Saturday, August 23, 2014

Whenever the worship wars flare up, the battle seems always to be centered on text.  There are some on the far right who elevate the Common Service of 1888 as THE text par excellence (LSB Divine Service Setting 3) and who look down their noses at anything and everything but that specific set of words.  Rightly, there are those who bristle at the idea of taking any one snapshot in time and turning that into the rule that must govern the day.

There are also book people who are not what I would call liturgical but who follow the liturgy from the book zealously -- that is, they follow the text even though they may ignore the rubrics.  These are people who would not think of deviating one word from the book but who do not see how the liturgy is fountain and source of our lives in Christ, the sustenance of those lives in Christ, and the focus and anticipated future of those lives in Christ.  They are Lutherans and Lutherans follow the book.

Many of these people see the setting (building), the accoutrements of the setting, the ceremonial, the ritual, the church usages (you name the terminology) as something other than the liturgy so that it matters little to them if vestments are used or not, rubrics followed, ceremonial used -- except that usually they want minimal of these adiaphora about which nothing can be commanded.  Their freedom in the liturgy is not from the words or text of the liturgy but from the other stuff they have long ago decided is something other than liturgy and therefore irrelevant to the liturgy.

On the other side of the spectrum are the people who refuse the idea that worship has any texts.  They rewrite the "liturgy" week after week as if worship had to be reinvented Sunday after the Sunday.  They bristle at the idea of repetition and do not always use the Our Father or the Creed simply to shake it up a bit.  Even when they do use more sacred forms, they change up the wording week after week just so it does not get stale.  They evaluate liturgy by the book and deem it boring, irrelevant, and out of step with people in the pews.  So they reject the texts and therefore reject the liturgy (the ordo, if you will).  Some may loosely follow the ancient pattern of the Mass but their substitutions violate that form.

To some extent the problem is that we have reduced the liturgy or the Mass to a specific set of words -- to a text.  It is that to be sure but it is far more than that.  When we say liturgy we are not isolating a page number or a specific set of words only but the full measure of that which constitutes the Divine Service -- hymns, rubrics, liturgical year, gestures, ceremonial, postures, vestments.  All of these are part of the liturgy.  And more!  Art and beauty are certainly included here -- from crucifix to stained glass to paraments, etc...

Too many think it matters little if the setting or building is antagonistic to what is happening in the liturgy, the walls awful or empty of art, the music poor and an enemy of singing, the one presiding wooden and uncomfortable, etc..., as long as the text is there. Just make sure that the ministers pronounce the words correctly, read the text intelligibly, and the sermon is "meaningful" and all is well with the liturgy.  Except that this is as much an enemy to the liturgy as those who would ditch the whole thing in favor of entertainment!

The liturgy IS a text, rather, a series of texts, but it is far more.  I wonder if our people get this -- shoot, I wonder if our Pastors get this.  How easy it is to give no thought to the architectural setting, to the vestments, to the art, to the music, and to the gracious presiding of him who leads the Divine Service -- and to settle for a text, a set of words on a page and call it done.  I am NOT saying that all of these thing have to be right before worship is as God intends and His gifts bestowed upon His people according to His promise. Of course not.  But what we settle for, what we define as normative, should not be some minimalism of text alone apart from the piety and practice that naturally flow from the richness of the liturgical tradition, the sacred deposit and living tradition that connects us to the past as well as pointing us to the future in Christ.

Unless and until we recapture the idea that all of these things are in service to the worship of God's house and part of the whole liturgical setting and celebration, we will inevitably talk past each other, argue against straw men, and continue to wage worship wars without even addressing the full dimension of what is at play when we gather in the shadow of the saints before us and toward the future we anticipate with the foretaste of the feast to come as the Church, around Word and Table, in the clothing of the liturgy.


ginnie said...

Why, why, why don't we get it?

Janis Williams said...

@ ginnie: because we all have itching ears; those of us who confess with the Church, and those who attend a church, but confess something contrary.

I wish all parishioners (and pastors) "got it."

Dick Wire said...

Please create a URL link for this excellent article. The current apparent title "Caution" is embedded in an image that does not have a URL. Thank you.