Friday, May 20, 2011

Lutheran Dormitionists

During the Reformation in Germany, several Imperial abbeys, formerly Catholic, became Lutheran, such as Herford and Quedlinburg – the canonesses and abbesses of these were all Protestants for centuries; their continued existence was facilitated by the fact that the canonesses, while unmarried, had always been and remained secular canonesses, who took no vows; and it was convenient for noblewomen undesirous of marriage to retreat to such houses.  The devout ladies of these establishments even published books of spiritual writings, as for example did Princess-Abbess Anna Sophia II of Quedlinburg.

Given all this, and the delighted recognition of the unique Dormitionist charism previously expressed in comment from contemporary Lutheran clergy appended to my first posting explaining about the little-known but fascinating Order of the Dormition, it will be unsurprising to note that in Germany, too, some Dormitionist houses (dorters, or dormitories) passed out of Catholic and into Protestant hands, without a total dissolution of these monasteries, particularly those of Dormitionistines, the female branch of this most retiring of Orders – noble and devout women, seeking godly and perpetual rest.

Furthermore, the various revivals of monasticism among the separated brethren that have occurred since the nineteenth century have also included not a few instances of Dormitionist lifestyle being once again adopted and propagated.  The Dormitionist habit, so similar to the secular pyjamas, was more than once taken up by enthusiasts, albeit pairing it with the nineteenth-century smoking-jacket beloved of gentlemen (for incense of sorts, too, came in fashion).  New shoots spring from the old stump...

As Dormitionists seek to live, even in this life, as already in the eschatological state of endless rest, it will at once be apparent how persons more intent on faith than works would find such a fundamental spiritual orientation congenial.  For "faith without works is dead", and so those cleaving to sola fide should appear, if not utterly dead, then at least asleep: their hope, indeed, would be to be as "them which are asleep".

For this reason, Lutheran houses following this mode of existence may be found here and there (I believe there are plans afoot to regularize such a foundation in Australia); rather than using Catholic titles such as "of the Dormition", however (for all that these well-meaning people accept the Dormition as a traditional and catholic pious belief, without dogmatizing about it), they tend to avoid any cause for scandal by naming their establishments "Golgotha Dormitory", or "Soul Sleep Church", or "Family Crypt", or some such.  It is a purely private joke, alluding to the perseverance or otherwise of some would-be monastics, to call such-and-such an establishment "the Empty Tomb".


This blog being especially interested in matters liturgical, it will not go amiss if some reference is made to the worship of Lutheran Dormitionists.  (Attentive readers will already have realized how the Dormitionist vow to enter into rest, being in fact a Biblical text, was easily admitted as a devout prayer, not a work of supererogation, indeed, not a work at all, by these persons.)

A very plain Easter sepulchre

At Compline (always the principal Hour for sleepers-in-Christ), the only modifications made are to the text of the Confiteor, and replacement of the Marian anthem by a visit to the "Easter sepulchre", that common feature of northern European churches, representing the burial-place of Christ – there, such hymns as In Christi Wunden schlaf ich ein ("I fall asleep in Jesus' wounds") are customarily sung, taking up the rich tradition of vernacular song that is one of the glories of Evangelical piety.  (More modern Evangelical revivals of the Dormitionist charism in the U.S. prefer such ditties as "Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham.")


The revision made of the Dormitionist Mass is of particular ecumenical importance.  Given the simplicity of the rite, it will be unsurprising that, following Luther's own first redraftings, nothing at all of the fore-Mass or first part of the Liturgy was changed, while at the Offertory the Dirigatur Domine and Orate fratres alone were retained, the Veni Sanctificator omnium and the In spiritu humilitatis being deleted.  With a fine feeling for liturgical structure, however, the variable Secret of the Catholic Mass was replaced with a fixed epicletic prayer, itself taken in a truly conservative spirit from the mediæval corpus orationum, modifying only the controverted words tibi... oblata:

Munera tua, quæsumus, Domine, sanctifica: ut tui nobis Unigeniti Corpus et Sanguis fiant ad medelam, qui tecum vivit...
(Hallow Thy gifts, we beg, Lord: that they may become for us the Body and Blood of Thine Onlybegotten, for our healing: Who with Thee liveth...)

In other words, the essential import of the former Dormitionist offertory prayers was maintained, and a strong stand taken against sacramentarian deviations, just as orthodox Lutheranism ever has.

Most startlingly of all, yet, as alluded to above, most importantly, the Evangelicals who continued to maintain the Dormitionist traditions made a most interesting compromise between Luther's wholesale rejection of the Canon (the Lord's words amongst the oblationary passages therein being in his view "the Ark of God in the temple of Dagon") and the continuance of catholic features thereof.

Combining certain of Luther's earliest liturgical ideas, as expressed in his Formula Missæ, with some of those espoused by his followers in Sweden, and all unawares taking up the early Roman Christian idea of the consecratory Preface, the Canon was most radically reordered, by first of all reversing the usual Dormitionist practice of saying the Preface silently, and inserting the very Verba Domini therein, then by praying quietly a late variant of the Suscipe sancta Trinitas between the Sanctus and Benedictus (the Elevation being made during the latter), and concluding with the Per ipsum aloud:

Vere quia dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus, per Christum Dominum nostrum.  Qui pridie quam pateretur, accepit panem: tibi gratias agens, fregit, deditque discipulis suis, dicens: Accipite, comedite, Hoc est Corpus meum, quod pro vobis datur. Similiter et calicem, postquam cænavit, dicens: Hic calix est novi testamenti in meo Sanguine, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.  Hæc quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam faciatis.  Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis, cum Thronis et Dominationibus, cumque omni militia cælestis exercitus, hymnum gloriæ tuæ canimus, sine fine dicentes:
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth, pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.  Hosanna in excelsis. 
Suscipe, sancta Trinitas, hoc sacrificium laudis quam tibi offerimus in memoriam Passionis Domini nostri Jesu Christi: et præsta, ut proficiat nobis et omnibus fidelibus christianis ad requiem æternam.  Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.  Hosanna in excelsis.
Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti, omnis honor et gloria, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.  Amen.
(Truly worthy and just it is, right and salutary, for us always and everywhere to give thanks unto Thee, holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God, through Christ our Lord.  Who the day before He suffered, took bread: giving thanks unto Thee, He brake, and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take ye, eat ye, This is My Body, which is given for you.  Likewise also the chalice, after He had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in My Blood, which for you and for many shall be shed in remission of sins.  These whensoever ye shall do them, in my memorial ye shall do them.  And therefore with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominations, and with every company of the heavenly host, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing:
(Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts, full are heaven and earth with Thy glory.  Hosanna in the highest.
(Receive, O Holy Trinity, this sacrifice of praise, which we offer unto Thee in memorial of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ: and grant, that it may profit us and all faithful Christians unto rest everlasting.  Through the same Christ our Lord.
(Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.
(Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, is unto Thee, God the Father almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory, world without end.  Amen.)

It will be seen how daring, and how designedly ambiguous (indeed, how Anglicanesque) is the Suscipe sancta Trinitas of these catholic Lutherans: for the phrase "this sacrifice of praise", while eminently biblical, is used of the Eucharistic oblation in the Roman Canon itself, and to pray "that it may profit us and all faithful Christians unto [gaining] rest eternal", directly after the Consecration of the Eucharist and directly before the Elevation of the Sacrament, is to beg the question, is it but a heartfelt verbal sacrifice that is offered in the hope of benefitting all, or is it the Eucharist that is here offered up?  There is here, too, a hint of prayer for the dead, never entirely excluded by Lutheran orthodoxy, impetrating that all faithful Christians – living and dead – may indeed rest in peace.

Given this not-so-cryptic catholic reference, it is not surprising that any formerly Lutheran Dormitionists, coming into full Catholic communion have (by private rescript, analogous to the liturgical provisions made for incoming Anglicans) the unique privilege of offering Mass either in the usual Dormitionist rite, using the venerable Canon, or, for the sake of brevity (just as, in the Ordinary Form, Eucharistic Prayer II is provided, for utterly the same reason) according to this form, by using the epicletic Secret above, with the Consecratory Preface, SanctusBenedictus and Per ipsum with the Suscipe sancta Trinitas, supplementing that brief yet sufficiently expressive prayer of oblation and anamnesis by including mention of the Pope, the dead, and the Saints:

Suscipe, sancta Trinitas, hoc sacrificium laudis quam tibi offerimus in memoriam Passionis Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et in honorem beatæ Mariæ semper Virginis, et omnium Sanctorum: et præsta, ut proficiat nobis et omnibus fidelibus christianis vivis et defunctis, cum Papa nostro N. ac Episcopo nostro N., ad requiem æternam: et illi pro nobis intercedere dignentur in cælis, quorum memoriam agimus in terris.  Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum.
(Receive, O Holy Trinity, this sacrifice of praise, which we offer unto Thee in memorial of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in honour of Blessed Mary ever-Virgin, and of all Saints: and grant, that it may profit us and all faithful Christians living and dead, with our Pope N. and Bishop N., unto rest everlasting: and may they deign to intercede for us in heaven, whose memory we keep on earth.  Through the same Christ our Lord.)

To conclude, however, by returning to the actual modifications made in the old Dormitionist rite by the Lutherans, it must simply be observed that few other changes to the Mass were made.  The Lord's Prayer had the usual Protestant doxology added to it, with the old Embolism deleted (again following Dr Martin's prescription), though the administration of communion followed in the normal manner, with the traditional prayers, Agnus Dei and so forth; likewise, either Benedicamus Domino or the uniquely Dormitionist Requiescamus in pace was to be used at the end of the service, never Ite missa est (Luther erroneously deriving missa from a Hebrew word for sacrifice, he found the term unappealing); so too the Placeat was given away (Catholics are, however, required to say it).

The squaring of the circle, by always maintaining an oblationary reference in the Eucharist, remains a strange attractor towards full Catholic communion for all would-be Evangelical Dormitionists.  Please God, may it remain so!

I have often speculated that the Suscipe sancta Trinitas prayers (there were many variants in mediæval times, some few of which survive in extant rites such as the Dominican) derive from the Gallican rite, especially as they bear a curious resemblance to like prayers of sacrificial oblation in the Mozarabic rite.  It is good to see them not utterly abandoned.  Indeed, would it not be far better – and shorter! – to allow more widely this combination of consecratory Preface and Suscipe sancta Trinitas, in place of the untraditional Ordinary Form Eucharistic Prayer II, which, being but a hash made of pseudo-Hippolytus, has become de facto the standard prayer of the Roman Rite?  But I digress...

Isn't it wonderful that, the fruits of all true Christianity being oriented toward Unity in the Una Sancta, even ex-Lutheran Dormitionists can rest in peace, together?

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