Thursday, March 21, 2013

Personal liturgical style. . .

In my reading I have come across not a few in the Roman Catholic Church, specifically the liturgical movement, who are concerned about the new Pope's personal liturgical style and wondered out loud if the advances toward reverence promoted by Benedict would be undone by a Pope who likes things simple, less formal, and more, shall we say, "personal."

Hmmmmm, does that sound like conversations that happen in Lutheran congregations when receiving a new Pastor????  Will his personal liturgical style be the same as the last guy or will we have to relearn everything all over again?  Not an unusual question at the change of occupants in the pulpit -- even when it comes to those who fill in during vacancy or vacation.

Personal liturgical style is a modern idea.  There is none in Orthodoxy where the Divine Liturgy (in any of its incarnations) is followed by all priests and bishops.  There was none in Rome until post-Vatican II attempts to make the personality of the priest more visible (when the whole notion of the leadership of the Mass is to diminish personality and draw attention to the Word and Sacrament).  There was none in Lutheranism where the form and ceremonial of the Divine Service were severely regulated by geographic jurisdiction for at least the first 200-300 years after the Reformation.  It was not until the 1960s that the personal liturgical style of the clergy began to dominate what happened on Sunday morning for Lutherans.

I, for one, have asked of those who fill in for me that they respect the tradition in this congregation (of 20 years plus) and not make the people change for their own personal whims.  While there are certain accommodations for personal expertise or ability (chanting being one example), the idea that the Divine Service be the domain of a Pastor's personal liturgical style is not only arrogant but betrays the very nature and spirit of the liturgy.

Ceremonial and liturgical custom are not matters of simple style portable with the Pastor but a reflection of the resources and state of local catechesis.  Catechesis will always result in the recovery of the fuller ceremonial envisioned and expected by our Confessions  EXCEPT where resources (music being one of them) precludes the recovery of the fuller expression anticipated and assumed by our Confessions.

The choice between Forumal Missae and the Deutsche Messe were never personal preference but the ability of the people (linguistic) and the resources of the parish (choir and organ).  We have upset the tables on this and turned it all into a matter of style which is as personal to the presider as it is the people in the pew.  Such is the worst kind of tyrrany.  Indeed, Luther was pretty sure that the fuller ceremonial and the Latin of the Formula Missae would dominate.  Sad to say, he was wrong.  The movement toward the simpler ceremonial and the substitutionary mindset of the Deutsche Messe has predominated instead -- if not in the trading of hymns or metrical versions for the ordinary then the idea that these are just parts to be chosen or omitted at will.

It is my conviction that the fuller ceremonial and the full Divine Service are the practice of a renewed confessional Lutheranism and the fruits of catechesis -- not because of the personal liturgical style of the Pastor but because this is the logical outcome of taking our Confessions and Catechism seriously.  No one is saying that a fuller liturgical expression and ceremonial will bring about renewal of Lutheran confessional identity -- the ELCA is ample proof of that -- but the reverse IS true.  A renewed Lutheran confessional identity will always and inevitably express itself liturgically -- in the recovery of the Divine Service as the chief service of the congregation and the inclusion of the full ceremonial assumed and inherent in the Confessional documents of Lutheranism.

When there is a renewed Lutheran confessional identity that does not express itself in weekly Eucharist, the fuller ceremonial and full liturgical expression of the Divine Service, and, I might add, renewal of private confession and absolution, that Lutheran identity is missing something -- somewhat like those in the Book of Acts who had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  The form is there but its practice is not yet put in place.

Looking back on the periods of Lutheran orthodoxy, on the times when Lutherans were dissatisfied with the current expression of their faith and reached back to their core confessional documents for renewal, we find liturgical renewal and the recovery of the Divine Service and a fuller ceremonial as part of the fruits of that renewal movement.  In our own day, we have seen the pendulum swing so that the folks who once were interested in worship (often considered liberal in theology) have been replaced by conservative voices for both the way we speak the faith before the world and the way that faith is lived out around the altar, font, and pulpit.

Personal liturgical style is a concession phrase to those who do not see the connection between faith confessed and faith lived out around the means of grace.  It is about time we ditched this unfortunate expression and did everything we could to remove any vestiges of the idea the "style" and "substance" are different, unconnected, and reflective of personal preference.

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