Thursday, April 14, 2011

If you don't see the point of the liturgy and its ceremonies. . .

Recently I was party to a conversation between pastors regarding the ceremonies of Passiontide and Holy Week. One fellow said that he couldn't see the point in leaving out the Gloria Patri during Passiontide. That brought to mind this famous quotation from Chesterton's essay, "The Drift from Domesticity."

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious.

One of the first principles of liturgical, churchly thinking is that our fathers in the faith deserve our honor and respect. The liturgy is, first and foremost, a gift, an inheritance, something handed down from our fathers. Let us not be ungrateful, snide, or know-it-all children.



  1. I guess I do not see the point in such a blanket statement such as "leaving out the Gloria Patri during Passiontide."

    In fact, when did we start completely leaving out the Gloria Patri during Passiontide? I have read the view that the Gloria Patri is not 'festal' and that its inclusion (e.g., at the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday and perhaps in the offices) or omission (e.g., at the Introit and at the end of Psalm 22) is dependant upon the liturgical use of the psalmody.

    So, I'll go away and think about it. And, while doing so, I'll continue to include and omit the Gloria Patri as stated above without any harm to the gift of the liturgy.

    This reminds me of being at a Lenten preaching seminar some years ago. The host was discussing the Quarantine of Lent and was trying to defend the omission of the Absolution on Ash Wednesday as stated herein:

    He didn't get far with the present Lutheran fools who would never consider failing to proclaim an absolution after a confession (but might give an absolution without an explicit prior confession!) And they didn't even bother to think about it, much less go away.

  2. One of my favorite Chesterton quotes, which, like most Chesterton, applies as well or better than when he wrote it.

    Pr. Timothy Winterstein

  3. Fr. Curtis,

    I've always wondered about this: if we aren't Roman Catholics and we don't absolutize tradition (Tradition) how do we know when to critique and reform the tradition and when to sit quietly and study and learn the tradition?

    Often it isn't the people who don't care about tradition but those who think they know all about why a tradition exists who feel most free to change it (see: Vatican II, LW). How many times have we heard "well, this new way is closer to Early Church worship, so we've done away with our old encrusted traditions"? It seems some of the most tradition-friendly minds have worked this way.

    How do we prevent people from taking off with shallow understandings and remaking everything?

  4. Great quote. One might find within it a delicious Catch 22: "One may abolish the liturgy as they wish if they first learn its value, but if anyone thinks they've learned its value and still wish to abolish it, they have yet to learn its value."

  5. Donald and Phil,

    Yes, those are the questions. The answer lies in churchly thinking and (prepare to quake in dread, ye Lutherans): a little order and authority in the Church.

    The example of the Reformation is the one to go by. Things were not tossed out willy nilly by what Krauth famously called "The Conservative Reformation." Luther made his arguments most clear in the 1523 Latin Mass - very conservative indeed. And here is the kicker: the Lutherans never went even this far! In that work, for example, Luther advocates keeping the Alleluias in Lent, tossing out Holy Cross day, and having two distributions to better imitate the Last Supper!

    None of those changes came into the Lutheran Church Orders. And the latter are what we are really missing today: evangelical, fraternally agreed to Church Orders with plenty of recognized exceptions for local customs.

    In other words, this should never be an issue of me in my parish alone making these decisions. The historic Lutheran model is for whole jurisdictions, basically on the size of our current districts or larger, agreeing on a Church Order.

    It would be nice to recapture that.


  6. Fr. Curtis,

    All of that is good. However, I still question whether it addresses the whole problem.

    Widespread consensus seems to be a necessary condition for good liturgical order and a salutary reception of tradition, but perhaps it is not sufficient. It seems to me that it suffers from the idea that when we all sit down together in a room and decide something, that makes it true (or good). This seems to me to be the same kind of methodological infallibility subscribed to by the Papalists: wear the special Goodness hat (sit in the special chair) and whatever you do becomes good.

    I've seen lots of examples cited of faithful reception of tradition among our Lutheran fathers, how they were conservative and kept many good things and didn't trash them. Is there any Confessional principle, though, which gives us guidance on how actually to receive tradition? Something beyond "We retain the Mass" heading in the direction of "It is good to retain the Mass"...

  7. Phil,

    The Confessions themselves answer this question when they speak of the reason for ceremonies: to teach the people. And, in FC X, when they speak of not causing offense or being frivolous in worship.

    What is reverent, what teaches Christ, what promotes harmony: those are things that are good.

    And since we are living at this late date, it is hard to see how one could avoid offense and frivolity by just making stuff up on one's own.

    Furthermore, accepting what our Fathers have handed down to us is first and foremost a matter of honoring them - that is, of keeping the fourth commandment.

    This constellation of ideas leads to the Lutheran Reformations observed "conservatism."


  8. Part of the discussion should also be the weight of the great Lutheran ordos of the 16th and 17th century. If we believe as the framers of the Common Service did, they are the touchstone to which we look for the Lutheran way to appropriate the tradition to which we are heirs. Curiously, while we find the omission of the Gloria Patri on Palmarum, it is indicated on Judica. And furthermore, in no Lutheran order of the 16th/17th century that I am aware of, do we find the rubric regarding omitting the Greater Gloria in Lent, let alone in Advent. It continued in use every Divine Service regardless of the season. I think if we studied these ordos a bit more seriously we'd discover but the freedom and the care with which the Lutherans of those days adapted the rite to which they were heirs.


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