Wednesday, August 26, 2020


Although I will admit that in the beginning I was enamored of the options presented by the fruits of the ILCW work, the ever present or has outstayed its welcome.  Now, as I look back, the choices were most beneficial to students of the liturgy who understood why one Hymn of Praise might be used one time and the other Hymn of Praise at another time.  Likewise the choices for Offertory and Post-Communion canticle, among other things.  I am not sure that much of the rationale for the choices is known to the people in the pew any more than I am confident anyone notices or can explain the omission of the Hymn of Praise during Advent and Lent.  Options work best when the people using them (note I did not say choosing them) understand the significance of the choice.

It occurs to me that most options in the past, except for the omission of the Gloria in Excelsis, for example, were tied to the pericopes.  The ordinary seemed less ordinary when the pericopes included such things as the Offertory and the Post-Communion Collect.  When Lutherans made the Post Communion collect less seasonal and more ordinary, a few things suffered in retrospect.  First of all, it was left to the pastors to choose and those choosing had likely no driving criteria than personal preference and brevity.  In fact, I was told long ago by one such pastor that his choice of options was driven by the length of the readings -- not by their content.  Second, the pastor often did not choose at all but simply used the first choice on the page.  So when more options presented the pastor with more choices, often the choice was made without rhyme or reason but simply on the basis of personal taste or brevity or placement on the page.

While the initial result of more options meant that each congregation had a more local approach to the choices for the liturgy, it also heralded the day when choices were made that were not exactly included among the options presented to the planner.  So any hymn may suffice as a worthy choice to replace any of the parts of the ordinary or something other than a hymn.  In one parish bulletin I saw that the Hymn of Praise for the Day of Pentecost was a soloist singing "On the Wings of a Snow, White Dove."  I did not even know Ferlin Husky was Lutheran!  In the end, it was no longer about options within the liturgy but the liturgy itself became optional.  Every pastor did what was right in his own eyes and you know the rest of that story (among Lutherans, anyway, but not exclusively!).

It is not that I do not avail myself of the options available.  I do.  I do it judiciously and do not change it up week after week.  Set forms have value in and of themselves both for comfort and instruction.  Repetition is somehow worse when it happens on Sunday morning than when it happens elsewhere.  Surely no one wants to order a Big Mac and find a Filet'o'Fish hiding under the bun!  Consistency means we know what to expect.  When optionitis takes over, nobody knows what is coming.  While that might work well for a theme park with its thrill rides, it defeats the purpose of the Divine Service and robs the liturgy of part of its gift -- regularlity!

In an effort to control the spread of optionitis the rubrics serve as a sort of fence on the spontaneous creativity of the liturgical planner.  That is, if the planner knows and pays attention to the rubrics.  (Read my post on Rubrics and the Red Thread.)  The genie is out of the bottle and it is impossible not only to rein in the option hungry spirit and make new every Sunday what was valued most for its consistency, it is impossible to restrain the creative spirit from borrowing anything from anyone -- until no one really knows what a Lutheran church looks like on Sunday morning.

Just a rant for me to begin my day.  God bless you and for God's sake put the brakes on change for the sake of change!

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