Sunday, December 07, 2008

Facing the Orient in Tulsa

Thanks to the Rev. Christopher Hall for for this article about the resurgence of traditional liturgical practice in the heart of the Bible Belt, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The article features both a Roman Catholic bishop and a Lutheran pastor from the Missouri Synod (the latter is actually a "sidebar" article that follows the main one) who have both reestablished the traditional "ad orientem" (literally: toward the east) focus for conducting the Divine Service (in which the celebrant and congregation all face God together for prayers and during the consecration) .

Radical changes to the liturgy by Roman Catholic innovators led to a virtual abolition of ad orientem worship in the Roman communion - and the practice spread to be almost universally embraced by American Lutherans. Churches built since Vatican II almost never have traditional altars. The 1960s were a time when the movers and shakers of the culture felt that God was too big for his britches and that reverent worship had to be changed to make it more "folksy." This led to the guitars and handshaking of the 60s and 70s, and morphed into the faddish "contemporary worship" of the me-centered 80s.

Today, there are actually adult Missouri Synod Lutherans who have been to church their entire lives and never participated in liturgical worship. Fortunately, it looks like there is a movement afoot to repudiate the excesses of that rebellious era and a desire for liturgical authenticity and piety over and against entertainment and marketing.

I remember the mantra from my Catholic high school that was used to justify a lot of radical changes, such as the departure of the use of a chalice of precious metals, from the use of wafers, from the use of reverent music and from the idea that dressing up for church services was befitting of the decorum of worship. The sound-bite was: "The Mass is supposed to be a meal." That throw-away line embodied the justification of a lot of liturgical mischief. Of course, it is a meal, but the implication in the slogan is that the Mass is just a meal, an ordinary meal.

The reality, of course, is that it is not just a meal. It is an extraordinary meal. It is mystical and miraculous. It is transcendent, and it is the one meal in which adoration of the food and drink is adoration of Christ. At no other, more ordinary meal - no matter how elegant - is it ever appropriate to worship that which is eaten and drunk.

I see this return to traditionalism as a re-orientation not only to the orient, but to the transcendent. It's nice to get good news in liturgical matters - both in the mainstream press and in our beleaguered synod.

There are some excellent quotes from the Rev. Mason Beecroft in the article. I've never met him, but he comes across as an articulate and theologically astute representative of our communion.


Anonymous said...

Fr. Beane,
Thanks for the link and kind words. Many would say that my theological positions, however, are neanderthal, at best. Articulate? Maybe. Relevant and pragmatic? Never! It is good to be a Stone Age man.

The Priestman said...

What's more, "Mason Beecroft" is apparently his *actual* name. Outstanding.

The Priestman

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Fr. Mason:

Being that I'm cut of politically-correct sensitive cloth, I think we should avoid using such patronizing terms like Neanderthal (which suggests some kind of sapiens-centrism).

I believe the au courant term is "Troglodyte-American".

I loved your quotes in the Tulsa paper (I have family there, I know where I will be attending Mass should our next trip keep us over the Lord's Day...).

I'll drag my wife by the hair, and maybe we can hurl big stones at a Mastodon or eat Brontosaurus burgers or something. I can't wait to see the cave drawings on the walls of your church...

Thanks for writing! (I didn't learn to write until 3000 BC).

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Priestman:

Indeed. The Rev. Mason Beecroft carries a powerful name.

After I was sacked from my first call, I worked for a local entrepreneur named "Ramsey Skipper." And Ramsey lives up to the way his name sounds.

I had an ancestor named "Baldrick Teutonicus" - and I was so impressed, that I bandied it about for my son's name. The "trouble and strife" didn't like it, though. But that is a pretty manly moniker, you have to admit. Of course, "Leonidas Beane" is nothing to trifle with either.

A friend of mine named his son "William Wallace Lyons" long before "Braveheart" came out on film.

Our colleague in the ministry, Rev. Bror Magnus Erickson has that kind of a name too. It's the kind of name that says: "Don't mess with me or I'll sever your head, eat the eyeballs, and use your skull as a rugby ball."

Past Elder said...

Well I'm outgunned here. After having a first son named Frank, I thought about naming the second Jesse.

His mother won with Zachary, God has remembered.

However, being named Terence at least I have the distincting of being baptised in the pre-conciliar RC church with the name of a pagan playwright rather than a saint.

Whom they would hardly have known was much liked by Luther who thought his plays good for the instruction of kids. So there -- a divine hint in my RC baptism of what was to come in.