Monday, June 30, 2008

confining oneself to accepted worship resources

A lot of good, competent men put a great deal of hard work into the Missouri Synod's new worship books, that is, the complement of resources under the name Lutheran Service Book, or LSB. So many people, and committees, in fact, that it was clear from the start of the project what was going to happen with it. Namely, that despite the competence of the individuals involved, when a thing goes through a committee, or in this case, a whole complex of committees, it will come out the other end with many good things in it, but also to some degree a compromise product.

Despite, then, all the good contained in LSB, and its great usefulness, I sincerely pray that students and others in the church do not fall into the temptation of thinking that the best way to study the liturgy or learn the liturgy is merely to stick with what is contained in the LSB. I have seen the evidence that there are university and seminary students who have already done just that.

In confining oneself, in this regard, to the church's accepted worship resources, one ends up with not only a truncated understanding of the rubrical heritage of his church, but more obviously, such a person ends up with just misleading, and sometimes bad information.

Such an approach will lead some to think that Stephen P. Starke's "All You Works of God, Bless the Lord" is a Biblical Canticle. This is a seemingly minor issue, yet liturgical terms have meanings. Why call a thing what it isn't? In fact, Starke's composition (930 in the LSB) is a hymn paraphrase of a biblical canticle. Nor is "Jesus Sat with His Disciples" a Biblical Canticle. It is a versification of a Bible passage. (It is a bit off topic, so I won't dwell here on the fact that the music for this hymn is by Marty Haugen.) Also not a Biblical Canticle, yet labeled one, is "My Soul Rejoices." (Another phenomenon which comes up, upon which I cannot dwell since it is off topic, is the fact that I can't seem to turn the pages of this book too long without seeing hymns by Stephen Starke.) One could go on and on, and on, with the ways in which the "Biblical Canticle" section includes things it shoudn't. Let me add just one more significant example, for while most of the pieces in this section are at least based on Biblical Canticles, or Biblical texts, the LSB takes the next step, ie., it perpetuates a common error in calling the Te Deum a Biblical Canticle, when in fact it is no such thing. It is a hymn. (The same confusion obtains in the office of Matins where one is instructed on page 223 to sing a Canticle, and then is given the choice of the Te Deum or the Canticle of Zechariah.)

Confining one's understanding of the liturgy to the church's accepted worship resources will lead some to think that the ancient liturgical texts actually read "catholic" in the creeds. (It even uses quotation marks.) This is what the reader is told on pages 158, 159, 174, 175, 191, 192, 206, 207, 264, 280, 282, and 286. We are not told that "catholic" is a better translation of the ancient text than "Christian." That would be true. Rather, we are explicitly told that the ancient text reads "catholic." This is clearly untrue. The ancient texts read "catholicam" as in "sanctam ecclesiam catholicam" and "et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam," words which, while ancient, are still confessed and prayed to this day by Lutherans when they pray the Apostles' or Nicene Creed in Latin. Again, a predicted response is that this is an extremely minor point. But why say something that is blatantly untrue. A student will quote this footnote, and get good marks for it. He will then make his way through seminary, and fifteen or twenty years from now he will be on a committee for the worship resources of the next generation. By then he will surely come to have learned the difference between catholic and catholicam, and the proper use of quotation marks, but more importantly, he will have learned how things work in the Missouri Synod, namely, by committee.

Confining oneself to the church's accepted liturgical books will lead to the assumption that there is some wholesome rationale, something sensical, about intermingling classic and modern language forms, not only in the same book, but indeed, in the same liturgy. The young, well meaning, student will begin to notice such things, but then say, "Clearly that's the way it should be, because it is in the service book." Immersed as he is in only the church's accepted worship book, he will come to the point where he doesn't even bat an eye or think twice about the fact that the very same text is prayed in two completely different translations in the same liturgy.

If, for example, his parish likes to use Divine Service Setting Three, which, over all, is designed with traditional language, the church's accepted worship resources do not give such a congregation any propers in traditional language, say, for example, the King James or the Coverdale Psalms, so that their celebration of the liturgy can have a linguistic consistency. No, they are pretty much expected to use the church's accepted Bible version, ie., the ESV, for all propers, introit, gradual, everything. So that after singing an introit in the modern ESV, they will either conclude with the option given on page 186, of using the traditional Glory Be, or they will conclude with the modern Glory Be given elsewhere in the book, such as in the book's psalter (following page xxvi). Going with this second option would seem to have its own logic, yet in doing so, a stark inconsistency is introduced within the Divine Service as a whole, for everywhere else in Setting Three the traditional Glory Be is given.

The poor soul who learns his liturgy from only the church's accepted worship resources will assume that the final blessing of the Divine Service (page 202) is addressed to the people in the plural, since virtually everywhere else in Setting Three the traditional pronouns are used. In fact, I'm not sure if the powers that be have actually told us if we are to read the "you" in that blessing as a singular in modern language, or as a plural, and therefore a revision of not only the form but also the substance of the liturgy.

Such a student will think it is normal to use modern language when speaking to God, but traditional language when singing to Him, so that we say "You forgave the iniquity of my sin," but sing "We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee." Aside from the elusive logic of this distinction, it brings up the question of whether the powers that be would approve of a spoken Mass, where even the major doxology and the canticles are spoken. If so, are the people to speak "Thee" and "Thou" or are they to revise the text on their own? Likewise, in a spoken Mass, are the people expected to speak the hosana three times in a row in the Sanctus, along with the triple "Blessed is He," as if such wording is the "ancient text?"

It is certainly possible that the full compliment of LSB materials somewhere might contain instructions or resources for a spoken Mass; I don't own all of them. But would not the logical place for such a thing be the regular pew edition of the book? Whenever one complains about something lacking in the LSB, he is usually given an explanation of how much had too be cut out to fit all that is in the book; this is understandable. Yet what would be more basic in a service book, or "missal," than the text of the low Mass?

The Lutheran who contents himself with his church's accepted worship resources will think it is strange, foreign, and maybe unLutheran to see someone kneel down during the Consecration in the Mass. For he is specifically told in LSB, in ruby red letters, to stand for the Sanctus, Our Father, Verba testamenti, and Agnus Dei, all of it. The man in the pew is given the option of kneeling or standing for the Confession of Sins before the Mass; at other points the rubrics say he "may" do something, such as the rubric for making the sign of the cross; but here he is told quite specifically and unequivocally, to "Stand." When someone, like me, routinely disobeys this rubric, preferring to kneel in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, he runs the risk that those who stick with the church's accepted worship resources will come to unLutheran conclusions about him.

I would add that the LSB does not give any explicit rubric for what to do during the distribution (page 199), but since the next rubric after the distribution is to stand at the Nunc Dinittis, one might reasonably infer that the LSB assumes sitting during the distribution (except of course when its time for those in your pew to go up to the altar and kneel at the rail). So I think it is reasonable to conclude that LSB envisions the congregation sitting after the Agnus Dei. Here again, if one kneels straight through the Communion, in adoration of Christ who is truly present on the altar, he seems to be no longer sticking with the church's accepted worship resource.

My point is not to condemn LSB. Not at all. My point is that we ought to recognize what it is, and what it isn't. And the logic of condemning and ridiculing those who do not merely stick with what they are told, in the black and the red, in the church's currently accepted worship book, is beyond me.

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