21 September 2007

A Shadow of Our Old Self

An earlier post raises the question of how the Lord's Day and Festivals were observed in early Lutheranism. In brief, here's the schedule:

Day Prior to Sunday or Feast:

Vespers (Confession following)

Day of (Sunday or Feast):

Matins (Early Morning)
The Mass - The Divine Service (about 9 or so)
Catechism Service/Vespers (After 1)

This was the normal pattern in Lutheranism for quite some time. Frequently only the choir boys and servants were present for the Matins service, but it was held. Preaching at the Mass was on the Gospel for the day. Preaching at Vespers often was on the Epistle. How far we have fallen from those joyful days - now people often grumble at the Divine Service itself going over an hour. In those days it was taken for granted that Divine Service lasted from 2 to 3 hours and the others services at least an hour a piece!


Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Source? Documentation?

William Weedon said...

Oh, dear. That question from a CPH exec always means one thing. What book are you trying to get me to sell for you? I suppose you want me to recommend *Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig* by G√ľnther Stiller? That was published by CPH back in 1984. A fine book all the way round, I admit. But it wasn't what I was thinking of (though it does witness the same pattern). I was just thinking back to the Church Orders that I read when writing my thesis for the STM. Specifically I was thinking of the Herzog Heinrich 1539/40 Order and its expansion in 1580 under Augustus.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I'm offended that you would suggest my aim is only merchandising.

I was hopeful you might cite a particular Church Order.

I have my copy of it at work now, but I recently read an unpublished English translation of the Braunschweig Church Order, written by Chemnitz, and recall similar comments in there.

Particularly interesting was the requirement that sermons be no more than one hour in length, and during weekday services of Matins, etc no more than thirty minutes.

You ought to post your STM thesis somewhere.

Past Elder said...

Interesting that in RC what is now called the Liturgy of the Hours is primarily the work of religious orders and rarely done in diocesan parishes. Certainly apart from my time at the Abbey's university I never saw them, though one could know about them, and priests would pray them, but privately, not public worship.

I think returning these things to parish use is entirely within the scope of the Lutheran Reformation and clearly the intent of the Reformers (ours, at least). Providing resources for this is one of the many good things about the LSB.

That said, I'll admit that the unofficial one hour thing sits with me pretty well.

If we have to have Sunday on Saturday like Vatican II Romans, at least we could make Saturday services a Vespers rather than the Sunday service on Saturday late afternoon or early evening. (Since I'm not in WELS anymore, I assume this will not be met with immediate shouts of Christian Freedom or adiaphora.)

A question and a comment. In the living memory of my older former co-parishioners, it was the practice to stop by the parsonage on Saturday to announce one's intention of taking Communion on Sunday. How extensive was (I say was because I don't see it now) this practice in LCMS?

I've thought it interesting to see the connexion between our Divine Office and the hours of prayer in the synagogue -- particularly when it comes to the big ones, Matins, Vespers and Compline, a continuation and Christianisation of Morning, Afternoon and Evening Prayer in the synagogue and each attributed to the Biblical example of one of the three great Patriarchs. About the only thing I miss from my WELS days is teaching stuff like that in our Adult Sunday School, but then again maybe that's what got me elected an elder which in turn gave rise to the illusion that I have much at all to contribute to the Lutheran blogoshere!

And regarding your STM thesis, I'd like to read it too!

Unknown said...

As for documentation on the "typical Sunday lineup," I have found Joseph Herl's book to be quite informative on this issue. It probably should be a required text at seminary for advanced Lutheran liturgical studies.

You can even buy "Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism: Choir, Congregation, and Three Centuries of Conflict" on Amazon.com, and not even worry about CPH. ;-)

William Weedon said...


Apologies for assuming you were operating like you normally do. ;)

Past Elder,

The practice was darned near universal in Missouri for some time to "announce" - though not always at the parsonage. It was a sad little remnant of the richer and earlier practice of Vespers and Confession/Absolution. Still it gave the pastor a time to talk to each communicant individually. It ceased to be practical, I expect, when the number of communicants on a given Sunday began to explode with the rise of more frequent celebrations.


Joe's work is excellent and highly to be commended. And there's much more that he researched than made it into the book. I believe his research notes are SOMEWHERE on the net.

About my own thesis, folks, you can download it here:

Thesis Part One

Thesis Part Two

William Weedon said...

The beauty of the old Lutheran orders is that they proclaim that there's too much Jesus to fit into a little hour on Sunday morning. Their Jesus is so much bigger than that! He's got more gifts that can be constrained into that little time. And so the gift-giving Lord spills out to fill many hours, as the people come not to fulfill some grim religious duty, but to drink up the life he's so generous in pouring out.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Weedon,

You said: "The beauty of the old Lutheran orders is that they proclaim that there's too much Jesus to fit into a little hour on Sunday morning. Their Jesus is so much bigger than that!"

How true. Even in the Lirurgy of St. John Chrysostom, Jesus cannot be entirely examined or seen or experienced in that timeless time. I've often been told and also told newcomers to the Divine Liturgy that if you leaved baffled and confused, then something good has happened.

Nevertheless, that should not excuse excising the hours, Vespers, Matins and especially the Divine Liturgy neeedlessly because people's attention spans are shorter and priorities are misplaced. This even happens among the Orthodox. Sad, very sad.

William Weedon said...


Yes, I remember reading Schmemann somewhere bemoaning the fact that the Orthodox of today will pretend that nothing has changed liturgically, but feel free to drop and shorten this that and the other thing to the extent that an "All Night Vigil" is accomplished in under a couple hours.

In Lutheranism, pastors don't even pretend to keep. They toss out whatever it takes to keep the requisite "hour" while tossing in stuff of their own that eats of the hour! One thinks of the odious "children's sermons" that are legion among us these days. Horace Hummel, a beloved prof at the sem, referred to them as "the abomination of desolation" brought right into the holy place: the Divine Service!

Anonymous said...

Since the Second Vatican Council the laity have been encouraged to once again pray the Hours and more parishes are praying them, collectively and individually. It's a wonderful way to "sanctify time."

I've also attended beautiful Matins and Vespers services in the ELCA, of all things, but that was quite a few years ago.

From my Lutheran days I remember that I always signed a card before the service stating my intention to receive Holy Communion.

Recovering the cycle of the Hours would be a wonderful thing for all liturgical churches.

Anonymous said...

You reap what you sow. There's no point complaining. (Forgive my bitter, sadist, ill-intentioned tone).