Home > Hermann Sasse > The Liturgical Movement in the Lutheran Church Needs to Wake Up from Its Romantic Dreams

The Liturgical Movement in the Lutheran Church Needs to Wake Up from Its Romantic Dreams

June 23rd, 2010
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“Even the Pope has reminded his bishops that the Masses that are secretly celebrated in prison camps, without any pomp, in utter simplicity, come very near to the Mass of the ancient church and are not inferior to a pontifical Mass. In Lutheran Germany, however, one can today hear theologians — even some who come from unliturgical Wuerttemberg — say that there is a form of the divine service that belongs to the essence of the church, even that Gregorian chant belongs essentially to the Christian liturgy. It is high time that the liturgical movement in the Lutheran church wakes up from its romantic dreams and subordinates itself to the norms to which the whole life of the church must be subject: the norma normans of Holy Scripture and the norma normata of the church’s confession. And this applies to all the Lutheran churches in the world, for the Scandinavian, in which the Anglican influence is so great, and for the American, in which the ideas of the European liturgical movement have now gained a footing. If this serious reflection does not take place, then the liturgical movement will become what it has become already for many of its adherents: the end of Lutheranism and the road to Rome.”

From “The Lutheran Understanding of the Consecration”, Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 26, July 1952, in We Confess the Church (pp117-118), Concordia, 1985.

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Categories: Hermann Sasse
  1. Crysten
    June 23rd, 2010 at 08:51 | #1

    Would this also be speaking to the unique services in other countries that use what they have to use? For example, drums and dancing in African nations or Native American areas. If so, this is something that I struggle with. Forgive me, Jesus.

  2. John Maxfield
    June 23rd, 2010 at 09:39 | #2

    As the quotation states, what is determinative is the norma normans of Holy Scripture and the norma normata of the church’s confession. And not whatever cultural phenomenon sets off alarms in someone’s personal experience.

    This piece by Sasse reads as timely in 2010 as it must have been in 1952. High time that Lutheran liturgical scholarship (and the Movement) comprehends this.

  3. EGK
    June 23rd, 2010 at 12:39 | #3

    When you see some of these things actually happening in other cultures, it is easier to appreciate them. To see Zulus in a Lutheran congregation dancing to the altar to leave their offerings is quite a moving experience. The Bible does say that we can praise God with dance!

  4. Pr. Tom Fast
    June 23rd, 2010 at 13:58 | #4

    One alarm set off in me is when a single pastor or congregation determine, all on their own and apart from any engagement with Tradition, what liturgical forms are most faithful to the norma normans and norma normata. That is frightening.

    Romantic engagement with recovered older forms will not be the salvation of the Church. This is true. How much less will salvation come from lustful excitements over novel and untested liturgical forms?

    I am hesitant to be too critical of “Lutheran Liturgical scholarship,” because we need more of it and not less. Lutheran liturgical scholars may not always be right, but at least they are not reckless.

  5. F. Ciampa
    June 23rd, 2010 at 15:24 | #5

    If Sasse felt this way in the early 50s when the LRM was still forming in the womb, what would he say today!

  6. June 23rd, 2010 at 16:56 | #6

    Personally I think Sasse is wrong on this one… it is not a love to monstrances that leads Lutherans to Rome or Constantinople… it is Lutherans not being Lutheran. That is enough to make a person lose confidence in the future, fear that what he doing is not going to make a difference in this church body (and congregation since another pastor can easily undo what one has worked so hard to do), and grow tired of the lack of a teaching magisterium to act with authority (or bishops or episcopresidents, whatever you want to call them). Almost anything that can be done in a Roman congregation can be done in a Lutheran one and there is more chance you will have a pipe organ and a liturgical choir in a Lutheran congregation vs a Roman one… It is not romance that entices but frustration that leads some to reconsider why not… I cannot make that same choice but I am not unsympathetic…

    • June 23rd, 2010 at 20:29 | #7

      It is always amazing to me how people are willing to embrace the heresy of Rome to satisfy their preferences in matters of adiaphora.

  7. June 23rd, 2010 at 20:24 | #8

    Sasse was ‘propetic’ about many things, Pr McCain. Interestingly, I’ve just been engaged in a discussion with an erstwhile Lutheran pastor who went to Rome who because in his eyes it ‘preserved the liturgy’, and never mind the false doctrine; he will not admit Sasse’s point. ‘Pan-liturgism’ (‘it’s all about liturgy’) can be a dangerous path to go down if you don’t keep your confessional bearings.

  8. Jen
    June 23rd, 2010 at 20:48 | #9

    Wow. 60 years later and we’re still here. :)

  9. Randy Keyes
    June 24th, 2010 at 09:47 | #10

    Hypothetical: What if a dispensational church used the liturgy someone thought best? Should they leave the confessions and follow Tim LaHaye for the sake of “preserving the liturgy” in such a case?

    This is an excellent clip from Sasse. Thank you.


  10. John Maxfield
    June 24th, 2010 at 10:39 | #11

    @Pr. Tom Fast
    The need is not for more or less Lutheran liturgical scholarship, but scholarship and practice that is grounded in the Lutheran Confessions and in the Reformation. Unfortunately, much in the Lutheran liturgical renewal movement has been and still is based on what Sasse here refers to as “Romantic dreams,” and, in fact, looks at the Reformation as an embarrassment and even a tragedy. I’m not suggesting that Luther and the Lutheran church orders of the sixteenth century should be simply repristinated (that is a form of “Romantic dreaming” of its own), but it is also interesting how concerns to reinstitute a eucharistic prayer have been so persistent. Not helpful also, in my view, are “footnotes” in our hymnals that make it seem like the traditional forms known among Lutherans for centuries are somehow impure simply because they differ somewhat from “the ancient text.” For example, the note in LSB that the last few stanzes in the Te Deum Laudamus were not in the earliest version. So what? The question is, do these stanzas reflect our church’s confession of the faith, and on this basis are they part of the tradition that should be handed down? Now I attend a fine liturgical church, but we stop singing at stanza 7 (I think it is, not having LSB before me). Seems very silly to me.

  11. Pr. Tom Fast
    June 24th, 2010 at 11:49 | #12

    @John Maxfield
    Of course I agree with Sasse and with you regarding the problem of repristination. However, at least the note about the Te Deum and the argument over the Eucharistic prayer demonstrates these things are actually receiving some careful scrutiny and what the Church has prayed and practiced in the past is at least taken into consideration.

    My concern is more narrow and parochial, I suppose. But what I see in the LCMS is Services created by individuals which are radically different in content and shape than anything the Church has done in the past. And the rationale for such whole cloth change is paper thin, at best.

    I could go into detail, but I don’t wish to be provocative.

    Put it this way: thank God you still have a hymnal that has ANY version of the Te Deum which you can sing. Because the trend is to set aside most of the Ordinaries, at least in the Divine Service. To be more accurate, I don’t know whether or not the Daily Office is also being stripped bare. But the Divine Service certainly is.

  12. Joanne
    June 25th, 2010 at 00:37 | #13

    Back in the 50s and 60s the high-church LC-MS was liberal theology. Now, the high-church LC-MS that I find online is Confessional minded. I’m pleased to find that.
    About those early Lutheran church orders, like say at Wolfenbuttle and Braunsweig, Magdeburg and Halberstadt. Repristinate a few and let me be the judge. If they’re no good, how can I know if I can’t see and hear them?
    That’s an idea for CPH. Blu-Rays of the early church orders in 3-D, HD. In Germany at the original churches. Fully researched, with professional voices and sound equipment. I’d pay at least 35 bucks for one. Boy choirs!
    Hey, I’m on a roll here. Do Luther’s dedication of the new Schlosskapelle at Hartenfels. Blow us away with whole story and the scenery. This is the Luther decade! Fully research the exact appearance of the chapel (hint: it was all as ornate as the pulpit, every inch). Bring Cranach and Walther back to life to create the moment in art and music.

  13. Kaleb Axon
    June 25th, 2010 at 03:00 | #14

    I’m sure Sasse was raising a valid concern about something he really saw happening in Lutheranism, but please be careful not to apply this to just any pastor or congregation who speak glowingly of traditional liturgy and even Gregorian chant.

    The Divine Service in a traditional form, and even Gregorian chant if a congregation is up for it, do not in themselves belong to the essence of the church, but their use in conjunction with sound catechesis communicates a message that *does*. Immersion in a rich tradition reinforces the fact that the Christian faith is ancient and unchanging. Sounds to me like something Americans could use a little more of, no?

  14. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    June 27th, 2010 at 20:28 | #15

    The Romantic dream of the liturgical movement is the idea from that era that the proverbial early church and/or Patristic era was some sort of golden age to which modern research will restore us by cutting and pasting from this and that source to create new orders supposedly more true to this ecclesiastical version of the Romantic Rousseauian “noble savage”. The results are everywhere, in the novus ordo and wannabe efforts constructed out of this same Romantic methodology, while their and our versions of the real deal languish as “extraordinary form” or “historic” liturgy

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