Thursday, August 29, 2013

Where There is No Peace (Or Maybe Too Much)

The other day, we pointed to the re-purposing of the Pax as an example of ELW's strange use of liturgical sources.  A thoughtful reader (and fine photographer) wrote to question this; his comment, in the post below,  is too long to reprint or respond to item-by-item.  But let's take this opportunity to talk about the Pax, or, as we usually call it these days,  the Sharing of the Peace.

St. Paul and St. Peter both urge Christians to "greet each other with a holy kiss," and this appears to be the origin of the practice.  The Fathers generally identify this "kiss" with the characteristic Middle Eastern greeting, "Peace be with you." Justin Martyr alludes to the practice, although whether as part of Mass generally or specific to the baptismal rite is unclear.

 Historically, however, it is part of the Mass.   In form, it is by no means always, or even usually, a kiss.  Among the Syriac Orthodox of southern India, the celebrant claps his hands around those of the deacon, who turns and does likewise to the subdeacons, who turn to the laity, each of whom turns to the person behind them -- and so, in perhaps half a minute, the peace of the Lord has travelled like a wave through the entire assembly.  We've participated in this, and it is both warm and dignified.

In the West, the ceremony eventually shrank to a simple verbal exchange:  "The peace of the Lord be with you alway," and the response, "And with thy spirit."  No kiss, no hug, no handclasp.  This, at least, is how Lutherans in America normally experienced it prior to the LBW.

During the 1970s, a fuller practice was "recovered" by advocates of the so-called Liturgical Movement.   Basically, this meant shaking hands with the people around you.  It was met with intense resistance at first; our own seminary president (a Presbyterian) remembers being called at home by members threatening to leave the congregation and take their money with them if he insisted on this folly.  To his enduring credit, he responded, "Folks, forget the historic liturgy.  If we can't turn to our neighbors and offer God's peace, we have a much bigger problem."

Eventually, however, the practice caught on.  In many congregations, it became and remains an occasion of great physical activity, as people (often led by the clergy) race to and fro, shaking as many hands as they are able.  Depending upon one's setting and perspective, this may be undignified, or it may be the only way to break the ice among chilly Euro-Americans.  At the worst, however, it becomes a liturgical abuse, as people stop worshiping to talk about baseball or their dentures.  (This is what we meant about it becoming a pastoral problem).

The "recovery" of the Pax is best understood as part of a broader "re-patritic-ization" of the liturgy.  Where the Romantic liturgiologists had sought medieval models, their 20th-c. successors sought patristic ones. The problem is that patristic worship models are difficult to reconstruct, and are tied to a culture long vanished.  A good example is the immense importance attached to a particular Eucharistic prayer from the Apostolic Tradition, on the assumption that it offers Hippolytus' testimony to ancient Roman practice.  More recent scholarship doubts that Hippolytus was the author; and even if he had been, the guy was a schismatic anti-pope, which raises the question of just how much use we want to make of his model.

In some places, such as the rites of initiation, the 20th-century Liturgical Movement's appropriation of patristic models was an enormous success.  In others, it has given more mixed results.  Communions are certainly more frequent now than they were a century ago; it is by no means certain that they are celebrated with greater joy or received with greater reverence.  Roman Catholics are struggling particularly with this, and under Benedict XVI began to chart a path away from the some of the perceived excesses of the last fifty-odd years. Under Benedict, Latin Masses were made a little more readily available, and the English translation of the Ordinary Form was rendered far more literally.

All of which brings us to ELW.  As Rome began to track a course back toward historic practice, the compilers of ELW moved further away.  Among the various instances of this motion, the translation of the psalter is, as we have often said, the most troublesome. But let us mention two others.

One is the curious use of the Gloria Patri.  Traditionally, in the Daily Office, it is used to conclude each psalm as well as each of the canticles (with a couple of exceptions).  The 1978 LBW removed it from the psalms, preferring instead a different collect proper to each psalm.

ELW continues the psalm prayers, of which we think quite highly.  But its use of the Gloria is erratic.  In Matins, it has been removed from the Venite, Psalm 95, where LBW retained it.  The logic, we assume, is that the Venite is one of the psalms, and the psalms no longer require the Gloria.  But should the proper prayer not then have been printed?  It has also been removed from the Benedictus, for no apparent reason.  In Vespers, contrariwise, it has been retained in the adaptation of Psalm 141, Let my prayer.  Why is it left here, here, but not in Matins?  We have no idea. Nor have we any idea why it has been removed from the Magnificat.  Meanwhile in Compline, the Gloria has been retained in the responsory and removed from the canticle Nunc dimittis.

So, to sum up:  the ELW Daily Office uses the Gloria Patri for the first psalm at Vespers but not Matins, and removes it from the three New Testament canticles.  We are aware of no reason for any of this; a friend who asked one of the drafters was politely given no answer.

As for the Pax, which is our real point in this absurdly long post:  ELW seems to insert it everywhere.  We expect it, historically, in the service of Holy Communion; since baptism and anointings in the ELW are clearly meant to take place in the Communion service, we are not surprised to see it there as well.  But ELW also adds it to individual confession (where the LWB also placed it) and as an optional conclusion to Matins, Vespers and Compline.

Basically, the only ELW services where the Pax isn't proposed or implied are Good Friday and Suffrages.  For Pete's sake (and we mean that literally)!  From a humble seed in the 1960s, it has grown like an invasive weed, finding a place in every corner of the garden.

All these things, of course, are not merely adiaphora, but truly petty.  Many a beautiful service has included no Gloria Patri, and it is hard to say that there may be too many expressions of peace among Christians.  And yet we cannot shake the sense that the decision-making process has been shoddy -- that the Gloria has been added or omitted because a particular composer felt it would make his tune prettier, or that the Pax has been added because the drafters were just desperate to make church seem friendly.

Maybe we're wrong.  Maybe there was a sober discussion, informed by history and theology, about which we are ignorant.  We invite those who worked on the book to explain it all to us.  Until then, however, we will retain both our suspicions and our discontent.  And our LBWs.


Matthew Frost said...

We have kept our LBWs as well (along with copies of WOV). Complaining about the ELW always makes me feel like an old man, and I'm only in my 30s. But that's in part because it makes me miss the SBH on which I grew up. (Rural congregations are like that—and I have a friend who took a call to one that still uses it!) On the other side of the family, my wife keeps a copy of the old blue Lutheran Hymnal and its 1969 supplement as well.

While we're comparing "liturgical abuses," it seems worth it to me to mention the appropriately sepia-toned Lutheran Service Book as the LCMS' effort to balance out our liberal sentiment with their own conservative sentiment—but equivalently bad liturgics.

Father Anonymous said...

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I have not had a chance to look over LSB yet -- I have spent much of its lifetime living out of the country, and so on and so on. I'm curious about it, of course ....

Matthew Frost said...

We came through Valparaiso, which at that time had the LBW and LW, along with WOV and the GIA red supplement. Now, when we go back, even with Valpo's more questionable relationship to Missouri, it's cranberry and brown instead of green and blue in the pews. Plus a few lingering Renewing Worship supplements...