What is there left now but to give thanks? We sing the Nunc Dimittis, following the usage of some of the earliest Reformation liturgies — though not Luther’s Deutsche Messe. It is a most fitting thanksgiving, uniting as it does the Incarnation with our Lord’s gift of himself for us and our joyful acknowledgement that we have received him and his peace. The Post Communion liturgy again is very brief and to the point. There is just this one hymn of thanksgiving, as there was hymn at the close of the first communion service in the Upper Room and then a brief prayer. The first of the post-Communion prayers in our hymnal was written by Luther, or is, at least, his re-working of an older prayer.
Our Liturgy omits the closing Salutation and the Benedicamus and goes straight to the Benediction. Personally I would have preferred keeping the two preparation lines before the Benediction. But, be that as it may, the important thing to keep in mind here is that the Benediction is not just a churchy Goodbye! Y’all have a nice day! No, it is the one blessing that God commanded in the Bible (Numbers 6:22-27). The pastor in his final priestly act raises his hands and communicates from the God who sent him the blessing that the whole service has intended to give to his people. How does it work, that this simple act blesses people, makes a difference? I don’t know the answer to that any more than I can fathom how God’s gospel otherwise blesses us. Again, I know the what; the how is God’s concern. And so we close as we began, with a threefold blessing, with the Trinity. And so we close as we began, with the sign of the cross by which every blessing is ours. And so we close as we began, with knees trembling just a bit at the awesome work which the Lord our God has entrusted to us and which he now has brought to conclusion. Was kann man ja weiter sagen: Gott sei Lob und Dank in aller Ewigkeit für seine unaussprechliche Gnade! — und dass solch ein Werk mir, einem armen Sünder, von Gott anvertraut ist!
How could anyone think of this worship as boring or tedious or irrelevant? If people find it thus, perhaps that’s in part the pastor’s own fault when he offers the Liturgy as though he found it boring and tedious. Perhaps it is our fault in general that we so rarely explain its beauty and its historic function in the preservation of orthodoxy over the centuries. After all, in the darkest days of the Arian heresy, to mention but one example, it was the Christo-centric hymns and liturgy that proclaimed the gospel and kept faith alive. To this very day in many a liturgical church where heresy and rank unbelief rule in the pulpit, it is the Western Rite alone that still proclaims law and gospel. To get people used to a new form of worship every ten minutes or so is to make it all the easier for some Ketzer to introduce new doctrines with ever new and changing forms.
Is the Liturgy of the Western Rite written in stone or divinely inspired? Obviously not; it has undergone change throughout its history. Is it a foregone conclusion that anyone who tampers with the Western Rite is a heretic or at least the way-preparer for a heretic? No, that too is not inevitable.
Aber doch ... The changes that we make in forms of worship should reflect fidelity to the purposes of worship mentioned at the beginning of this paper. Changes should be chaste and slow. Changes should be more than the whims of the moment and the preferences of the individual. And certainly changes should not be designed to pander to the popular lust for diversion and entertainment. Let me say it one more time: Wir besuchen den Gottesdienst. We visit God in his house at his invitation to receive the banquet he has prepared for us there. We behold his glory in the lowliness of the font, of the table, of the Tabernaculum of his Word in the pulpit. Whatever we do then, let it be done with that in mind, and we will probably not go far wrong. Yes, and we probably will not go all that far away from the Liturgy of the Western Rite either. Permit me to close with the ancient prayer that I use at the close of every liturgy, whether celebrated at church or at home:
quia per sanctam crucem Tuam redemisti mundum et me.
Adoramus Te, Christe, et benedicimus Tibi! Amen.
The Feast of the Annunciation
March 25, 2008