Tuesday, October 1, 2013

WWLD -- What Would Luther Do?

by Daniel Reuning
from his Lutheran Worship Prospectus Appendix

If it were possible for us to bridge the gaps of time and space and to join the congregation in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Wittenberg, Luther’s beloved Stadtkirche, during a celebration of the Holy Communion in which the Reformer himself was officiating, we should find much that would appear strange to our unaccustomed eyes. The Order of Service would be familiar enough to those that are acquainted with the Form for the Celebration of Holy Communion as it appears in our Hymnbook, for the Order which Luther created for the parish church of his city varies only inconsiderably from the Common Service that our Church has.

But the strangest thing of all would be the dress of the officiating clergy. The dark, drab, gloomy black gown would be replaced by vestments of snowy white or striking color. If we had been present in the sacristy of the church before The Service we should have seen Luther, dressed in a black Cassock, put on first a large square of white linen called the Amice, and bind it in place as a sort of collar; next he would have donned a full white robe, known as the Alb (that is, the “white” garment), the folds of which he would have held in place with a long linen Cincture. Upon his left arm, just above the wrist, he would have hung a narrow band called the Maniple, in the proper color of the day, and about his neck he would have laid the Stole, a long band about as wide as the Maniple, likewise in the color of the day, then crossed it on his breast and fixed its ends in place with the tips of the Cincture. Lastly, he would have put on the beautiful and enveloping Chasuble of white or colored silk, and then he would have gone into the sanctuary to begin The Service. These details we have taken from his own statements as to the customary way in which he celebrated the Holy Communion in Church, and from other contemporary descriptions.

And so with minor variations The Service was conducted in the Lutheran Church of Germany for two hundred and in some cases more years. A Church Order for Kassel prescribes the same sort of vestments as late as 1853! In Sweden, where the Reformation was carried out most fully in harmony with the intention and desire of the Reformer, they are still in use, and the clergy of Denmark and Norway have retained most of them. There were exceptions, of course; prison chaplains, for instance, were, as a general thing, forbidden to wear anything more than a black Talar with white bands, nor were they allowed to have candles lit upon the Altar.

Unfortunately for the beauty of The Service, however, the eighteenth century saw a widespread abolition of all these devotional and edifying ceremonies. Protest-minded princes, intent on enforcing the practices of the Calvinistic and Zwinglian Reformed Churches upon the Lutheran Church of Germany, ruthlessly reduced the ceremonial level to a point even below that of the prison chapels. The Order of Service was mutilated, the privilege of singing the service was abrogated, the Altar was deserted for a little table set below the Pulpit, and the Blessed Sacrament restricted to three, four, at most a dozen, days in the year. And so things remained.

But recently a change for the better has appeared. In the Missouri Synod, particularly, growing numbers of the clergy and the laity have realized that if we return, as we have done, to the sixteenth century for our standards of doctrine, it is inconsistent not to do the same for standards of practice and ceremonial. And so, throughout our Synod, one parish after another is reintroducing some feature that the Church had ignobly forgotten. Some have restored the ancient choir vestments, black Cassocks and white Cottas; choirs are singing the historic music of the Church, Gregorian Plainsong.

In the matter of vestments the consensus is that the first step is the reintroduction of the Surplice (a somewhat abbreviated Alb) and the Stole, as symbols respectively of the white robe of righteousness and the yoke of Christ, worn over the conventional black Cassock. Thus also two of the essential aesthetic values of the vestments are restored, the appealing white with its wealth of symbolic significance, and the element of colorful variation in the sequence of colors prescribed for the Stole by the course of the Church Year. The superiority of this combination for comfort and for reduced cost is also an element worthy of consideration. It is an interesting, but generally unknown, fact that there were still parishes in Thuringia and even liturgically-impoverished W├╝rttemberg, as well as in Saxony, Brunswick, Nuremberg, and Brandenburg, where this mode of vesting had been retained from the days of the Reformation, and a number of the immigrant parishes in Texas affiliated with the Missouri Synod had brought it with them from Germany. Today it is a significant commentary upon the appeal of these vestments that there is not a single instance on record where they have been abolished after being restored.

HT to Christopher Gillespie at Outer Rim Territories

1 comment:

Dr.D said...

Sounds almost exactly like the way I will vest tomorrow morning when I celebrate the Mass for our parish. I will not use the amice (I don't own any), but otherwise, it will all be there.

All of this is pretty routine within Anglicanism. I'm glad to see Lutherans rediscovering it.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest