Ceremonies in the Lutheran Church


(From Lutheran Cyclopedia [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899], pp. 82-83.)

[Martin] Luther struck the keynote in his essay, Von der Ordnung des Gottesdienstes der Gemeinde:

The worship of God now in use has a fine Christian origin, just as the office of the ministry has. But as the latter has been corrupted by spiritual tyrants, so has the worship of God been corrupted by hypocrites. And as we do not destroy the office of the ministry, but wish to bring it to its proper function, so it is not our intention to remove the worship of God. There have been three great abuses in our worship: first, God’s Word has been silenced, and they have done no more than read and sing. This is the worst of all abuses. The second, that since God’s Word has been silenced, so many un-Christian fables and lies have been introduced in the legends, songs and sermons, that it is horrible to think of them. The third is, that such worship has been considered a meritorious work, deserving God’s grace and salvation. Faith has vanished.

In his Formula Missae he laid down the principles, that changes must be gradual, the old service must be the basis of the new, the pure parts of it should be retained, the expiatory sacrifice in the mass must give place to the Sacrament, and proving all things, we must “hold fast to that which is good” [1 Thessalonians 5:21]. These principles were observed by the Lutheran Reformation, in the Confessions, the Church Orders of that period, and the practice and arguments of all our teachers. In the year 1548 Charles V., having triumphed in war, endeavored to force upon the Lutheran states a reformation of his own, and in the distress of the times [Philip] Melanchthon and others were ready to yield to the utmost in the matter of ceremonies if only an acknowledgment of true doctrine would be left them. The strict Lutherans, however, under the leadership of [Matthias] Flacius Illyricus, argued that such a thing was no longer indifferent (an “adiaphoron”) when imposed upon the conscience. The solution of this Adiaphoristic Controversy is thus stated in the Formula of Concord:

Ceremonies neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but instituted alone for the sake of propriety and good order, are not even a part of the service of God. The Church of every time and place has the power to change such ceremonies, as may be most useful and edifying. In time of persecution, we should not yield to the enemies in regard to such adiaphora. No church should condemn another because one has less or more external ceremonies not commanded by God than the other, if otherwise there is agreement among them in doctrine and in the right use of the Holy Sacraments.

A notion of the extent to which the Lutheran Church retained and purified olden ceremonies may be got from the following description of its usages so late as the eighteenth century ([Rudolf] Rocholl, Gesch. d. ev. Kirche in Deutschland, 300):

According to the Brunswick Agenda of Duke Augustus, 1657, the pastors went to the altar clad in alb, chasuble, and mass vestments. Sacristans and elders held a fair cloth before the altar during the administration, that no particle of the consecrated Elements should fall to the ground. The altar was adorned with costly stuffs, with lights and fresh flowers. “I would,” cries [Christian] Scriver, “that one could make the whole church, and especially the altar, look like a little Heaven.” Until the nineteenth century the ministers at St. Sebald in Nuremberg wore chasubles at the administration of the Holy Supper. The alb was generally worn over the Talar, even in the sermon. [Valerius] Herberger calls it his natural Säetuch [seed-cloth], from which he scatters the seed of the Divine Word. The alb was worn also in the Westphalian cities. At Closter-Lüne in 1608 the minister wore a garment of yellow gauze, and over it a chasuble on which was worked in needlework a “Passion.” The inmates and abbesses, like Dorothea von Medine, were seen in the costume of the Benedictines. The “Lutheran monks” of Laccuna until 1631 wore the white gown and black scapular of the Cistercian order. Still later they sang the Latin Hours. The beneficiaries of the Augustinian Stift at Tübingen wore the black cowl until 1750. The churches stood open all day. When the Nuremberg Council ordered that they should be closed except at the hours of service, it aroused such an uproar in the city that the council had to yield. In 1619 all the churches in the Archbishopric of Magdeburg were strictly charged to pray the Litany. In Magdeburg itself there were in 1692 four Readers, two for the Epistle, two for the Gospel. The Nicene Creed was intoned by a Deacon in Latin. Then the sermon and general prayer having been said, the Deacon with two Readers and two Vicars, clad in Mass garment and gowns, went in procession to the altar, bearing the Cup, the Bread, and what pertained to the preparation for the Holy Supper, and the Cüster [Verger] took a silver censer with glowing coals and incense, and incensed them, while another (the Citharmeister?) clothed and arranged the altar, lit two wax candles, and placed on it two books bound in red velvet and silver containing the Latin Epistles and Gospels set to notes, and on festivals set on the altar also a silver or golden crucifix, according to the order of George of Anhalt in 1542. The Preface and Sanctus were in Latin. After the Preface the communicants were summoned into the choir by a bell hanging there. The Nuremberg Officium Sacrum (1664) bids all the ministers be present in their stalls, in white chorrocken, standing or sitting, to sing after the Frühmesse [Morning Mass], “Lord, keep us steadfast.” The minister said his prayer kneeling with his face to the altar, with a deacon kneeling on either side. He arranged the wafers on the paten in piles of ten, like the shewbread, while the Introit and Kyrie were sung. The responses by the choir were in Latin. Up to 1690 the Latin service was still said at St. Sebald’s and St. Lawrence’s. Throughout this (eighteenth) century we find daily Matins and Vespers, with the singing of German psalms. There were sermons on weekdays. There were no churches in which they did not kneel in confession and at the Consecration of the Elements.

These ceremonies yielded finally to the attacks of the Reformed and the influence of Rationalism. -- In our own age we feel an increased respect for the dignified worship of the Reformers. But in the work of liturgical amendment their principles must be respected. Only that should be retained in the Church or restored to the Church which serves to edification. The clear proclamation of the Word of God and the application of it should be an aim, and all ceremonies, whether venerable or recent, which hinder it, should be done away.

Edward Traill Horn

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