Too Much of a Good Thing? Thoughts on Rubrics
Rubrics: the instructions provided to those leading the church’s worship on the proper forms, gestures, postures and actions appropriate for the conduct of the Divine Service. These are usually provided in red ink in the books used by pastors to lead worship. The following are some thoughts on what I regard to be a case of too much of a good thing becoming a not so good thing.
I am concerned that rubrics to the extent described below may encourage a kind of elitist "we know best" and "we know better than the rest of the Synod" kind of attitude, which in turn, in my experience, leads, particularly younger pastors, to blur the line between ritualism and confessional Lutheranism. Further, it may very well mislead people into thinking that genuine Lutheranism is characterized by these kinds of ultra-ritualization of the Divine Service, which in fact is not found in historic Lutheranism, but rather in Romanism, where the precise conduct of the Mass is very much tied into regarding the Mass as a meritorious work by which we propitiate God. Is there a risk in emphasizing rubrics to this extent that we will, no doubt unintentionally, create false impressions?
I’ve noticed that pastors who are this much "into" rubrics tend to look down their noses at any pastor who does not conduct the Divine Service with this level of ritualism, regarding him as somebody who is "not really in the know" and "not as Lutheran" as "we" are. They have a tendency to fancy themselves the ones who "really" know what’s what and consider themselves to be "leaders" pulling the Synod along after their example, considering the approved hymnals and agenda of the Synod to be insufficient, lacking, deficient, etc. I’ve known any number of pastors who are so deeply immersed in rubrics that it finally ends up pulling them away from the faith of the Lutheran Church, either into Romanism or Eastern Orthodoxy.
I asked the person who posted the rubrics copied below what his source was and was informed they come from a mixture of Roman and Anglican sources, and from Lutherans fascinated by such sources in the 1950s and 1960s. I suspect that the source for such rubric details derives in fact not from Lutheranism at all, but in high-church Romanism and/or Anglicanism. See for instance this Anglican manual of rubrics which appears quite similar. I’ve had a hard time locating rubrics like this in the actual practice of historic Lutheranism from the age of orthodoxy. A good bit of this also comes from a LCMS seminary professor who died several decades ago. It was in response to this professor that Hermann Sasse wrote his essays, "A Warning Against the High-Church Danger" and nobody, that I know of, would ever have accused Dr. Sasse of being low church. In fact he was one of the most knowledgeable historians of the Western liturgy we’ve ever had.
I love the liturgy, but this degree of rubricification of the Divine Service may not be helpful ultimately in accomplishing the goal of maintaining and strengthening a love for the traditional liturgical worship of Lutheranism. And, lest anyone glow a gasket, let me say this. I would, anyday and twice on Sunday, much more prefer all of this to the alternative! So, remain calm. Don’t panic. I don’t intend to start putting on tent revivals.
Your thoughts? Am I simply seeing red, or is this something to be concerned about?
The subdeacon distributes the offering plates to the ushers and receives them back. The celebrant does not concern himself at all with the collection of the offerings unless there are no attendants. Meanwhile the server takes the items from the credence to the celebrant. First he takes the veiled chalice to the celebrant. The celebrant, upon receiving the chalice, places it just to the left of center. He carefully uncovers the chalice, folds the veil (ninefold), and places it on the altar to the right of the corporal. He removes the pall and places it on the folded veil.
removes the paten (which has the celebrant’s host on it) and places it
just to the right of the chalice (so that together, chalice and paten
are in the center), and removes the purificators, placing one of them
directly beside the corporal on the right, beside the pall and veil. With the other he wipes the inside of the chalice to ensure that it contains no dust particles. He then places the second purificator beside the first. Meanwhile the server takes the tray containing the silver paten with hosts to the celebrant. The celebrant removes the cover and takes the silver paten, thereupon replacing the cover. The server returns the tray to the credence. The celebrant places the silver paten with hosts to the right of and slightly behind the gold paten. One
of the two purificators is then unfolded lengthwise and placed across
both patens, covering most of the celebrant’s host and the communicant
hosts. The flagon and spoon are brought to him
next, and he places the flagon on the left toward the rear, and the
spoon on the far right toward the rear. The empty cruet is brought next, and he places this also on the right, beside and to the left of the spoon. Next the server carries the cruet with wine to the celebrant, with a plain purificator on his left arm. The
celebrant takes the purificator from the server’s arm to use when
pouring wine from the cruet (He should not use the two purificators
already on the altar, as these are used only for consecrated Species). He
carefully pours wine into the chalice (two-thirds full) and into the
flagon, using this purificator to keep drops from falling or running
down the side of the cruet. He then returns this cruet and purificator to the server. He then places the pall atop the chalice. The server then brings him the large tray with cups, which the celebrant places at the left side of the corporal.
of all, the server holds the lavabo dish out for the celebrant, who
turns toward the server and extends his forefingers and thumbs over it. The
server pours a little water over his fingers and thumbs, after which
the celebrant dries them on the towel which is draped over the server’s left arm. During this action he may also softly pray the lavabo (Psalm 26) as provided in the missal. He then subtly, and without turning toward them, motions the congregation to rise for the prayer of the church.
As the celebrant chants the Words of Institution, he bows his head at Our Lord Jesus Christ, takes the celebrant’s host between thumb and forefinger of both hands at took bread, lifts his eyes to heaven at had given thanks,
and, while still holding the celebrant’s host between his left thumb
and forefinger, he makes the sign of the cross with his right hand over
this host, and over the paten containing the other hosts to be
consecrated, touching the paten at four points of the cross he makes. Then, at the words of Christ, Take eat, etc., he bends over the hosts to be consecrated, holding the celebrant’s host between thumb and forefinger of both hands, with both elbows on the altar. Though all these words are uttered slowly and distinctly, the words of Christ are uttered even more slowly than the rest. For the words This do in remembrance of me, the celebrant stands erect, still holding the host. Then he genuflects once, and elevates the host slowly, still facing the altar. Gazing at the host, he whispers “My Lord and my God,” lowers it, and genuflects a second time. From
this point until the ablutions, the celebrant takes care never to
separate his thumbs and index fingers except as needed to distribute
Hosts. For the consecration of the wine, the same rubrics apply, except that the head is bowed rather than raised at had given thanks. While
the celebrant makes the sign of the cross with his right hand at “given
thanks” over the chalice, flagon, and tray, he places his left hand on
the base of the chalice as a precaution. At “took the cup,” the chalice
is held by the knop between the index and remaining fingers, while the
index finger and thumb are held together (to keep any crumbs from the
sacred host from falling). After “in remembrance
of me,” he sets the chalice on the corporal without removing his hands
from it, genuflects, and then elevates the chalice while gazing at it
as he had done with the host, this time whispering, “We therefore pray
Thee, help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious
blood,” lowers it, and genuflects a second time.