Thursday, October 2, 2008

How the Church Best Learns Her Liturgy

The practical dynamics differ between Lutheran parishes on the one hand, which tend to use hymn settings that are well known to the congregation, and modern Catholic parishes on the other, which are more oriented toward a music director for guidance. Yet I find this piece by Michael Lawrence over at the New Liturgical Movement blog very insightful nonetheless. For I think he hits upon a basic truth. Namely, the most natural way to learn the liturgy is to listen to it over time, to participate as best you can without clutching on to the crutches.

A good goal, in my opinion, would be to get to know the liturgy so well as to be utterly comfortable leaving the book (and handouts) in the pew racks, and just worship, freeing your eyes to look upon the altar, the statuary, the priest, or to close them from time to time; freeing your hands to hold them together in prayer, and to make the sign of the cross; freeing your body to more easily genuflect and kneel. Yet I think that some Lutherans must have developed an almost psychological need to read the liturgy, because I notice that some do so in traditional TLH parishes, where things haven't changed in decades. I don't blame them; as I say, I suppose it is almost psychological. It is a habit. The liturgy itself, however, should be our habit, ie., that in which we live and find our being, our livelihood, our home. And the pastor can help guide the people in this over time.

One thing that doesn't help at all is when people stare at their books and printed handouts because they must do so in order to keep up with the changes that take place (I mean even in the Ordinary) from week to week or season to season. The most uncalled for changes in this regard are the textual ones, but I find the changes in the musical setting to be unnecessary and disruptive as well. Do we really need our people to become experts in four or five utterly different forms of the Mass?

These are ideas which are not meant to condemn and alienate. They certainly go against much of today's modern Lutheran church culture. Yet it is a line of thought that is worth introducing. Much would have to be sacrificed in our effort back toward a more stable traditionalism, such as our misguided notions of being relevant. But the sacrifice would be worth it. Every segment of the Church, from young to old, from PhD to the cognitively handicapped, from recent convert to long time Lutheran, will be grateful, for they will benefit in ways we cannot even know.

(By the way, thank God for blogspot, which saves what I am writings every few seconds. The power momentarily went out here, and I would have lost everything.)

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