09 November 2006

On the term "High Church"

When I was a student at Bronxville donkey years ago, I had a friend who was an Anglican. He used to irritate me with reminding me that the Lutheran Eucharist is really only a fellowship meal in which we imagine we receive our Lord's body and blood because, alas, our pastors are not in "valid orders." One day he introduced me to a friend of his, a deacon in the church, I believe, and he made a curious comment that I've never forgotten.

"You all really are rather low, but I've checked out your hymnal and was surprised to see what a high church view it took on the Eucharist."

A "high church view"?

It then hit me that Anglicans, who were the first to use the terms "high church" and "low church" were not merely describing "lots of traditional ceremonies" and "minimal traditional ceremonies" by those terms. They were describing different DOCTRINES of the Sacrament (and of the Church and of the Ministry).

That's one reason why I think it's silly - even if Sasse does it and McCain quotes him - to use this term borrowed from the Anglicans to describe ANY Lutheran. Fidn't dit. ALL faithful Lutherans will be regarded as "high church" by the Anglicans when it comes to our *doctrine* of the Sacrament.

Far better than "high" and "low" and all the terrible epiteths that run with either one (chancel prancing etc.), let's just recognize that with Lutherans you have folks who make greater or lesser use of the church's ceremonies when it comes to the Eucharist, and that the greater or lesser use in no way impinges the truth that is taught.

At our altar, we elevate the sacred species, and I genuflect. I know plenty of places who do, and plenty more who don't. I'd argue that genuflection and elevation is fitting and reverent, but I wouldn't dream of saying that those who do not elevate or genuflect have shown irreverence to the Sacrament. Now, I *will* say that those who rush through the Words of Institution as if they were auctioneers trying to get it over with, impede reverence. But really, can't we let the Anglicans KEEP their language - it fits them and their doctrinal diversity. It is not fitting for us, who insist that we do not condemn one another for greater or fewer ceremonies not commanded in Scripture.

So, is Weedon "high"? Well, I've only had half a glass of wine, but I'd be tempted to say, "stupid question!" Better question is: "What is confessed at St. Paul's altar and how is that confession expressed in the Church's traditional ceremonies?"


cheryl said...

Well, even when if comes to the issue of ceremonies, doctrine aside, there really should be no such thing as "high" and "low". There's way too much diversity in Lutheranism, in regards to our "ceremonies".

You said:

I'd argue that genuflection and elevation is fitting and reverent, but I wouldn't dream of saying that those who do not elevate or genuflect have shown irreverence to the Sacrament.

I wouldn't say they have shown irreverence, but it may very well reflect a sacramentology different from your own. I'd be less concerned about the fact that they aren't genuflecting, and more concerned about why they aren't genuflecting.

You also made mention of "faithful Lutherans". But I really, honestly do wonder what it takes to be a faithful Lutheran...seriously. Never have been able to figure that out completely.

michael said...

very good write up.
vicar michael standfest

Anonymous said...

So I guess that church that did the "Clown Eucharist" would be... where? in the basement?


William Weedon said...


I agree - the reasons for using or refusing church ceremonies are vital. By faithful Lutheran in this context I was referring to those who hold to the teaching of the Sacrament as contained in, for example, the Small Catechism, as opposed to those who say that in the Sacrament "Jesus" is present (with no mention of His most holy body and blood for the remission of our sins).




Not the basement. The DOGHOUSE. Kyrie eleison X 40...

ConcordiaFan said...

But what about the prancing? I want to hear about the prancing!!!

Manny said...

What abour genuflecting (the right knee to the ground)? Is that practiced within the Lutheran cermeonial rite?

William Weedon said...




Certainly there are Lutherans who genuflect. It is not nearly as common as bowing, but it is done.

Kepler said...


Your friend's friend was incorrect in his characterization. The term "high Church" is a description for those Anglicans who were responding to the Latitudinarian movement in 17th century Britain.

The Latitudinarians were those who wanted to find the lowest common denominator beliefs so that everyone in Britain could worship together. This involved stripping altars of candles and such, getting rid of vestments, and other liturgical practices which the non-conformists (Puritans) found offensive.

The latitudinarians were countered by Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, who demanded services with all of the trappings, so to speak. But during this early time period, the Anglican Church was pretty much completely "sacramentarian" in its Eucharistic theology.

This "high" view of the sacrament of which your friend spoke was a product of the Anglo-Catholic movement (which is also "high church", but not in the original sense) of the 19th century.

Your post is spot on, but your friend's friend was a bad historian.

Dixie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rose said...

"...but I wouldn't dream of saying that those who do not elevate or genuflect have shown irreverence to the Sacrament."

Maybe not irreverence but I would suggest something not quite enough--whatever it is called. I fear when practice doesn't match what is believed then there is great risk at winding up with "Clown Mass" or "Halloween Mass".

We have been relocated several times by my employer plus I travel a bit for work and I had seen a general lack of reverencing or even acknowledging the sacred. I think the absence of practices which teach people about sacred things and sacred places undermines the intent to communicate what is being done.

I know I am not Lutheran any longer and have essentially forfeited my right to comment but my husband and oldest son are still diehard Lutherans so I am concerned for their understandings. I don't agree that when it comes to the Eucharist there should options with regard to reverential practice. At my husband's church they recently had a survey and 90% of the respondants said they think the laity should be allowed to administer the Sacrament to shut-ins. I can only presume that the loss of the sense of the sacred leads to this kind of thinking

Pastor H.R. Curtis said...

I think ceremonies matter a great deal. As our Confessions point out - what we do teaches the people.

So picture this. You walk into Parish A and see Pastor A in khakis and a polo shirt randomly walk up to the altar after a praise song and buzz through Verba without any bowing or even pausing after each consecration (over a faux-brass paten and stack of individual cups of course.)

In Parish B on the other hand, Pastor B wears the traditional Lutheran vestments (see Ap. XXIV.1) and elevates and genuflects after each consecration.

Now I ask you: Which parish could you believe teaches receptionism?

As our Confessions also point out, in a time of controversy over a gift point, a ceremony itself can become a point of confession. I would say that in our midst today, a genuflection or a deep, slow reverent bow is a point of confession against receptionism. And to leave this ceremony out, at the very least sends a mixed message to the people - and at most is in fact a confession of receptionism.


William Weedon said...


Thanks for setting the record straight on that!

Rose and Fr. Heath,

Agreed in general. But I would maintain that a pastor who reverently speaks, or preferably chants, the Holy Verba and then administers the sacred species to his people has also shown by the way he conducts himself that he is standing before the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and that he holds in his hands the ransom price of the whole world. I am merely arguing that one need not genuflect before our Lord's body and blood (though why any should wish not to I have never fully understood - Phil 2 looms) to hold a most reverent mass.

I do speak against any and every form of "casualness" that belies the miracle of the Eucharist and makes it something "ours" instead of always what it is: "the Lord's!"


Anonymous said...

If it weren't for the Prussian Union, would high church/low church terminology even be relevant in the Lutheran Church today?


Fr. Hank said...

Truly in can be said of the Piscies, "They may not know what they're doing, but the do it well"
- Anon., from CSL days of yore

As an aside, what irony in your neck of the woods, that the Diocese of Quincy was founded by the sometime Congregationalist and fanatic latitudinarian Bishop Philandar Chase. He was wont to harrass parishes on visitations by swatting the frontals to make sure it covered a table and not an altar.
Chase was also profoundly bipolar which got him run out of the Diocese of Ohio, which he also founded. Illinois was founded during the manic phase that followed Ohio.