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.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tim Russert, RIP

Timothy John Russert, Jr., as everyone knows by now, died of a heart attack, just over a week ago, on Friday, the 13th of June, at the age of 58. He has been in my thoughts quite a lot since then, and I thought I would take a moment, since I happen to have a little time this morning, and express my gratitude for the place he held in modern American life.

Tim leaves behind his wife, Maureen, whom he married in 1983. I don't know if Tim and Maureen planned their wedding to take place in such a momentous year, it being of course the great Luther year, marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformer's birth. Perhaps just a coincidence. God gave Tim and Maureen a twenty five year marriage. It would be impossible to know all the ways in which God blessed them by this marriage, nor all the ways in which God blessed the world by their marriage. One way is the life He brought into the world through them, ie, their son Luke. More on him in a moment. I am amazed by the connection a wife instinctively feels with her spouse. They are more attuned to it than we men are. My wife claims sometimes to know that a phone ring is me calling. I cannot claim to know how she does it. But I believe sometimes these eery instincts just serve to point out the deep connection that a women senses, feels, appreciates in ways for which men are not wired. So I found it poignant and unsurprising to learn that when Tim left the hotel in Italy where they were vacationing (to celebrate Luke's graduation) to come back to Washington in order to tape his TV show, Maureen stopped him, to give him a hug. She said, "I want to give you a hug; maybe I'll never see you again." She later told a reporter, "I don't know why I said that to him. I just had a feeling."

He also leaves behind his 23 year old son, Luke. I know what it is like to lose a parent at a relatively young age. My mother died of cancer at the age of 57. So my prayer these days must include Luke Russert. Luke just celebrated his graduation from university, and he knows full well how proud of him his father was. I know that in part his life will be a testament to his father.
One of the reasons it is appropriate to pay due attention to the legacy of Tim's family is that family was a deeply important aspect of his life. The value he placed on family led to two books from his pen, Big Russ and Me, a tribute to his father, and Wisdom of Our Fathers, a book which puts together letters from sons and daughters to their fathers.
My knowledge of him is mostly from his role as a journalist. There are journalists who wear their political opinions quite openly on their sleeve. Indeed, it seems that in some cases a man's "journalism" is merely an occasion or forum for his political views. Tim Russert was different. He gave everyone a hard time. He worked hard, and did his homework, in order to prepare each week for the interview. And then, when the interview guest was before him, he did not waste time with a lot of Barbara Walters style questions, but went to the heart of the issues. He probed, and did not relent. For this he had my respect, appreciation, and loyalty.
At the same time, he was incapable of being rude, or obnoxious, or truly uncharitable. He was a man of real Christian faith. And it spilled forth in his personality. I loved his smile because it was so obviously unrehearsed. He was not the kind of man some would call extremely telegenic. That is not to say there was anything wrong with his looks. My point is that he was not the stereotypical TV anchor, born for the role. He was a journalist, who got a job with Meet the Press. And when he would look up at the camera, sometimes that smile of his would just make me smile, and almost laugh, because it is just such an embodiment of his sincere and loving personality.
I try not to inflict some of my personal, and unimportant, tastes on the general public. My closest friends, though, know that I am a "Springsteen tramp." (The second word of that phrase comes from his 1975 song, "Born to Run.") And I found a nice tribute Springsteen did for Tim Russert. So if any of you are able to endure a little Bruce Springsteen, I encourage you to watch these two pieces I found in the wonderful world of You Tube.
This first one begins with a word from Tom Brokaw, and this second one is a brief but thoughtful tribute from Bruce.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

It Could Be Worse

Once in a while the liturgical incompetence or hymnic banality which one inevitably encounters in the beloved universe of modern Lutheranism causes my hope for the church of our time to wane. But then, I am reminded once again of the depths of the Novus Ordo gone awry, and I console myself with the consolation of modern liturgists everywhere, "It course be worse."

Not that I should take pleasure in listening to the awful sounds of the average modern Roman Catholic Mass, but somehow I do. I don't think of it as shodenfreud, really. I mean, it's not that I am happy that all those people must suffer such misfortune. Nevertheless, I get great amusement sometimes out of watching or listening to such liturgical train wrecks. My wife thinks it is a masochism of sorts. I just think I am easily amused. Admittedly, when I insist on listening to such things in her presence it is a bit sadistic, and I must not subject her to it for too long, for it is downright painful for a decent Lutheran girl like her. (She does not suffer foolish things as easily as I do.) At any rate, such an instance occured today, as we were driving home from Mass.

I am abundantly aware that there is rampant Protestantism alive and well in the liturgical life of too many of our Lutheran parishes; it is a sad situation, which scandalizes many, and should scandalize more. However, on a Sunday like this, coming home from Mass at my parish, a church whose liturgical worship far surpasses in true catholicity that of most Novus Ordo parishes I have seen, listening to the radio broadcast of a Catholic Mass, my mind went back with haste to the refrain that my good friend, Father Hollywood, laid on me last week, "It could be worse."

The highpoint (or should I say lowpoint?) came as we were rolling down Clinton Street. Yes, that time inevitably comes in the modern Roman Catholic Mass when, during the communion, the singing of "Gift of Finest Wheat" must take place. This fine hymn is the sort of linguistically insulting, musically atrocious, and theologically weak experience inflicted upon the modern churchgoer, which is one of the reasons why I believe that there are far fewer churchgoers today than a half century ago, especially men.

Mind you, you can find the Novus Ordo Missae celebrated with great beauty, reverence, and decorum. One example is the conventual Mass of Mother Angelica's Franciscan community in Alabama, broadcast on EWTN. There are surely also other examples, which do not draw quite as much attention. Father Joseph Fessio (founder of Ignatius Press and sometime provost of Ave Maria University), for example, has been known to celebrate Mass, according to the Novus Ordo, in Latin, while facing the altar, two things which many assume went out after Vatican II. So any assessment of any church must be fair to what is going on.

One of the persistent problems in the average modern Catholic parish, though, is that of hymnody. The lovely hymn I mention above, and others, are adeptly assessed in a piece by George Weigel, linked below. You will notice that Weigel is more than happy to praise the Lutheran tradition on this issue. He sees a common liturgical depth and sanity in traditional Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches. It is precisely this sort of reasoned discourse that truly brightens my sense of hope for the liturgical life of the church of tomorrow. Oh, and here is George Weigel. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

TV Theme Music: Lowest of Art Forms

I am sitting on the couch, minding my own business, and my lovely wife is surfing the Internet, when all of a sudden I hear the most peculiar "music" emanating from the computer speakers. I look over and inquire just what she is doing. It turns out she has happened upon a web site devoted to television theme music, This site has the music for any number of television shows from the sixties, seventies, eighties, etc., the themes and songs from a few shows I do indeed recall from my youth, as well as the those of many, many shows I have never heard of, such as "Riptide," or "Robotech," or "Saint Elsewhere," or "Street Hawk," or "All Creatures Great and Small." She is thrilled to see they have all the theme songs from the "Spider Man" series, including the 1967 version (which apparently is impressive, and a good thing), at which point she of course plays these songs. Then she discovers that they have the song from this show, and that show, and of course must play them. Now of course I love my wife, but I can only take so much TV music from the past. So I seized the moment, and bid her go and do something else with herself. (I speak hyperbolically in my condemnation of this music, but really, I can only take so much. Maybe if I were Dave Juhl or Tim Hahn I could put up with it.)

There is much blogging to catch up on, anyway, so this is a good excuse to get back to it. I must blog about my trip to New Orleans, books I've read, a movie I recently viewed, an Ordination, and other relevant topics, like mantillas, and how much I love dialoging with Paul McCain. On second thought, that last one should be so obvious, I'll just let it go unstated.

When I returned from my trip on Saturday I began to experience the beginning of something I must have caught on the train, a sore throat, sneezing, etc. Thankfully I was well enough Sunday afternoon still to participate in a friend's Ordination (more on that to come), but then for a couple days my sore throat just got worse, making me worry I'd have to call in sick. That didn't happen. And I am beginning to feel better. So it's time to start composing the thoughts I've been filing away for the blog.