The Dangers of Hyper-Ritualizing Lutheran Worship
Or: Why "Say the black, do the red" is the wisest course
I've grown concerned, once more, that we have at work in our Synod an overreaction to how some have moved away, in some cases nearly completely, from the the historic form of Lutheran worship. I've posted several times on the problems in moving away from historic Lutheran worship and practices. But I also see a problem with what I regard as a rigidity that has set in, in some circles, when it comes to what I'll call a "hyper-ritualization" of the Lutheran Liturgy. It is happening because of a well-intentioned desire to resist the movement to abandon the historic liturgy altogether, but it is not a measured reaction. It is over-reaction.
I think some are are getting too concerned about Medieval-era Roman Catholic rubrics calling, for example, for a pastor to hold his fingers in a certain
position, in a certain way, "just so" when performing the liturgy. It is this kind of
hyper-ritualization of all things having to do with worship and liturgy
that is about the best formula I can imagine for turning people away
from the liturgy. The better way is to "say the black, do the red" as contained in the
hymnals and its companion volumes, not trying to "one up" the church's
accepted worship resources.
The case in point I have in mind is the advocacy of the pastor holding his thumb and forefinger together, unless he is touching a host, from the moment of the consecration to the benediction, during the service of Holy Communion. Such a practice derives from the Roman Catholic Latin Mass, as it developed during the High Middle Ages. It is a direct result of the doctrine of transsubstantion, as this web site site indicates:
Let me go back to the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries to see
how important the Church considered signs. The elevations of the Host
and Chalice were performed, not because of a theological question as
to the precise moment of transubstantiation, but rather to solve the
pastoral problem of people venerating the Host and Chalice before the
words of consecration were pronounced, and so that they would not be
confused as to the proper moment to display their devotion. At that
time, the rubrics indicated that the priest would only make a medium
bow after the consecration of each species, and not a genuflection.
It is also at this time that the instruction ‘Indutus
planeta’ was given for the priest to hold his thumbs and
forefingers together after the consecration of the host. Source.
Consider then how the Medieval Latin Mass, as it is being reincarnated today in the Roman Communion, was a result of false doctrine concerning the Lord's Supper and the purpose of the service of Holy Communion (the Mass). It is not wise to be fondly looking back not to the Reformation era for its traditional liturgical practices, but back to the low-point of the Medieval Roman Mass. Here are the instructions for how to pronounce the Words of Institution, with the rubric about the finger holding.
Consecration of the Host:
- Just before the “Qui pridie…” (“The
day before He suffered”) is said, the priest wipes his thumbs
and forefingers on the Corporal.
- Just before the words of
Consecration, he uncovers the Ciborium if there is one.
- He places both elbows on the altar, bows his head and pronounces the
words of consecration, “HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM”,
distinctly, secretly and reverently.
- After the consecration, the priest must hold his thumbs and
forefingers together until the post-communion, unless of course he is
touching or holding the host.
- The priest genuflects in adoration (by this time, the ‘medium’
bows have been replaced with genuflections).
- The Elevation of the Host follows, as high as the priest can
comfortably do so.
- He then replaces the consecrated host back on the Corporal.
- Again he genuflects all the way down to the ground.
- If there is a Ciborium, he replaces the cover at this time. Source
Let us keep in mind that at the same time in the Western Church's history when there was the greatest accumulation of rubrics, rites, ceremonies, layered on in increasing levels on to the basic structure of the Communion service, there developed the most horrendous errors in regard to the Lord's Supper and the Church's teaching and confession of what the Communion service was all about. It was precisely these sort sorts of highly elaborate rituals that were used to prop up what the Smalcald Articles identifies as the "greatest abomination" — the Roman Mass.
I am quite concerned by the fact that there are those who are advocating for a return to the form of the Communion service as found during the High Middle Ages, as described on this web site. Here is another detailed web page describing the classic Roman Mass. Trying to go back to such rubrics and practices, that are not part of our Synod's worship forms, hymnals and agendas, is highly unwise, to say the least.
The best way to help our congregations grow in their appreciation for the historic, traditional Lutheran liturgy is
not to try to reinstitute practices that derive from a time and place where the precise manner
in which the liturgy was performed was required in order to merit
satisfaction and offer a worth sacrifice. I am, by no means, ridiculing traditional liturgical
practice, but I would like to counter the arguments advanced by
some that the "better" way is to try to follow the kind of minutiae
of liturgical rubrics that were refined to a "high art" during the darkest times for the Gospel in the Medieval Roman Catholic Church.
Martin Luther himself had a grand time tweaking the noses of those too
caught up in questions of rubrics, gestures and vestments. For example, Luther had this to say to a man who was concerned that in
the Brandenburg area many of the Roman customs were retained, Luther,
not wanting to make any laws about these things, sent a reply that is
fairly dripping with sarcasm:
"Provided the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached purely with no human
additions and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are
observed, with no invocation of the saints, no carrying of the
sacrament in procession, no daily masses and vigils for the dead, no
holy water and salt, and provided that pure hymns are sung in Latin and
German, then it does matter if there be a cross of gold or silver,
whether the cope be of saffron, silk or linen; and f the Elector is not
content to put on one gown, let him have three the way Aaron wore them,
one on top of the other; and if he doesn't find one procession enough,
let him go around seven times like Joshua with trumpets blowing; and if
he wants to leap with the harp, psaltry, and cymbals, let him dance
like David before the ark. Conscience is not to be bound, and if we
have given up these practices in Wittenberg, we may have reason which
are not valid in Berlin. Except where God has commanded, let there be
freedom." (WA Br 8:635).
How does this quote apply here?
There are some well-meaning folks in our Missouri Synod who would wish not merely to adorn their liturgy with "extras," but also imply and suggest to others that these "extras" are really the better
way, a more attentive practice, a more acceptable, a more Lutheran, a
more churchly way of doing the liturgy. And therefore we must say: No,
you are wrong. You may of course, in Christian freedom, wear as many
robes as you like, and may hold your fingers however you wish, and may gesture, genuflect, bow and make as many signs of the cross as you wish, but you dare not
suggest that this is the "more appropriate" and the "better" way. It is
another way, not a more appropriate way.
I am concerned that some have mistakenly chosen to regard the matter of rubrics to be of
such essence to the Lutheran Confession that they have lost the joyful
sense of freedom in the Gospel, as espoused by Dr. Luther, or, at least, have given pious laypeople the impression that unless the "nth" degree of rubrics are followed or heeded that there is somehow something "less" about a worship service. This should not be.