Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Issue of Time. . .

Having watched a few Latin masses and having paid a bit of attention to the blogs of those who propose nothing less than the complete restoration of the EF, I had thought the issue was language.  Perhaps for some it is but I am not so sure.  I also thought the issue was the more ancient form.  Perhaps for some it is but I am not so sure.  Both the attraction and the problem for the EF (Extraordinary Form or Latin Mass for us outsiders) seems to be the issue of time.

For most Roman Catholics accustomed to the herding in and release of a church full of communicants in as short a time as possible, time is the critical difference between EF and NO.  To watch the Latin Mass is to see a suspension of time itself as the Mass proceeds at its own pace with considered deliberateness.  In contrast, the NO has suffered from the rush of form and the press of too much into too short a time.  Even the choice of the Eucharistic Prayer (canon) is often dictated by the constraint of time.  The more popular choice is, by no one's surprise, the shortest.  The lack of sung liturgy is also commonly the complaint (or, conversely, the benefit) of the usual NO.  Chant and choir prolong the Mass and some have grown fairly accustomed to the more rapid pace of said rather than sung liturgy.

The language may be an issue but I really wonder if it is the case -- the words are supposed to say the same thing whether Latin or vernacular.  The ancient form of the Latin Mass certainly has continuity on its side but the resemblance of the NO to the EF is clearly unmistakable.  No, I think the bigger issue is probably the time invested in the EF.  That is both the attraction of many and also its weakness for a considerable part of Roman Catholic laity and priests.

This is not without parallel in Lutheranism.  One of the reasons for the abandonment of the complete Divine Service has been and continues to be time.  It is nearly impossible to have the full Divine Service (in any of its derivations and page numbers) without an abbreviated sermon, the omission of propers, the elimination of hymns or at least stanzas, the elimination of any choir music but the propers, AND still commune a decent number of communicants and still get out in the magin 59 minutes 59 seconds.  Time has become one of the most driving factors of worship practice.

Strangely, churches that would not budge from no more than an hour for "traditional" worship, routinely allow contemporary worship extra time for the endless choruses of the same four words.  Indeed, contemporary music has become the liturgy of contemporary worship with most of the congregation merely an audience of people being entertained.  I guess when you are being entertained time is less of a concern than when you are not being entertained (as in the Divine Service).

Why, just a few weeks ago when the service ran a few minutes long, a loud complaint was heard that the service last two hours (actually closer to 82 minutes by my clock) but clearly the perception was -- the service takes too dang long.  And whether Rome or Wittenberg, it seems we are all enslaved to the clock.  It is a slavery which will prevent real liturgical renewal and it is a prison from which we must free ourselves if worship is to be reflective of our confessional identity and our evangelical and catholic heritage.

We routinely go about 75 minutes.  I will admit that we are very conscious of the time spent on those darned announcements (which end before the time of the liturgy) and I do not preach longer than 20 minutes (usually closer to 15).  Still, time is one thing even I am not free from -- having two full Divine Services (exact duplicates for the most part) each Sunday and a time for Sunday school and adult Bible study between.  For the complaints that I once heard, I feel now that the people who don't like it are resigned to the fact that it will not change and those who do not mind suffer through it.  What strikes me most of all is that more and more are ignoring the clock completely.  How strange it is that we have folks who drive nearly an hour to get here but then expect that they will get in the car and head home two hours late (brief service and Sunday school)!  Would you not expect to be somewhere at least as long as it took you to get there and return?  What would we do if concerts or sports events suddenly shut down at the magic hour of 60 minutes?

As some in Rome struggle against the clock, many in Lutheranism are struggling also.  The hope and prayer of those involved in liturgical renewal is that we can get our eyes and our minds off the clock and on to the means of grace where Christ is present with His gifts.  But that is a battle we wage every week!


Anonymous said...

How ironically delightful that the season of Advent points us to the Day when time will be no more! Deo gratias!

Ted Badje said...

Sorry, I have been to too many RC weddings to say that time is not an issue. Most liturgical Lutheran services seem to have the right amount of time for minds to take in, provided the sermon is concise. I think that when other programs are inserted into the service, time becomes an issue. Maybe, these could be done after the service. Baptisms should be part of the service. Time isn't an issue when the pastor sticks to LW. Children's sermons, if they revolve around one or two points, can be incorporated into the service.

Unknown said...

^Right amount of time for minds to take in? That's exactly the kind of anthropocentrism and egocentrism that clutter the whole dialogue of length of services. Should there be a clock somewhere in church which measures the time and once the "pre-arranged time for minds to take in" is reached, an alarm should go off thus indicating the end of the service? Too many people view the Liturgy like punching in at work. Once 8 hours are up, or in this case, 1 hour and 15 minutes, people punch out regardless if there is more work to be done. Frankly, if you have too many other important things to be doing than be at church, don't even come for that time you do have, because it seems all you do is measure how much time you have until you get out. That's not giving your time or your energy to God. That's just crossing things off of a list. The Liturgy takes as long as the Liturgy takes. I grant that extra things like announcements and children's sermons take up time, but here's an idea: eliminate them both. They waste time and serve really no purpose except for one person to hear himself or herself talk.--Chris

Janis Williams said...

There are some of us who do not mind, and do not "suffer" through it. We revel in the Divine Service of our Lord. Leaving the church building and the Service is a sad experience.

The contemporary services and charismatic-type meetings are long and longer. The congregants do not seem to mind because the focus is on themselves. It is their vaunted service to God and relish of it that allows them to go so long.

If people truly understood and believed what occurs in a liturgical service....

Also on the RC side: If Benedict hadn't made the clock the shepherd of the hours (of service), maybe we wouldn't have this problem?

Anonymous said...

When we have a contemporary service, I can't wait to get out of there. I'd rather come in late for the sermon and then leave. Give me a full liturgical service and I don't want it to end. I'd go to it twice a week if it were offered.