Friday, December 26, 2008

Liturgical Renewal at St Stephen's

There are remarkable developments taking place at St. Stephen's in Milwaukee. I report and comment on them here in order to show that there is a layman who is grateful and proud that his pastor is so concerned about being faithful to our Lutheran liturgical tradition, and also to give others, pastors and laymen, encouragement that these things can happen in today's Missouri Synod. I would call what I am witnessing lately a real liturgical renewal. And since that phrase has been used by some to mean something different from what I intend, let me put it another way. There is a conscious and active and ongoing restoration of traditional evangelical and catholic liturgical practice going on, and it is wonderful to be part of it.

For example, there has been a significant increase in Masses celebrated on holy days that come up, even when they happen during the week. So, eg., on the second day of Christmas we had St. Stephen's Day Mass, for what may have been the first time ever at this parish. Fr. May tells me that it was observed before, but only if it fell on a Sunday. So this year our St. Stephen's Day liturgy was a real milestone, one which I feel is particularly special since Stephen is the patron of our parish. Speaking of milestones, we had the Christmas Midnight Mass here for the first time in at least several decades, maybe ever. Then, Sat. morning we had Mass for the feast of St. John, the holy evangelist.

Another example: the Greek Kyrie has been restored. There are certain prayers in the liturgy which, I would argue, deserve to be kept enshrined in their own language. "Amen" is one such Hebrew word. So is "Alleluia," and "Hosanna." Likewise the Kyrie in Greek. (Certain ordinary portions of the liturgy ought also be restored to the Latin where and when this is feasible, but that is another discussion.) So now in the Mass after the Introit, we pray Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. (I don't think we've tried this yet at a sung Mass; I'm not sure how that would best work musically, but I'm sure it's a hurdle we can cross.)

Another example, if one attends Mass at our church, he will hear readings from the Apocrypha at certain feasts, such as St. John Evangelist, with the lesson from Sirach 15. (As an interesting liturgical note, a reading from this book is traditionally introduced with the words, "Lectio libri Sapientiae," which might lead some to think it is a reading from the book called Wisdom. This is, however, the liturgical way of introducing a lesson from Ecclesiasticus, also called Sirach.) What a great gift, to hear the beautiful, evangelical words of Ecclesiasticus from the lectern of one of our Lutheran churches.

There are other examples of elements of liturgical practice which I appreciate here at St. Stephen's, such as Fr. May's practice of saying Mass ad orientem, or his genuflections and elevations, which reflect a profound belief in and reverence for the real presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. These things, and others, were already in place, and he has built upon them in recent months. His practice has become more consistently traditional, and I look forward to even more milestones in our parish's tradition in the future.


William Weedon said...

God bless Fr. May! As to singing Kyrie in Greek, the Greek words fit exactly to the DS 3 Kyrie, and it's easy enough to even do it nine-fold. The old TLH altar book allowed this as an option.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks very much for that encouragement & advice, Fr. Weedon. If Fr. May doesn't see this note I will share it with him.

Rob Lawson said...

Check out the ELS's Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, pp. 63-64 for a beautiful setting of the nine-fold Kyrie in the original Greek. It's in the Common Order as an option. We use in our parish when the Gloria is not sung.

Rev. Rob Lawson
St. Paul Lutheran Church (ACLC)
Escondido, CA

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks for the tip. I had an ELH years ago, but lost it in our fire. So I'm glad to be reminded of all the fine things in that hymnal. Now that I'm in Milwaukee, I think I'll go out to the NPH bookstore one of these days; I bet they have it on their shelves.