Thursday, April 17, 2008

Liturgical Change

It is with some fear and trembling that I begin some liturgical change in the parish. It is always upsetting because everyone has a different take on what liturgy does.

Early in my ministerial career I was confronted with the changes from Latin to English in the Roman Catholic Church. It was a time of great pain for those who understood the Latin and loved the ebb and flow of the Latin syllables on the tongue. But for most Catholics, the Mass was impossible to follow. The great council of modern times, Vatican II, called for the Mass to be spoken in the vernacular. (Too bad the RC’s hadn’t paid attention to Martin Luther 400 years previously, but then we would never have had a Lutheran Church). When I was in the convent we had to create the daily prayer regimen in English. We used all kinds of books with the ubiquitous daily bulletin to tell us which book we were to consult and what page we were on. We must have had 6 or 7 books in our pews. The parish services were not much better. Much of the music we now claim as “contemporary” was composed during this time of transition from the Latin Mass to one in English.

Then I was ordained in the Episcopal Church shortly after the adoption of the present Book of Common Prayer. It was radically different from its predecessor. It used the YOU form for God rather than the THEE form. No one used “thee’s and thou’s” in normal speech and the way we referred to God turned the actual meaning of THEE and THOU on its head. It no longer communicated the feelings of intimacy intended by that form. Also a new theology of baptism was being proclaimed by the new prayer book. It upset people—mostly clergy who had to learn something new. Some churches were so upset that they left the Church rather than switch. Now after 30 years of using that formula to pray, few even broach the subject anymore. And now the Episcopalians will gear themselves for a new prayer book within the next 10 years. Liturgical forms need to change about every generation to meet the changes in vocabulary and communication.

The new Evangelical Lutheran Worship is a wonderfully creative aide to worship. It has 10 different settings, a full Psalter (unlike its predecessor), some wonderfully new hymns and some of the oldies and goodies that have supported Lutheran worship through out the ages. It has beautiful settings for morning and evening worship and numerous directions to help the planners of worship services to embrace the wideness available in the hymnal. It also reinstitutes the Easter Vigil of which I am quite fond, but with out all the problems of either the RC or Episc. I am amazed at the variety of offerings available in one hymnal. But I do see problems in learning the new hymnal: no page numbers in the Psalter, new psalm tones that may give us some problems and some versions of older hymns for the larger choir that won’t serve small congregations well. It will take some time to get this new hymnal under our belts, but I think it will be fun getting used to it.

Liturgy literally means the “work of the people”. It is what we do to honor God with our praise. But worship is actually God’s gift to us. It is the time we have to come in touch with ‘holy’ whether it is within our feelings, the things we learn, or if it is the mere setting aside the time to be present to God. Liturgy is not something that we are “to get something out of”; it is something that we are “to put ourselves into.” Worship is not a matter of what we learn from the pastor’s sermons, or the emotions that are generated by the music. Worship is what God does within us both individually and communally to make God’s will and presence known. There are generally moments when I am able comprehend God’s love for me and for creation within in the worship service. They don’t last long, but they are glimpses of what God holds out to me that draws me even closer to God.

I hope the ELW will be a way that will open us. Yes, it will be a bit bumpy for the next year or so. But if we are to stay present to the larger Church, we need to embrace it with all its blessings and all its reservations.

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