Bishops Unveil Mass Revisions

A Special Post by Andy Bartelt

The new Roman Missal

That’s the front page headline recently in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in a very Roman Catholic metro area, to be sure. What follows is not even a superficial attempt to describe or analyze the changes, something that is worthy of some reflection by those more competent in such things. Though of the three changes highlighted, the one that first caught my eye is to change the response to “the peace of the Lord be with you always” from “and also with you” to “and with your spirit, “ which is what many of us grew up saying in the first place. The reasons for such alterations and even restorations would be interesting to know.

Nor is this an attempt to comment on the way changes are made and implemented, not dissimilar, I suppose, to our “new hymnal project” with a synodical commission and various forms of collaboration, workshops, and introductions. It is a good thing in any case to bring the church along with a sense of common purpose, including, as the news article notes, “small group meetings at parishes during which the laity will learn the history of both translations and the reasons for the changes.”

My comment here is more general, certainly prompted by this little news article but also consistent with lots of conversations and observations over the past years, focused not solely on a theology of worship but on the underlying ecclesiology that should never elevate the worship of a “local congregation” over the worship of the whole (dare I say trans-parochial?) church.

The point is simple. Worship in any part of the church is the worship of the church, not simply that local congregation. That is to say that there is a fundamental, organic sense of unity of the worship in all our congregations that is common and reciprocal.  That is not to say that it has to be exactly the same in every place and every time, but it should at least be recognizable in the basic “ordo,” as has often been said.

From my own experience among Roman Catholics, there is considerable room for creativity in music and expression, but I doubt if a Roman Catholic would attend mass in another parish and fail to feel at home or even wonder what had just happened. Of course, we don’t agree with the entire RC ecclesiology, which certainly is centered in the bishop of Rome and organized (horror of horrors!) “top down,” but we might recall that we are certainly closer to the biblical theology of the whole church that catholic theology maintains (like “all Israel” in the OT, and the New, come to think of it) than to the independence of congregation and worship that characterizes American protestantism (though even there one finds fairly consistent patterns).

My reverend father, whom I seem to cite more and more as the years go by, would never have introduced anything new or different in the worship of the congregation committed to his care without some mutual conversation and admonition of the brethren, usually at the monthly “Winkels,” which functioned as sounding boards for the larger church to be at work at the local levels, including folks who had learned to work through disagreements, but all in the service of one Lord, one church, and the mission of the kingdom of God.

I wonder how much of our worship wars might have been averted had we worked on this as church, instead of as individual congregations or networks of like-minded congregations that often arose precisely because we could not work together as a whole church, finding that great Lutheran balance between unity and freedom, between universals and particulars, between the trans-historical throughout space and time and the incarnational specificities within space and time, between a rich and robust theology of worship that includes appropriate diversity and the troublesome extremes of overzealous uniformity that demands conformity and purely localized decision making that approaches anarchy.





One response to “Bishops Unveil Mass Revisions”

  1. Mark Avatar

    Given that you admit “fairly consistent patterns” aren’t expression like anarchy and independence over the top?

    Doesn’t 1 Cor 3:10-15 almost assume something “approaching anarchy” but all done on the foundation of the apostles? The admonition is given to take care how you build, but it assumes that the building will happen and good and bad be left to the judgement of God on The Day.

    Isn’t the core theological problem a confusion of the kingdoms. Trying to find something called church (in the right-hand kingdom) larger than the local congregation and smaller than the one, holy, catholic and apostolic is pretty hard. The LCMS has certainly spent a whole lot of theological time and effort trying to define a intermediate entity. Wouldn’t denominations and trans-parochial entities be better off just accepting themselves as left-hand kingdom entities? Isn’t that really the role of Power & Primacy in the Lutheran confessions – to guard against human structures assuming divine authority? I know those are unfashionable questions, but as long as that middle entity claims right-hand status, deviations from norm like worship practices are greeted as heresy and not as practical issues.

    My guess is that those who are on the other side of the worship wars would say they did try and work on this as church and were met with scorn – they are attacking and undermining the church! It is only in the aftermath that we hear the lament and cries about working together. We burned our own churches down, out of allegiance to something that was not the church.

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