Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Forty Years of Novus Ordo -- Some Called It Luther Lite

I can still recall the words of a longtime family friend who spoke to my father after his first mass in English (the Novus Ordo introduced just after Vatican II). He was quite disappointed. This Irish Catholic patriarch of a very large family was not so sure about the change. For one thing, he was quite disappointed to find out that the Latin hid words that sounded just like the words the Lutherans had been using for four hundred years. For another thing, what had been so familiar to him and his family was now new and strange. For another thing, what had been a constant in his life, connecting him to his now gone ancestors (well, since 1563 or so) was now missing and that connection was itself strained.

If Bill would have lived to the present day, he would find a Roman Catholic Church now returning to the Mass in Extraordinary Form (make it Latin) -- complete with fiddleback chasubles and ad orientum posture (well, the chasubles you will just have to look up but ad orientum means the priest facing the altar instead of behind it). He would have laughed and insisted he knew all the time it would not last.

Some are already speaking of Novus Ordo as if it had died. Change is coming but I think it premature to say that Rome is retreating in mass to the Mass form of the past. Change is coming and maybe some variety (Latin or no) but Novus Ordo is still strong on its 40th birthday.

Some called it Luther Lite -- the outward changes Luther sometimes spoke about (vernacular, posture facing the people, communion under both kinds, etc.) but it is a misnomer. Luther's concerns about the mass were not decorating concerns. His liturgical legacy continues to be discussed but his liturgical focus was theological more than ritual.

Yet we as Lutherans have also been highly impacted by Novus Ordo. Though Luther talked about the celebrant facing the people, it was not until Rome under took it with a venom (I use this word in particular due to the sting its architectural spirit inflicted upon once beautiful and Gothic forms). That was also the start of the now common practice of a table style altar. Look in vain among Lutherans for any real push to adopt Luther's suggestion prior to the Roman change.

The calendar reform was also pivotal for Lutherans and our congregations have now become thoroughly invested in the three year lectionary with its full expression of Old Testament, Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel readings. From this lectionary reform proceeded a springtime of new hymnody to connect the church's song with the pericopes (and hymnwriters such as Brian Wren, Timothy Dudley-Smith, Jaroslav Vajda, Herman Stuempfle, etc.) became well known through this renaissance in hymnody.

The vesture of the priest also changed. It went from very Latin forms through a rebellious phase of tie-dyed excesses now to a point when art and beauty are being rediscovered by those who sew the chasubles, stoles, and copes that vest the clergy. Lutherans also had a rebirth of interest in the church's vesture and chasubles are more common than surplices were when Vatican II began.

Most of all the liturgical renewal movement which was the foundation of the Novus Order also had its impact upon the Lutherans -- somethings good, some bad, but in balance it was a necessary impetus to rediscovering who we were liturgically. Though some point to the excess attention given the four fold action (Dix) or liturgy as the work of the people (without its initiative in the Divine Service), my library is filled with great books on the liturgy that would probably never have been written were it not for the liturgical movement. I started my collection with two little volumes from a Lutheran, Ernst Koenker, Worship in Word and Sacrament and The Liturgical Renaissance in the Roman Catholic Church.

I watched -- no, I participated -- in the introduction and use of the Worship Supplement, ILCW Series, LBW, LW, HS98, and LSB -- none of which would have been published (at least in the form they were) were it not for the liturgical movement and the Novus Ordo.

So this is one Lutheran who can say that Novus Order helped me, helped Lutherans, remember who we were on Sunday morning -- something we had forgotten for a long time. We had become too comfortable as Protestants and not comfortable enough with the evangelical catholic identity of our Confessions as lived out and practiced on Sunday morning.

So Happy Birthday, Novus Ordo! From a Lutheran...


Anonymous said...

Well, my experience in the RC for ten years didn't quite match up. For one thing, there are many Catholics that consider it a total abberration to have the Old Rite living alongside the Novus Ordo. It is a total reversal of what was taught at Trent.

Being back in the LCMS I am grateful that my pastor still faces the altar at the prayers. I am thrilled to sing the Nunc Dimittis and Gloria Patri, which one would never hear at a Novus Ordo Mass. Catholics who pray the Liturgy of the Hours will still encounter them (although in their awful ICEL forms) but that has hardly become universal in the RC. The Church of Rome has jettisoned much that Lutherans still hold dear.

By the time I left the RC I had come to the conclusion that the Mass since Vatican II is a curious combination of Reformed Christianity with a touch of Catholic tradition. If anything, I find Vatican II liturgy to be "Protestant" in a way that Lutherans who follow the historic liturgy are not.

I also see the damage that the influence of the Novus Ordo has done in the ELCA, which has slavishly copied the forms of the Vatican II liturgy while adopting more and more liberal social positions.

Very sad.


Unknown said...

Luther favored the priest facing the people? Ridiculous.

Your post just continues to beg the question as to why when Rome says jump, the Lutherans ask "how high?" ROme came up with the ahistorical practice of 3 year lectionaries (btw, people are not more biblically literate because of it and the one year lectionary was never intended to make people biblically literate in the first place!) and Lutherans adopted it.

Rome came up with the Gregorian calendar some 60 years after the REformation began and Lutherans adopted that too.

Rome came up with new vestments for priests and Lutherans adopted those.

Modern Lutheran identity seems to be mixed up with Catholic schizophrenia.

Anonymous said...

One other thought -- it is not the Latin language that is the main point of the Tridentine Rite -- priests can say the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin too.

The Tridentine and Vatican II Mass are two very different rites with two very different identities, which is why in restoring the Old Rite Rome is now offering two competing theologies.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Part of this is because Lutherans do not want to be separate from Rome - and if Rome comes up with a good idea (the Gregorian Calendar), we aren't fundamentally opposed to going along with it.

However, I do agree with you - the 1 year lectionary is far, far superior to the 3. Repetition is the mother of learning - I would rather folks have 55 lessons or so learned well then 175 that are vaguely familiar. . . .

Past Elder said...

At one time, I was a music theorist. Toward the end of those days -- looking for jobs that just aren't there was commonplace in academia long before in the economy generally -- I wrote programme notes for a Lutheran choral group directed by a now ELCA director (whose name you will find in the credits for LSB etc.)

This was some years before becoming Lutheran myself, and the director, knowing my RC background, gave me a copy of LBW to familiarise myself with Lutheran worship.

Not only was it of little help with note writing, but, since I was, shall we say, in between faiths as well as in between jobs at the time, I thought maybe this experience might open something for me, but on seeing the LBW, I thought if this is all the Lutherans have why bother, just go back to the post-conciliar novus ordo RCC for the real thing rather than a wannabe.

At one time I was a believing RC. I went to school at one of the hotbeds of "liturgical reform". The intimate connexion between liturgical reform and doctrinal reform, aka dissent in those days, was no secret to anybody. Liberal theologians bloody well knew that a heterodox professor may turn the hearts and minds of a few seminarians and grad students, but a break with the historic worship, including its lectionary and preaching tradition, makes the break for millions in the pews, allowing the liturgy to express the "diversity" in worship to express the "diversity" in doctrine.

The catastrophic results for the RCC are barely disguised by the RCC itself, and likewise the wannabes, ELCA eg, whose televised Sunday services could just as well be held in the RCC parish down the street I am "supposed" to belong to, except for the female "presiding minister".

None of which signals any sort of recovery for confessional Lutheranism from the disaster of Pietism whatever, but simply a form of contemporary worship that uses smells and bells rather than guitars and praise bands.

The novus ordo is precisely that, a new order, not a return to anything. It is an utter disaster, and when placed alongside any version of the historic liturgy, be it Rome's Tridentine Rite or our historic liturgy, as equal, a disgrace.

Vatican II For Lutherans.

Which, as long as we tolerate it, will only fuel why not Willow Creek for Lutherans too, etc.

Pastor Peters said...

Apparently I did not make the point of this clear -- I was not praising Novus Ordo or endorsing every change of Vatican II or the liturgical movement. What I thought I did say was that through this all was born a rediscovery of who we were as Lutheran Christians on Sunday morning (not more liturgical Methodists but the evangelical catholics of our Confessions. You may not like Novus Ordo or the 3 year lectionary, but there has been a flowering of great hymnody, a rediscovery and new comfort level with our Lutheran liturgical identity, a movement back to weekly Eucharist and liturgical preaching... None of this came in a vaccuum but in the wake of Rome's liturgical changes. Some good, some bad, but we learned a bit by observation, reaction, and recalling our own liturgical identity flowing from our Confession. That is all I said.

Pastor Peters said...


Check out Luthers Works, American Edition, Vol. 53, p. 69. In discussing the German Mass Luther advocated a free standing altar with the priest facing the people. It is a fact.

Past Elder said...

A new comfort level with our Lutheran liturgical identity? In what LCMS is this happening? Other than the blogs I frequent, it's pretty much a steady diet of getting beyond all this doctrine and liturgy and being ablaze to go "winning souls for Christ" without those barriers, and in the greater metro area where I live of a little over a million people, DSI or its LW previous incarnation is about the best you can hope for, pretty much the novus ordo of the parish I am "supposed" to belong to except you say Hi Pastor rather than Hi Father on the way out.

Pastor Peters said...

Again, my point... look at the library of books -- good books -- published as a fruit of the flowering of this time. As far as contemp worship is concerned this would have come no matter what because it is a thoroughly American phenomenon, born of our entrepreneur spirit to please the customer. It has made its was into the LCMS not because of Novus Ordo or anything else but because we have and have always had pastors and people who had no confidence in the Word and Sacrament and who always believed what Protestants were doing was better or more effective than Word and Sacrament.

I guess I am just too darn old because there was a time when those Pastors who talked about liturgy or who had a concern for worship were considered, well, not real men. Thank God these times have passed and the argument has shifted to the issues. Again, I was reflecting upon a nearly 40 experience and whether you like it or not there have been good things come of it and not all the bad can simply be traced to Novus Ordo.

Anonymous said...

You may not like Novus Ordo or the 3 year lectionary, but there has been a flowering of great hymnody, a rediscovery and new comfort level with our Lutheran liturgical identity, a movement back to weekly Eucharist and liturgical preaching... None of this came in a vaccuum but in the wake of Rome's liturgical changes.

Rome's "liturgical changes" have done anything but "flower" in the average Catholic parish. The Diocese of Cleveland to which I used to belong just released some statistics. In 1970, just after Vatican II, regular Mass attendance stood at about 50%. It is now down to 28%. The Catholic Church exists for the sacraments and since very few lay Catholics have much Biblical knowledge the church is now seen as a "community" that has the power to discern and define just exactly what it means to be the "church." Roman Catholicism since Vatican II threatens to become universalist with its new understanding that non-Christians can also be saved apart from Christ. That would have been utterly anathema to the RC prior to VII.

And the "flowering" in the LCMS? I guess I'd have an easier time believing that if the experience of worship at LCMS parishes didn't vary so widely. Liturgical parishes are far and few between.

There is also no getting around what happened in the ELCA after that body adopted many of the Novus Ordo forms. I was still a member in the ELCA at that time. Some of the most liturgical Christian churches are the most heterodox.


Anonymous said...

Also significant, to me, is how many LCMS parishes are moving the "traditional" service to the very early hours and making the later, and usually more well-attended, services "blended" or "contemporary."

Even this has a parallel in the RC. The "traditional" Sunday Mass is usually the first one of the day, attended by a much smaller crowd, while the banal Oregon Catholic Press Mass (which has now been augmented by Vineyard praise songs) is later in the day when families and children are in attendance.

Yup, we've all reaped the benefits of the Novus Ordo alright.


Pastor Peters said...

Well, again, my point was not about Novus Ordo, per se, but about how it and the liturgical movement in general triggered many things. So, let me say one more time... this was not about Novus Ordo but about the things that ended up being churned up in its wake... some bad, yes... but good also came through it by the hand of God... speaking here as a Lutheran who saw the renewed interest in and excitement about worship among the churches of the Augsburg Confession. And this is my last comment in an attempt to deal with the thrust of what I was saying...

I for one cannot blame contemporary worship upon Novus Ordor -- its history is rooted in American evangelicalism and an entrepreneurial spirit seeing the Christian as a consumer. Novus Ordo helped give birth to many things but contemporary worship is not one of them... Its source is elsewhere even though it has seemingly a universal embrace among all religious traditions (a friend who is an Orthodox priest says he gets requests for praise songs in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom!! That did not come from Novus Ordo.

Unknown said...

Fr. Peters,

I wasn't doubting that Luther said such a thing, I just believe that such an innovation does nothing except to abolish the call of the priesthood and make the pastor into a worship leader and makes the liturgy into a conversation between him and the congregation rather than the congregation with the priest speaking and praying directly to God.

Anonymous said...

The Western "liturgical renewal" that had its roots in the Benedictine tradition got derailed by liturgists such as Father Godfrey Diekmann at St. John's Abbey, Collegeville. Father Diekmann was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, a founding member of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, and strongly influenced post-conciliar reform of the Liturgy. He was also an ardent supporter of inclusive language in the liturgy and women's ordination. When the Seminex crisis hit the LCMS they were cheering the dissidents on at the Abbey.

Of course, even at the Council it was said that "the Rhine had flowed into the Tiber." German Benedictines were very influential in the liturgical movement.

I also agree with Chris, it is much more fruitful when pastor and people face the same direction in prayer.

Past Elder said...

Fr Godfrey? Fr Godfrey? OMG is it still 1968?

I am the German Benedictines! They did everything they could to erase what I had been taught by the RCC and reprogramme me according to the higher critical school and its liturgical action committee, the liturgical reform movement!

It was my singular misfortune to witness the construction of the novus ordo from the hands of its authors, not to mention the Kristallnacht which was its promulgation.

At any rate, I am not laying the "contemporary worship" movement up to the novus ordo; I am saying that once this new liturgy replaced the old, that the old was replaceable was no longer an issue but a demonstrated fact, and the argument is only over whether to replace it with the 1960s Roman liturgy and its wannabes and derivatives or something else.

Now, let me pull out my "Renew and Create" that Godfrey gave me after one of our conversations, in the hopes that I might aggiornamento my understanding of the regula a little!