Monday, September 12, 2011

Who is best equipped to change or adapt the liturgy?

There are many today, from within and outside the Church, who have put forth ideas about what ought to happen in the worship service.  Some of those voices have the attention of the Church and some do not.  But I ran across a quote from Dietrich von Hildebrand which is appropriate to the discussion.  The man who lives in the liturgy grows organically into that spirit.

It is von Hildebrand's contention that the discretio of the liturgy belongs to those who have been formed and shaped by it, who live within it deeply enough and long enough so that their spiritual life has grown organically into the liturgy.  It follows then that for whom the liturgy feels like an ill fitting garment, whose memory needs ever to be prompted by the appropriate response, for whom the church year is alien to their sense of time, and who seek to remove the liturgy as if it were a shackle or chain should not or cannot engage their discretion in adapting or changing the liturgy.

Although it expresses something I resonate toward, it is a statement which I feel is both well reasoned and implicitly spiritual.  Before you can change something, you must know it well, know it instinctively, so that it frames your thoughts and postures.  What would we think of people who knew nothing of an industry coming in and attempting to redefine a business?  Undoubtedly it has been done and mostly to ill effect.  Is it not the same when those who cast off the liturgy as bondage then sit in a position of authority over it, shaping it, changing it, discarding parts of it, adding to it, etc.?

Now I will be the first to admit that there have been those who are so content within the routine to cease thinking of the liturgy as a living form.  They repristinate something from the past which ends up being foreign to the present -- a rude intrusion into the today in which we live.  Certainly the best of liturgy is not this.  It is not the playing of a role or the reading of a script from an ancient text for its artistry or beauty.  No, authentic liturgy always understands that liturgy is alive with the grace and power of God at work within the twin poles of the Word and the Table.  We are not playing a part but receiving God's gift and responding in faith to that gift of grace.  I have been places where the liturgy was a part being played -- both in the most liturgical of settings and in the plainest form the book allows and both felt artificial and made God distant and inconsequential to what the people and the priest were doing.  I have also been places where the dynamic of the liturgy was present despite the poverty of its setting -- the words, actions, and grace of the liturgy were rich with God's presence and the people in rapt attention to what He was saying and giving to them.  I am not speaking here of a feeling or personal taste.  I think you know what I mean.

There are many people of the book who remain wooden and oblivious to the life of that book -- be it Scripture or the Scripture of the liturgy!  Yet this fact should not in and of itself lead us to abandon the book (Scripture or the liturgy).  Every day we get into a car and drive amidst danger to our destination -- all because people around us do not seem to know how to drive.  Yet we do not abandon our cars.  We learn to know them better so that we are better equipped to deal with those who do not know them and who drive as if they were oblivious to the obvious dangers.  Just because people are using the liturgy badly or using its as if it were a straightjacket does not advance the cause of those who want to abandon it entirely!

The best people to act with discretion in adapting, changing, or leading the Divine Service are those who live within that liturgy, whose faith is shaped by the means of grace the liturgy unfolds, and who know and live within its framework as people wearing their most comfortable old clothes.  This also precludes allowing the academics free reign since the liturgy is inherently a pastoral domain.

I close with more of von Hildebrand:  In the piety which is not determined by the Liturgy, the weight is easily shifted to that which is far less directly linked to God; it is shifted from the center to the periphery....The Liturgy teaches us to put everything in its right place in the realm of God...

Just a few thoughts....


Terry Maher said...

Once again, a Lutheran blog, but everything is Roman Catholic.

So, for you Lutherans out there, a little context. Von Hildebrand (1889 - 1977) grew up in a non religious family, said he was given the gift of faith in Christ at five, and was an adult convert to Catholicism. At U Munich he came under the influence of the phenomenologists Husserl and particularly Max Scheler. The latter was born to a Lutheran father and Orthodox Jewish mother, converted to Catholicism as a teen but later left it. A young Father Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, wrote his doctoral dissertation on basing Christian ethics on Scheler's philosophy. A young Father Jospeh Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, was an assistant pastor at von Hildebrand's parish in Munich (St Georg) and they were longtime friends. He was outspoken against the Nazis, who sentenced him to death, and he fled Germany then Austria then France, ending up at Fordham U, a US Jesuit institution.

He is something of an enigma hardly recognised outside Catholicism and not very often within it either. His phenomenology was quite in tune with Vatican II, at which both Wojtyla and Ratzinger participated, but he ended up quite critical of the results, particularly the novus ordo.

So if this thoroughly Roman Catholic figure, a major figure in C20 RC intrsmural developments, has something to offer Lutherans, it would be exactly this: we Lutherans, generally and LCMS particularly, have revised and adapted the novus ordo for our use, but von Hildebrand famously remarked that had the devils of The Swcrewtape Letters been given the job of ruining the liturgy the could not have done it better than the novus ordo.

Anonymous said...

Even an ass can speak the Word of the Lord and is worth paying attention to at some point. I do not see why Terry gets so riled up when a short quote from a non-Lutheran source is used as an occasion for a thoroughly Lutheran commentary on who should or should not be tinkering with Sunday am. Look past the author and listen to what the post says. Gesh!

Anonymous said...

Where all the Lutheran liturgical
scholars? Perhaps most of them
have gone to that BIG CHANCEL IN THE

What is needed in the 21st century
is a new generation of scholars who
can speak with clarity to the laity.
Liturgical renewal will only take
place when the laity are on board.

Terry Maher said...

That's the point -- the author has been looked past, and the post says things the author does not.

The author was speaking to a situation, and in a context, which is not ours. His points are ripped out of that context and applied where he did not and would not apply them.

With the further irony that in the author's lifetime, "liturgy" would be changed by precisely those authoritative persons he describes into something he abhorred, with yet further irony that what he abhorred has become mainstream in liturgical denominations other than his own, including ours, yet it is cited in defence of it!

Anonymous said...

Our piety is shaped by Holy Scripture
and not by snippets of the liturgy.
We need Holy Scripture and all 66
books as our means of grace.

Terry Maher said...

Judas, and here I thought Word and Sacrament were means of grace.

Why is everyone anonymous here? Chris may be full of crap as a Nativity of Our Lord goose about some things, but at least he signs his bloody name to his words.

Pastor Peters said...

Well I will sign my name... Terry, the truth of his words, while snipped from a larger context, was used to suggest that those who do not like the liturgy are not the ones who should be tinkering with it. In Missouri's case this means those who think contemporary worship is the cat's meow. In Rome this means those who used Vatican II to gut the mass and reshape Roman Catholic identity. Different contexts but the same truth. Those who live within it and love it are best equipped to adapt it -- not those who view it as something antiquated or a straight jacket to their free flowing style. That is all I said. Terry, you really need to cut a guy some slack every now and then. I think I made it clear that I do not post academic papers for theological review but the meandering thoughts of a Lutheran Pastor who reads a lot of stuff. It seems that every post I put up offends you in some way because your comments sound like you are disgusted with what you read. I do read your blog and do not recall if I have ever posted there but do not think so. I read, I think, I share. Some good thoughts. Some ordinary ones. Some that perhaps needed a little more ruminating before seeing the light of day. But such is the nature of this blog -- random meandering thoughts of a Lutheran Pastor.

Chris Jones said...

I think that was sort of a compliment, Terry. Thanks.

Terry Maher said...

Well Pastor, I am not at all offended or disgusted. It's frustrated, and for two reasons.

One, the case for the "Lutheran" church being a liturgical one is amply made in our Confessions and other documents, Walther for example, indeed our very existence as LCMS arose from confronting the "New Measures" advocated in Walther's day with the same measures in our day. That being the case, why all the snippets from Rome and the East instead?

Two, the snippets themselves are indeed from a larger context, and when that context is ignored, what the snippets mean changes. Wrt to DvH for example, he was not at all in an analogous situation with the LCMS "worship wars". Those who "gutted the Mass" were not at all people who didn't like the liturgy or live within it or love it. In fact, quite the opposite, liturgy was a passion for them, something that drew people into the very life of Christ, and sought changes and adaptations not to gut it at all but literally renew it, make it new again, more fully aligned with its ancient sources and Scripture.

Not at all a case of same truth different contexts, but it can appear so when the context from which the snippets are snipped is ignored.

As to posting in my blog, please do! There's just two rules -- no time limit, no DQ.

Pastor Peters said...

Quote: "liturgy was a passion for them, something that drew people into the very life of Christ, and sought changes and adaptations not to gut it at all but literally renew it, make it new again, more fully aligned with its ancient sources and Scripture."

This kind of stands out from your post and in opposition to your common complaints about novus ordo and it being a hijack of Vatican II and a betrayal of the Mass. You are pretty hard on those "reformers" and the end result. And you are even harder on anything that you perceive to have been Lutherans following their lead. You sounded rather kind in that sentence and it surprised me.

The DvH quote was from a footnote from a paper by a Lutheran and I will freely admit I did not read it in context. I am not sure that this means I totally misread him. I think he would agree with my point as I apply his wisdom to our own situation.

I am not sure that I would agree that they loved the liturgy -- at least they did not love what was there. In particular the translators were averse to the language of the Latin Mass and seemed to simplify to the point of absurdity (example the collects). I would say that they were in love with the idea of a pristine liturgy from the early church, simpler in form, and sought to head the liturgical reform of Rome in that direction.

I am not one who holds to a pristine form that must be reacquired and restored. I can find good in the liturgical renewal that you love to hate as well as in TLH and the common service others love to hate. I see them as well within the same family and lineage. I think that LSB reigned in the direction of liturgical exploration that was moving things toward an ELW style and it certainly slowed the pace of liturgical change -- but in a good way.

I will take into account your invitation to post on your blog...

Blessings, Pastor Peters+

Terry Maher said...

You're surprised? Hell, Godfrey's laughing his eternal butt off over it! The characterisation is not kind, just accurate. What I think of their results is entirely beside the present point, and whether those efforts gutted the Mass or renewed it is beside the point too. But I'll tell you this, they loved the liturgy and lived within liturgy no less than the most ardent traditionalist, nothing like the CoWo crowd, and the issue was not whether liturgy or not per se, but how to proceed liturgically, even the damn Bugman, Bugnini, the Hannibal Lector of the Liturgy.

Disagree as I might on nearly every point with them, the one thing they weren't was anti-liturgical. I am sure you did not misread the article.

Terry Maher said...

OK PP. Here's the deal. "I see them (then-current forms and new ones) as well within the same family and lineage." The thing is, DvH didn't, and when he speaks of "the liturgy" he means a specific thing as distinct from anything else even should it bear a "family resemblance".

The translators came later, the issue here is what they translate, not the translations. The framers of the novus ordo did not despise the ordo before per se, in fact, they embraced the stated intent of the Pius V Mass as their own. Which was, to reform the Mass from its present state to something that more fully embraces and reflects the Apostolic and Patristic sources of the Mass. An intent the Pius V Mass did not and could not have realised, due to the more limited sources and scholarship of the time as well as the furious distraction of Reformation controversies. The Paul VI Mass (novus ordo) is then (in this mindset, not mine) exactly the Mass the Pius V Mass (Tridentine Rite) meant to be, and as such is in fact the more truly traditional of the two.

DvH didn't buy it, in fact thought that for all the "family resemblance" of the novus ordo the devils in the Screwtape Letters could not have ruined the Mass more than the novus ordo. Which is why he was one of the founders of Una Voce, which sought to preserve the Pius V Mass though being Roman Catholic not to oppose the new Mass coming from a church council.

The mentality of the CoWo crowd was not even on his radar screen, and his comments were not upholding liturgy overall against such forces, which is the use the paper mentioned apparently found for it. He in no way maintained a "family resemblance" approach.

This sort of mistake happens time and again when Lutherans snip something from its RC context and apply it to their own, and that's why I come down on it -- not because it's "Catholic stuff" and we're Lutherans, but because the Catholic stuff re liturgy addresses a particularly RC problem and when taken from context to address our problems is almost invariably got wrong.

Terry Maher said...

Oh an yeah, Chris, it was a compliment. I think you're off base as hell on some things, but you make their case forcibly and well and stand by name on what you say. I respect that.