Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Low Mass as Seen by David

My good friend and fellow blogger, David Schütz (this has been cross-posted at his blog - so go there to see the comments!) , was kind enough to invite me to join him on Saturday morning, the 28th of January, during my recent visit to the Great See of Melbourne, for the usual Low Mass offered by Fr Dillon at St Philip’s, Blackburn. The twenty happy parishioners present testified to their esteem for their new parish priest. As matters transpired, I was drafted to serve the Mass.

Upon later reflection, I was curious to know more of how David enters into this distinct form of the Liturgy, given both his usual attendance at Ordinary Form Masses (daily at the Cathedral, on Sundays at St Philip’s or in his home parish at Boronia or wherever his work and family life takes him), and his unique background as a Catholic-minded Lutheran pastor prior to entering full communion with the Bishop of Rome.

David being agreeable, I sent him a list of questions (which are reproduced in bold below) to which he has in due course deigned to vouchsafe a response as appended (as the new translation would express it):


1. The service being in Latin would I suspect be at once notable and yet, to a well-educated Lutheran pastor, not at all difficult; indeed, I recall David asking me about the Gospel pericope 
and in doing so betraying that he had been reading along in Latin! Any further comments, David?

Actually, what I betrayed was my ignorance in matters of Latin. I couldn't work out the reference to a little "rex" – it was, of course, a misprint in the pew sheet for "grex". Silly me. Few Lutherans today are well educated in Latin, although Luther wished it to be retained for liturgies conducted "in the schools", and many of the Lutheran Agendas (ritual books) retained Latin for the parts of the Ordo of the Mass. But ecclesiastical Latin was offered as an "elective" in my Seminary training. I opted to do it as a part of my BA at Adelaide Uni, however. The reminder that the Western Rite is the Latin Rite (even in its Lutheran form) is quite pertinent.

2. Beginning at the beginning, would the fact of the liturgy being celebrated ad orientem actually seem more familiar, even nostalgic, to a former Lutheran than to the average Catholic today? And did the orientation of worship help engender feelings of solemnity, of reverence, and – not so Lutheran this – of the essentially sacrificial nature of the Mass?

This is a curious matter. It was only while I was in Seminary in the late 1980's that celebration "facing the people" entered into local Lutheran usage. Catholics should not underestimate the effect that their own liturgical practice has on their Protestant brethren and sistern [sic] around them. Up until then, the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) followed the time honoured practice of the Lutheran tradition, which was indeed ad orientem celebration. Lutherans put their own spin on this, dividing the liturgy up into "sacrificial" and "sacramental" aspects (aligning with the Law/Gospel paradigm). "Sacramental" aspects were those in which God imparted something to the congregation, such as a blessing or absolution. For this, the pastor faced the people. "Sacrificial" aspects were those parts addressed to God – prayers, for the most part - these were always said facing the altar, ie. ad orientem or away from the people. And good old medieval altars they were too, with full reredos behind them, making it impossible to celebrate "from behind". But in the 1980s, "free standing" altars came into vogue. At first, Lutherans used these just like the old-style east-wall altars. Then they started to go behind the altar to consecrate the elements for Holy Communion. Only later were liturgies occasionally (and even then only in some places) celebrated completely from "behind" the altar, facing the people, as is common in the Catholic Church today. For the most part, ad orientem remains the norm. It is curious though, that despite the rejection of the "Sacrifice of the Mass", the section of the Lutheran liturgy which corresponds to the Eucharist Prayer in the Catholic liturgy was traditionally conducted facing the altar (ie. away from the people, the usual "sacrificial" stance) – although in my parents' parish, the pastor turns away from the east-wall reredos altar and faces the people, holding the cup or the paten, in order to consecrate the elements. A bit odd, but more in keeping with strict Lutheran theology if not strict Lutheran tradition. The other thing to note is that there is always a crucifix on the Lutheran altar, and this is always facing the people. No need for the "Benedictine" arrangement.

3. Were the minutely specified and executed liturgical gestures of the priest, most carefully observing the ceremonial rubrics (and the attempts at doing the same by his bumbling server) something adding to or detracting from the Mass?

Certainly, for me, it was not a distraction. There were Lutheran manuals for ceremonial (I remember one by Lang, called "Ceremony and Celebration" which was my guidebook at Seminary) which was basically a Lutheran ceremonial based on the pre-Vatican II ritual, and included all relevant liturgical gestures. So I have been familiar with most of these for most of my adult life. But at the same time, I remember once attending an Australian Finnish congregation, where the pastor, apart from revolving on an 180 degree axis in accordance with the "sacrificial/sacramental" rule, never moved his arms from straight down at his side for the whole liturgy! I still make the sign of the cross at the end of the Gloria and the Creed as in the old liturgy, because this is what I learned as a Lutheran!

4. In contrast to the priest’s manifold posturings, his bowings and crossings, the congregation at a Low Mass simply kneel, but for standing at both Gospels and sitting during the Epistle and Offertory – which is very different to the standing, sitting and kneeling both at High Mass and at all modern Roman Rite Masses. How do you find this – more meditative, or constricting? Or just 

Yes, I find this very confusing. Lutherans always fully participated in their liturgies, both in singing or saying the responses and in terms of posture. So the postures were more like the modern Ordinary Form than the traditional Extraordinary Form. The exception was kneeling – which was only done for the general confession and absolution (corresponding to the prayers at the foot of the altar) – although some Lutherans practiced kneeling for the Sanctus (not widespread, but such a rubric made its way into the 1986 revised form of the LCA liturgy). Lutherans generally stand for the consecration of the elements at the liturgy.

5. I would expect that, mutatis mutandis, the prayers at the foot of the altar, the psalmodic dialogue and mutual confession of priest and server, would be recognizable to Lutheran eyes as 
similar to way their own traditional services began with a hymn and confession, even before the Introit – but the invocation of Our Lady and the Saints would of course mark this ritual as Roman. Am I right in saying that, to an ex-Lutheran, now mainly a Novus Ordo Mass-goer, the prayers at the foot of the altar have an unexpectedly familiar feel?

Yes, as I said above, the Lutheran orders all followed the Roman rite in this respect: Invocation, usually followed by the Opening Hymn, followed by General Confession and Absolution (kneeling), followed by the Introit (said by the Pastor) and Glory be (sung by the Congregation), followed by the Kyrie and Gloria in excelsis. The "Lord be with with you: and with your spirit" preceded the Collect as in the old mass. And certainly no invocation of Our Lady or the Saints in the confession of sins!

6. Similarly, am I right in saying that the use of Introit with Gloria Patri would seem more familiar to a Lutheran than to a modern-day Catholic?

Again, I have pre-empted this question. Yes, that was the way it was done – although the Antiphon was never repeated after the Gloria Patri. And although there were settings of the Introit available for singing, I have never attended a Lutheran mass where this was done. The Gloria Patri, however, was routinely sung. Most Lutherans (uneducated in the origin of this practice) regarded it as a part of the liturgy separate to the introit.

7. Any reactions to the Kyrie, the Gloria in excelsis (said at every saint’s day Mass in the older Mass) and the Collects (there being a second one for St Agnes at the Mass that Saturday)?

Well, there was only ever one Collect – and we followed more or less the traditional English Collects according to Cranmer – although in later years, there was a proliferation of "alternative collects".  Otherwise, the entrance rites were just the same as in the old Roman rite. The Gloria in excelsis was standard at all masses (except in Lent), since we rarely ever had week day services. In recent times, Lutherans in Australia have also begun the practice of omitting the Gloria in Advent also.

8. David, you being the Scripture expert, how do you perhaps differently perceive and appreciate the Epistle and Gospel (not to mention the Gradual and so forth) when read by the priest at the Latin Mass, as opposed to the less formal manner in which they are proclaimed by lay readers?

Traditionally, Lutherans followed the historical lectionary with only the Epistle and Gospel, although since the late 1800's, several different Old Testament lectionaries were added as well. The Roman "three-year lectionary" became common since the late 1970's, although this has largely been replaced by the modern "Revised Three-year Lectionary" common now in all Protestant Churches – which is something of an improvement, may I say, on the Roman version. Again, copying Rome, lay readers for the first two readings is now the norm, although in my childhood, the pastor read all three readings. There was no "responsorial psalm" between the Old Testament and Epistle readings. The psalm of the day, even now, is usually used in the place of the Introit. Where parishes have adopted the Roman usage (as in my wife's parish) the psalm is often sung responsorily. The LCA has many settings for these psalms produced as part of the Lutheran Worship Project (for which I was the major editor in the years immediately prior to my conversion). You can find these resources here. The musical settings are available as a separate booklet to be ordered from the LCA head office.

9. Dr Martin famously claimed that, from the Offertory onwards, “all stinks of oblation” – hence his cutting away the Minor Canon (the offertory prayers) and the Major Canon (all bar the Lord’s own Words) from the Mass as he himself, as a good Augustinian priest, had celebrated it daily for many years. David, given your unique background, and as a liturgist yourself, how do you regard the silent offertory and the prayers so robustly offering sacrifices of propitiation and expiation to the Lord?

Well, given that almost all these prayers were traditionally said silently, it does not surprise me that Lutherans in the 16th Century barely noticed their omission – especially when the practice was for the choir or congregation to sing an extended Sanctus during the consecration. This was the thing that most struck me when I attended my first Low Mass as a student in Adelaide. I am still always struck by the strong sacrificial language in the First Eucharistic Prayer (aka the Roman Canon), now restored for all to hear in the revised translation. As a Catholic, this strikes me as quite right (of course) although as a Lutheran, when I first heard the Roman Canon even in the old translation, this was very "in your face". I never quite understood how the Lutheran Church could regard the consecratory prayers as anything other than sacrificial (as they were said facing the altar and in prayer addressed to God), but Lutherans did always want to make a strong indication that the consecration was "sacramental" rather than "sacrificial" – which is by Dr Martin instructed the Words of Institution to be said aloud rather than silently. It was to be the "preached Sacrament" or the "visible Word".

10. The silent Canon is to contemporary Catholics one of the most surprising features of the Extraordinary Form Mass. Luther remodelled this part of the traditional service, by retaining only the Preface, the Sanctus and the Verba Domini, that central Institution Narrative whereby the Consecration is effected, and having it all prayed aloud. How do you relate to the age-old silence of the Roman Canon, into which the priest enters to offer sacrifice?

Again, I have anticipated this question. Reflecting more upon it, I see that there is correspondence here with the Eastern practice of visually hiding the consecration behind the iconastasis. Whereas the East veiled the consecration from sight, the Western practice was to "veil" it with silence. I think Joseph Ratzinger has written on this…

11. Dr Martin retained the Elevation, at least at first, regarding it as a visible preaching of Christ’s New and everlasting Testament, whereby all are called to eat the Bread containing His 
Flesh, Flesh given up for us sinners to save us. Adoring the Real Presence of Christ as both good Lutherans and good Catholics do, may I ask if any such “Lutheran patrimony” still strikes you at this holy moment?

Luther retained the elevation all his life – it was only in the 17th Century that the practice died out. I restored it in all liturgies that I celebrated. Luther taught that it was right and proper to adore Christ present in the Sacrament during the celebration. Lutherans still retain kneeling for the reception of the Sacrament. My wife and children have no problem at all with the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, whether in their own parish or when they join me for mass or adoration. I am thrilled when attending EF masses to be able to kneel to receive Holy Communion.

12. Many moderns find it strange that the priest in the old rite says the Lord’s Prayer by himself, the server responding only with the last phrase thereof. I believe that Lutherans say the prayer all together, and that traditionally by them it is regarded as quasi-consecratory, by reason of its words “Give us this day our daily bread”, regarded almost as an epiclesis, and its repositioning in the Lutheran service to before the Words of Consecration. How do you relate both to the manner and the specifically Eucharistic connotation of the Pater noster?

Traditionally, when the Lord's Prayer is used before the consecration, it is said by the pastor alone, with the people joining in the doxology, thus retaining the sense that this is THE prayer of consecration. Luther taught that the Real Presence became present during the praying of the Lord's Prayer, and not only with the Verba. However, today it is indeed usually said by the congregation as a whole. This is not in accordance with Lutheran tradition, and is, I think, a matter of copying the modern Roman rite once again. The understanding that "Give us today our daily bread" refers to the Sacramental Bread is not well known in Lutheran circles.

13. Very sagely, Luther realized that the Pax Domini is actually a pre-communion blessing (as other liturgical rites make clear in their corresponding formulæ), a true imparting in prayer of 
the Lord’s peace to His people, that with glad hearts they may approach His Sacrament. (For this reason, it is my own private custom to make the sign of the cross at this point, when not serving.) The Pax in the modern Mass is rather turned into a merely natural meet-and-greet session, whereby bourgeois pleasantries are exchanged; does the Pax need, as at Low Mass, to be more consciously separated from banalities and perceived more as the divine bestowal of Shalom, 
God’s peace?

Although the practice of "passing the peace" has entered into modern Lutheran practice – again copying Rome – you are right that the "Pax" was understood as blessing. In traditional Lutheran rites, the response to the "Pax" is not "and with your spirit" but "Amen". Some Lutheran parishes – my wife's for instance – have the passing of the peace after the absolution at the beginning of the service.

14. Crying out Agnus Dei, begging mercy from Christ the Lamb of God Who alone takes sins away is, of course, very Catholic and very Lutheran, being simply Christian. But in the traditional liturgy, the attendant prayers and rites are rather more complex than in the Mass of Paul VI; and so far as I recall the Ecce Agnus Dei and Domine non sum dignus are not part of Lutheran divine service. Any specific observations?

You are right on all counts. The Agnus Dei has is a very cherished and solemn part of all Lutheran rites, with beautiful settings to go with it. Instead of the Ecce, there is an invitation to communion along the lines of "Come, for all things are now ready".

15. Kneeling for communion would, again, be more familiar to you qua Lutheran rather than qua Catholic – ?

Oh yes. A thousand times yes. There was never anything corresponding to the Anglican "black rubric" in the Lutheran Church!

16. The Last Gospel and the Leonine Prayers are unique to the old Mass; comments?

The Last Gospel was known in Luther's day, but he cut it out. The Leonine prayers are much later of course, and never had any place in the Lutheran rite.

17. I personally, when not serving, can find the dialogue of priest and server alone a bit irritating, being used to giving the responses, and having enough Latin to do so confidently. How do you find this?

I agree. I want to join in. Which is why I generally prefer the High or Solemn Mass to the Low Mass in the EF. I wish the "Dialogue Mass" – which was only just gaining ground when Vatican II came along - could have a place in today's celebration of the Low Mass. The people seem to want this.

18. Do you miss the Prayers of the Faithful, or for that matter any other parts of the modern Mass, such as the Memorial Acclamations?

No, not really. I am now used to occasions at weekday masses where the Prayers of the Faithful are omitted, and I am not a fan of the innovation of the Memorial Acclamations, which seem to interrupt the flow of the Canon.

19. I forgot to query Communion under one species only, which is very un-Lutheran! You?

I must confess that I still prefer a mass where I can receive under both kinds, but I accept the necessity for one kind communion in large groups. I am not a fan of the Lutheran practice of consecrating a whole flagon of wine for the Eucharist – the danger of profanation of the left over "wine" is too great.

20. Any other points come to mind?

I hope that this has answered most of your questions. My preference is still for the Ordinary Form of the liturgy – although I would wish for: more Latin than usual, ad orientem celebration, and kneeling to receive Holy Communion. I think Pope Ratzinger's idea of the Old and New forms mutually enriching each other would be a good thing, if it ever came to pass!


Joshua said...

Two comments of my own, now I've finally edited and posted this interview:

1. As his server for the day, I must say that Fr Dillon's Mass was the most rubrically perfect I can recall - in particular, he fulfilled as best I could tell the very difficult requirement that the Canon of the Mass be said in a voice audible to himself alone, and not to the server also (whereas in my experience as server and M.C. it is often quite easy to hear what the priest is praying).

2. It astounds me to learn that Lutherans STAND during the Verba, that is, during what would be the consecration, and only kneel much earlier in the service, indeed, at its outset, for the penitential act. How odd!

Schütz said...

Now that you mention it, Josh, I do not know of any particular controversy concerning standing/kneeling at the consecration during Lutheran Mass in the 16th Century. I do not know (1) whether standing was the norm in the 16th Century anyway, or, if not, (2) whether and when practice of standing was introduced by the Lutherans. It would be worth asking better informed Lutherans. Perhaps Pastor Weedon will post a comment on my blog to enlighten us?

William Weedon said...


It was quite normal for the communicants to enter the chancel and to kneel for the entire service of the sacrament. Sadly, it was also quite common for those not receiving the Eucharist that day to up and leave! Christian Gerber describes this as still being common in his time (18th century).

Joshua said...

Nice to hear from you again, Pr Weedon!

I hope you will join a little in the discussion on either this blog or David's; though I suppose you probably haven't had a similar experience...

Any comments on any of the 20 questions and replies would be welcome.

Chris said...

A question for both of you though: If you weren't using a Latin/English missal, did you understand what the scripture was that day and what it teaches us?

As a liturgical musician familiar with both Roman rites in this case, the comparison of them against the Lutheran of whatever vintage makes for interesting discussion.