Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Common Service. . .
One of the great myths of the Common Service is that this represents pure Lutheranism and everything else is born of our slavish copying of things Roman (Divine Service Settings1 & 2 cut and pasted from the Novus Ordo and the liturgical renewal movement). As with all myths, there are truths hidden in those myths but the falsehood tends in the exaggeration. The new forms of the Divine Service which owe themselves to ILCW and LBW, then LW, and now LSB are not copies of the Roman Mass in English in the early 1970s and the old form of the Common Service is not pure Lutheranism at its best.
The recovery of the Common Service (1888) among Lutherans represents a benchmark of Lutheran unity when it comes to what happens on Sunday morning. Though LBW was created in the cause of Lutheran unity, the most uniform expression of worship among Lutherans owed more to the Common Service in the various forms of Service Book and Hymnal and TLH than to LBW and its successors in the ELCA and Missouri since. But it was, after all, a COMMON Service for which Lutherans had no common or ordinary form prior to this. Yes, the ordo was in common but even there were deviations among the Reformation Church Orders of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Lutheranism NEVER spoke with one voice when it came to the Divine Service and judicatories gave their imprimatur to various forms in Germany and Scandinavia. The Common Service is common because prior to its formation, Lutheran liturgical practice was in nearly complete disarray among English speaking Lutherans in the USA and even among many still holding to their ethnic linguistic and cultural identities. It was common here but not necessarily among the Norwegians, Swedes, or Germans across the ocean.
I fear that some among us forget this. I also fear that our liturgical mess today makes us pine even more for a Common Service that would rescue us from the chaotic nature of what you might expect in a Lutheran congregation on Sunday morning. I understand this and part of me wishes we could recover or simply agree on another Common Service to fix our diversity gone awry. The other part of me bristles at those who would insist that the only purely Lutheran form is the Common Service, specially that form embodied in TLH on page 15.
The Common Service was borrowed in part from the Book of Common Prayer tradition (and we could have easily have chosen a much less noble and eloquent aid to transforming Lutheran worship forms into the English language) but there is an Anglicized character to the Common Service and its pericopes which we care not deny or ignore. Again, I well understand. Translation of liturgical texts into English by those for whom English was not preferred was a difficult task aided by the ready presence of texts already rendered in King James English and with a hint of Lutheran past (Cranmer) in them.
The myth is that the Common Service employed in TLH is the purest form of Lutheran liturgy. Lutherans have no pure standard by which to measure or gauge this purity. Each form Lutherans have used must be examined and judged on its own terms. Certainly, it is a familial identity which all the Reformation Church Orders share but not the rigid uniformity of Rome or the goal of some Lutherans today. The truth is that it did represent a benchmark of Lutheran identity and a pure form to replace the chaos and confusion the reigned over the Lutheran landscape prior to this. But to those who want to say page 15 only, I beg to differ.
The goal of liturgical uniformity will be lost for sure if we raise up the Common Service as the one and only standard of Lutheran liturgy. What we need is both more difficult and yet more possible -- that is a Lutheran identity which recognizes the various traditions inherent to our Lutheran history and seeks to live within that stream instead of branching off on its own by adopting liturgical forms alien to our Lutheran Confessional identity or disavowing any liturgical form in pursuit of a spiritualized worship that is ultimately captive to feeling and our own desire to be center stage.