Monday, September 24, 2012

Of Ordo, Text, and the Future of Missouri's Worship

We don't abolish the Mass, but keep it religiously. That's what we claim in our Confessions. We are not sectarians. Not in doctrine, not in liturgy, not in ceremonies.

Or, as Gottesdienst has long put it: the liturgy is not a matter of indifferent things. How we worship directly affects what we believe, and in turn flows from what we believe in a self-reinforcing feedback loop. The way I've tried to speak of it: piety matters; or again from Fr. Beane, we should have real worship.

It was always clear that President Kieschnick had another understanding. Under his leadership, the Synod Convention got its first praise band, complete with trap set. He encouraged the seminaries to offer contemporary worship services in chapel twice a week since 40% of our parishes used some form of contemporary worship (that's 2/5 for our non-math majors: thus, 2 days per school week). His core supporters in JesusFirst were very much of the "diversity in worship" crowd, because that's what "grows the Church."

After nine years of that kind of leadership, where will the Harrison administration seek to lead the Synod? A glimpse into Fr. Harrison's mind was given when he answered questions at the NWD back in June (start at 1:22:30):

I have stated clearly that I am not opposed to contemporary worship, the issue is not instrumentation. I am a strong supporter of the ordo: if you ditch Confession & Absolution, if you mess around with the Lord's Words, if you're ditching the Creed, then I think that's out of bounds. But I think we can come, with time we can come to some resolution of those ideas.

It would be unfair to read too much into unprepared comments during an open mic session at a district convention so we should tread lightly here. The Harrison administration is obviously still seeking to put some flesh upon the bones of this outline of its stance on the Worship Question. After bouncing some ideas off a few of my fellow editors at Gottesdienst, here are some observations and questions to ponder as we all wait for the Koinonia Project to get up and running at full speed.

Not Opposed to Contemporary Worship

Was ist das? Antwort: from the context it would appear that when Fr. Harrison says he is not opposed to contemporary worship he means that he is not opposed to the sort of instrumentation common in the worship that goes by the moniker contemporary. So he is not going to oppose electric guitars, trap sets, and the catalogue of CCM (insofar as the lyrics of the latter are non-heretical) in LCMS churches. He is not opposed to such things, yet he has certainly given no indication of being favorably disposed toward them either. He's just not going to actively oppose that sort of thing.

That sounds like a tactical decision: divide the music question from the question of the ordo of the Mass, push the big buttons, first things first, divide and conquer.  One can see the logic: if you can win them over to the ordo of the Western Mass, surely the music will fall into line, for when have you every seen Divine Service Setting I (or III) cum praise band? But that line of reasoning brings with it its own questions.

* Those who fashion their own liturgies, that is, those who "ditch the Creed" and "mess around with the Lord's Words," sure seem to be the same folks who go for the electric guitars and trap sets. Why is that?

* Even if the two things can be separated in our minds for the sake of discussion, that does not prove that the folks practicing it think they are separable in practice. What do these folks think about this question?

* Are there any definable limits to appropriate music in Church? Will this ever be a question worth discussing? Is there any music whose use in Church would warrant opposition?

The Koinonia Project would seem to be designed to help us find answers to the first two sets of questions; that is good. Perhaps once they are answered, the third set of questions can come to the fore.


What does Fr. Harrison mean by saying that he is a "strong supporter of the ordo"? What is the ordo? Again, we cannot read too much into unprepared comments in a Q&A session, but Fr. Harrison's words do let us come closer to understanding his definition of the ordo, even if apophatically. If you ditch the Creed, if you mess with the Lord's Words [of Institution], if you ditch Confession and Absolution: you are not keeping to the ordo. As the Harrison administration fleshes this out, these are the kinds of questions they will have to answer.

* What exactly are the parts of the ordo? Can we leave out the Agnus Dei but not the Introit, or vice versa? Why or why not?

* If we do not use Confession & Absolution in public worship because we use private absolution instead, is that out of bounds?

* If we don't ditch the Creed, but do write our own contemporary, perfectly orthodox Creeds, or substitute a portion of the Small Catechism in its place, is that out of bounds? If we follow the rubric of the historic Western Mass and omit the Creed at lesser festivals or weekday Masses, is that out of bounds?

* Is the lectionary part of the ordo, or only the ordinary of the Mass? Is it out of bounds to use a lectionary of one's own devising?

* Can each pastor and congregation, a la Luther's Deutsche Messe, come up with their own rewordings of the ordo of the Western Mass week in and week out so long as that outline is followed?

The position Gottesdienst has been urging for years is well known: Lutheran congregations should worship like Lutherans. Historically this meant that each Lutheran jurisdiction would have its own Church Order that enforced certain liturgical boundaries on all the parishes in that jurisdiction. This included a specific incarnation of the Western Mass, a lectionary and calendar, and at least general notes about music. Diversity around the edges between these jurisdictions was always a fact of life; indeed, long before there were the Saxon Church Order and the Church Order of Braunschweig, there were the Liturgy of St. Ambrose, the Gallic Mass, and the Mozarabic Liturgy existing side by side in peace and harmony in jurisdictions next door to each other. But liturgical chaos within  a jurisdiction, glaringly distracting contradictions between jurisdictions, and flat out copying the worship of sectarians, were never part of what it meant to be Lutheran.

This position can be summed up much more succinctly thus: "exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school."

Or again, we might say that each of 6000 congregations being able to write its own agenda week in and week out is by its very nature not done "without thoughtlessness and offense in an orderly and becoming way" (FC X).

Of course, we at Gottesdiesnt also enjoy lively discussions about the bene esse of worship. We have our 'druthers, too. We are not shy about advocating for specific ceremonies, for specific orders of the Mass, for specific lectionaries among the truly Lutheran alternatives. We are not shy about arguing among ourselves as to whether the Church is best served to reserve the Sacrament or not, exclusively use the Common Service or not, elevate and genuflect or not, use the Historic Lectionary or not, etc.  But we know that such things are of the bene esse of Lutheran worship, not the esse. 

So we will wait to see how Father Harrison seeks to catechize the Synod in the question of worship. The glimpse we've seen so far gives us great reason to hope. We look forward to hearing what he has to say and being a part of the wider discussion. I'm hopeful that he is right, that some resolution can come. And I'd love to hear him next say something like this as a starting point: "We have three hymnals in English with no fewer than nine orders for the Divine Service between them. I would like to see every one of our parishes offer the Divine Service according to one of the orders from one of these books.  (We've got another setting in Spanish, and our brothers to the North have one in French. If you need one in another language, just holler.) I can't force you to do this and I'm not going to take an adversarial approach. But I am going to lead you. I am going to start a series of Pastoral Letters telling you why I think that is a good idea and will benefit your parish and our whole Synod."

In short, I'd love to see Father Harrison do for this question what he does best: lead by teaching.



  1. Regarding the setting in Spanish, is it a translation of the Common Service or one of the other ones? I recently copied the service from Culto Cristiano and modified it to match the service in TLH (it seemed to be pretty close, but had a few noticeable differences) for my Peruvian Catholic wife's benefit. I printed it in booklet form and gave it to her, and when reading through it, she said, "You're also going to translate the Lutheran service, right?" She had previously been reluctant to attend a Lutheran church with me because it was "so different", but after recognizing much of her own liturgy in it, she's softened noticeably to the idea. Talk about appealing to those reluctant to visit our churches...

  2. Mr. Hanson,

    Yes, I was referring to Culto Cristiano. I believe that work was self-consciously even a bit closer to a Tridentine Mass than is the Common Service - the major difference being the Eucharistic Prayer.


  3. Not really on topic, but just as an aside I'd like to note that our francophone hymnal, the LCL (Liturgies et Cantiques Luthèriens) actually has three Divine Services (or "Suites Liturgiques"). It also has a noon office, in addition to matins, vespers, and compline. And, while our "brothers to the north" do make use of it, I dare say that it is now used more in West Africa, simply due to the small number of Lutheran churches in Québec vs. the large number of Francophone Lutherans now in Africa. // As far as the topic goes, I do appreciate your distinction between the bene esse and the esse, and join you in looking forward to President Harrison's leadership on this. I'm also looking forward to the many good things that will come from the new chaplain IC/Director of Worship, Pastor Weedon. With Jon Vieker also there in a top role in the administration of our synod (as Executive Assistant to the President) I think we can expect lots of good things in worship over the coming years. Indeed, if one takes at look at things like the New Missionary Orientation seminars and the use of morning and evening prayer at various synodical board meetings, one can already see many positive developments.


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