Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mark's thoughts: Candles at Candlemas?

I find it frustrating in a worship service when we are using the liturgy from a hymnal of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and arrive at a portion of the liturgy where the pastor has made his own changes. In the era of Lutheran Service Builder it is possible to use exact portions of Lutheran Service Book, but to do so in a way that omits sections found in the hymnal itself, or even to “mix and match” parts from different settings.  The temptation for “creativity” is too much for some pastors to overcome.  Likewise, on occasion one encounters a liturgical order of service that has elements that do not derive from any approved hymnal of the LCMS (the source of these elements vary).

I maintain that this is a difference in degree, but not in kind, from those who abandon the liturgy altogether in order to use “contemporary worship” forms.  These forms can include a few elements found in the liturgy such as the Nicene Creed, but they are for the most part new creations.  In both cases the decision has been made not to use the liturgy as it has been adopted by our Synod as a whole (liturgies with very permissive rubrics that allow room for great variation), and instead to do something the pastor considers to be “better.”  In this siutation liturgical anarchy reigns which does not foster unity within the Synod.  A person can visit a LCMS church on a Sunday and have no idea what they are going to find.

For this reason it is my practice to use the orders of service and rites as they have been provided in Lutheran Service Book and Lutheran Service Book Agenda, and to use them as they are printed in these books.  However, the question then arises: Does this mean I am limited only to those orders of service and rites that are found in these books?  If a practice is venerable and serves to help teach the truth but has not been included in LCMS books, it is permissible to use other resources in order to do them?

The question arises in connection with the Feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord.  The feast originated in the fourth century in Jerusalem and then spread to the western Church.  In the Gospel lesson Simeon refers to Christ as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32).  This theme received symbolic expression in the seventh century when Pope Sergius (687-701) introduced in Rome a procession with candles accompanied by the singing of the Nunc Dimittis.  The practice spread to the rest of the western Church.  Eventually the candles provided the name by which the feast came to be known: Candlemas (Candle Mass).

The use of candles held by members (just as they are used on Christmas Eve or at the Vigil of Easter) is part of the ceremony of the liturgy. The ceremony of the liturgy – the movements by the pastor, the way the communion ware is handled, the vestments, paraments, candles, etc. – is part of the church’s culture.  It adorns the Means of Grace and sets them before us.  It communicates the truth of God’s Word to us in a variety of ways and embraces our bodily, physical existence in this time and place.

In such a situation I do not think we should be limited by the orders of service and rites found in LCMS books. When a practice has a long tradition in the catholic Church and when it helps to teach the truth we should feel free to draw upon other liturgical traditions that have preserved them.  This is entirely consistent with the liturgical approach of the confessors in which they sought to retain traditions and ceremonies where they did not contradict Scripture. The liturgical practice of the LCMS is in the process of reclaiming much that has been part of the catholic Church.  However at times it is seeking to overcome a liturgical reductionism that has occurred.

Operating with this reasoning, on Sunday Good Shepherd, Marion, IL will have the Candlemas lighting of candles and procession using the following order of service:

Confession and Absolution
P: In the name of the Father and of the ╬ Son and of the Holy Spirit.
C: Amen.
P: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
C: But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Silence for reflection on God’s Word and for self-examination.

P: Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.
C: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.  For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.  Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.
P: Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of  Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the ╬ and of the Holy Spirit. 
Cong: Amen.

Lighting of Candles
P: Light and peace, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Cong: Thanks be to God.

Candles are lit as the canticle is sung.
#937 Lord, Bid Your Servant Go in Peace
P: Let us pray.  God our Father, source of all light, today You revealed to the aged Simeon your light which enlightens the nations.  Fill our hearts with the light of faith, that we who bear these candles may walk in the path of goodness, and come to the Light that shines forever, Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Cong: Amen.

The Procession
P: Let us go forth in peace.
Cong: In the name of Christ. Amen.

During the procession the following is chanted: Is. 49:6
“It is too light a thing that you should be my / servant*
          to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of /  Israel;
I will make you as a light for the / nations,*
          that my salvation may reach to the end / of the earth.”

Procession pauses for prayer:
P: Let us pray.  O God, You have made this day holy by the presentation of Your Son in the temple, and by the purification of the blessed virgin Mary: Mercifully grant that we, who delight in her humble readiness to bear and give birth to You only-begotten Son, may rejoice forever in our adoption as your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Cong: Amen.


The service continues with the Collect of the Day. Candles are extinguished after the Collect.

The service is based on The Book of Occasional Services: 1994 of the Episcopal church (pg. 53-55). It has been adapted to fit the physical setting at our church where in February there is no real possibility the whole congregation processing.  The service will begin at the font at the back of the nave.  Congregation members will light candles in their pew, and the crucifer, torch bearers, acolyte and pastor will process.  The brief chant of Isa 49:6 allows for a station with prayer in the center of our relatively short aisle. While I would like to include the Kyrie and Gloria in Excelsis, the use of these would require holding the hymnal at the same time as the candle (we do not print our whole service, and this rite will be printed as an insert).  Therefore following the model of Palm Sunday the procession will lead directly to the Collect of the Day.

Candlemas at the Sunday Divine Service is a rare occurrence (it won’t happen again until 2020).  During this Epiphanytide, I think the use of candles and this order of service will serve to reinforce for the congregation that Jesus is the “light for revelation to the Gentiles”  just as it did for Pope Sergius’ people at the end of the seventh century.

No comments:

Post a Comment