Saturday, April 14, 2012

What a restoration. . .

As someone who once considered himself an organist, I know of the ongoing dispute between restoration of historic organs and renovations or rebuilds that do not preserve the instrument but, effectively, create a new one, though not without its historic accents.  So many restorations have resulted in the loss of historic instruments that did not need much more than maintenance but whose chronic woes became the cause for a modernization of an ancient instrument or the transformation of one instrument into the style of another (often Romantic into Baroque).  Restoration is, apparently, a non-precise term. But then its vagueness is certainly not limited to the relatively narrow realm of organ building, either.

I was reading the other day, again, the intention of the Vatican II.  The first document issued by the Council Fathers was Sacrosanctum Concilium, the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (1963). It called on the Church to “undertake with great care a restoration of the liturgy,” so that the “intrinsic nature and purpose” of the Sacrifice of the Mass (suprise, this term is frequently employed in the document) “may be more clearly manifested” and, therefore, “produce its full effects.” 

So that is what happened when, six years later, Rome suddenly spoke only the vernacular, pulled the altar away from the wall, began singing inane little ditties instead of liturgical chant, and adopted texts less poetic and elegant than stark and blunt.  Hmmmm...  a restoration, you say.

“Competent territorial ecclesiastical authority” was left with the task of defining what "a restoration of the liturgy" might look like.  Well, it seems that there were so many complaints and so much confusion that in another six years (1975) the form the mass had to be redone one more time.  In particular, the texts of the ordinary were a continued problem and another six years created even more changes and updates.  The ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy) was part of the problem, if not the source.

Pope John Paul II, in a December 1993 ad limina visit by the bishops of the western U.S., expressed his displeasure at the mess . “One of your responsibilities,” he told them, “is to make available exact and appropriate translations of the official liturgical books…. The arduous task of translation must guard the full doctrinal integrity and, according to the genius of each language, the beauty of the original texts.” 

The ICEL 1998 missal was rejected and work began on the definitive, universal norms for the translation of biblical and liturgical texts into the vernacular in 2001.  This work would take a decade until finally in Advent 2011, its completion and acceptance resulted in the changes that so many complained about even before they were introduced. Now, roughly 50 years after the first words about a restoration of the liturgy were penned in the documents of Vatican II, the Roman Church finally undertook a “defining step toward authentic liturgical reform.”  

This gives a bit of perspective to the whole process in Rome that often gets labelled simply Vatican II liturgical renewal and explains how a reference to restoration became a total rebuild into something hardly recognizable with the source, the Latin Mass, and the actual process of restoration that has attempted to something closer to the goal of Vatican II without actually ditching five decades of history and practice and starting over.

So why am I, a Lutheran, saying this?  Well, think of it this way.  Our own liturgical chaos is, in part, due to the same kind of process and outcomes.  What began as a simple desire to make forth a hymnal common to all Lutherans (the Common Service had already achieved this liturgically) and to update the liturgy some since little had really changed in text since 1888 and in music since the early 20th century, ended up as a thorough remaking of the Divine Service for Lutherans.  Now, since 2006, we have had a hymnal which attempted to preserve the best of that liturgical renewal and exploration while preserving our historic identity -- in essence putting the brakes on the drift away from a Lutheran identity at the altar that was consistent with Lutheran confession in the book.  The ELCA has thoroughly drifted even further down the path of the ICEL but instead of rejecting its evolution like the Roman Church, ELCA accepted it, adopted it, and enshrined no less than 10 liturgical rites for the Divine Service -- all bearing familiar resemblance to the ILCW origins but moving the process further and further away from predecessor hymnals (TLH or SBH).

It seems to me that both Rome and Missouri found themselves in a similar circumstance.  Liturgical experimentation was threatening liturgical unity.  Liturgical lunacy was creating a fringe liturgical identity that would push the Church further and further away from its roots.  They could not go back to the beginning, so that did they best they could with what they had -- a fair restoration that was workable and responsible at the same time.  The only problem for Missouri is that we had no mechanism to enforce liturgical practice and we ended up losing a significant number of larger congregations to an evangelical identity on Sunday morning that would not be altered even by a great book at a great price.  So we have a church body in which 90% of our parishes own the book but perhaps a quarter of our people on Sunday morning experience a "liturgy" that bears little or no resemblance to that book and whose piety is hardly shaped by the means of grace of the Divine Service.

What we have to restore is not a liturgical form but a Lutheran identity.  That is why our battle is more uphill than Rome's work to undo a bad "restoration" with one that is authentic to the sources (ad fontes).  It will take a generation or two for Rome to get back to where Vatican II probably envisioned.  It will take us at least that long if not substantially longer to convince folks that being Lutheran on Sunday morning is a good thing, that Lutheran confessional identity has a liturgical form and identifiable practice, and that to be Lutheran is not simply an intellectual place but the very practical application of confessional faith to a particular Sunday morning practice.  Now we will always have diversity but as long as that diversity represents the various forms or page numbers of the hymnal, with ceremonial additions as are appropriate and theologically consistent or without much more ceremonial than the rubrics direct, we will at least know what it means to be Lutheran in the concrete setting of the Divine Service.  And, truth to be told, the Church will sigh with relief when that happens -- both those in the pews and those at the altar and in the pulpit.

What Rome sought in 1963 and what Lutheran needs in 2012 is, perhaps, described in the same way, although its actual result will certainly be different.  Tradition for tomorrow.

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