pioneering in the field. But pioneering is not really the word: mining is better. For they were just mining the richness of their own Lutheran heritage.


  9. Fr. Louderback,

    In my feeble attempts to explain everything in the kindest way, I try to assume that everyone is just doing what he thinks to be right.

    The difference, I am contending, between your approach and mine is that I am seeking to draw on the richness of the Lutheran liturgical heritage which is wider than the "the Synod's book." Your approach is completely different. You are drawing on heritages foreign to Lutheranism and her theology: Baptist, Neo-Evangelical, Pentecostal, etc.

    And therein lies a world of difference.

    And your last statement confirms me in my believe that theology follows practice. I don't want an Arminian or a Calvinist view of election. I'll take what's written in FC SD XI. Reread that and see if you don't like it. It's great, really. We are saved by grace alone, period. God is going to save his elect in Christ. No guilt trips allowed with grace.

    So I don't have to scare my people into sharing the good news with a sort of neo-Tetzlism: every time a sharing of the Gospel rings, an angels gets his wings.

    Instead, knowing that God wishes to gather his elect around Word and Sacrament - I teach my people the Word and feed them with the Sacraments. And lo and behold: they are thus prepared, eager, and happy to give a reason to those who ask them about the hope they have within.


  10. Pr. Curtis,

    I might take your revision of the mantra one step further: "Say the Synod's present-day black, do the Synod's present-day red."

    It strikes me that many who would argue that we should follow the rubrics for this reason are basically trying to do liturgics while they pretend that the liturgy does not exist. The fact that there is and has been the Western Rite liturgy, to which we are heirs, is not without significance here! What I appreciate you doing here, and what I think we need to do more, is to examine the liturgy in light of the fact that it does exist, that it has existed, and that these facts actually do make a difference (seeing as we're liturgical conservatives, not liturgical formalists or authoritarians).

    When the argument heads in the direction that the only reason for following the rubrics is that the Synod, today, says you should, this is functionally indifferent from post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (Obey the Magisterium, because the Magisterium says so...). And so, as has been observed recently, in this case the content, propriety, significance, past usage, and meaning of the rubrics doesn't matter at all, and they can even be called "stupid."

  11. Still waiting for a response to the original question that sparked the post - whats up with the collects for LSB Historic Lectionary?

  12. Fr. Curtis:

    Besides your neologistic tendencies, what I enjoy most about this post is that you do a nice job of boiling down the main approaches, I think, and of arguing for the organicist view, which if I understand it rightly, is mine as well.

    A sine qua non for the vitality of a church is the existence of localities within its fellowship which dare to be "outliers" of the traditionalist sort, so far from reality is the claim that traditionalists are about the static freezing of the liturgy in a certain time period.

    By the way, you are not alone in your practice of the confiteor. We have it at our daily Mass, preceded by Psalm 43. We have also incorporated it into our prepatory rite at our Sunday sung Spanish Mass, and have begun to do so at our Sunday sung English Mass as well.


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