13 August 2007

Using two words

where one would do. I think that sums up so well a key aspect of the difference in liturgical sensibility between East and West. Western Rite, at least as far as it is influenced by the Roman rite, tends to be spare and even sparse in verbiage, in utter contrast to the East, which revels in word plays and complex imagery. The idea in Western liturgy by and large is that to repeat yourself is to lessen what is said. I think this is why most Western Christians will prefer the Apostles' to the Nicene Creed. In the one there is straightforward this after that, and not a Word to cut! In the other there is joyous reptition: "God of God, Light of Light, begotten, not made" and so on.

And if the original Roman rite is spare, the Lutheran recension tends to be even sparer! Just think of the enormous restraint where the old Roman canon was. Lutherans seem to have come up with the "less is more" slogan first - or rather, they lived it out.

But is it impoverishing? I don't think so. I think you have to experience the beauty of the old Lutheran practice where the Words of Christ are sung out over the elements to understand. Even though the Words stand all alone, yet the music joins them and fills out the space, if you will, and sends them right into the people's ears and hearts. All human voices fall silent before the narration of what happened that night and before the almighty voice of the Eternal Word who speaks and causes to be what He says: the bread becomes His body; the wine, His blood; and then all reached us, "for you" and "for the forgiveness of sins." What is lacking here? Not a thing. The Church's thanksgiving is her SINGING of the very words from which she lives. I am not at all surprised that in the old Lutheran Church orders the pastors were at times exhorted to tell the people to stop singing the Words of Christ with them!


Past Elder said...

I wonder how much of this is due to Rome the church as to the language of Rome being Latin, which is utterly concise.

Of course there would be those who would argue that Roman doctrine is itself determined by the nature and possibilities of thought in Latin.

This may be hard for English speakers to understand, speaking a language that is a hybrid, with a Germanic core and a Latin, via French, overlay. It's clearer in Spanish, which in many ways is really, really late Latin. Then throw in the Germans, who are internally consistent too, generally not forming the big words for educated people by raiding Latin but by running to-gether a bunch of their own little words.

In fact, I've heard it argued -- this is not to say I agree -- that the Reformation itself depends on not being restricted by the nature and possibilities of thought in Latin or a directly Latin descended language, which explains why it took hold in lands either on the fringe of the old Empire or outside of it, the barbarians.

To this day, however, I sense a difference in Europe that was part of the Empire and Europe that wasn't. From Luther's writings this was a hotter distinction in his time, but it is still there IMHO, at least as of 1969 when I was there.

"Barbarian", if memory serves, comes from the Greeks, who used it to refer to people who didn't speak Greek but made silly sounds like "bar-bar". Which would include the Romans.

wm cwirla said...

Dr. Nagel likened the liturgy to a perennial that needs to be pruned once and a while to retain its proper shape and bloom. The perennials in my garden do look a bit sparse in the winter, but it's the only way to keep them from becoming weedy.

Or to switch the metaphor to the table, perhaps it's a western trait that we prefer our pasta and our liturgies "al dente" instead of overcooked.

Christopher Palo said...

Pr. Cwirla's comment seems to betray the Lutheran understaning that the Liturgy is not divine but something manmade that needs to bend to trends and statistics. Why call it the Divine Liturgy or Divine Service if it needs to be pruned of material (read: hymns, prayers) deemed superfluous?

William Weedon said...


I think you misunderstand Dr. Nagel's point (which is what Pr. Cwirla was elaborating on). The liturgy is very much a living thing! It grows and blossoms in the extolling and celebrating of the gifts of God which give it life and call it forth.

Every once in a while, though, the growth gets to be so exuberant, that somewhere down under all that, is the thing itself which caused all the joy - now in danger of being forgotten for all the extolling!

Thus the liturgical clippers come out. They seek only to remove as much of the extolling as will let the thing itself be clearly seen again.

Yet because the liturgy is organic, alive, the growth will come back.

The whole history of the Western rite shows moments of liturgical reform (of which the Reformation is only one instance) in which the living liturgy is prunned, carefully and cautiously, to let the Gospel (or Baptism or the Supper or whatever) shine a bit more clearly.

Christopher Palo said...

Yes, the Liturgy is a living thing, not some dry thing to dryly recite without conviction or the work of the Spirit. But, whatever Pr. Nagel's intent may have been, it is preisely the same words that liturgical butchers have been using for years to pare from the service those things that are counter to the post-modernism that has been running unchecked in the LCMS for the past 25+ years.