Friday, February 19, 2010

Stupid Rubrics

For the sake of unity, Christians should do things that are in themselves stupid.

That is not my view. It is the view of a prominent Missouri Synod Minister of Religion-Ordained.

His thesis, which I wish to combat, is two-fold. 1. Not saying the Alleluia during Lent is stupid. 2. We should follow this rubric anyway, for we should submit to the rubrics for the sake of unity.

Where to begin? First, while some believe me to have an axe to grind with someone who openly lies about me, my critique is really not personal. It is good to emphasize this. I am not here to answer name calling with name calling. Rather, I am here to combat the abuse of power that is perpetrated by means of the abuse of language. Great violence is done in Christ's Church without violence, non vi, sed verbo. What could be more dangerous?

Now, to some of the substance of the argument. To be clear, both parts of the thesis are wrongheaded. Regarding the first part, the rubrics of the Church are not stupid. They are there for time honored reasons. Even those which are diametrically opposite the practice in another rite of the Church cannot be dismissed, condemned really, as stupid. Furthermore, the particular rationale given is badly mistaken. I will get to that in a moment. Regarding the second part, humbly submitting to a rubric for the sake of unity is not really done by calling it stupid. It is a contradiction. That is submission only in a childish sense. And if something is truly stupid, it ought not be practiced in the holy Catholic Church of the Augsburg Confession.

A part of the argument against omitting the Alleluia is the misuse of a quotation of Martin Luther. I have patiently corrected people on Catholic Answers Forum, who have misused Luther quotes. It is infinitely more tragic to see sophomoric treatment of Luther by Lutherans themselves. A case can be made that Luther was not in favor of omitting the Alleluia in Lent (though he wouldn't say it is stupid). However, it is reaching too far to use this passage to make that point:

The general duties and works of love need no new command; they are already laid down and ordered in the Ten Commandments. We are all enjoined of God to hear His Word, to love Him, to pray to Him, to be obedient to our parents, to love our neighbor, to shun all lasciviousness, and to hold matrimony in high esteem. All this is God's will and institution; therefore no especial call of the Holy Spirit to enter matrimony, to become father or mother, is needed. Such matters have all been arranged and commanded of God. But we nowhere find a command of God or word of God, which would demand of us to run into cloisters for the purpose of serving God, or to avoid eating meat, eggs or butter during the Lenten season, or to sing no Hallelujah in that time; and therefore all such observances are no true service of God.

A fair and intellectually honest reading of this passage results not in the notion that Luther condemns the omission of Alleluia, anymore than he condemns fasting, which he elsewhere calls a "fine" discipline (you know, like in the Catechism). Rather, it leads one to an important theological point, viz., that we ought not run after such things as though they were specially asked for by God; conversely, what were once considered holier activities or vocations ought not take our eyes away from the essential holiness of the various callings and stations of life ordained by God, as we see them, eg., in the Catechism's Table of Duties.

Another part of the argument goes like this: "Praise the Lord" is really all that "Alleluia" means, and how could the Church ever be without her praise of her Lord? This line of thought is deeply flawed, for it fails to recognize that the Church in fact isn't ever without her praise of her Lord. The Church is always, always praising her dear Lord and Redeemer. She does this by her life, her witness, her prayer and worship, her Eucharist, the constant use of the Psalms and the classic hymns. She does this by means of her life and witness in the world in the lives of her members. Theology itself is doxological, when it is true to its name anyway. And yes, she even praises the Lord by saying "Praise the Lord," even in Lent. Think, eg., of the Lauds Psalms (148-150). However, it is false to oversimplify the word "Alleluia" by saying that "Praise the Lord is really all that it means." That is all that it means if one is being literalistic. But we ought to do neither Biblical exegesis nor rubrical studies by means of word studies and etymology.

And if one wants to take that approach, then it would be fitting to say that there is really no need for such an archaic word in 21st century Lutheranism. Let us simply say "Praise the Lord," since that is all it really means. Rather, it is a profoundly beautiful Hebrew liturgical term of praise, which the Church has always known to be too rich to translate in her liturgy. Liturgically, we know the same to be the case for other terms as well, such as Hosanna, Amen, and Kyrie eleison. In the Western tradition of the Church's liturgy, the custom arose of ordering the public use of this special term, Alleluia, in a special way. This has nothing to do with denying the Church's essential doxological impulse.

I must also point out that part of the argument in support of the second part of the thesis above (ie., that even though the omission is stupid, we should follow it anyway, for the sake of unity), pertains to the use of the saying, "Say the black, do the red." The true home for this slogan is among Roman Catholics of a more traditional persuasion, who are striving to fight the modern chaos that is all too rampant among priests who ad-lib, improvise, entertain, and in other ways, infect the liturgy with their personality. Yet it is being disingenuously employed among us as an argument against the very ones who want to respect the rubrics. This even when it is shown that the traditional practices despised and ridiculed by the abuser of this slogan are often right in the rubrics of even the newest manifestations of the Synod's "accepted worship resources."

Respect for the rubrics, I hasten to reiterate, does not include calling them stupid. When I see something that is clearly stupid, I refuse to say it, or do it. For the worship of Christ our Immanuel deserves more than the merely stupid. Conversely, the traditional rubrics of the Church I receive with gratitude, not judgement and superiority. Before some of them I stand stupid, stupefied by my own lack of understanding. That, however is the fault of the one who does not understand, not the thing misunderstood.


Father Hollywood said...

I think there is unity and then there's unity.

There is a tension, say between FC X in which we claim our evangel-centric Christian liberty expressed in the facts that ceremonies need not be identical everywhere. On the other hand, we confess in AC 24 that we retain the Mass, the vestments, the order of the readings, and nearly everything liturgical in the pre-Reformation church.

We have to keep both confessional statements to which we are bound in tension, and hold to both. We can err on both sides.

I think it is best for people to commune on the tongue - but I have no mandate to force them to do so. It is a little distracting to have all these quirky little individual expressions of choice: ("hand or tongue," "jigger or chalice" - as if it were "Coke or Pepsi," "Nike or Converse"). This individualist pro-choice culture of the church has led to some churches having four services on the weekend to cater to every taste in music. We are so liturgically disunited in the LCMS as to be in a state of utter chaos.

But on the other hand, I would rather people *want* to receive the communion on the tongue rather than do it by rubrical compulsion.

I don't agree that our liturgical rubrics are "stupid" nor do I think Luther thought so. The things the Lutherans thought "stupid" (such as the canon of the Mass suggesting a propitious sacrifice) were excised. There are indeed things I don't personally like (such as having to use the jiggers), but I put up with them pastorally for the sake of people who would be harmed by changing it.

I'm sorry to ramble, but this is a good topic to stir up discussion.

I realized that we inadvertently broke the Alleluia fast on Ash Wednesday itself (all my fault, as I select the hymns) by assigning "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" (LSB 621) for the first distribution hymn. The last stanza has the Alleluia.

But I think before calling something "stupid" it might be a good idea to really research the history and put the best construction on our fathers in the faith. Withholding the Alleluia is a liturgical sign of the season. Is it also "stupid" to use purple for Lent? Some LCMS pastors and lay people would say "absolutely!"

Some people think it is "stupid" to insist that the fork be on the left side, but imagine how the atmosphere of a restaurant would be compromised without such a seemingly-arbitrary rubric. It would look chaotic and disorienting for customers.

A lot of my male students think it is "stupid" to insist that the remove their hats inside - especially at table or during prayer. They are free to think so, but I think they show a certain degree of immaturity in grousing about the received tradition that they don't personally like.

Tim said...

You saw that post on the rubrics then, I take it?

Well, you put forth a good case for receiving the rubrics of the Church, and in a gentlemanly (is that a word?) manner.

Of course, we could then go into a whole full-blown debate on the rubrics, but I don't think that is the point of this post. Or, is it? ;)

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...


A "full blown debate on the rubrics" might not be what this post is about, but in a sense it is what this blog in general is about. As long as it is done in an intelligent, reasoned manner, I'm all about exploring what we do traditionally as Lutherans, and why we do it.

Anonymous said...

Isn't omitting the Alleluias during the SUNDAYS in Lent a little stupid? All Sundays of the church year are to be celebrations of the Resurrection!

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...


First, what is your name? I don't necessarily mind if you want to keep it a secret. But I thought I'd ask for the record. I'd like for this corner of the web to be a friendly place, and it's only friendly to ask your name.

Second, one of the chief points of my post, I thought, was that even if you don't understand a rubric, it's not very reasonable to call it stupid. Call it stupid if you wish, but then I hold you responsible for explaining and proving that it is stupid. Since, however, I know that you will never be able to do that, why not just give in and stop using such language to refer to churchly customs you don't understand?

Third, if the Lord's Day were a celebration of the Resurrection in every way, then its color would be white year round, and the Gloria in excelsis year round, and we'd have sweet smelling flowers in the church year round, and maybe a lamb dinner as well.

In fact, each Lord's Day is a celebration of the whole paschal mystery, yet that celebration takes on a different tone and flavor from week to week and season to season.

I do thank you for the question, though. I'd like to explore the whole topic in more depth in another blog post when I get time.

Brian P Westgate said...

I once read, I think in Jungmann, that the reason the Western Church gives up her Alleluias in Lent is because it is a most solemn time. And being a most solemn time, she repristinates the way things were. Before there were Alleluia chants, every Sunday had a tract. And before there was a Gloria Patri, there was no Gloria Patri, and the Gloria in Excelsis is a recent addition for every Sunday use as well. So she drops things that were newer to show the solemnity of the time.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

". . . But we nowhere find a command of God or word of God, which would demand of us to run into cloisters for the purpose of serving God, or to avoid eating meat, eggs or butter during the Lenten season, or to sing no Hallelujah in that time; and therefore all such observances are no true service of God."

This quote, I assume, comes from a "Lutheran"(?) If so, I am not surprised. Lutherans tend to argue unity based on doctrine but by this typical critique it seems that unity in devotional practices are more the rub, which only seems to confirm the maxim, lex orandi lex credendi,(ie, doctrine and prayer are not separate) even for those who claim that such is not the case.

Regardless, this quote which is a not so subtle critique of the majority of Christianity both East and West does not seem to be heavily concerned with unity.

You write, "Where to begin?" Great response! It is silly to assume that those who follow rubrics we do not like or who do not sing the Alleluia during Lent or who follow some sort of fast during Lent are in fact doing "no true service of God." Sounds more like judgment than a critique.

Clearly devotional practices, whether we observe them or not, are meant to aid in discipline and encouragement in the faith. Let us not bother ourselves here over whether or not Jesus fasted or advised, "When you fast . . ."
Let us forget that Jesus got up in the synagogue "as was the custom" and read from the Scripture. Silly rubrics . . .

We must assume by this quote that those who do such things will not be in heaven or are in grave danger. And those who do not do such things have all the righteousness and glory?

The quote might revive protestant instincts (not necessarily Lutheran ones) but this does not guarantee its fidelity to Scripture.
In recent years we hear more and more emphasis among the heirs of the Augsburg Confession to an equation of the faith with feelings. (ie, either one has to be happy all the time or one has to be sad all the time and this is how we determine one's faith, as if this is our prerogative). I guess it is possible for some to reduce faith to a feeling and hang on to the Hallelujahs (and avoid things such as solemnity, self-discipline and cross). Still, neither do my "Hallelujahs" guarantee that I offer true service to God.

I confess that I have no problem with Christians doing the things the writer of this quote loathes. Whether or not I am faithful in such practices is another story. Still, I hope that one who is going to make such bold statements will one day come to the conclusion that the faith is "More Than a Feeling."

Fr. Timothy D. May said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...


In this particular post I did not enter into the rationale for the rubric. That could be a good discussion. You are right, though. That is an important factor in much of what seems to be missing in Lent, even moreso when we get to Passiontide. Thanks for the comment.

Father Hollywood said...

To someone unfamiliar with our western culture, the custom of sticking candles in a cake, lighting them for a few seconds, singing a rather inane song, and then blowing out the candles - must seem rather "stupid."

And yet we do it all the time.

Contemporary culture has taken to getting rid of things (especially traditional things) that seem "stupid" to some (often the youth culture) - and the result has been that our general culture has become me-centered, consumer-oriented, shallow, and infantile.

It must have seemed terribly "stupid" for the Israelites to be told they could not eat crawfish (at least among the Louisianian Israelites) or have to make a chart of animals that do or do not chew cod and those who do or do not have cloven hooves - to determine whether they could eat them or not. It may have come across as rather arbitrary (i.e. "stupid") to those who did not like it.

Similarly, there are modern Lutheran mockers who like to make fun of the notion of fasting or temporarily refraining from something during Lent as a spiritual discipline. Some Lutherans even like to make a point of flouting Lent by doing the opposite in the name of Christian liberty. It just seems kind of childish.

We may or may not understand the reasons why we have received many of our ecclesiastical traditions, but I think it would reflect a healthier attitude to err on the side of honoring the ways of our ancestors instead of defaulting to the "stupid" conclusion. Better still is to learn what the symbolism means and even embrace it. I think "chronological snobbery" (thank you C.S. Lewis) is largely at work here, as well as the illusion that Lutheranism is a minimalistic revolutionary assault on catholic tradition (a horrific misreading of history!).

Sundays in Lent are indeed, as are all Sundays, "mini-Easters" (which is itself a tradition that some might consider "stupid"). But they are *mini* Easters. Just as we don't break out the tympani drums and trumpets and Easter lilies every Sunday (not that it would be sinful or wrong), similarly, the mini-Easters within a larger context of a penitential season are a little more subdued. The temporary withholding of the liturgical "Alleluia" is symbolic of that. There is even a hymn in LSB that catechizes along these lines (LSB 417) - and note that the text dates back to the 11th century.

Is it "stupid" that Trinity Sunday falls the week after Pentecost, or that the third Sunday of penitential Advent is called "Gaudete" and is treated as a time of joy?

Of course, there are many who say it is "stupid" for Christians to touch their foreheads, chests, and shoulders, and kneel, and walk around waving palm leaves, or for pastors to tie a rope around their waists and wear a colored cloth over their shoulders.

Maybe it's all rather stupid. But there is nothing wrong with being a fool for Christ. And it should be noted that "holy" (as in the church we confess in our creeds) means "set apart." Those who are "set apart" are often mocked and their ways are often condemned as "stupid." So be it.

Paul said...

I have heard similiar complaints about the Gospel acclamations, "GLory to You, O Lord!" and "Praise to You, O Christ!" from those infected with the post-modern virus. Using the term "stupid" to describe part of Holy Tradition is one symptom (among many!)of a seriously compromised immune system, much like a runny nose or a scratch throat is a symptom of an underlying problem.

Fr BFE said...


As ever, your commentary is brilliant.

I've referenced it in my own article over at Gottesdienst Online.

Hats off.

Fr BFE said...

Oops, I'll try that link again: Gottesdienst Online

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks, Fathers, for the comments. And thank you, Fr. Eckardt, for the compliment.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

What I think funny about the phrase "say the black, do the red," is how poorly this is actually followed by 'some.'

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

While I think there is room for doing comparison between two potential rubrics (it is better to receive on the tongue or on the hand, etc.) it would be unwise to simply dismiss one as dumb. . . because then those who like said practice will simply dismiss you as dumb.

Hollywood, we do dumb things all the time -and even more so if we live in New Orleans >-o) When we we discuss, our discussions should be as to what is better - how would practice A better confess our doctrine than practice B. Just a better approach.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

I didn't introduce the word "stupid." I agree that it is not particularly helpful.

I would, however, note that not all ceremony is about "confessing doctrine." Sometimes we follow rubrics not to "confess doctrine" so much as to confess our love.

When a pastor reverences the altar when he is alone in the church, he is not in teaching mode at this time. He is not "confessing doctrine" but is, I believe, showing submission and affection for his Lord.

In other words, rubrics are not always doctrinal. When dealing with love, sometimes we do act a little "stupid."

Father Hollywood said...

As a postscript, here is an illustration. While it may be true that when you kiss your wife you are confessing the reality that she is your wife.

But if you were to tell your wife: "I kiss you because it confesses our marital status," she would probably (and rightfully) slap you.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Brown:
I think you are getting at a good point, but it merits some clarification. For I think you are using "rubrics" in a broad sense. And therefore it is worth noting that some church practices are not merely guilty of confessing in a worse manner than others, but in fact are bad practices, which reflect the teaching of the Gospel about as well as a Lady Gaga video reflects the Last Supper.

Fr. Hollywood:
You have a way of cutting through issues sometimes, which I think only a thinking man who grew up outside of the box of Lutheran categories could do. Seeking to ascertain what a practice confesses is noble and worthy (lex orandi lex credendi) as long as it does not become the all-encompassing rule for every rubric, old and modern. For then we have taken a decent prinicple, and created a liturgical monster.

Father Robert Lyons said...

Father Hollywood,

I *do* live in the Western World, and I still am baffled by the stupidity that surrounds birthday celebrations. That being said, I suppose I had better get used to being stupid, because before I know it, my daughter will be 1 year old (okay, it won't be until October... but time is just flying!)

The way we choose to act in response to tradition shows what we value. I choose to be obedient to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer as used by my Synod. I make changes only when the rubrics and canon law permit me to do so. That's not to say that there aren't changes I would like to make, but for the time being, I am obedient, because I promised I would be.

The use of the "A" word during Lent need not be contentious. I happen to agree with Pastor McCain's viewpoint that dropping "PtL" would be a good idea, since linguistically, the Hallelujah means exactly that, but ultimately, you do what your liturgy book says.

How one responds to custom also displays one's commitment to the community as a whole. Take for example those who refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance or to remove their caps and sing the national anthem. Their refusal to do so communicates something to the community around them. Whatever the motivation, they are communicating that they reject the concepts surrounding either patriotic displays in general, or the texts of those particular displays in specific. Ignoring those customs speaks volumes about one's view of civil society, just as ignoring Churchly customs speaks volumes of one's view of ecclesial society.

I am encouraged by Pastor McCain's commitment to speak the black and do the red... but I see no particular need to be incendiary about one's preferences. One could easily have had discussion on omitting the Alleluia during Lent without such bold language.

Deacon Latif, as always you have made an excellent presentation on rubrics in general and our fidelity to them. If only our confessions were the same, I would be joyed to celebrate the Divine Eucharist with you!


Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Perhaps one day, Fr. Rob, we will be one externally, just as I know us to be one in spirit.

Phil said...

Chiming in late:

If the Confessions say that the chief purpose of ceremonies is to teach (I don't think this has to mean teaching in a rationalistic sense), then the attitude of one who observes them ought to be one of a humble student. At some point, if we are focused so much on critiquing, justifying, rejecting, modifying, adding, or omitting ceremonies, we are by definition not being taught by them.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. May:
You write: "This quote, I assume, comes from a "Lutheran"(?) If so, I am not surprised. Lutherans tend to argue unity based on doctrine but by this typical critique it seems that unity in devotional practices are more the rub, which only seems to confirm the maxim, lex orandi lex credendi..."

You are mistaken in a coupole ways. 1. It is not a Lutheran. It is Luther. 2. Luther is not here using these practices as criteria for unity. In fact, he would say that such matters can differ without affecting unity. Our Confessions say this as well, quoting Irenaeus, to wit, "Diversity concerning fasting does not destroy the harmony of faith."

You are also mistaken when you conclude that "this quote which is a not so subtle critique of the majority of Christianity both East and West does not seem to be heavily concerned with unity."

You write: "In recent years we hear more and more emphasis among the heirs of the Augsburg Confession to an equation of the faith with feelings."

I don't know the relevance of this point to the discussion, but I must add that we see the same development among Roman Catholics as well.

Also, you write: "I have no problem with Christians doing the things the writer of this quote loathes."

I have seen no indication that Luther loathes these things. We know, eg., that he fasted throughout his life.

Paul McCain badly misuses the quotation, but I think you misunderstand the quote. Please reconsider it.