Monday, July 19, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 4

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


There follows the call to respond with more than just Amen. If the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents, how can we who are forgiven fail to join in their hymn of praise. Traditionally the pastor intoned the first line of the Gloria in Excelsis, speaking for the angels. Then the people of God joined in with this exuberant cry of praise and thanksgiving for all that God is and for all that he is for us. It used to follow the Kyrie and was seen as a thanksgiving hymn of adoration not only for Absolution but also for God’s expected answer to the Kyrie and the litanies that attended it. In many of the German liturgies, the pastor sang the opening line in Latin and the congregation responded with the rest in German. The Gloria as part of a number of liturgies is so old that no one knows exactly when it first was written. St. Athanasius makes mention of it, and it was in common use in the Western Church by the end of the 5th century. It runs along lines similar to those used in the great Te Deum (whose author is arguably St. Ambrose). The Gloria was usually omitted during Advent and Lent. It was thought to be a bit too exuberant for the Penitential Seasons; either a seasonal hymn or the Benedictus was sung in its place.

What a hymn this Gloria is! Can you count all of the doctrines contained in it? Is it not a wonderful application of that beloved dogmatic principle: Theologia est habitus practicus! In a train that runs on steam of its own it races forward:

God is on high – So high is he that he is separated from all that is created and cannot in way be confused with it. Creation is not part of him nor he of it. He is the totally other.

And on earth peace, good will toward men – But he whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain draws near to us with gifts. His gift is his peace, a peace which comes only in the forgiveness of sin which we have just received. His gift is his own good will for creatures fallen so far that they could not rise from death and hell, nor could they assist in their rising. No, it all has come from Christ; for this is the hymn of the angels announcing his Incarnation to the lowly shepherds and now to us as well. That’s why he has come, to win God’s peace and impart his gracious good will in the accomplishment of our redemption. And the objective justification won by all that he has done has become ours, become subjective, in the proclamation of Absolution.

Therefore we worship and adore. Not to us, never to us, but to you be all glory and praise and thanksgiving. Do you see again a reality check? What is human life apart from the message already heard and that will be heard yet again but vanity, boasting, lies and deceit and all to the praise and glory of man who is but dust and ashes. But here is reality: To him who wins our peace and gives us his good will be all glory and adoration!

The middle section of the Gloria appears to be its oldest part. How completely the hymn is a confession of the doctrine of the Trinity. How altogether Christo-centric it is. How beautifully again it gives us a reality check: All that we seek from God and all that we receive from him comes by virtue of the sacrifice of the Lamb. He is and ever remains Christus pro nobis. He will receive our prayers for all that is needful in this life and the next. For he has taken away our sin and now sits exalted at the right hand of the Father. He has full power. He has complete authority. He has loved us to the end and loves us still. With full voice we worship him in union with the Father who has now become our Father, and the Holy Spirit who makes us holy by his effective presence in the Word.


Too often the Salutation is treated as a throw-away line that just marks a shift to the next part of the Liturgy. But it really is more than that. The Salutation, to be sure, marks this and other major shifts in the Liturgy. But as well it beautifully acknowledges the union of God’s spokesman and God’s people, a union found in God’s house and formed by his Word. The pastor is about to do something that is awesome. With God’s people he is about to speak to God. That’s not a small thing. He is about to ask God to accomplish his good and gracious will in his people through the Word which God will shortly address to them through the mouth of his pastor. Therefore in anticipation of God’s favorable disposition and answer he says –

The Lord be with you – as I pray for you and you pray with me. Since he has already forgiven us, we can be sure that this greeting is not merely a pious wish or an empty hope. It rests on the assurance that the Word of God is effective, that it is indeed a means of grace.

And God’s people respond: And also with you. For without God’s gracious presence with you, your person and your prayer, dear pastor, will be an abomination, presumptuous, and of no avail. Ah, but God is with you and your spirit as you enter into his holy presence to ask a blessing on his Word which he has already promised to give. And so we give our attention to the brief sentences of the prayer and happily add at its conclusion our Amen. God will not cast us off in our prayer. He will not strike down either us or his pastor for daring to say it.

The Prayer of the Day usually sums up the blessing we seek from God through his Word. (Admittedly the connection is sometimes difficult to see.) It therefore anticipates what is coming in the Word we are about to hear. If we paid better attention to that prayer, it would help us focus more clearly on the coming readings and on the sermon itself during which God will pour forth the blessings sought in the Prayer of the Day.

1 comment:

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

Excellent and beautiful!
I think it would be beautiful to hear the pastors sing the opening line of the Kyrie in Latin again, like some used to. It would be a beautiful gift to God as it is accompanied by the congregation, too.
I love this good style of worship. It is complete and lacks nothing.

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