Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bad habits take longer to shed than good habits to learn...

You do not have to be a sage to know the wisdom of those words.  You need not be Christian, either.  In fact, ask any smoker who has given up tobacco.  It takes far longer and it requires greater effort to unlearn bad habits than it does to acquire good habits...  Bad habits built up over decades are as hard to break in liturgy as they are in any other facet of life.

Some Roman Catholics have awoken to the truth of this with the changes made to the Mass texts and the old, bad habits of some priests to ad lib, adapt, or simply fall into the old wording.  It is disconcerting to some who thought the changes would be rather quick and easy.  As Lutherans we could have told them better. 

We have had nearly 500 years experience at experimentation, adaptation, and ignoring of our liturgical texts -- a process only hastened and made even easier by the advent of desk top publishing.  Those like me who complain about the liturgical excesses of this departure from or refusal to use forms and texts consistent with those Confessions which have not been changed or altered (despite attempts) are not so much concerned about the pace of ditching old, bad liturgical habits and the embrace of new.  We are concerned that we recognize what constitutes bad habits inconsistent with our confession and that we actually attempt to give them up and strive to learn better liturgical habits.  Nota Bene:  This does not mean more ceremonial but the recognizable form of the liturgy (Western Mass heritage) and the faithful words believed and prayed over the ages.

I know from my own repentance that the old, bad habits of sin are so fully ingrained within me and I am so thoroughly accustomed to the justification and excuse of those sins and errors that the greater battle is simply to admit that I am a sinner in need of redemption.  It is only first, with this confession, that the Spirit can begin its second work to reclaim and renew my lost heart and teach me to delight in His will and walk in His ways.  Before I dare take any credit, even this confession, is the work of the Spirit -- the first work -- acting through the Word and the Sacraments.

This is why it is so important that when it comes to the liturgical chaos of our Lutheran mess that we confess our bad habits honestly, openly, and with the regret of a contrite heart.  Nothing good can come of rules that are meant to force us to be good.  And the good desires for authentic and faithful Lutheran liturgy cannot begin in us until we confess our liturgical sins and errors.  BTW, I am NOT speaking here of holding our hands wrongly or not wearing Eucharistic vestments or not chanting (or not chanting well)...  none of these things are the liturgical sins and errors for which we need repentance.  What I am speaking of is the way we have tampered with the liturgy or ditched it entirely so that the means of grace have been moved from the center and focus of the life of God's people on Sunday morning or have disappeared (replaced by an over achieving preacher or musical performances which mask and diminish the Word and Table of the Lord by competing for the spotlight).

Bad habits are broken only when we first admit that they are bad.  Good habits are learned only because we can distinguish the bad from the good.  This is not about musical style or the paucity or abundance of ceremonies.  This is about the means of grace, front, center, and without distraction or competition.  Once we get there we will have made real progress...

1 comment:

Christopher Gillespie said...

I suppose I should repent of adding a catechesis to our Lenten service of Compline. (tongue-in-cheek.)