16 December 2008

Advent Reflections on TLH

Advent/Christmas/Epiphany-tides are the seasons of Divine Service 3 in Lutheran Service Book for our congregation. Before the advent of LSB we were a Lutheran Worship congregation, rotating the three service orders through the various seasons of the church year. The old TLH order for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany; the Hillert setting for Lent/Easter; the Bunjes setting for Pentecost and the green season. Like the changing of the colors, the various settings have come to signal the seasons in a pleasant sort of way.

The coming of Advent and old TLH p. 15 are as welcome as the smell of Grandma’s snickerdoodles baking in the kitchen or a pot full of Christmas cider cooking on the stove. I grew up on TLH and learned to sing 4-part harmony from its regal Scottish-Anglican chants, moving progressively from alto to tenor to bass. I love the archaic language, which nicely parallels St. Luke’s use of high classical Greek to tell the infancy narrative of Jesus in epic proportions. There is a stateliness and timelessness to this venerable setting that appeals even to those who have never heard of The Lutheran Hymnal. It is most appropriate for a season so steeped in tradition and nostalgia.

We’ve always struggled as a congregation with DS 1, LW’s homely Leah to TLH’s Rachel. The modern language didn’t work; the melodies were tweaked just enough so you couldn’t rely on memory; the chant was replaced by a frantic musical line that sounded familiar but then went off on a discordant detour. We were thrilled that LSB has restored this timeless classic. We don’t mind the slightly updated creedal language, since we’ve been saying it that way from LW since 1982. We still trip over the whole note of “Thou only art the Lord” in the Gloria in Excelsis; LW had shortened it to a passing eighth note.

I must admit to getting a bit emotional when I hear the congregation’s response “And with thy spirit” to my pastoral salutation, “The Lord be with you.” What a beautiful exchange of blessings between pastor and people. I so wish we could have made it a uniform response. I do not know of a single LW user who would not have gladly traded in “And also with you” for something so dignified and meaningful.

I have to glance at the bulletin to remind myself of the Creed, offering, and prayer of the church. When we used LW, I took the liberty of regularizing all three services so that these occurred in the same place and order, with the Creed following the Gospel. John Kleinig, who worshipped with us one Sunday, chastised me for this saying that Lutherans ought to see the both/and character of the Creed as proclamation and confession (sacrament and sacrifice, if you will). When LSB came out, we agreed to do it “by the book” to bring our local rubrics back into line.

I love the Votum at the end of the sermon - “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding….” I don’t use the faux-Jacobian, but speak it in koine English. I’m reminded of my pastor who baptized and catechized me, whose 45 minute sermons always ended blissfully with the Votum. I stand in the same apostolic succession in office, though I’m somewhat briefer in proclamation. I also love the “Offertory” sung as a response to the Word preached and heard, David’s “create in me a clean heart, O God” from Psam 51. It’s a lovely setting and serves as an appropriate interlude prior to the hustle and bustle of wallets, checks, and clanging offering plates. What will we do ceremonially when the church goes paperless? Will the ushers come down the aisle with a card swiper or will they simply be wired into the pews? I think about such things during the offering.

One thing I miss in DS 3 is some sort of offering hymn. If you’re going to have a offering procession, you ought to have some traveling music to cover the parade, otherwise the ushers won’t know when to march. We use stanzas 1 and 3 of Lord of All Good (LSB #786), which fills the need quite nicely. Speaking of the offering, we also do the much-maligned greeting of peace just prior to the offering procession. Jesus did have something to say about being reconciled to your brother before presenting your offering, so we figure He’s OK with us greeting each other in His name and peace.

I’m not so sure about the chanted Our Father. I can chant the phone book, so chanting isn’t the problem. The people seem to want to pray the Our Father together, and I don’t blame them. It is the family prayer. This season, we’re praying it all together, and no, we’re not singing “for Thine is kingdom…Amen” at the end. Some TLH customs deserve to be lost. I think we’ll go back to having me chant it during Epiphany. There is much good in having the pastor be the corporate voice of the congregation’s prayer, including the Our Father. Oh yes, when I chant, then the congregation sings the termination.

After a year’s use of DS 1 and 2 in LSB, I find that I miss the eucharistic prayer when using DS 3. I greatly appreciate what LSB has done in restoring to the liturgy the rich prayers of the Holy Communion with their summary of salvation history bringing all of Christ’s work to remembrance in the Body and Blood here given. Still, the bare Verba of DS 3 serve as a fine Lutheran liturgical minimum, a back-to-basics reminder that it is the Word of Christ alone that makes the Sacrament what it is and not our prayers. I always chant the Verba to set them off from everything and slow things down a bit. Since I have an eastward altar and my back to the people, intonation is everything.

All in all, my experience with DS 3 this Advent has been like a December phone call from a dear old friend. We know each other’s thoughts and patterns; we can almost finish each other’s sentences. It’s good to hear that familiar voice again, speaking out of my childhood growing up under the grace of Baptism. There is great comfort and safety in the old and familiar, especially as there is “change and decay in all around I see.”  It is good to know and worship the One who changeth not.


Neil W. said...

I sometimes miss the gold old TLH as well. Page 15 is such a great liturgy. I really disliked Divine Service 1 in Lutheran Worship. DS3 in LSB is great. It was smart to change the language of the spoken so that the congregation doesn't have to translate at times. But, to leave the beauty of the old English in the chanting was great.

My home congregation sadly has forgotten DS3, and we are stuck on DS1.

wmc said...

DS 1 is great for Lent/Easter. We use "This is the Feast" as the alternative hymn of praise only for the 7 weeks of Easter.

I must confess a deep preference for chant forms to through-composed melodies, which are very difficult for the non-musician to sing. One can only wish and hope for a modern chant form that is appropriate to contemporary English. As someone has noted, chant is a musical form of speech not singing. I'd love to have something in our English that works as well as Gregorian did in Latin.