Discussion regarding the practices of worship and the implementation of new resources have been a part of church life from age to age. The intent, in the past as well as in the present, is to revitalize both our worship and our spiritual lives as we return to the fundamentals of the Word, the Bath, and the Meal.
Since adopting The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament in 1997, the ELCA has continued seeking to deepen and renew worship. Most recently, this has occurred through continued conversations and a series of planned consultations on major aspects of worship life that have resulted in Principles for Worship and a trial series of new resources.1
009; The intent of these conversations and consultations is to encourage "full, active, and conscious participation" in worship. The aim is revitalization of worship and of the spiritual life of the baptized.
009; The challenge is, of course, that renewal and revitalization are difficult, especially when clergy and congregations experience a certain unevenness about the reception and adoption of suggested patterns for worship renewal.
009; Resistance to suggested patterns happens for all sorts of reasons. Some folks have become accustomed to a familiar way and see little need to give much time or attention to changing their practices. After all, they reason, who's to say that the recommended practices are truly better?
009; Furthermore, some of the recommended practices mean that we must pay attention not only to what we do in worship but also to matters such as the liturgical climate, furnishings, interior architectural spaces, and aesthetics — that is, things that cost.
009; Critical to the modern liturgical movement has been the suggestion that a deepening and renewal of worship and congregational life necessitates revisiting the central foundations of our sacramental life-the Word, the Bath, and the Meal. The question, the problem, and the challenge for our church is "How do we do this?"
009; The question of "how" is, in fact, also the subject matter of current discussions. New resources alone will not result in renewal. For the desired transformation to be as widespread and deep as the church hopes, more will be required. Suggested sacramental practices and principles may help us to move forward into the future, but if these recommendations are not taken seriously, the promised fruit — which would be borne with God's grace and favor — will not be realized.
009; In our contemporary world, as we often are fixated on immediate resolutions to life's perplexing dilemmas, how do we engage in reform and renewal as we remain faithful to the Lutheran confessions, advance contemporary ecumenical convergences, and participate in earnest in the life of the modern world?
009; Helping folks to see what is central as central — the Word, the Bath and the Meal — may require some reeducation and reorientation. Questions to ponder include: How is it that things come to mean what they mean? In grasping the centrality of these foundational elements of our sacramental life, do we allow ourselves to surrender to God's outpouring of grace? Or, do our reservations — about time, space, hymnody, who's there with us, feeling foolish or unpracticed, or needing this use of time to personally benefit us in immediate, tangible, and empirical ways — prevent us from abandoning ourselves to the imaginative play and work of the baptized — that is, the liturgy?
Renewal in the Past
For the past 30 years, advocates of liturgical renewal have focused on reshaping liturgical texts, developing new music, and rearranging liturgical furnishings, rubrics, seating, lighting, paraments, vestments, fonts, altars, and ambos. While doing this, great attention has also been given to helping congregations to hear and know more of the contents of Scripture by revising the lectionary to include Old and New Testament readings, psalmody and canticles, and large portions of the Gospels.
Included with these efforts has been a concentration on daily prayer offices for congregational use along with an emphasis on inclusive language. New hymnals have been produced that pay attention to African American, Hispanic, and Asian cultures.
Much has happened and much more remains to happen. But, in all these things over the past 30 years, we have been urging that the life of the baptized — our life with God — be centered around the Word, the Bath, and the Meal.
Of course, reforms have not been limited to the past 30 years. Students of the liturgical movement among Lutherans can trace some of the most basic reforms in North America to the Service Book and Hymnal (SBH), to American Lutheran patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, and to Martin Luther himself.
For example, the idea that the principle service on Sunday mornings should be a Service of Word and Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, was referred to in the introduction to the SBH in 1958.2 In 1786 one year before his death, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, expressed the hope that there might be "one church, one book" for Lutherans in America.3 Luther recommended moving the altar-table away from the east wall so that the priest-presider would be facing the worshipping assembly.4
The community that gathers in the name of Jesus needs the help of renewal to radically re-envision the cosmos and their participation in the present-future reign of God. The call to deepen and renew worship is at heart a call to be involved in God's ultimate renewal of creation. We are called, gathered together in God's name, to participate in God's transformation of ourselves into Christ's body so that God's will may be done in peace and justice.
Some Current Concerns
In the reflections that follow, I will focus on the nature of signs and symbols, central furnishings and the Eucharist, and the pivotal place of the catechumenate in regards to renewal. Simplicity in form and structure can help imagination.
When the Holy Scriptures and the sermon are shared from one reading desk or ambo, the unitive nature of the wholly Scriptures as bearer of the gospel of Jesus Christ is underscored phenomenologically through sight, sound, and space. The very first principle of the Use of the Means of Grace (see page 6) highlights the theological import of furnishing such a spatial gesture. (See also application 7b in The Use of the Means of Grace, p. 14.)
Likewise, placing a font or baptismal pool in a central location of the congregation has polysemic benefits. One can tactilely feel the dewy presence of water, even on Sundays when there are no baptisms. The cleansing, healing, and purifying aspects of water are also evident to body and soul as the assembly moves in and out of its gathering center. And the Bath's purpose as God's washing and claiming of us is made readily apparent.
"One loaf, one cup," clearly evident as central symbols of the Eucharist, often are missing when I visit congregations. On one hand, we teach that the mystery of Christ's Eucharistic presence is not diminished by not having all elements for distribution on the altar table during the Great Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, some symbols are better conveyors of Eucharistic unity than others. I believe a common loaf and a common cup are the best symbols (though pastoral discretion might suggest the use of a pouring lip chalice in places where there is concern about transmission of disease).
Continuous distribution of the entire worshipping assembly, rather than communion by tables, is another example of how ritual can assist God's people in embodying shared oneness. Whatever we do and however we do it, care must be taken that, when the sacrament is distributed, we attend to the value of the Eucharist as a corporate sign of unity.
Attention to ritual may help to reawaken us to new life with God. But renewal probably will not happen without our clergy and our assemblies together imagining God's kingdom coming to dwell in their midst.
We need to find ways to give our faith to a world that is hungering for the mercy and goodness of God. I advocate using the catechumenate as one of the ways of doing this.
The complexity of our world is such that the sufferings, difficulties, and the pressures of everyday life are often overwhelming. People often are seeking involvement in a community where they are welcomed and sustained with depth. Sometimes, folks seek such community without God by being in a social club or network of like-minded and similarly typed people.
But sometimes people realize their need for God, as well as their need to experience life with a group of people for whom a relationship with God matters. When a congregation and pastor embrace the catechumenate, they are consciously deciding to participate in sharing their life with God through relationships that matter.
The catechumenate requires a baptized community to embrace the future God is calling them to and to enter into it. Pastor and laity are involved in sharing the meaning and contents of faith, dealing with questions such as: Why does life with God matter? Can we provide and extend care at moments of celebration and grief throughout life's passages? How do we as mature adults participate in the building up of God's kingdom here and now?
|Critical to the modern liturgical movement has been the suggestion that a deepening and renewal of worship and congregational life necessitates revisiting the central foundations of our sacramental life — the Word, the Bath, and the Meal.|
When the catechumate is adopted as the pastoral plan of the local church, the responsibility for sharing the faith in a way that people can understand is extended beyond the limits and constraints of one particular pastor's gifts and abilities. The priesthood of believers is realized as members of the worshipping assembly take responsibility for sharing and teaching the faith. As members share the faith and teach one another, the mutual consolation of sisters and brothers also occurs — even as leadership in prayer, song, governance, and education are shared. Isn't this — adults sharing their beliefs about life with God — at least in part the meaning of living out the vocation of the baptized?
Attention to ritual may help to reawaken us to new life with God. The use of the new trial resources that are being published and released may open our hearts and minds to discovering, and experiencing, life with God in new ways. But, for resources to be helpful, we must risk using them, and for re-newal to actually occur, we must surrender ourselves, our churches, and our future to God's Holy Spirit.
Do we dare speak God's dream for the renewal of the face of the earth, so that, when we gather, all tribes and families of nations shall be as one with the church and her Christ?
There is so much more that needs to be said. My primary purpose in this article is to provide reflection for beginning conversations, hopefully, about the renewal that is to come.
Resources are being released step by step as they become available. Consultations, workshops, and gatherings will continue as we try to move ahead in this new century as God's people. In the meantime, let's continue the conversation. For amid all the complexities of life in this present age, it is true, these things matter.
Joseph A. Donnella II is senior chaplain at Gettysburg College, of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one of the 28 colleges and universities of the ELCA. Pastor Donnella has also been a campus minister, congregational pastor, and the Lutheran chaplain at Howard University. He has served on the ELCA Sacramental Practices Task Force. He is a member of the Resource Proposal Group for Renewing Worship resources.
1. Released to date are: Congregational Song, Principles for Worship, Holy Baptism and Related Rites and Life Passages: Marriage, Healing, Funeral. A volume of congregational song entitled New Hymns and Songs will be published later this summer. All Renewing Worship resources are available for purchase from Augsburg Fortress and on the Renewing Worship Web site at www.renewingworship.org
2. "Preface to the Liturgy," Service Book and Hymnal (Minneapolis, MN, Philadelphia, PA, et.al, 1958) pp. vi-viii. See specifically, "Omitting such elements as were inconsistent with the scriptural basis of the mass, the reformers devoutly retained what had been evangelical in a liturgy as old as the Church itself. They preserved the structure both of the Church year and the communion service, the principle of historic propers and pericopes, vestments and altar appointments. By their emphasis on the participation of the congregation through responses and canticles, and the singing of hymns, as well as on the essential place of sacrament and sermon, they restored biblical balance to the liturgical service" (p. vi)....
"...A vision clearer than was sometimes possible in the turmoil of the Reformation controversy has revealed the enduring value of some elements which were lost temporarily in the sixteenth century reconstruction of the liturgy, as, for instance, the proper use of the Prayer of Thanksgiving and the essential meaning of the term 'catholic' in the creeds. At the same time the study of the liturgy has demonstrated more fully the profound inner identity of the reformers with the evangelical nature of the original eucharistic service..." (p. vii)
"...the Common liturgy presents the full Service of the Church with all its provisions for all who wish to use it." (p. vii)
3. In the Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship by Philip H. Pfatteicher (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990), one discovers the following footnote: "In a letter of November 5, 1783, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg wrote, 'It would be a most delightful and advantageous thing if all the Evangelical Lutheran congregations in North America were united with one another, if they all used the same order of service.' Since that time, Lutherans in North America have cherished the dream of 'one church, one book.'" See also pg. 182, The Lutheran Liturgy by Luther D. Reed (Philadelphia, Muhlenberg Press, 1947), reprinted in 1985 by Concordia Press, St. Louis.
4. See schematics provided in Leiturgia/ Handbuch des Evangelischen Gottesdienstes, (Kassel, Barenreiterdruck, 1954), pp. 391-92. Also see Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical by Frank C. Senn (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), pp. 529-530.