A couple weeks back I walked into The Chapel of Christ Triumphant, the main chapel at Concordia University Wisconsin, out in Mequon, thinking I might pray the Way of the Cross. I was very disappointed to realize soon after entering the chapel that once again the stations have been veiled with dark veils.
It seems that for some reason, which I'd love to hear explained by Pastor Smith, or someone at CUW, during Lent each year the stations of the cross are all veiled. This is a gross misinterpretation of the custom of veiling statues and images during Passiontide. First, the veiling of crucifixes and statues takes place, as I say, in Passiontide, not all of Lent. Second, the veiling of images never includes the Stations of the Cross. While the devotion of the Way of the Cross may be prayed in any season of the year (especially on Fridays), it is especially appropriate in Lent, and Passiontide. In fact, it should be encouraged, even scheduled congregationally where possible (you know, like those few places where we actually have the stations, such as at CUW). Instead, it is discouraged, and in fact, made practically impossible, by the hiding of the stations with dark veils. Does this make any sense?
While I was there, I took a few moments to look around, and I noticed a few other oddities, and liturgical embarrassments. For example, one can still see the evidence that there once were holy water stoups at the back entrances (at the liturgical west), but they are now merely architectural curiosities. Here would be a great opportunity to make good Lutheran use of an ancient custom of the Church. With the rich Lutheran spirituality of Baptism, there is real pastoral potential in such a practice.
Sadly, this is a pattern that continues as one walks up the side of the nave. For there we see two confessional booths (with two more on the other side). Not only are these not being used (Confession could take place anywhere, of course), the really disturbing thing is to see that these booths, which once had a sacred use, are now used to store things like, brooms, music stands, electrical equipment, microphone stands, and other worthy objects. Seeing such irreverent conversion of confessional booths into broom closets speaks louder than any explicit discourse on what the Lutherans in these places really think of Confession, and sacred space.
Walking a little further, one sees in the west transept (liturgical north) a set of drums, monitors, amps, music stands, and other paraphernalia for the rock band, or "praise" band, or whatever it is called that takes up space there. Next to that is a large rack of chairs on wheels. This makes me wonder, isn't there some place, some room under the chapel, or somewhere, where these extra chairs could be stored, instead of right in front of the side altar?
Both of the side altars, by the way, are each adorned with a brass, naked cross, which are also veiled. Why cannot these side altars have crucifixes? And since they don't, but have merely naked crosses, why are they veiled?
The next thing I notice is the American flag in front of the nave, on its own right. Think of what this means for our concept of the church, and her liturgy. On the other end is the Methodist Sunday School flag. Can anyone defend this?
Then, as I look toward the high altar, and its magnificent hanging crucifix, I cannot help noticing the light of the sanctuary lamp. I know that many Lutheran churches burn the sanctuary lamp without a tabernacle, and I don't condemn them, but I must say, again, for the record (since there is hardly much of a voice for this view in today's Missouri Synod), that it does not make a lot of sense. In this case, in fact, it's a bit comical, since behind the free standing altar, on a stand which I suppose once held a tabernacle, there is now a large open Bible. And the Bible has a spot light shining on it. That and the sanctuary lamp are pretty much the only two lights lit in the darkened chapel. This has the unmistakable effect of making it seem as though the object of our adoration and worship is the Bible. In fact, consider also the fact that on the east wall (behind the altar) there are twelve figures carved into the wall, all turned, seemingly in veneration, toward that Bible.
If resources will be expended on a spotlight, I regret that there is not one on that beautiful and striking crucifix. It really is a great focal point in that chapel, which, over all, is a very modernist space.
I have not had the pleasure of experiencing an actual liturgy, or worship service at the chapel recently, so I cannot comment on the liturgical practice there (though I find it a bit curious that the campus pastor announced recently that chapel is not just for Lutherans). What I can say, as a concerned Lutheran of the Missouri Synod, is that these few observations of the chapel only bring up more questions about the liturgical life of this prominent LCMS university, questions I'd certainly want addressed before I would send a student there for his undergraduate study.