Monday, April 07, 2014

And Heeeeere It Comes!

Is everybody enjoying Holy Week?

No, we aren't using some exotic kalendar, as perhaps of the Third-Order Antiochian Rite of St. Urho's Monastery.  It's just that, for us as for many people who lead worship, the sense of urgency connected to Holy Week begins very far in advance.  It comes speeding toward us like a freight train, visible from far off where it looks small and harmless, but seeming to gain speed just before it hits with annihilating force.

Like getting out of the way of a train, you need to be ready for Holy Week well in advance, or it will destroy you.

This year's schedule includes:

  • Vigil of Palm Sunday (Contemporary Style)
  • Palm Sunday 
  • Stations of the Cross (adapted for Youth Group)
  • Maundy Thursday (with First Communion)
  • Good Friday noon prayers
  • Good Friday tenebrae
  • Vigil of Easter (Contemporary)
  • Easter Matins (outdoors, at daybreak, in a contemporary idiom)
  • Easter Mass x2

It's actually a fairly mild schedule as these things go.  There is no public worship on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, for example.  (We interpret this as God's invitation to spend those days hot-tubbing with adult film stars or something.)  Many people have more worship services to organize than we do, and in any case our personal plan is to make Mother A. do all the work.

There are two complications:

(1) that this is our first year in a new parish.  This means putting a great deal of effort into figuring out just what sort of services are precious to the various sub-communities we serve.  Lutherans, the past masters of passive aggression, increase the challenge by saying things like, "Well, Pastor, what do you prefer?"  This, being translated from the original tongues, actually means, "I sure hope you plan to do this the way we like.  But we're not going to tell you what that is."

(2) juggling idioms.  The weekly worship at Paradise in the Piedmont Lutheran Church is divided between "traditional" and "contemporary" services.  Each idiom has its devotees, some of whom can be rather strident in their expression of preference. The challenge during the holy days is to show tokens of  liturgical respect to both sides, so as to prevent hurt feelings down the road.

The idiom-juggling is rendered comical by two facts:

(1) the fact that our "traditional" service is not particularly traditional at all. No choir robes, and a choir that only sings "anthems" rather than liturgical music.  Virtually no music composed before, say, 1650, and not much before 1850.  Heinously ugly paraments, especially during Lent.  Some nitwit taught them to say the Collect en masse.  No lavabo; no aumbry, tabernacle or even ciborium; certainly no crucifix anywhere near the free-standing altar.  And let's not even get started on the actual distribution of Communion, which involves self-intinction, small cups, grape juice, oversized ceramic chalices, and every other bad idea anybody has ever seen on vacation and come back to tell their long-suffering priest about with breathless enthusiasm.

Basically, the "traditions" expressed in this service -- as in so  many other Protestant worship gatherings each week -- are the traditions of the mid-20th century.  Whether these ahistorical practices are expressions of a dying form of Christianity or the instruments of its death is open for debate, but you can guess what we think.

(2) the fact that our "contemporary" service is really quite traditional.  It features a dedicated and well-rehearsed choir (they prefer to be called a "praise band," but we're not fooled), who are present every week; confession and forgiveness (unless Fr. A slips in an Introit); a weekly celebration of Holy Communion; use of the lectionary; standing for prayer; etc.  Throw in vestments and some incense, improve the distribution, and there really wouldn't be much to complain about.  It's certainly no less traditional than the other service, assuming one is able to take a long view of what constitutes tradition.

It may take the Anonymi a few years to sort all this out liturgically.  That's fine; we're in no hurry.  They're nice people, and it's a privilege to lead them in worship, even if they are a little confused about this "tradition" thing.  But you can imagine that we are approaching our first Holy Week -- one of the most tradition-steeped phases of the Christian year -- with a certain amount of pious trepidation.

How are things at your parish shaping up?


mark said...

Not much - so we'll head down the road to another congregation,

Unknown said...

I like Thomas Long's suggestion (Beyond the Worship Wars, '01) that music be considered vertically rather than horizontally. Instead of making decisions based on traditional vs contemporary, baroque vs victorian, plainchant vs praise chorus, considering only what is excellent and what is inferior. I suppose the same sort of criterion could be applied to liturgical forms themselves.

Regarding your mention about the liturgical function of the choir, try to find some propers on Augsburg's website! As far as I can tell, they are all out of print.

Father Anonymous said...

Long is right of course. (He was a huge influence on me in seminary, so it is natural for me to say that). And I agree entirely with the proposition that this principle extends to liturgical forms as well.

Which brings me, as so many conversations do, to my dissatisfaction with "Evangelical Lutheran Worship."

Most hymnals, and certainly most Lutheran hymnals, take for granted the idea that the church's hymnody should include the best of each age. The SBH, LBW and ELW all share this perspective, and it shows. I may not like some of their textual alterations, but they al include an excellent and wide-ranging selection.

But ELW had the potential to go a step further. Because it made use of a new printing technology that permitted a vast number of pages, it includes a staggering ten musical settings of Holy Communion. There's never been anything quite like that, to my knowledge.

But they're all the same, textually speaking. (At least 8 of them are, anyway). It would have been so easy for A-F to throw a bone to people who like Jacobean language AND to people who like radically gender-inclusive language, had they chosen to. But they didn't, so both groups get left out. The language is neither deeply traditional nor thoroughly inclusive.

As for propers: I don't think A-F has actually published musical settings of Introits and so forth since the SBH era. But I HIGHLY recommend Adam Bartlett's "Simple English Propers", published by the Church Music Association of America.

I only wish I could get my own choir interested in these.

Unknown said...

Fantastic resource, it will certainly see some use here! I'm still looking for SATB or SAB settings as well.

I couldn't agree more about the liturgies in ELW. Though there is some variety, a number of them are essentially similar in musical form. A brief look at the settings of the ordinary in the past two millennia shows the astounding possibilities for explication through music.