Sunday, March 17, 2024

Curious. . .

While I am in no way desiring to challenge the significance of the Common Service for American Lutheranism, the reality is that this does not represent one stream within Lutheranism but a conglomeration of several, perhaps many streams of liturgical tradition and practice.  It is certainly an improvement over what went before among the Lutherans in America and it is a laudable achievement no matter what.  Yet, it is, to a certain extent, an invention.  It was created at a time when Lutheran congregations in America had degenerated into a liturgical identity that was alien to our Confession and more reflective of the religious culture around them.  Except for the Missouri Synod and its German liturgical norm, American Lutheranism looked more American than Lutheran.  We should all be grateful for the accomplishment of a norm that was and remains distinctly Lutheran.  It lives on not simply in the Common Service of 1888 but in the forms produced by the Lutheran version of the liturgical movement.  To deny the kinship is to be blind to the relation between what was produced in the 1960s and 1970s and what went before it.  Nevertheless, the Common Service tradition is less than 150 years old and strives more to a consensus of the various versions than a reflection of what ought to be normative.  The failing of the liturgical movement within Lutheranism was its refusal to fully unpack what went before and to be more influenced by the liturgical movement of Rome.

In any case, what I find curious is that those so adamant that the Common Service tradition is the most authentic liturgical face of Lutheranism are also those who insist that the one year historic lectionary is the only authentic pericopal system for Lutheranism.  The odd thing here is that the historic lectionary is decidedly older than the Common Service.  It could even be said that the Common Service tradition is a baby in comparison to the age and breadth of the historic lectionary.  Neither, however, were dropped down on tablets from on high and both represent a particular choice or decision for what we will use.  I might add that the version of the historic lectionary most used is that from the Lutheran Service Book and that in and of itself is neither pristine nor without editorial change.  Perhaps the work of the Lutheran Missal Project represents the most comprehensive view of Lutheran history and practice when it comes to the historic lectionary.  It will be interesting to see the finished product and to see how this impacts both the present and the future going forward.

What I find most interesting is that both the Common Service and the historic one year series of readings appointed for the Church Year seem to be most concerned with Lutheran versions and practice.  I suppose that there is no avoiding our own concern for our own history.  Yet the concern for the Confessions is not quite so narrowly applied.  The Augustana claims no less than the catholic consensus of doctrine and practice (which includes church usages such as the liturgical form and the lectionary).  If we applied the same rationale for choosing the historic lectionary with its antiquity well prior to 1517 to the Divine Service, we would surely find some things in the Divine Service a challenge or a problem.  Not in the least here is the issue of the canon of the mass.  Here I would mention two things.  One is the placement of the Our Father prior to the Words of Institution.  The other is the distinct lack of any formal thanksgiving or Eucharistic Prayer.  Indeed, one of the things that is most confusing about switching services in a hymnal such as Lutheran Service Book is exactly that -- the change within the canon.  Divine Service 3 has the Our Father and then the Verba Christi without any formal thanksgiving (except the Proper Preface).  Divine Services 1, 2, and, to a certain extent 4, have prayers in which thanksgiving for the saving work of Christ takes prominent place.  Divine Service 3 is clearly out of sync with the liturgical forms and practices before Luther and Divine Services 1, 2, and 4 show a more organic development with the liturgical tradition prior to the Reformation.  I will not go into a discussion of ad orientem but it could be part of this debate as well.

In the end this is probably not a burning question in the minds of most.  We have surrendered to the idea of diversity to the point where many see no issue here.  I am certainly the odd man out in bringing this up.  What I would suggest is that those who insist upon the antiquity of the historic one year lectionary should reflect a bit more on the disconnect in the canon between the Common Service and what went before and what has come after.  I would also suggest that if antiquity is a prime consideration in favor of the historic one year lectionary, the same should encourage us Lutherans to revisit the issue of the Eucharistic Prayer (which does not have to be the Roman Canon with the objectionable parts Luther removed).  The reality is that Lutheranism has not formally addressed the topic of why there cannot or should not be a Eucharistic Prayer in the canon -- only why some of the words of the Roman Canon were found unfaithful.  Therein end my rambling thoughts for today. . .

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