Thursday, September 20, 2018
The leap no one wanted to make. . .
The first issue is one of rupture. Nearly all liturgical change prior to the post-Vatican II reforms was incremental. It was a small step. Yes, things changed but the changes were not dramatic nor were they disruptive. Some were greater than others but on the whole history was rather kind to the folks in the pews and they saw a remarkable consistency - think of the changes of Trent lasting pretty much for 500 years. For Lutherans, this is no less true. The forms were consistent though the loss of our liturgical identity proved to be a greater issue than slow and deliberate evolution of the Divine Service. This was in part addressed even in our Lutheran Confessions -- a concern for liturgical changes that were not startling or disruptive to the faithful. Whether we like the changes of modern liturgical reform or not, there was a distinct rupture between the past and the future. This is never good and it is certainly a failure of the pastoral responsibility of those charged with such liturgical supervision. Yet we Lutherans followed the example of Rome and introduced radical liturgical change with the publishing of Lutheran Book of Worship. LBW has continued to influence the shape of this change though the LCMS tried to step back a piece with a doctored up version of what had been in use when it published Lutheran Worship in 1982. Lutheran Service Book took a much more nuanced view of liturgical change and the acceptance of this hymnal is testament to the benefits of a more pastoral and deliberate pace to reform.
The second issue is more difficult. That is the underlying premise behind much of the early liturgical movement. There was at one point in time a rather Polly Anna like view of liturgical change which believed that a pristine and primitive common source could be found and this source should be the primary influence over liturgical change. In reality the liturgical history of the West is much messier and less simple. There did not turn out to be an early source that was uncorrupted by elaboration or devoid of less catholic accretions. In the end, I suspect this is a good thing. The liturgy is not something which cannot change but is rather something so important that change must be slow, deliberate, gradual, and careful. We should not look for some perfect rite to be restored nor should we try to recreate a particular moment in time. Liturgical change is inevitable but the pace and extent of that change is certainly something the Church must exercise great care in managing. Even Lutherans must not view the 16th Century Church Orders as the zenith of Lutheran liturgical form or practice but neither dare we ignore them or their influence over our past and present.
The last issue has to do more with integrity. History and sources have sometimes been seen as a vast parts bin from which we may shape what we want. In other words, we have the technology, we can make it better than it was. Here, in particular, some attention should be given to cut and paste liturgical reform and its suggestion that all pieces will fit together if we want them to... The Church's rites have an integrity of form and content which is tested and even destroyed when we simply exchange parts and pieces without much concern for the uniformity of language, musical style, and liturgical form. It is clear that this was the view of the anaphora of the Novus Ordo and in deference to this bias vastly different Eucharistic Prayers were inserted into the form though they were so different as to represent a more significant change than was first presumed. Lutherans, often under the guise of adiaphora, have long been guilty of this locally (even though the forms officially published suffer less from this ill). Pastors pick and choose, replacing hymns for parts of the ordinary without respect to what they say and the role they have in the liturgy. Especially for festive occasions Lutherans often mix and match things with a nod to diversity but end up with something that is at best a hodge podge and at worst unintelligible. From forms to rubrics, we cut and paste until it becomes identifiable with nothing. I can think, for example, of Lutherans who have attached the Words of Institution to everything from Matins to Vespers to create a Divine Service (and a host of other things that are not worthy of mention) in an effort to create from the chaos a Divine Service. In the end it is like a meal where foods compete with each other. Just because you can does not mean you should.
So consider this a plea for deliberate and gradual liturgical change, for dealing not simply with the ideal but also the real, and for making sure that the Divine Service has integrity of structure and content. And if for no other reason, do this out of pastoral concern for the folks in the pews who put up with changes that do not help but actually hinder their faithfulness.