Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Not nostalgia. . .

Much of what passes for argument in what should or should not be done in worship is accused of being nostalgic for another age -- older folks who can remember TLH and the liturgical and doctrinal uniformity imagined in the 1950s and before.  Of course, this is foolish.  The only nostalgic folks in this are those who grew up as rock and roll unfolded into full bloom and who think that they should hear the sounds of soft rock in church on Sunday morning -- the ballads of the folk side of this genre or the music with a beat that you can dance to.  In either case, it is the nostalgia for a time in which truth began to surrender to feeling, morality to what feels good in the moment, and faith to feelings.  It was probably inevitable that in this view, Jesus would become a boyfriend or BFF rather than the mighty Word that spoken creation into being now incarnate and certainly rather than the Savior who pays for the sins of the world.

Strangely, those who are not old enough to have lived when TLH was in its prime are the ones who seem most nostalgic for its heyday.  I have written before that because they did not grow up or live as adults in the era when TLH was the hymnal for our Synod and the Common Service more common among all Lutherans, they do not realize the inadequacies and lacking of that era.  Clearly, however, the push to recover a common liturgy and common doctrine is not nostalgia -- the boomers who can recall these days tend, as a group, to be moving in an opposite direction.  Neither is it quite nostalgia among those who cannot recall the origins but who can appreciate the blessings of unity in liturgy and dogma.  What might be more appropriate is a deep sense of reverence, even awe, for the presence of God and the things of God.

Admittedly, it does not quite work to make TLH casual.  Forms had to be invented to supplant that book if a casual, God my buddy style of worship and music was desired.  Unfortunately, all the sins of this perspective get blamed upon the modern liturgical movement.  That is not quite true, either.  While it is fair to say that diversity and an embrace of local culture and the domain of preference left the door open for the worship band and diva and the love songs that imagine Jesus who is no longer present sacramentally, neither Vatican II nor the modern liturgical movement that attracted Lutheranism was about abandoning reverence.  It was more about making the forms more accessible, to be sure, and more united (all in one book for Lutherans), but it was also about restoring a profound sense of baptismal life and identity, a hunger and yearning for a Sacrament that then was celebrated monthly or less, and the rediscovery of the sacrament of absolution within the life and piety of the people and their pastors.  The problem for Rome was that Vatican II's direction was replaced by the personal goals of Annibale Bugnini and a distracted Pope Paul VI who rubber stamped his radical reforms.  The problem for Lutherans was far different.  The work of the liturgical movement and a common hymnal got hijacked by the radical cultural shift within America, the battle for the Bible, and the maturation of a thoroughly American form of Lutheranism more at ease with itself than it had ever been.  Put that all together and it is rather remarkable that the worship reforms of the mass were as tame as they ended up being -- certainly more moderate than some of Missouri's own experimenting in Worship Supplement (1969) and the first editions of the ILCW trial offerings.  In fact, looking at ELW and what happens among the evangelical wannabes of Lutheranism, even LBW seems thoroughly serviceable in hindsight.  But when they appeared and later LW, the break with our past dominated and, at least for Missouri, created a window for TLH to live on in practice but most of all in our dream of a more pristine and ordered past.

What those under 40 are looking for is radically different than their parents and grandparents imagined from the liturgical reforms of the 1960s-1970s.  They are not nostalgic as much as they are panicked by a piety that seems plastic and worship that is self-serving and self-referenced.  They are looking not for something from the past but something in a continuum with that past, a deliberate reform that marked a hermeneutic of continuity that has made even more attractive the Latin Mass among Romans and the Divine Service out of the Common Service tradition among Lutherans.  They are searching for authenticity, reverence, transcendence, and, most of all, integrity among the preaching and the liturgy.  You cannot blame them for nostalgia but you can blame those who used the moment of reform to introduce an alien spirit into the Divine Service, stripping it of all that had made worship distinctive and therefore God's work.  The nostalgia of those for folk rock and soft rock has taught their children and grandchildren to look for something different than their families desired and this has led them to look all the way back to 1941 in Lutheranism and the 1950s in Rome.  

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

TLH was cast aside at the end of the 1970s as stuffy and boring for three reasons. One, societal change in the 60-70s that questioned institutions and traditions and embraced a more casual, everyone’s a minister, campfire hymn mentality. Two, the rise of Evangelical Pentecostal worship which suited the pop culture and replaced the declining mainstreams as what American worship looks like. Three, the liturgical movement, with its emphases on ecumenism and catholicity, influenced the pan-Lutheran production committee of the new hymnal, LW.

LW was greeted with puzzlement in the pews. Oh, we learned all of the Hillard and Schalck settings, which have since become part of the standard LCMS liturgical vocabulary, but there was little enthusiasm for the modernized wording, the liturgical melodies were not improvements over those they replaced, and there were irksome congregational rubrics to cross ourselves in remembrance of our baptism, which was frankly foreign to international Lutheran liturgical tradition (including the oft-vaunted high church practices of the Church of Sweden). It was rightly understood as a break with TLH and the past, and a move towards a liturgical vision that was out of step with the times and enthusiastically held by only a limited clique of intellectual insiders.

TLH was not in fact the first Synodical attempt at adopting the Common Service, which was published in 1888 as the first national attempt at a uniform American Lutheran liturgy, itself based on the most widespread Lutheran liturgy of the 16th century. Missouri’s English Synod adopted it three years later, and CPH published a synod-wide version in 1918. The charge that the Common Service and TLH were lacking in baptismal identity (read: cross yourself), a hunger for the Sacrament (read: every Sunday communion or there’s something wrong with you), and a needed rediscovery of absolution (read: go to private confession) are objectively untrue. The first is simply made up. The second is refuted by the Common Service’s definition of “The Morning Service, or The Communion,” which communion would only not be observed if there were no communicants. The third was observed in the tradition of the separate Lutheran confessional service, which gave way to the sufficiency of the confession and absolution during the morning Sunday service itself. This last practice was approved by Luther himself.

The biggest challenge for the LCMS is that contemporary worship in America is now the norm. This and American secularism will continue to be an ongoing source of Missouri’s membership decline, which we frankly have little control over. Better to maintain the liturgical excellence of the American Common Service. I would be amazed if there were a push for a new LCMS hymnal any time soon over the next several decades.

Pastor Peters said...

A puzzle. Who are Hilliard and Schalck? LW was greeted with puzzlement not because of its content, which was well known ahead of time having been published 4-5 years earlier, but because of its association for a troubled time in Missouri and a change that came at a time when no one wanted any change. Missouri's Saxon liturgy was published in 1881 under the title Church Liturgy. In 1888 the English Conference of Missouri formed itself into a Synod that in 1911 became the English District and the Common Service certainly entered Missouri through it but it was not until the 1914 LCMS Convention that it had official status. The publication of the official order in 1917 by Missouri gave it a status it did not have prior. However, who knows how much of the Common Service was actually used without alterations, deletions, or transpositions. The Common Service was never static and altered in minor and some more significant ways. English hymnals were also available without the Common Service. Much of the editing was to shorten the service. Indeed, Theo Graebner's article on the liturgical chaos indicates that Missouri was hardly homogenized prior to TLH.

It was not simply the hymnal that contributed to a lack of baptismal identity. Who said that? That statement was made against those who hold up the period as some theological and liturgically pristine moment in Missouri. False. For all that is said about hunger for the Sacrament, apparently eating a couple of times of year or less is high Eucharistic devotion in your mind. Though the Sacrament was offered quarterly, not everyone communed. Further, the Sacrament was not offered because of a lack of communicants; the parish schedule simply indicated when it was offered and those were the ONLY times it was offered. That remains the practice. It is not for lack of communicants but for lack of offering.

At last clarity -- Missouri's biggest challenge is not the liturgical side but contemporary worship that looks nothing like our liturgical tradition or our hymnal. On that I would agree.

Anonymous said...

I’m simply misremembering Bunjes and Hillert. I think Richard’s criticism of the Common Service is illuminated for us today more beyond the choice of what he considered to be overly elaborate and unadaptive liturgical texts modeled on the Brandenburg-N├╝rnberg order when examining the liturgical music of the Common Service, which is more monochromatic and almost like plainchant compared with that of TLH.

I’ve never been a fan of a non-communion Lutheran worship service. We do that right. But I don’t think we can criticize quarterly communion as less pristine. Here’s my reasoning. The medieval Catholic tradition was celebrating communion every Mass, but receiving communion (by the people) annually. The Lutheran princes took the amendment at Speyer in 1526 as permission to outlaw the Roman Mass in their territories and replace it with the evangelical Mass. The evangelical Mass could not include communion if no one received it, and literally everyone was used to once a year. Some congregations, as in Bremen and Wittenberg, got it and it seems that the entire congregation communed weekly. Most however were conservative and didn’t get it. So Luther commanded that you weren’t a Christian if you didn’t commune four times a year, which became the Lutheran tradition of “quarterly communion.” It’s not really being less than Lutheran or less pristine or somehow sub-confessional though. That’s why I don’t like that charge against TLH-era Missouri.