Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 8

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


Most I suppose think of the Offertory as a response of the congregation to the sermon. Actually and historically this whole next part of the service is really a preparation for the Communion Liturgy. But I see no crime if we think of it as pointing in both directions at the same time.

If we think of the Offertory as a response to the sermon, then it is the prayer of the faithful that after they have been washed with the gospel, they may have cleansed hearts to live what they have heard. If we think of it as pointing ahead, then it is a renewed and solemn prayer to God that he may give us proper and pure attention and devotion to the next miracle that he is about to perform in our presence and for our growth in grace.

In the ancient church, up until about the end of the Middle Ages, the Offering was done in procession by the faithful to the altar. There they would lay their gifts which were to be used for the support of the church and especially for the poor, for orphans and widows. From those gifts would be taken the bread and the wine which would be used in the Sacrament.

The prayers that follow the Offering reflect the unity of God and his people and the unity of his people with one another. We were passive suppliants at Confession. But now we have been cleansed. We have been renewed. We have been fed and strengthened by the Word. And so we respond with thanks to our Host in the offerings that we bring for the benefit of the church and for those in need. It’s the liturgical equivalent of a guest bringing some small token of appreciation when invited to dine at the home of another. We join to those offerings our prayers for the church and the state and all sorts and conditions of men. In those prayers we again have another reality check: All that is good comes from God, and it comes from him so that we may give it back to him again in our hearing, in our devotion, in our prayers, in our lives with one another. I’ve always especially liked the way that the prophet Joel puts it when he prays for deliverance from pestilence and famine; he doesn’t ask for rescue so that he and his people will again have enough to eat and be saved from starvation. No; rather he prays that God will restore the harvest so that they will have something to bring to the Temple, something to give back to him (Joel 2:14).

It is this section of the Liturgy that underwent the most dramatic reformation during the Reformation. In the Roman liturgy the prayers are chuck full of so much false doctrine that this part of the liturgy all by itself make the Roman Mass what our Confessions call it: an abomination. For here the priest calls on the people and all the saints to pray for him that the sacrifice that the priest is about to make may be acceptable to God in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead. Can you even count how many abominable heresies there are there? During the Lutheran Reformation the General Prayer which had existed in a rudimentary form generations earlier was reintroduced. Initially it appears as a series of petitions or litanies based on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Later the Lord’s Prayer became the conclusion of the General Prayer and the intercessory prayers. These prayers were more and more clearly separated from the Liturgy of the Sacrament. It is that separation which makes us think of these prayers as a response to the Word proclaimed rather than a preparation for the Sacrament. We used to have more of a connection between these prayers and the Sacrament when the last of them began with the invitation: Let us pray for our Communicants.

The prayers here offered are not supposed to be a rerun of the sermon, just in case people didn’t get it the first time. While its opening lines may well reflect the theme of the day and of the sermon itself, the prayers then move on as expressions of our Christian love and concern for our lives in the church and in the world. They go from the universal to the particular, from the world and the church at large to the parochial and the individual needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. They are prayers in which the pastor and the congregation are united with Christ in prayer; for they all end with an invoking of his name as the reason why we dare to pray and expect to be heard. In the Old Testament the high priest spoke to God wearing a breastplate with stones that bore the names of the children of Israel. With no breastplate visible we nevertheless approach with the names and cares of our people inscribed on our hearts. Christ ornaments our prayers with his blood and adds to them his merit; he carries them behind the veil into the heart of the Father in the heavenly temple not made with hands. It is a holy time indeed!

Our hymnal has placed the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the general and intercessory prayers. Formerly it was part of the Communion Liturgy. The move to my mind is a good one. The Lord’s Prayer is such a perfect summation of all that we have to say to God. We pray it with total confidence that it is a prayer pleasing to him, since his Son has taught us to pray it. It presents us with yet another reality check: It is a prayer in which we express our complete dependence on God for all good things spiritual and temporal. And who could fail to notice it: Spiritual needs dominate. Other needs are important too and they find their place in the fourth petition. But the most important thing in our life is not health and wealth; it is that God’s name be holy among us. This is the prayer of those who remain children to their dying day and are happy that that is so. Clearly we could spend a day on the prayer and its beauty and still only scratch the surface of all that is in it. Permit me to encourage you to read Luther’s comments on this prayer in his Large Catechism. For the present, allow me just two observations:

1) Notice the arrangement of the petitions. We do not ask for forgiveness until we have asked for every possible spiritual and temporal blessing. Since Jesus has taught us to pray this way, we have every confidence that these petitions are granted generously and in abundance by God in his Word and in his providence. Now then, if God has given us everything that we need for the support of body and soul in the first four petitions, what possible excuse could we have for sin in the future? Absolutely no excuse at all! All our needs have been provided for. Thus fear, doubt, greed and lust should reasonably have no place in our lives. Nevertheless Jesus knows us so well and loves us still. And so he bids us still pray for forgiveness and deliverance from the evil one. He knows that having everything, we will forget, and through our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault we will not only sin but at times even run headlong into the arms of the Tempter. What an amazing thing, just the placing of the fifth and sixth petitions!

2) Whether the doxology at the end of the prayer is canonical or not, we will leave for others to argue. To my mind it is a perfect ending to the prayer: So great are the blessings we seek in it, they could be granted only by him who has all power, the whole kingdom, and all of the glory in his keep. And therefore with confidence we lay these petitions at the feet of our Father and confidently say: Amen!

1 comment:

Post a Comment

Comments will be accepted or rejected based on the sound Christian judgment of the moderators.

Since anonymous comments are not allowed on this blog, please sign your full name at the bottom of every comment, unless it already appears in your identity profile.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License