Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The manner of our words. . .

I am sure that to the slow drawl of the South, my speech patterns are too fast.  I will admit that I, on the other hand, am sometimes frustrated by the time it takes for some folks to spit the words out.  Strangely, then, I find myself on the other side of things when it comes to the Divine Service.  It is shocking to me how fast some clergy can spit out the words of the liturgy, as if they were under a time constraint or would be rewarded if they came in first in the sprint to the finish.  As much as this happens among Lutherans -- and it does! -- it is more frequently the practice of Roman Catholic fathers who seem to be motivated by the seeming impatience of their children as they make the Mass take as little time as possible.  This is even more true of those priests who make available their priestly obligation of the daily masses through digital means -- here I am referring to the Latin Mass in particular.  It is as if the words did not matter except to repeat them as quickly as possible.

For Lutherans, the Eucharist is a word that acts; it is the visible Word -- not quite, as some would say, a a sermon dramatized but something that is not done but does.  The Eucharist is not offered to the Father while people happen to be there while this happens but is God descending to us, full of grace, truth, and glory, and bestowing His gifts to us through the means He has appointed.  Here is Christ, the crucified One, who delivers to us the fruits of His suffering, death, and resurrection.  Here is the Spirit, the breath of God, to plant faith where there is none and to strengthen faith where this is.  But for the Roman Catholic, the mass is an opus operatum; an action which by the powerful and indefectible promise of Christ is objectively (not merely subjectively and in the heart of the believer) effective and its direction is less to the pew than to the unseen Father on high.  The Lutheran does not seen the Eucharist as educational program or converting power (though it may certainly do these things).  Rather, ,the Eucharist is where God meets us in the means of grace He has appointed with the gifts He has won for us, freely given though they cost Christ everything.  The pace needs be deliberate and not hurried.  There is much here -- too much to be taken casually or to be rushed.  It is not for the same of understanding but for faithfulness that the Word is given its due in the Divine Service -- especially the words of Christ.  On the other hand, in the Roman Catholic mass, it is the priest's intrinsic purpose is to confect the Body and Blood of the Redeemer and to offer this in sacrifice for the sins of men. Rome might complaint that relevant liturgy is a misnomer and Lutherans would condemn it for very different reason but the contrast between Rome and Lutherans is hard to miss.

For Rome, the words of the Mass almost must be hurried as if neither God nor man can wait for the sacrifice to be offered.  That is what I encounter so often.  As a Lutheran, I do know well the words of the mass but seldom in a mass do I have a chance to respond to the liturgical dialog portions that are mine.  The priest has his foot on the gas pedal and speaks his part and mine before I can spit the words out.  For the Lutheran this is a problem but not for Rome whose priest is hurrying on as if impatient to get to the end. Quickly the words are said and quickly the thing moves to its climax for Rome.  The awful words , the words of sacrifice, are too great a thing to dilly dally with and must not be denied, even, seemingly, by the need to catch a breath.  For Rome it seems the mass pace must be fast to get there.  For the Lutheran, as the hymnwriter put it, too soon we rise, the vessels disappear...  

Lutherans, slow down.  Do not emulate Rome.  We are not in a rush to get there or impatient to leave.  I have noticed that former Roman Catholics often tell me that when they went to mass they would get through the liturgy and commune 800 people in half the time it takes for the Lutheran Divine Service at Grace.  Maybe so.  Maybe, it should be so.

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