Sunday, August 7, 2022

The problem of diversity in worship. . .

Curiously, diversity in worship practices seems to become an issue only when it involves the use of ancient practices no longer currently in common use.  Curious because there seems to be no real effort to restrain worship practices which depart from official forms by omitting them in part or in whole but there is a different approach to those who restore what was once the Church's forms and practices but have fallen in disuse.  This appears to be something in common with Rome and Missouri.

Pope Francis insists that diversity in worship -- at least the diversity of the Latin Mass along with the Novus Ordo is something not to be tolerated.  It is quite clear that it has been his personal goal to prevent any increase in the usage of the older form and, indeed, to decrease its offering where it has been permitted.  Apparently the company of bishops seems to agree since the vast majority have fallen in step to withdraw permissions once granted for the Latin Mass to be used and to prevent new permissions from being granted.  It is not a secret.  The Pope has made many headlines in undoing what Benedict XVI offered and insisting that there cannot be two rites or two forms of the rite (something historically untrue).

At the same time, the Pope has endorsed both bishops and, in some cases, priests, who have departed from the words of the Novus Ordo and transformed the character of that mass into something radically different from what Paul VI might have imagined.  The reverence that once characterized every mass has been replaced by a folksy casual atmosphere in which God is an old friend and the Church a comfortable family room.  One need only look over the internet to find egregious examples of the violation of both the form and the rubrics of the Novus Ordo -- not only permitted but celebrated as the natural evolution of what was supposedly begun in Vatican II.  This has been accompanied by the various social issues and causes that would allow two gay dads to speak at a Father's Day mass -- with the approval of the priest, the cardinal archbishop, and, it would seem, the Pope himself.  So the mass has become a stepping stone for the introduction of many and various changes of the once clear and immovable moral conscience of the Church.

Missouri is nothing like Rome.  We have no pope and some would insist we have no bishops (at least in name but we certainly do in responsibility!).  We have, it would seem, no real mechanism at all to insist upon or require or even counsel a pastor and his parish to follow the published ordo of our Synod or even to use doctrinally pure agendas, hymnals, and liturgies -- even though this would seem to be one of the reasons for organizing the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in the first place.  What we do have, of course, are District Presidents and organized or not so organized groups advocating for this or that.

District Presidents seem on the whole unable or unwilling to address the diversity of worship practices among those who have abandoned the hymnal or the Divine Service or omit enough of it so that it is hardly recognizable anymore.  It has become the accepted norm that if you want, you can depart from our historic practice with impunity.  This even was true of those who decided that Jesus could be remotely tuned in with online or some other form of communion practice in our pandemic (though not the first time this showed up).  It is normal in our church body to tolerate and even laud those who experiment in worship by moving away from the hymnal, the liturgy, and our historic practice and to condemn as unacceptable deviation those who restore the ceremonies of our past.

The same District Presidents have much to say about genuflecting at the creed or consecration, chanting, Eucharistic vestments, sanctus bells, incense, and all sorts of other things -- historic but not ordinary today.  They would, if they could, prevent them and eradicate them and many have made no secret of their desire to replace the pastors who do them with pastors who will not.  In the middle of everything, the parishes sometimes can seem like pawns in the worship wars of Missouri.  Look at the comments on this blog anytime I mention some of those things!  The vehemence of many of the comments is reserved more for those who restore than for those who omit from the Divine Service and what does that say about us?

Organized groups in Synod both promote and condemn liturgical practice.  They are all over the place.  Some insist that the return to the golden era of The Lutheran Hymnal and page 15 is the best hope for Missouri.  Others insist that every hymnal has outlived its usefulness and replace books with screens and the liturgy with invented forms more culture friendly.  I will admit that I am an odd duck.  I do not disdain some of the fruits of the liturgical movement even as I readily use the form that I grew up with in that old blue book.  I find myself out of step with many of the groups because we use the form in the hymnal, with restored ceremonies and practices of our past, faithfully, reverently, and confidently -- knowing that here God is among us doing what He has promised.  We do not choose between liturgy or preaching but put them together in the seamless fabric of lection, liturgy, and life with God.

Incidentally, I would suggest that those who would charge that pastors restoring such practices want the limelight or love the spotlight on them are more invisible in the ceremonies of old than the pastors who have eschewed the liturgy for an entertainment and variety hour or those who follow the form in the book but who constantly ad lib (We make our beginning in the name of...) or who give directions like a liturgical GPS as if our people were stupid and could not read.

Below is a Roman Catholic example of the diversity allowed -- perhaps not even as diverse as is the Sunday practice of the LCMS, among other Lutherans, on Sunday morning.


Archimandrite Gregory said...

Wow amazing standing room only with lots of the young attending. The francis church is dead on arrival.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the strong feelings come across because the Mass ceremonies were largely preserved because that’s what everyone was used to, to maintain order, and to avoid offending the weak. No one is used to incense, bells, or genuflection anymore. So the opposite is now the case. Philipp’s argument in the Augsburg Confession that the Mass was preserved except for German hymns, abolition of Masses for sale, private Masses, and the view of the Mass as a work for the forgiveness of sins, the communion of all for comfort and stirring up faith and devotion, etc. was to prove that the Evangelicals should be tolerated rather than treated as heretics. That argument failed.

When contemporary Confessionals argue for a return to medieval ceremonies, their argument is usually along the lines of “this is what the original Lutherans did,” or “Lutherans never meant to leave the Roman Catholic Church.” The problem with these arguments is that Lutherans did change quite a bit even in the early days of the Reformation. And the visible Evangelical Lutheran Church is not bound to feign a reconciliation through ceremonial appearances with Rome; in fact, Chemnitz declares just the opposite in the Formula, SD X.

So teaching the LCMS the why has been muddied and unconvincing for most. What I would propose for the confessional crowd is to argue from the Wittenberg model and pick a few things: pastoral chanting, crucifix, chasubles, elevation, and even communion bells (Luther says the Evangelical understanding of the bells is to get the congregation to pay attention) as part of a uniform back to Lutheranism push and drop the others: incense, genuflection, the fraction, public reservation etc. as not even having a provenance at Luther’s Wittenberg. This approach would still alienate the contemporary crowd for whom Lutheran liturgical identity is not all that important, but let’s be honest, the contemporary and traditional services at most larger congregations are here to stay.