Have an unglorious Passiontide

This is the week before Holy Week, a part of the church year known as Passiontide.  Contrary to those who think that liturgical worship is the same old thing every week, the liturgy, while following the same structure, actually changes each week, with different Bible readings and collects, and it features meaningful variations according to the church year.  Sunday, our pastor explained and put into effect worship customs for Passiontide that I never knew about before.  In Lent, Alleluias are taken away from the liturgy, as is the Gloria in Excelsis, marking the less joyous mood of the pentitential season.  Now at Passiontide, the doxologies (“Glory be to the Father. . . “) are also taken away.  After Maunday Thursday, all music is taken away.  Then, as our pastor said, on Easter, everything comes back.  (For an exhaustive list of such liturgical customs–though I’ve never known a church to do all of them–from a Lutheran perspective, see The Customs of Passiontide.)

The point is that during Passiontide, which continues through Holy Week, we reflect on how the Son of God put aside His glory and “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • tODD

    Veith said:

    After Maunday Thursday, all music is taken away.

    Hmm? This is news to me, even after reading his linked article. The closest thing I could find in the article was this:

    During the singing of the Gloria in excelsis in the [Maundy Thursday] evening Mass, the bells are rung for the last time. They then remain silent until they ring out during the Gloria in Excelsis during the Mass of the Easter Vigil.

    But that’s just about bells. What about performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, likely first performed on Good Friday?

    I mean, I could see such a practice being an effective one, but I’ve literally never heard of it until now.

  • SKPeterson

    It’s also been explained to me – and there doesn’t seem to be agreement – that the Sundays are of Lent but not in it, so to speak. Therefore the Sunday services continue with the alleluias, but Wednesday evening services do not. I suspect this may just be liturgical laziness (we’ve always done it this way, why change now?) but all I can do is point these things out.

  • helen

    I’ve also been told that the Sundays are not part of Lent.
    We lose the Alleluias and the “hymns of praise” per the rubrics of LSB. That spares us “Thank the Lord and sing His praise”, (an innovation of recent decades that I could do without all year ’round).

    If we did not omit the Alleluias on Sunday, most of the congregation wouldn’t know it was Lent. (And since we have a regular mid week service, more of this congregation than some others I’ve been in do attend Lenten services.) I’ve never understood parents who “can’t” bring their children to church from 7-8 on a school night but take them to a game from 7-10 .

  • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William Birch

    “Contrary to those who think that liturgical worship is the same old thing every week. . . .”

    I used to think the very same until I studied Anglicanism nearly three years. This past summer I gladly and enthusiastically surrendered to what I came to enjoy immensely: the liturgy.

  • kempin04

    I may be cutting across the grain here, but I am not a huge fan of most of these customs. Having been raised lutheran, lent was always a very special time with a distinctly different liturgical tone–particularly in the hymnody. None of these customs were a prominent part of our tradition, though. Well, perhaps the veils and black decorations, but while these customs are certainly not unknown in the larger church, the are not lutheran in their origin nor, I believe, in their theology.

    Take this nonsense about omitting alleluias or the gloria. It is our freedom in the gospel, I know, and it has been picked up by the recent hymnals, but it was not a part of our hymnal liturgy before 1986. Personally, I regret that it is in there now. How does it reflect lutheran theology–I mean really, lutheran theology–to say that a time of penitence means that we set aside the gospel for a future time? Does it fit with our body of doctrine to ever, intentionally, omit the phrase, “praise God?”

    Consider the following “lutheran” customs from the link:
    -”During this Mass oils are consecrated for use during the coming year.” During “mass?” Honestly? Since when do we call the Lord’s supper “mass?” I have never known lutherans to talk like this. Until recently, that is.
    -”Matins and Lauds are not anticipated, but are said at their proper time (2:00 am).” So that’s what happens to Lauds during lent. We were just wondering.

    How is it not a giveaway from the vocabulary alone that this is a complete rip-off of anglican customs, possibly photocopied from the book of common prayer?

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    I mean, it is very lutheran and very confessional to acknowledge that customs and ceremonies do not need to be the same everywhere. Ahem.

    Just please stop telling me it is lutheran, and then please stop saying “lex orandi lex credendi” about other things.

  • JonSLC

    Kempin, regarding the omission of “Alleluia” during Lent: I heard a comment by someone who worked on a Lutheran hymnal committee years ago. He recalled coming to a meeting determined NOT to omit Alleluias during Lent, for the reasons you stated. However, he heard an older pastor say this: “Why do we omit ‘Alleluia’ during Lent? So we can bring it back on Easter!” In other words, it’s voluntarily giving up a good thing for a time, restraining ourselves a little, so that we can pull out all the stops on Easter Sunday. That’s largely why I’ve followed this custom of omitting Alleluia.

    That said, when I’ve inadvertently sung or said Alleluia during Lent (I picked “Thy Strong Word” as a hymn on Lent 1 once) I did not return to my cell and flagellate myself. I just thought “Oops! There are worse things than saying Alleluia too much!” Just don’t call the liturgical police on me.

  • Joe

    Kempin – Lutherans as a whole have never stopped calling the Divine Service Mass. Start with the Augsburg Confession itself:

    Article XXIV: Of the Mass.

    1] Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 2] us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added 3] to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 4] be taught [what they need to know of Christ].

    Being Lutheran is not about being Not Catholic – its about (at least as far as the Lutheran Reformers were concerned) being as Catholic as possible with teaching false doctrine.

  • kempin04

    Jon, #6,

    To be clear, I don’t object to the practice. I just want to note for the record that it is not particularly “lutheran.” If you find it a useful tool or a well established custom, then that is awesome. I, too, believe in pulling out all the stops possible for easter, but to me personally it never made sense to find joy in restoring what should never have been removed. “All right, kids, I’m not going to give you breakfast and lunch–but just think how great supper will taste when you are so hungry!” Kind of falls flat for me.

    Still, like I said, I don’t object. Go nuts. You are the pastor. If you, like pastor Douthwaite, use these customs as a salutary way to engage and invigorate your people, then I am all for it. It is my own problem if I don’t get it.

    Joe,

    “Being Lutheran is not about being Not Catholic – its about . . . being as Catholic as possible with teaching false doctrine.”

    Just so long as I never hear you invoke “lex orandi, lex credendi.”

    And by the way, if lutherans have always used the term “mass,” when did they start using the term “divine service?” Serious question. I don’t see it in any synodical hymnals before 1986. (I will not even point out that you know perfectly well what I meant about lutherans using the term “mass.”)

  • Joe

    Obviously – that should have read “without” teaching false doctrine.

    I don’t know when Divine Service as a title disconnected from Mass became the norm in American Lutheranism. My understanding is that Luther did use the phrase Divine Service together with the title Mass. The official title of his German Mass was the German Mass and Order of Divine Service. All of that said, there are Lutheran churches who call their Communion services as Mass.

    But more importantly, if you remove the elements of the Catholic Mass that teach false doctrine there is no issue with “lex orandi, lex credendi.”

  • JonSLC

    “to me personally it never made sense to find joy in restoring what should never have been removed.” I hear ya. I don’t get this line of thinking when some have applied it to how often to offer Communion: “If we offer it only a few times a year, it will seem extra special when we do!” I’m more in line with Luther’s view of it as “daily pasture and sustenance.” But you’re right; I do find leaving out Alleluia as a small way to teach about the serious determination of the Savior to go to the cross, a fast before the feast of Easter.

    As far as “divine service” — though you didn’t ask me — I think there was something of a rediscovery of the German term “Gottesdienst” (God’s service, service of God), the standard word referring to a church service. But in Gottesdienst is seen a double meaning: it’s both our service to God and God’s service to us. Lutherans understand that it’s the second of those that is the heart and soul of any church service: God serving us with forgiveness via Word and Sacrament. It’s probably an attempt to bring that emphasis of the worship service to the fore that’s behind the resurgence of “divine service.” I don’t object to that. But I am a little leery of packing so much theological meaning into the etymology of a German vocable. Nevertheless, I think “divine service” is maybe as good a term as any to describe a gospel-centered gathering around Word and Sacrament.

  • Gene Veith

    The German word for what happens on Sunday is “Gottesdienst,” as I confirmed when I was in that country a couple of years ago. That means “God’s service,” or “divine service.” It ties into the introduction of Lutheran Worship, by (I believe) Norman Nagel, about how worship is about God’s service to US, rather than vice versa as is often assumed. And none of this leaves out the Gospel for Lent! It leaves out the “glory” parts, but not at all the “theology of the Cross,” which is where the Gospel resides. And none of this is mandatory. As for the music part, there will be singing, just no instruments, though that applies only for I guess on the service(s) for Good Friday. I don’t know about Matthew’s Passion, though watch this blog for a significant post about that work. “Lex orandi, lex credendi” is the name of that rather high church Lutheran site I link to, but it simply means something like “the law of prayer is the law of belief”; that is, the way we pray and worship effects what we believe. That’s surely true, isn’t it?

  • kempin04

    Don’t anyone read too much into what I am bantering here. I’m just trying to keep it honest.

    I do understand the etymological roots of “messe” and “missa,” though I don’t know that “divine service’ is the best rendering for “gottesdienst.” The use of “divine” (for which I assume there is a german word) instead of “God” seems to make it rather vague and wishy washy to me. But that’s an aside. When I talk about the use of those terms, I am talking about the vocabulary of the english speaking lutheran church in general and the missouri synod in particular. I don’t argue against the basis for those terms, but they ARE rather novel in our context. That’s all I’m saying. I guess I’m blessed/cursed to be old enough to pre-date some of the more recent trends in synod. That’s not a bad thing. I just don’t like to give the impression that “we have always called it mass,” for instance, when that is not true. Are we free to do so? Certainly. It’s the “why” that confuses me. What about the term “mass” communicates better than “Holy Communion” or “The Lord’s Supper?” For that matter, I think those two terms beat out “Divine “Service” as well. (Though Nagel’s introduction is worthy of being the classic that it is.) But whatever. Just an opinion.

    As for “Lex orandi,” that phrase has been used to support the point that no ceremony can be introduced without betraying a theological bias, regardless of whether it has been purged of false doctrine. It is generally used against contemporary forms, but strangely I have never seen it applied to liturgical forms from another theological base. I don’t buy it to begin with, but if it works one way, it should surely work the other. How can we incorporate monastic services without being affected by the underlying theology, for instance? But again, it was just an aside, really, directed toward the site that collected those customs and not toward our estimable host.

  • Katy

    Speaking of Gottesdienst, my favorite commentary on the Lent/Easter liturgical distinctions comes from Pr. Petersen over at Gottesdienst Online in a post “Easter is Normal.” I especially like this observation:

    “There is something confused in us that prefers the austere novelty of Lent, Passiontide, and Holy Week to Easter. To be sure, this confusion isn’t sinful, but it is confusion, not unlike children preferring boxed macaroni and cheese or McDonald’s hamburgers to the real things.”

    http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2012/03/easter-is-normal.html

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