Thursday, June 9, 2011

What people want...

Funny how we condemn an idea until the same line of thinking works in favor of our own viewpoint....  I read a particularly blustery statement by the Archbishop of Glasgow insisting that he had real problems with the Latin Mass movement and that the Extraordinary Form was not getting any play in his diocese.  Nobody wanted it there...

Immediately there was an outcry from those who do not like Novus Ordo and who are in favor of the restoration of the Extraordinary Form to more ordinary practice.  One commentator, with whom I have much sympathy, sarcastically asked if it was really true that "I guess we have to take his word on that.  There are no requests from any of the people of God for the older Mass there.  Not a single priest is interested in it either.  And there better not be any interest, either.  This is 'settled practice'."

I know from whence he speaks and certainly I would resonate with the need for the reigns to be pulled in on the abuses of Novus Ordo.  What I take issue with is the the idea that one form or another depends upon the interest or desire from the people.  Whether people want Latin or the vernacular should not be the primary impetus for liturgical change.  What people want is a tyranny just as baneful as the tyranny of a particular archbishop or local priest.  "What we want" is not on the list of reasons for liturgical change or not.

If people want to clap to the sound of a vacuous song accompanied by an inept praise band or if people want to have a choir that sings the ordinary in Latin while they kneel and pray, should not determine what we do on Sunday morning.  I am not liturgical because I like it.  Personal preference is not the guiding principle.  Lutherans are liturgical because our Confessions expect, assume, and insist this is reflective of our faith and identity as Lutherans.  We do not vote to have the Mass or not, whether to sing/chant or not -- the list could go on and on -- we do these things because that is who we are as Lutheran Christians.  When we or Rome give in and allow personal preference to dictate practice, then the liturgical life of a parish will become a smorgasbord of options to fit everyone's preference or taste.  In this way the liturgy becomes the great divider instead of the place where we are united and our community identity as the Church/Body of Christ trumps our individual identities as Christians.

We as Lutherans have not had the history of a rigid uniformity like the one imposed by Trent and sustained for more than 450 years.  Maybe we should.  That is a discussion for another day.  The point is that our diversity is not simply the domain of taste or preference but reflective of the varying resources available to us (musicians, language, education, etc.).  Even when people want the liturgy and prefer it to something else, this is a weak argument and lasts only as long as the taste of the folks does not change.  Our liturgical identity on Sunday morning is rooted not in personal taste but in faithfulness to Scripture, tradition (consult how St. Paul uses that word), the means of grace, and our Confession.


Bill S. said...

I wonder how much of this could be avoided in the LCMS if we actually taught new converts the reasons for the various elements of the Divine Service? If we actually showed them how these elements have made up the worship of the church for 2,000 years, and the Jewish roots for many of these practices?
As an adult convert,I wasn't taught this and had to pick it up from my own study, along with sites like yours and Pastor Weedons.

Sue said...

Not just converts - long-time members, too. We have contemporary worship twice a month at the late service. Pastor just wears a suit. Praise band at the front. He insists that some people just won't come for regular liturgy. I try to get across some people are being driven away. Not to mention the reasons you mentioned! (Otherwise he is a good a faithful pastor, very good teacher. I have just this one issue with him.)The people on the contemporary bandwagon don't get why we need the liturgy. And the pastor why he should not just wear his suit.

Terry Maher said...

This is an extremely important point. It is not about what people want, but what God offers.

And by nature, we people do not want what God offers, we want what we want. That's why the call it conversion and a new birth.

It's one of the follies of the age that we try to make something "seeker friendly", when the fact is, it is God and not we who is the Seeker, and in the Sacrament part of the Divine Service it is inherently not "seeker friendly", so much so that the early church dismissed the uninstructed after the service of the Word, knowing that the Sacrament is for, not the people, but the instructed and baptised believers.

I am not saying we should return to that practice, but we should learn from it something fundamental about the Sacrament.

And this rather than comparison to the RCC version of "worship wars". The main issues in the Roman worship wars are not ours and rarely does a Lutheran grasp them. Which is fine until we find similarities that are just not there. And ironically, for some of its advocates -- some, not all -- the Tridentine Rite is a "personal preference".

William Weedon said...

One wonders how much trouble across the years we would have avoided if we had taught our people (and the pastors themselves) to ask:

What does this confess?

Rather than, do I like it?

And if we had never forgotten that the Church's liturgy is her prayed confession - and so a true congruity between the Symbols and the Liturgy, yet with all the marvelous freedom with which Lutherans imbued in the Symbols may approach matters liturgical.

Tapani Simojoki said...

Amen, amen, amen.

And then another identical post, except replacing 'liturgy' with 'hymnody'.