Sunday, December 4, 2011

a thought on the page shuffling church

It is to engage in a silly euphemism to refer to the guitar, amp, and drum-set led worship of some churches as "diverse worship."  The present reflection, however, is not about those churches.  Rather, I suggest that where the term "diverse worship" might just as well fit is in the many churches, school chapels, etc., where the prevailing practice is to make use of the diversity of mass forms within the same book, and in today's LC-MS that tends to mean the much hyped Lutheran Service Book.
But it is always worth assessing the wisdom of what one is doing; it is always good for a church to ask itself not merely whether it is achieving its own goals, but whether it is being blind to what it is missing by going with this diverse approach to worship.  Is there a wisdom to the ways of our church's liturgical past, which we fail even to consider?  Maybe we failed fully to appreciate the wisdom of nondiverse worship even when it was our prevailing practice (which was not all that long ago).  Nevertheless, as I say, it is always worth asking these questions. 

One consideration I would suggest is that when a church uses two or more of the mass forms in LSB, and it seems increasingly the case that churches are using three to five of these masses, the church is driving further down the road away from realizing its own heritage of being the praying Church (ecclesia orans).  Now why would I say such a thing?  Let me clarify that I don't mean that when a congregation uses the Common Service alongside the inventions of Hillert, and Starke, et alia, in some cases spread out throughout the year and in other cases all within the same month or several weeks, that the people are not in some way praying the liturgy, just that the degree to which the liturgy is truly prayed is necessarily lessened, and our growth in the way of being the praying Church is necessarily retarded.  This is because the people are much less likely to know, deep down, the words of the liturgy on any given Sunday.  They are less likely to know it, and they are ipso facto less likely to love it, deep down in their heart.  Sure, they enjoy it.  They have been told it is a good thing; and besides, some of the tunes in these newer masses are rather catchy, at least to women.  Yet enjoyment is not the same as the place the liturgy could have in the hearts of the faithful if it were known the way it once was.  You may think your people do know and love it just fine.  After all, you have been at this since 2006.  As I say, it is always worth reconsidering things you have come to assume. 

No, instead of embracing our heritage and nature as ecclesia orans, we have become ecclesia legens, the reading Church.  Just look around in church next time you are at Mass, and think about what is happening.  Let's say you have been using Divine Service "Setting" 2 for a few weeks, and today all of a sudden you turn to the first page of the worship handout and learn that today you are going to use Divine Service "setting" 4.  How many people will be dependant on keeping the book in their hands?  In fact, it is my contention that this is not even a matter of people being a bit confused the first Sunday that such a switch happens, but that it has simply become the unthinking custom among us, pretty much year round, to keep the book in our hands, and to be a page flipping church.  We look down at the book in our hands, replete with sloppily worded footnotes reminding us that the Church once got to use the word "Catholic," and we look down at the handout, and notice its quirky font patterns and occasional typos, or maybe its erudite commentary on the liturgy we are supposed to be busy celebrating and praying.  We don't get to look up anymore. 

There is, it is worth noting, rich diversity inherent in the Church's liturgical tradition, and I mean even within a single rite, or ritual use, such as, say, the Lutheran Common Service tradition.  This happens, first of all, with the change in propers each Sunday and feast, and it also happens with variations of musical usage.  But the modern Lutheran Church has given in to the diversity even of the texts and order of the ordinary parts of the Mass.  And a full appreciation of the diversity built into the Church's liturgy is one of the casualties of the confused sort of diversity we have come to embrace. 

Despite all of the complaints I have against the modern Roman Rite (and I have virtually nothing positive to say of it), one thing, specially relative to the present topic, is worthy of comment.  And it has especially come to light in the past week or so, as the new English translation of the Mass is being set in place throughout the English speaking parts of the Roman Catholic world.  Namely, one type of diversity you will not see in the Roman Rite (except by priests who are openly defying their own ecclesial authorities) is that of the texts of the mass itself.  After the revision of the English translation had been worked on, argued over, and finally implemented, it is simply understood that this is now the text of the prayers.  That doesn't mean it will be equally liked by everyone; in fact, it is kind of funny to read some of the reactions.  Consider one woman's reaction after experiencing the new translation for all of one week (as reported in this AP story) :

Maribeth Lynch, 51, a publisher from the Milwaukee suburb of Elm Grove, said she was "distraught" over the changes and would refuse to "learn the damn prayers."  "It's ridiculous. I've been a Catholic for 50 years, and why would they make such stupid changes? They're word changes. They're semantics," she said.  "It's confusion. All it's doing is causing confusion," she said. "You want to go to church and be confused?"
Don't get me wrong.  The new translation is, in my view, a marked improvement, and I am happy to see it in place.  Hopefully Mrs. Lynch and others like her will acclimate to it.  The reason I highlight the negative reaction to it is that it shows that one thing Catholics instinctively expect is consistency of the texts of the prayers of the Mass (It also goes to show that people -even modern Americans- are by nature traditionalist, though not always in a well informed way).  Throughout the English speaking world, a Catholic can expect to hear Mass celebrated using the same prayers, verbatim, as back in his own home parish.  On this count, the Roman Catholic Church has managed to preserve something that was once instinctively understood by Lutherans as well.  Disunity of prayers within the same church is so foolish as to be unthinkable. 

How much better would the spirit of worship be in our churches if we could pray the prayers, chants, canticles, responses, and hymns by heart.  We would be able to set the book and the printouts down.  We would be free, if we wish, to fold our hands in the classic manner, palm to palm, in the spirit of prayer and reverence.  We would be free to stop reading as though we were at a symposium or in a lecture hall, and to lift our eyes off the literature in front of us, and look up.  Hopefully, what most Lutherans would then see, and maybe rediscover, are the sacred mysteries being reverently celebrated in sacred space, around sacred furniture, and amidst sacred art.  We might actually notice the christological symbolism on the back of the celebrant's chasuble (like the Y shaped cross).  We might even see the crucifix, reminding us that it is Christ's redemption that is being lavished on us.  We would see the altar, the great symbol of Christ our Sacrifice, and ponder that right here and now, in the Holy Mass, we are blessed to look up, for Christ our Redemption is drawing near.


Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

You're right, of course, about the problem with variety. My parish makes folders available to visitors with the text of the liturgy, but none of our parishioners use them.

We Orthodox have two basic forms: the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and of St. Basil. Our problem is with various translations, but it doesn't affect the most important words the people pray: Kyrie eleison.

Thanks for the thought-provoking article!

In Christ,

Fr. Gregory

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

I appreciate your comments & observations, Father Hogg. That makes two Orthodox commenters in as many days. Oh my.

Josh Schroeder said...

Interesting post!

Just from my own personal experience, my preference is for a congregation to stick to just one setting of the Divine Service. It's nice to participate in the liturgy without having to hold open the book (or look down at a page or up at a screen), especially when you need one or two hands to tend to young children, and "recite your lines" from memory. In addition, it's easier to pay attention during the Divine Service if you're not thinking distracting thoughts like, "When he says 'The Lord be with you,' am I supposed to say 'And also with you' or 'And with thy spirit,'" or feeling like an idiot for saying "Thine" instead of "Your," or to accidentally be the only man speaking during the Psalm when that verse was supposed to be recited only by women sitting on the pulpit side whose birthdays are between January and June in a leap year. I hate it when that happens!

I grew up in a congregation that alternated monthly between TLH and LW, and later belonged to a congregation (for a year or so when I lived out of state) that used LSB DS3 pretty much exclusively. Having these two contrasting experiences in my background, I came to appreciate the liturgical uniformity as a beneficial simplicity, and came to personally view hymnal juggling and setting schedules as unnecessary complexities.

That said, I don't think I would tear out any of the other settings in LSB. But I would agree, simply on the basis of my own subjective experience (which is admittedly pretty low in the hierarchy of criteria by which such things should be decided), that there is wisdom in sticking with the Common Service. If nothing else (and there is certainly more than this), there is pragmatic value in it.

CyberSis said...

One thing that strikes me as a little “curious” about my current parish is that my fellow parishioners, cradle Lutherans who, like me, have been praying the Common Service since before birth, nevertheless keep their noses stuck in the book from Invocation to Benediction. At first all the page flipping was rather distracting but over time I’ve gotten pretty adept at ignoring it. As you point out, though, these folks have no idea what they’re missing. Not only are we everywhere surrounded by visual reminders of Jesus and His saving work, we are blessed with a pastor who celebrates the Mass with the utmost reverence.

I’ve recently come across photos of antique Scandinavian chasubles featuring a straight-armed cross. That got me wondering about the significance of the Y-shaped cross. Care to elaborate? :-)

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Thanks, Dcn Josh, for your observations as well. I particularly like your reference to the problem of the whole "and also with you/and with thy spirit" mess in the LC-MS. It's funny to me (though also sad) that whenever you are at any extra-liturgical gathering, such as a pot luck or a bible study or whatever, and the pastor begins with the salutation, The Lord be with you, you will hear the inevitable cacophonous confusion of responses. The people of Babel deserve what they get.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Thanks, CyberSis. Regarding the Y-shaped cross on the gothic style chasuble, I don't know that it has meaning any deeper than that it is a particular style of orphery, and whenever I see it (too rare these days) it makes me think of the christological nature of both the liturgy and of the presbyteral office. The pastor's role, publicly and privately, is to be Christ's sacrificial presence in the world. etc.

Josh Schroeder said...

That one is almost as bad as the Common Table Prayer:
- and let these gifts
- and let Your gifts
- and let Thy gifts
- and let this food

Are there any other English versions I'm not aware of?

CyberSis said...

Oops, Dcn Josh.
You forgot "and let these Thy gifts."

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Good point, Josh, though in my opinion the biggest problem with the so-called Common Table Prayer is that it is prayed among us at all. We would do far better to revive widespread use of the prayers of the Catechism, as I argued here:

Anonymous said...

Forget about page-turning...what about those who are hearing-impaired and members of small congregations with "no money" (for headphones, etc.) and small children who tend to make a lot of noise. I've sat through prayer service after prayer service with screaming kids, and I end up thinking, "Why did I even bother coming today?" I can remember a Maundy Thursday Divine Service with a kid crying and screaming during the sermon, but it didn't bother me as much, because the Supper (i.e. the Gospel) was offered. Parents should focus more on training their children to shut up and listen to Christ in the Divine Service, so that others (not just the hearing impaired) can hear the Word better. A slightly unrelated tangent, I realize, but I think it attests to the good of memorizing and pondering the liturgy, especially if one doesn't have to focus so much energy on listening and can focus on the natural flow of the liturgy, and save the actual energy of hearing to listen to the sermon.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Good points, Anonymous. Thank you.

Paul said...

Perhaps I'm just blessed with a good memory, but I can pray several LSB liturgies without reference to the book. Having grown up with p.5 adn p.15 TLH I am in favor of one text -- and with thy spirit! -- and a variety of musical settings. Obviously, LSB fails on the textual part of this equation, and musical quality can be debated ad infinitum, but I'll take a variety of lower quality music (theoretically speaking) over nothing but DS III.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...


Sadly, I myself probably have LSB I & II leaned by now. If only I could unlearn it. Lately LSB IV has been happening at my church. Eventually that one might sink in as well. Christe eleison.

Nevertheless, even when the ordinary of the Mass one is using is learned, the modern Lutheran mode of worship is still dependant on looking down at the literature in your hands. You got introits, graduals, etc; you got hymns; you got major parts of the liturgy that appear in a different order depending on which mass you are using. Etc, etc. And of course then you have the churches that really "explore" the possibilities of "diverse" worship, with creative confessions of sin, creative confessions of faith, etc, etc.