Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The creedal function of the liturgy. . .

The ordinary, those rather unchangeable parts of the Divine Service, are not simply texts but intricately connected parts of a whole -- a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  That said, it is thoroughly possible to look at, discuss, and consider each part individually as long as we do not isolate the parts as if they were spots to be filled instead of texts brought together over time to honor the Lord and confess the faith.  Yes, that last part is vitally important.  If you want to know what it is that we believe, you need not limit yourself to the creed.  Look at the liturgy.

In particular, the Gloria in Excelsis is a profound text.  Who wrote it or from whence it comes we are not quite sure.  It must have been around already in the late second or early third century because by the end of the fourth century it is literally everywhere.  It is a text with an economy of words that speaks, or should I say sings, an eloquent and orthodox confession that, even without the creed, anchors the Church and the faithful in doctrine of the Trinity and in Biblical Christology.

As I grew up singing:
Glory be to God on high: and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee,
we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee, for Thy great glory.
O Lord God, heav’nly King, God the Father Almighty.
O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sin of the world, receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.
For Thou only art [the] holy [One]; Thou only art the Lord.
Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost,
art [the] most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

However, there are definite defects in this text which have been corrected in Divine Service One and Two.  In the third last line, the definite article is missing the holy and to make it more sensible in English One.  Then in the last line should be added the simple word the.  Though the Latin does not have the article (or any articles, per se) the correct rendering of this line in English requires the article.  Christ is not simply holy but the Holy One and He is not simply most high but The Most High God.  Modern liturgical leadership has corrected what is missing here only to take something away (but I will get to that).

There is also one line that has been vastly misunderstood.  The goodwill toward men is not conditioned as some have it to men of goodwill nor does it describe anything that we have done.  The peace and goodwill are not sentiment but flesh and blood in the person of Jesus Christ -- the full manifestation of the Father's goodwill and gift of peace.  The angel host proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  This peace and good will are not a cessation of violence among the nations or a setting aside of personal animosities but God forging peace with the gift of His Son and the good will is from God to His people -- the love that has accomplished salvation for us through the forgiveness of our sins and the victory over death and the grave. 

The text reminds us of the liturgical use of Scripture which is not incidental but essential.  As the sainted Martin Franzmann wrote theology must sing.  Doctrine does not exist as philosophical statements to which the assent of the mind is required but reveals for the purpose of inviting faith that sings, prays, and gives thanks.  Surely that is evident in the Gloria with its beginning rooted in the Incarnation and the quaint details of St. Luke that prove to be the very cross hairs of the central message of God's revelation.  The Son of God brings to man the face of God and the heart of God and apart from Him we know only vague and cloudy estimates of who God is and what He has done.

These are words that an Arian or Unitarian or modalist cannot sing.  It is the shibboleth by which even those who try to look orthodox are tested.  Of course, it is possible to sing without thinking, understanding, or agreeing with the words but even then the words remain as anchors of orthodoxy for the present and the future.  These are words the unfold from the Manger the full epiphany of God and place our voices in response with praise, blessing, worship, glory, and thanksgiving for the gift of the Father in His Son and the Holy Spirit who makes Him known.  Indeed, this is the ancient text that has, unfortunately, been rendered merely an option for a particular point in the liturgy by modern liturgical guidance and practice and deprived of its primary place as faith confessed. 

The Hymn of Praise is not a placeholder for whatever text or tune you wish to put there.  The Gloria is the Hymn of Praise.  I love This is the Feast and delight in how the ancient Dignus est Agnus has been restored to use after being relegated to the forgotten pages of previous hymnals.  What I cannot countenance is how this has become for so many the preferred Hymn of Praise.  Or how some have reasoned that this is what you sing when you celebrate the full Divine Service and the Gloria becomes the also ran for the half mass or dry mass without the actual Sacrament.  The people need to know this and learn to love it as the first and primary creed of the Divine Service.  It is where the faith is placed upon our lips as song of praise to God but as creedal confession before the world.  If This is the Feast replaces the Gloria it must be only for the shortest of term, perhaps in the time of Easter, but not regularly.  The Gloria  remains the primary canticle of the Church's liturgy.

1 comment:

Andrew L. said...

Isn't the definite article implied by the use of "only"? If Christ alone (only) is holy, then there are no others who are holy, so He is the holy One by implication.