Saturday, April 23, 2022

A process not an end. . .

Unlike Rome, Lutherans do not have some sort of papal authority to insist upon uniformity of worship forms and ceremonies.  While some view this as unfortunate, especially in the face of some rather egregious examples of what should not be allowed in a Lutheran service, Rome has not fared any better -- even with all the rules.  Indeed, historically speaking, the ability of anyone to enforce a liturgical rite and its particular words has depended upon the printing press and more modern forms of communication.  Prior to the advent of this technology, it would have been difficult and costly to make missals available every time somebody in Rome decided to make a change.  In this respect, Lutherans are not all that much different.  Yes, jurisdictions exercised authority over the form and ceremonies of the evangelical mass but this was post-printing press and with the force of secular authority behind the change or enforcing it.  Even so, Lutherans have never had a Tridentine Mass which existed pretty much unchanged for 400 years.  Even though some would like to make the Common Service such a form, it has neither the history nor the uniformity of the Extraordinary Form.  Instead, we have a 100 year period in which the Common Service became mostly uniform among Lutherans, at least those in the US.  Europe continued to have divisions within Lutheranism -- although most of them were between jurisdictions and not within them.  Some of them were profound -- such as the difference between the more liturgical and ceremonial Scandinavian traditions and the German ones.

Lutherans have a generalized consensus of the ordo or pattern and outline of the Divine Service but even within that unanimity there has always been a diversity of words and ceremonies.  That was aided and abetted by the advent of the photo copier and desk top publishing that made it possible not only to print a a local liturgy and hymnal every Sunday but to make that printed piece look good.  Now we live in a time when that whole process has been fostered and made easier by official programs that make what is in the official hymnal available in the format of the proverbial Chinese restaurant menu -- one from column A and two from column B, etc...  I know many who would decry this and suggest that for the Lutheran, saying the black and doing the red means sticking to the official hymnal as both minimum and maximum.  They are being somewhat disingenuous.  Hymnals were never ending points but were always starting points.  The goal of the hymnal was not to prevent additions of words and ceremonies of the past (that had already been proven orthodox).  Instead, it was to provide a minimal standard of what qualified as Lutheran in form and practice.

If God is with us, every succeeding edit and revision moves toward the recovery of the fuller ceremonial and liturgical identity rather than a uniform settling for what is on the page and no more.  As Pope Benedict XVI admitted, the reform of the liturgy does not mean that the previous form has been abrogated or replaced.  Now Pope Francis is not so sure about this and seems to violate B16s point.  It does reveal how the opposite is also true.  When the reforms are enacted too quickly or the movement of its evolution made at too fast a speed, it creates division rather than a focal point of unity.  Rome is only now beginning to realize this and Lutherans are still trying to figure out how they went from one Divine Service (and one half mass) to 6-10 or more settings of the Divine Service and variations within Divine Services (from the form the canon to the placement of the creed) to so many diverse and varied formats that make it hard to judge any as right by consensus.  Especially when the technology makes it possible to treat every service and every part of that service as potential fodder for a cut and paste mentality like we had never seen before.

I would suggest that this tension is created by two extremes.  On the one hand is the extreme of diversity in which the form itself is suspect -- at least more suspect than the whims and desires of the moment.  In these situations, the form has been put in the midst of a reform process that would see most of it thrust out the door as yesterday's garbage.  In this circumstance, orthodoxy seems not to apply and the presumption is that whatever is borrowed from evangelicalism or Protestantism in general is of equal weight and authority to what had been agreed by an official hymnal committee.  The other extreme is to presume that what did get printed is the end all be all of what the Divine Service is or should be.  This is both naive and foolish.  Hymnals and agendas, even the most orthodox ones, are by nature consensus projects.  Some of them fail to note the difference between what wannabe experts, printers, and authors have agreed upon and what they might borrow willingly from others outside their own Communion.

By all means should the hymnal be seen as a bare minimum.  This should end every challenge that begins with the presumption that what Lutherans have done is no more sacred than what any other Christian group has done.  We do not borrow from those who would challenge the basic premise of a Lutheran liturgical and sacramental communion.  But we might borrow back the things that were once ours but have since been cast to the side of the road.  There is no bare maximum and as long as such added ceremonies, rites, or words remain within the veil of orthodoxy and under the authority of tradition, they can and ought be added to the Divine Service again.  Just because some Lutheran congregation abandoned the chalice and served only individual cups does not mean that the chalice should not or could not be reintroduced as orthodox Lutheran practice.  Just because incense fell out of use does not mean it is alien or foreign to Lutheran practice -- only that it remains to be restored to its rightful place within a Church that loves and listens to Scripture.  The same goes for vestments, genuflection, bowing, crossing one's self, and a host of other things.  Adding that which does not violate the Gospel and reflects our own history is not something the people decide but is part of the pastor's stewardship of the good office into which he was ordained.

The good hymnal understands itself not as forbidding more or requiring less but setting basic levels of unanimity that give identity, purpose, and meaning to the Church's doctrine and practice.  The good hymnal understands itself as a fruit of a specific process with the end goal encouraging those outside the liturgical identity of the faith to come back home and teaches those minimal ceremonies that reflect a solid confessional identity.  That is what LSB (Lutheran Service Book) has done.  It brought us so far, into the same book (though on different pages), and to become comfortable again with our own identity and practices.  But it would be an overreach to justify going only so far as the book went and no further. 

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