Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lets Get This Over With As Quickly As Possible...

Those who know me know that we do little to shorten the length of the Divine Service.  It routinely lasts about 70-80 minutes.  I have often joked that one of the easiest ways to get reluctant Lutherans to move to a weekly Eucharist is to make sure the non-eucharistic services last as long as the Divine Service does.  When time no longer becomes the issue, it is amazing how receptive people can be to this change  restoration.

Sadly the king of quickness in the liturgy is the typical Roman priest and parish.  Perhaps it is the shortage of priests, the limited number of hours on Sunday morning, and the vast number of Roman Catholics communing that make the Mass into a race to see how quickly we can get to its end.  I have personally been present during several attempts to break the land speed record in a Roman parish.  I watched as the Mass was said and nearly 1,000 people communed in less than 60 minutes.  Of course, music was almost non-existent, the homily was but a few minutes, and there were, literally, no breaths taken during the speaking parts.  All in all the folks in the pews seemed happy to out so soon.

Lutherans are not immune from such pressures.  I have been in Lutheran parishes in which the ordinary of the Divine service was chopped up for the sake of time so that the Liturgy of the Word was basically the collect and the lessons and the Liturgy of the Eucharist was the preface, verba, and distribution.  It was as if the last words were not "Go in peace" but "Get outta here already!"  Of course the sermon was shorted much more judiciously than the liturgy (Pastor's gotta get that last word in...).

In contrast to this stands the Orthodox Church with its seemingly timeless (meaning unconcerned about time) Liturgy.  In peace let us pray to the Lord... and again... and again and again... and again and again and again... If the attendant music is used, the whole service can easily last two hours.  Couple that with few pews and you have a completely different ambiance than in the Western churches.

Surprisingly, the one place where the rush to the door slows down a bit is in contemporary worship.  In place of liturgy and hymns, the time is filled with much longer sermons, some video, lots and lots of performance music, and lots and lots of contemporary Christian music.  In many places with a lot of standing (and, well, dancing, and stuff).  The praise band can keep a chorus going seemingly ad nauseum and it seems no one begrudges an additional riff from the bass or lead guitar.  In many places you can find contemporary worship services that last 70-90 minutes -- even without Holy Communion!

Why is it that the Orthodox and contemporary worship types seem to be so oblivious to the passage of time and the rest of us, dry old Presbyterians, mainline Methodists, Bible belt Baptists, and even lots of lackadaisical Lutherans are so time conscious?  It is as if we enter the House of the Lord with the idea that something distasteful but necessary is going to happen so lets get it over with as quickly as possible.  The way I view going to the dentist or another my view getting a colonoscopy or another might view heading to the Principal's Office...

I would plead with Pastors not to let time constraints lead to the butchering of the liturgy, the absence of the ordinary, or the justification for non-communion Sundays.  I would plead with the people in the pew to leave their watches (and cell phones) at home or turned off.  I would plead against having a clock prominently displayed in the Nave (I recall that in St. Peter's, Arlington Heights, IL, the pulpit which is shaped like the prow of a ship has a ship's clock staring the Pastor in the face through the entire sermon).

Heading God's bidding, gathering in His name, receiving His gifts, and returning to Him the thanks and praise He is due... these are not the things of duty to be measured in increments of minutes but the joyful privilege of those whom God has chosen to call His own and among whom He is present in His Word and Sacraments... Let us give God His due and relieve the Church of the constraint of the clock... The liturgy should proceed at a leisurely pace, the structure of the Mass respected, the hymns sung (all stanzas), and at the end, when the people are dismissed (Ite messe est), let their Deo gratias be the regretful tone of those for whom too soon we rise, the vessels disappear, the feast, though not the love, is past and gone, the bread and wine remove, but Thou art here..


Anonymous said...

Pastor, pastor, pastor ... do you live in my head or what? He's quit doing it now, but when our pastor first arrived, the wife and I started counting how many times he checked his watch during service ... Now, he's got it down to just under an hour without communion and just over with!! Amazing! I remember as a child having to sit through an hour and 15 minute services without communion and if we had communion, well, forget getting home in time for the kickoff!! lol ... Now, I wish for those days again as I have learned we don't go to church on our time ... it's on God's time!! Is there a cure?

Anonymous said...

I think there is someting to the fact that your service lasts 70 to 80 minutes... mine 65 to 80 minutes... not knowing how long it will last. If you get people used to under an hour or even always an hour fifteen or an hour and a half, time gets reinforced as an ingredient in the meal. We go as long as we need. Plan to leave somewhere under an hour and a half but who knows ... Harvey Mozolak

Angela said...

I seriously contemplated converting to Eastern Orthodoxy bcause of the ambience,lenght,holiness and an absolute sense of "heaven on earth" experience ever time I attended on Sunday.

My husband chose the Lutheran way and as a good and dutiful wife I submitted!

We are blessed to attend a church(Lutheran) that is not hung up about time etc.The only issue I have with the service is this:When it is distribution time at the alter,I have a feeling of being rushed.Ideally,I would like to reflect and pray at the alter for 5 or so minutes and to take it all in and to be blessed in the presence of God.Once I knelt there for 5 minutes and when I got up to leave I turned around and I could not believe the distaste I witnessed on people who where lining up behind me.I went back to my seat and wept.

Laura said...

To your list you could add "efficient Episcopalians," perhaps. We just got a clock for the back wall, a "present" from someone who regularly complains the services are too long.