A Forgotten Treasure – Church Liturgy, 1881
Almost completely forgotten in the annals of Lutheran liturgical history in North America is a slender volume that the Missouri Synod published for the first time in 1881. It was apparently the work of August Crull (1845-1923), whom Walther had charged with bringing the core German hymns and liturgical treasures of the Lutheran Church into the English language. The title of that little 88 page volume is telling: Church Liturgy for Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. Published by the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States. Translated from the German. This rather explodes the myth that the early Synod had no interest in work among English speakers. Quite the contrary. Walther had urged Crull to provide in English the orthodox hymns of the Lutheran Church and to put the Saxon service into that language.
The pedigree of Church Liturgy is largely that of the Herzog Heinrich Agenda of Ducal Saxony (1539). In itself, that order was one of the most stable liturgies in the whole history of the Lutheran Church. It shaped the lives of Johann Gerhard (whose own version of it was called the Casimiriana) and J.S. Bach. The remarkable story that Günter Stiller tells in Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (CPH, 1984) is the story of the Herzog Heinrich liturgy! It was largely unchanged from its first publication until it suffered “enlightening” in 1812. Partly to avoid the use of this updated, “enlightened” Agenda, and for freedom to return to the old Saxon liturgical tradition, the Saxon colonists came to America. Those colonists made the publication of a new Agenda one of the Synod’s chief projects in her earliest years. This was done in 1856 and the title page pointedly observes: Church Agenda for Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, Assembled from the old orthodox Saxon Church Agendas and set forth for the General German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States. Which is to say: skipping over the 1812 enlightened Agenda, they sought to hold fast the older Saxon tradition to which they were heirs.
This is the tradition that Crull puts into English in 1881. So, unlike the Common Service which was published later in the same decade, this English liturgy was not a compilation of what 19th century liturgiologists regarded as the best of Lutheran liturgies of the 16th century; it was rather one particular branch of that liturgy whose basic structure went all the way back to the initial ducal Saxon visitation accomplished under Justas Jonas and approved by Luther himself.
Church Liturgy is divided into three sections: Sacred Ministerial Acts (Baptism of Infants, Attestation of Baptism, Baptism of Adults, Confirmation, Solemnization of Marriage, Communion of the Sick); Order of Divine Service (Morning Service; Afternoon and Week Day Service; Catechetical Instruction; Short Service; Service for Confession; Early Communion; Burial; Day of Prayer and Repentance); and finally an appendix composed of “antiphonies (15) and collects (17).”
Due to limitations of space, we’ll just be peeking into the Morning Service – that is, the Hauptgottesdienst. This liturgy begins abruptly with the hymn “Lord God Father” – that is, Crull’s translation of Kyrie, Gott Vater. At the close of this hymn, the minister steps forward to the altar and intonates: “Glory to God in the highest!” Whereupon the congregation answers with “All glory be to God on high” – singing the great Gloria hymn of Decius, again in Crull’s translation. At the close of the hymn the minister again approaches the altar and facing the congregation gives the salutation followed by the antiphon (on festival days, two antiphons). The antiphon, we might note, rather takes the place of the Introit that has disappeared in setting the tone for the day. Thus, the example provided in the liturgy itself is from Advent:
M: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Hallelujah.
C: Make His paths straight. Hallelujah.
M: Hosanna to the Son of David. Hallelujah.
C: Hosanna in the highest. Hallelujah.
Then facing the altar, the collect. Note that this is not a proper for each Sunday, per se, but a “suitable collect.” The Saxon tradition did not render all the traditional collects into German, nor did this English tradition.
The order gives both the collect for Advent and a collect for Sundays, both of which the congregation answers with “Amen!”
The Epistle is read from the altar and bears this rather long introduction: “The Christian congregation may hear now with due devout attention the Epistle for the day, the first Sunday in Advent, which is written in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans in the 13th chapter, from the 11th to the 14th verse, and reads as follows:” The congregation then stands to hear the Epistle.
Following the Epistle, the pastor withdraws from the altar and the congregation is to sing “the leading hymn” – what we would call “the hymn of the day.”
The Holy Gospel is introduced next and likewise read from the altar: “The Christian congregation may hear also with devout attention the Gospel for the day, the first Sunday in Advent, which is written in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, in the 21st chapter, from the 1st to the 9th verse, and reads as follows:” Again, after the announcement, the congregation stands.
Immediately after the Gospel is read the people sing the Credal Hymn: “We All Believe in One True God.” The pastor enters the pulpit during the third verse of this and begins on festival days with an ex corde prayer or on common Sundays with an apostolic greeting. The Gospel is invariably reread and then preached upon.
At the end of the sermon, invitation is issued to confession: “Having heard the Word of God, let us now humble ourselves before the supreme Majesty of God, and make a confession of our sins, saying:”
The confession that follows is largely the one in Divine Service III of The Lutheran Service Book, beginning, “O Almighty God” with some minor textual differences. The absolution, though, is different enough to print out in its entirety: “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you who heartily repent of your sins, believe on Jesus Christ, and sincerely and earnestly purpose by the assistance of God the Holy Ghost, henceforth to amend your sinful lives, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of God + the Father, God + the Son, God + the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
This confession is followed by a prescribed Prayer, a general prayer for all sorts and conditions and followed up by a series of occasional prayers that would be needed from time to time (for the communicants, for betrothed persons, for woman after childbirth, birth of twins, stillborn child, churching of women, churching of mother when child was stillborn, death of a young person, death of an adult).
All of this was led from the pulpit, not the altar. The minister closes with the Our Father and gives a brief blessing before descending from the pulpit.
When communion is celebrated, the congregation sings: “Create in me…” and the pastor goes to the altar to arrange all things for the consecration. He faces the congregation to give the salutation, but the altar to sing “Lift up the hearts!” and “Let us give thanks unto our Lord God!”
Prefaces are provided for general, Christmas Day, Epiphany Day, Lent, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, and Feast of the Holy Trinity. They usually begin: “It is very meet and right, becoming and salutary…”
The Preface leads into the Sanctus, which assumes an interesting form:
Holy, holy, holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is Mary’s Son [or, the Paschal Lamb] that cometh in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!
The minister then chants the Our Father, the congregation answering with the doxology, and then the pastor chants the Words of Institution to which the congregation answers with the singing of “Lamb of God, O Jesus!” – Crull’s translation of the Agnus Dei.
Following the distribution of the Sacrament, the minister is to intone “a suitable antiphony” [the example is: M: As often as ye do eat this bread and drink this cup. C: Ye do show the Lord’s death till He come]. This is followed by Luther’s closing collect from the German Mass:
Let us give thanks unto the Lord and pray: We thank Thee, O Lord, Almighty God, that Thou hast refreshed us through this wholesome gift, and we beseech Thy mercy, that Thou wouldst cause it to redound in strong faith toward Thee and in fervent love among us all, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.
The congregation answers Amen! The Aaronic Benediction closes the liturgy followed by the singing of “May God be Praised” [our “O Lord, We Praise Thee,” “Gott Sei Gelobet”] or another suitable hymn and then silent prayer.
This English form was thus available to the congregations of the Missouri Synod a few years prior to the publication of the Common Service and its adoption by the English Synod. The old Saxon Service in fact continued in Missouri’s English publications right up till the arrival of The Lutheran Hymnal. It appeared in print for the final time in the 1936 Church Agenda, where it was denoted as Divine Service, Second Form; First Form being the Common Service.
Sadly, in most accounts of Missouri’s liturgical history one finds nary a word regarding this little volume, Church Liturgy. One searches for information about it in vain in Lutheran Worship: History and Practice (CPH, 1993). It is almost as though it had never happened. That’s a shame, for when the Synod rendered her service in English she was not offering a reconstruction by liturgical scholars of a service that had in fact, in that form, never been used; she was offering her own treasured liturgy in which she had for centuries received the gifts of the Lord and extolled them with her hymns of praise. For myself I would have known nothing of Church Liturgy had not Dr. Norman Nagel years ago directed my attention toward this important but neglected chapter of Missouri’s liturgical history. I am most grateful to him for pointing it out, and to Pastor Paul Sauer for the invitation to tell a little bit of the story in the pages of Lutheran Forum.