Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The goals of liturgical reform...

If I had to put a frame of reference around what I consider to be the legitimate and laudable goals of a true and authentic liturgical movement, it might look like the following list.  While some of those have certainly coalesced around the form of the liturgical movement as we have seen it, others remain yet to be pursued and still others have been contradicted by what the modern liturgical movement put in place.  It is a common truth that the modern liturgical movement ended up being driven by scholarship and located in academia but the impetus for and the earlier manifestation of that movement was largely parish centered for pastoral goals.

The most basic aim of any true liturgical movement is to enrich the spiritual life of the baptized and this is first done not by tinkering with rites or ritual but by the recovery of the idea that faith is formed from and nourished by the Divine Service.  In our age, the restoration of this has been hindered and distracted by the availability of popular media (both internet and print) that posits the spiritual life of the individual in the individual, the individual's preferences, and what the individual finds meaningful.  In the end this not only devalues what happens in the gathered assembly around the Word and Table of the Lord but detracts from the Word and Sacraments themselves in favor of things sentimental, emotional, and experiential.  The objective gift of the means of grace embodied within the Divine Service is generally less interesting and less important to the individual than the individual pursuits of meaning and relevance.  The Church was never optional but became optional to the point where now online and in person are hardly seen as different.

With this restoration of the Divine Service as the source and summit of our faith and lives in Christ, the corollary is the realization that the Church is our mother in the faith, having given the faith birth in the womb of the font and nurtured our faith through the weekly rhythm of Word and Supper.  The notion of a private faith or an individualized faith is a late and modern invention to replace our dependence upon the means of grace and the Spirit to create and sustain faith in us.  There is practically little difference between the individualize faith practiced even by Christians within a liturgical tradition and the decision based faith of the evangelical tradition.  The true liturgical movement reminds us that we need the Divine Service for it is therein that the Word continues to grow us in Christ and Christ in us and the Eucharist feeds us here the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation as foretaste of the eternal feast to come.

As noted by the abysmal statistics of how many and how often the typical Lutheran attends the Divine Service, it is clear that while forms may have been restored, a weekly Eucharist more the norm than it was, the ordinary faith of our people is neither dependent upon or tied to the Divine Service.  Our practice is better but our piety still lacks its focus and ground divinely supplied by the gift of the sacramental Word and the Eucharistic mystery received.  When it becomes routine to number and define membership not by who is together around the Word and Table of the Lord but by names on a roll and to count as members whose who have not darkened the door of God's House for years, it is clear that the aim of the true liturgical movement remains unrealized.  Look at the roster of any Lutheran parish or jurisdiction and you see how ordinary this extraordinary circumstance has become.

When the modern liturgical movement become enamored by rites and history instead of the pastoral goals named earlier, it provided the perfect storm for that movement to go off the rails.  In its pursuit of a more pristine and early rite, it forgot who the people were and what the Divine Service was for.  In its goal of reform, it instituted a rupture in the organic and deliberate development of the rite and left people behind in a hermeneutic of discontinuity that harmed rather than helped the original pastoral aims of the movement.  Contrary to those who would mark every accomplishment of the modern liturgical movement as tainted or prone to error, its primary problem and its incomplete conclusion resulted from forgetting that the rite does not exist in a vacuum but as the place where people are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Spirit to be God's own and live under Him now and forever.  Private confession, the recovery of a baptismal identity and vocation, and the restoration of virtue and good works were all hindered by this focus on rite and ritual over purpose and meaning. 

Stay tuned for more....

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