Friday, August 04, 2006

No Good Deed

The ELCA's publishing house, Augsburg-Fortress, is preparing a new "primary worship resource," or as we used to say, hymnal. (Lutherans customarily combine their prayer book and hymnal into a single volume). And there is anxiety in the air regarding Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Just last week, Father A.'s beloved godfather forwarded an email from Gracia Grindal, of Luther Sem. In it, she raised all sorts of wild alarums about the content of a book she has not yet seen, and knows about only from grapevine reports. Father A. gently pointed out to the beloved g. that Prof. Grindal is a career alarmist, especially prone to nasty remarks about the comparatively high-church traditions of East Coast Lutheranism. Oh, and she's trying to sell her own "alternative" book -- which makes any critique of ELW seem not only premature but crass to the point of cynicism.

In other words, I did my bit to support the team. You know, defending the Church and its organizations from those who scorn and belittle them, including seminary professors. Stuck by my side and all that.

And here's the thanks I get. Augsburg's website (click the link) advertises the book, which won't be published until October. Along with the pew edition, there is also a "Leaders Ritual Edition," which we are assured will "look good in procession or on the communion table or ambo."

Ritual Edition? Communion table? Sigh. The LBW used to call the big book that the presider reads from an "Altar Book." And it referred to the piece of furniture in question as an "altar." So did the SBH which preceded it, and the CSB before that. But apparently, that isn't good enough for the bold new world

Yes, I do remember Gordon Lathrop's seminary lecture on the importance of keeping alive both terms, "table" and "altar," as a way of reminding people that the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that we offer there is a shared meal, rather than bad mimickry of some pagan rite. And that's fair enough. But still.

Look, there has already been a longstanding compromise within Lutheranism, by which we don't call the big book by its traditional name, a Missal. That's the proper, traditional, medieval word. It's the word Luther would have used: the Mass-book. But of course some Lutheran ears burn like vampires spritzed with Holy Water when they hear the M-word. So, out of concern for the weaker brethren, we've settled for generations on a nice, neutral, mutually-acceptable word: Altar Book.

But now somebody has gone and upset the apple cart. Either they didn't know, or they didn't care. And either possibility bodes ill for ELW.

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