Saturday, April 2, 2022

A pet peeve. . .

Our final year of catechism class, asks the catechumen to visit a non-Lutheran parish and report back on what the church looked like, what worship was like, what their view of Scripture was, how they got their pastors, how their church is governed, what was the same and what was different than our parish.  For my first two children, my wife dutifully took our kids to another congregation.  For the third, she had enough.  It was my turn.  We picked the local Roman Catholic congregation because it had a Saturday evening mass and would not interfere with my Sunday duties.  I thought it would be easy and presumed that since we knew the liturgy it would feel rather natural.  I was wrong.

Oh, I knew the words of the liturgy.  I understood what we going on.  But the pace of the liturgy literally took my breath away.  The priest was on speed of one kind or another.  There was no pause to allow the congregation to respond.  His voice continued.  He even said, "The Lord be with you and also with you."  He greeted himself and responded to the greeting -- all without breath or pause.  In the end all the words were the priests and none of them were the peoples'.  He took them away from the people and they were reduced to being spectators watching someone else do everything.

I am not a fool.  I have seen the same thing happen in Lutheran congregations.  If not the pace that is too quick to allow us time to open our months and respond, then the voice, the pulpit voice, that not only says the pastor's part but the peoples' part as well.  In such liturgies, there are no responses.  Only versicles.  That is not how it works.  That is not how any of this works.  There is a pastor's part.  There is a part for the people.  The people do not say the pastor's word AND the pastors should shut up and let the people have theirs.  We do not give the people their shot at speaking the words of the collect or absolving or speaking the Words of Institution or blessing us.  But neither do we give the pastors the right to assume all belongs to them.  The amen is not an incidental thing.  St. Paul reminds us that in 1 Corinthians 14:6.  Let the people have the amen.  And not only that, let them have every appointed part that belongs to them alone.

Now to be sure, the Gloria in Excelsis (or Worthy Is Christ) and the Sanctus belong to everyone.  As far as the Agnus Dei, it could be sung by all (though perhaps a good case could be made that the Agnus Dei and even the Nunc Dimittis or other post-communion canticle) belongs to the people alone).  Especially during the Agnus Dei and Nunc Dimittis the pastor just might be busy at the altar.  But everything else belongs to the people.  Let them have their voice.  Even if they must be prompted from time to time, let the pastor quiet down and drop out once they have begun.  They will get accustomed to the importance of their voices -- maybe they learned those voices were not important from pastors who tread all over their parts as well as his own!

And if you are a pastor who is thinking right now, but I am a part of the congregation also, why can't I speak both or sing both?  Let me stop you in your tracks.  You are not part of the congregation.  You are there in persona Christi.  Either represent Christ to the people or get back in the pews.  And if you are representing the congregation before Christ, then do so as the one who is appointed to speak on behalf of all.  The people will be silent while you plead for them the mercies of God in prayer.  But don't steal from them the amen by which they account these prayers as theirs.

This the exercise of the royal priesthood.  Not all the foolishness about everyone a minister or others having a right to their place in the spotlight of Sunday morning or voting on this or that.  No, the real exercise of the spiritual priesthood spoken about by St. Paul is the simple and yet very profound amen that affirms what is prayed and the rest of the liturgy whose parts belong to the people and not to the pastor.  From from being merely symbolic, I cannot think of a more meaningful role for the people of God that to give their amen to the prayers and praises spoken by the pastor.  Either that or we are back to private masses in which people are extraneous or merely spectators of things not meant for them.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

How many people in the congregation see their pastor as in persona Christi? The average evangelical church simply doesn’t think that way. Unfortunately, too many Lutherans don’t either. I remember Pastor Peters’ recounting of a Lutheran saying to him, “Who the h—- are you to forgive me my sins?” Granted, the people can complain about how a Pastor administrates, relates, or even eats. To complain about the way he (properly) conducts the Liturgy is putting oneself in a likely sinful position.