Wednesday, September 17, 2014
More alike than we knew. . .
The ritual of the low mass was largely limited to the part of the priest. The low mass was mostly restrained in character and the expression of the people focused more upon the rituals apart from the actual mass itself -- namely upon the Rosary. Extra services such as the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament or the Stations of the Cross were often a strong focus of their piety. The character of the low mass was more penitential than celebratory -- much more than is usual today. The priest spoke into the silence in generally muted and deliberate tones. This is certainly a far cry from the more folksy style of many masses after the reforms that came in the wake of Vatican II.
In other words, the liturgical setting of a typical Roman Catholic parish prior to Vatican II did not look all that much different from a typical Lutheran parish of the same era (if you closed your ears to the obvious difference in language). The mood among Lutherans was similarly somber, the focus penitential, and the attitude of the Divine Service reverential. There was little ad lib insertion of commentary or even the pastor's personality into the service. The pastor, for his part, led the worship without revealing much of himself (except perhaps during the sermon). So there was much that Roman Catholics and Lutherans had in common on Sunday morning.
In the same way, in the post-Vatican II reform of the mass and Lutheran liturgical experimentation and change of the Divine Service, we moved in parallel fashion. For both of us the service was shifted in tone from the reverential and penitential character that once dominated it to the more folksy, personal, and casual style of the present age -- so much so that for Roman Catholics and Lutherans alike the parishes that mirror the earlier setting of the mass or Divine Service stick out as being exceptions rather than the norm.
Nowhere is this more true than the stereotypes. Lutheran people complain about chanting as being too Catholic when Roman Catholics have for generation after generation seen chanting as exceptional rather than ordinary. Lutheran folks assume that Rome is still the same stalwart home of highly stylized ritual in which the distance between priest and people predominates when Roman Catholics have been subjected to every kind of pastoral hijacking of the liturgy that Lutherans also have suffered since the early 1970s. The strange reality is that the Lutherans who complain about liturgy being taken too seriously and who desire a more folksy kind of Divine Service are more in step with the typical Roman parish today than those who are generally accused of being pseudo-Catholics!! Even incense has largely disappeared from the ordinary church life of a Roman Catholic so that they find it just as strange as Lutherans!! The more we try to be different, the more like Rome we became -- and not in a good way!!