Friday, April 25, 2014
Shooting for historical accuracy. . .
Now let me translate the discussion into the realm of church architecture and liturgy. Some believe the past represents a pristine model and the goal of the present is to recreate that perfect moment in time when church architecture, church music, and the liturgy of the church were in their apex (perhaps the baroque era?). I am not one of those. Although I joke about no good music being composed after the 18th or 19th centuries, the truth is that not all that is contemporary or modern is terrible or inauthentic.
The goal of good church architecture is that it serves its purpose well -- that is, to serve the purpose of worship and provide for the assembly a space authentic to the liturgy, singing, choral, and instrumental music in support of the liturgy. Our goal ought not to be the recreation of another building (much as it pains me to say this when I am confronted with such poor church architecture all around me). We can do no worse than the past but it is not without trying to do better.
The music of the church need not isolate one era or one composer and seek simply to recreate that moment in time. Church music should do no worse than the best of the past but it can seek to do better. If this principle is used, what is modern will represent a clear continuity with the past while expressing in fresh ways the church's song, choral music, and service music.
The same goes with the liturgy. Our goal is not to pick a time when we think the liturgy was most pure and its use most faithful and then recreate that moment. Our goal is to live in continuity with our past while adding to the liturgy the best we can offer, an organic development and not one of radical disconnect with the legacy of the saints. Liturgy is meant to evolve slowly and this is a good thing. The Lutheran reformers were slow to integrate obvious changes and not because they feared leaving behind the lay people or desired to deceive folks about their true agenda. Their concern was not only pastoral but catholic. The catholic principle requires that who we are be consistent from age to age and Sunday morning is no place for spontaneity. That said, neither is Sunday morning the place where we disdain anything new or different simply because it is new or different. We Lutherans have particularly shown that modern composers and performers can bring to the moment something thoroughly in tune with our history while thoroughly faithful to our gifts for today. Think of folks like Carl Schalk when I say this. I could add a few dozen names here but for now think of how Carl Schalk has done a superb job of marrying our past to the contemporary moment and provided the church good hymn tunes, great anthems, and good liturgical music.
We do not shoot for historical accuracy and the recreation of a past moment. We receive the living heritage of the past and add to it the best of the present and thus the living tradition of the Church's life of faith and worship expands. If it is worthy, it will endure. If it is not, the Church will cast it aside. I have confidence in the endurance of the catholic tradition without feeling the need to recreate a specific moment in time. The greatest damage done to the Church and the faith is often by those whose seemingly good intention is to find such a moment and break with the received tradition in order to encapsulate that moment rubrically and liturgically. The liturgical innovation following Vatican II is one such example of the danger of discontinuity but, strangely enough, it was foisted upon the faithful in the name of something more authentic to the early church. Even more strange is the way Lutheran liturgical innovation has mirrored the post-Vatican II Roman cue. Slow, plodding, and deliberate liturgical change is always the most faithful, the best for the kingdom, and the most enduring. The Church should not be captive to pendulum swings of piety.