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based on Paper: "Luther's Catholic Minimum"

Rev.  Dr.  Oliver Olson Presentation to First ELCM Triennial Synod

Luther's Catholic Minimum

by Oliver K. Olson

(This article is written as an evaluation of the new order for eucharistic worship recently published by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, titled Contemporary Worship 2 - Services - The Holy Communion.[1] Ed. The ILCW worked on preparing a new Hymnal prior to the merger that formed the ELCA. Dr. Olson shows in this paper that the committee known as ILCW was departing from Luther's understanding and the understanding of the Reformers.  He presented a lecture series to the newly formed ELCM at Faith Ev. Lutheran Church, Duncansville, PA)."

SINCE VATICAN II Roman Catholics, struggling to catch up with contemporary life, have been coming to terms with all manner of shocking change, Lutherans cannot expect to escape similar shocks; unless all traditions are reviewed there is no possibility of uniting the churches or of coming to terms with modern life. The mere fact, then, that the new order of the inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship is different from what we have known should be no cause for dismay.

Nor is it a cause for dismay that the Lutheran tradition is being challenged from within. One of the greatest living Lutheran theologians, Dr. Peter Brunner of the University of Heidelberg, says flatly that Luther's liturgical reform was a "heretical distortion of the original type."[2] But while such challenges are to be expected and are no cause for dismay, it is cause for dismay if we do not recognize a major theological challenge when it comes along.

The ILCW order is a basic challenge to Lutheran doctrine. It is based on theological principles which tend to blunt the doctrine of grace. As the ecumenical movement progresses we will undoubtedly be making great changes in our thinking and practice. But, inasmuch as Lutherans are not accustomed to taking liturgical texts seriously as theological documents, and because most of the discussion of the ILCW order is apt to center on musical matters we may miss the seriousness of the theological issues involved.

Liturgy is not music. What matters is the text. Repeated Sunday after Sunday, year after year, it is far more decisive in shaping the faith than most Christians realize. Keen observers of the church have always been aware that lex orandi is lex credendi - the form of worship becomes the form faith takes. Today with late romanticism fixing the attention of the young on the elan vital, forms of worship are theologically more important than ever. Romanticism, whose slogans one encounters everywhere - "celebration of life," "do it," - and whose interest in mood, feelings, "happenings" and action affect us all, has given rise to a situation in which impulses are as likely to be taken as imperatives for what the church ought to do as what she ought to think.

Ritual is not mere ritual. It is theology. Therefore, it is very important to examine what the ILCW is asking us to do. Whereas the Episcopal church, with one-fifth as many members, has published its extensive Prayer Book Studies, the ILCW has not provided for the studies necessary to its undertaking. And whereas other communions which have produced provisional orders have accompanied their publications with clear plans for revision, and have announced terminal dates for their use, the ILCW has not. We must assume the possibility that unless a strong case for theological review is made, the order may simply remain in our hymnbook racks indefinitely as a form "intended to supplement those already in use."

My purpose is to demonstrate that such a review is necessary because the ILCW order departs from basic Lutheran doctrine. My method, instead of being a complete review of the order - which from several points of view, is an admirable document - will be to examine the basic structure of the service. To make the argument easier to follow, I shall list my conclusions:

  1. The ILCW order is based on a liturgical concept called the "four-action shape." 

  2. Since this concept was first advanced twenty-five years ago, it has been discussed extensively, and its significance is a theological position is quite independent of what the ILCW might have had in mind by making use of it. 

  3. Whereas the Lutheran confessions require, as a minimum, only two actions: the proclamation of the words of institution and the distribution, the "four-action shape" makes two additional actions obligatory: the offertory procession and the fraction (breaking of bread). 

  4. The "four-action shape" is derived from church tradition. Its use poses the question of the authority of church tradition as over against that of the New Testament accounts. 

  5. The defenders of the "four-action shape" make an additional appeal to Jewish tradition, implying that certain actions in the course of the meal at which the Lord's Supper was instituted must be continued in the church because they were done in the Jewish rite. 

  6. Lutheran theology makes a distinction between those incidental actions of the Last Supper, which belong to Jewish tradition, and the actions implied by the command, "this do." 

  7. In making that distinction, and by abandoning the incidental ritual of whatever Jewish meal formed the framework of the Last Supper, Lutheran theology emphasizes the element of newness in the New Covenant and the authority of Christ against that of the Old Testament law. 

  8. The ILCW order requires the use of a eucharistic prayer (the mass canon), something specifically rejected by the Reformers, not merely because of the sacrificial terminology of the medieval canon, but because of the more important consideration that to mix man's prayers with God's proclamation creates confusion and reverses the sacrament's God-to-man direction of movement. 

  9. The first additional action required by the rite, the offertory procession, also emphatically rejected by the Reformers, did not originate in early Christian practice but in pagan sacrifice. 

  10. The second of the two additional actions, the fraction, although permissible according to Lutheran theology, cannot be made obligatory, and thus it is inappropriate to make the procedure prominent by exaggerated ritual. 

  11. There is no consensus in church tradition about the symbolic meaning of the fraction. Any explanation is free allegory. 

  12. None of the structural departures from Lutheran practice in the new rite can be called contemporary because they consist of reintroducing ancient ceremonies, which were well known to the Reformers and deliberately rejected by them. 

  13. In common with the tradition of the "four-action shape," the ILCW order invariably describes the actions of the rite as man's actions, rather than as God's actions, thus endangering the doctrine of grace, and bringing the whole construction perilously close to Pelagianism. 

The difference between Luther's principles of liturgical reform and those practiced by the ILCW lies in the interpretation of the dominical command, "this do." Are we supposed to imitate the Last Supper and produce a passion play? Or should we understand Christ's words as commanding us to do something new? If Christ was in fact commanding something new, his instruction, "this do," cannot mean the repetition of a Jewish meal, but must mean doing the new thing. Inasmuch as the theological issue is the relationship of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant, Lutheran theology is extremely particular at this point. It makes it very clear that Christ's command to the church is to be understood as including only his institution and the distribution of wine and bread. The church is free to enrich the service with other elements, but they are not to be required.

Writing on this subject in another context I coined the term the "catholic minimum" to designate this basic structure.[3] The catholic minimum is the sum of those elements, which on Christ's own authority must be included in a valid celebration of holy communion.

The ILCW rite is a radical departure from Lutheran doctrine established by Luther's own liturgical reforms, which differ at important points from the ceremonies practiced in the church since Constantine assumed control in the fourth century. If fourth century ceremonial in Rome and Constantinople is the criterion for the liturgical correctness, Peter Brunner is justified in calling Luther's reform a "heretical distortion."[4]  

The main difficulty for liturgical students of that period is the scarcity of information on it. The imperial police, although failing in their attempt to destroy the church, did succeed in destroying the church's books, and we have no satisfactory picture of the communion service of the second and third centuries. About all we have left is an order compiled by the Roman anti-bishop, Hippolytus, a short account by Justin Martyr, and a controversial text in the Didache. Catholics characteristically think we can trust fourth century tradition is a faithful continuation of apostolic practice, but suspicious Protestants trust only the tradition of the first century.,[5]


It will come as no surprise that Luther applied his principle of "scripture alone" consistently, even in the specific matter of liturgical reform. He held that the definitive structure for the communion service was to be found only in the apostolic tradition according to the four biblical accounts. "On them we must rest; on them we must build as on a firm rock if we would not be carried about with every wind of doctrine. (Eph. 4:14) . . . For in these words nothing is omitted that pertains to the completeness, the use and the blessing of the sacrament."[6] ."  I will show that the ILCW order is based, ultimately, on the tradition of the fourth century church. To do that we have to turn to the order itself and examine its basic construction. Although the commissioners have made things difficult -by abandoning the distinction between "may" and "shall" rubrics, the basic construction is still quite clear from the following four statements: 

  1. "Our offering thus is the first action" (p. 10).  

  2. "Our thanksgiving is the second action" (p. 12).  

  3. "After taking bread and wine, and giving thanks, Jesus broke the bread, the third action" (P. 18).  

  4. "The action culminates as we receive the bread and wine. This is the fourth and final action" (P. 18).  

We should reassure ourselves before we proceed that what we are doing is important. Those four sentences, assuredly, are printed in small type, and most people will never read them. But it is not true that they are of concern only to liturgical experts, because they reveal the construction of a document which, if adopted, will have a profound effect on the Lutheran church.

The construction is the work of Dom Gregory Dix, abbot of Nashdom, and is an attempt to establish the theological authority of fourth century practice. Like others influenced by the Oxford Movement, a very strong wind of doctrine indeed, Dix attempted to revitalize the worship of the Church of England by turning to church tradition - the "universal Christian mind" - for the authority necessary to authenticate its richer ceremonial. "Yet it is only by entering into that universal Christian mind", he says, "and thinking with it that we modern Christians enter into the fullness of our Christian inheritance."[7]  

Dix's first important book was about the little wall closets for the reserved host in medieval churches (A Detection of Aumbries, 1942); he went on to write The Shape of the Liturgy, his magnum opus, which since 1945 has dominated American and English liturgical studies. In it he states his conditions, drawn from tradition, regarding the form of the communion service: the basic form must be the "four-action shape."

"With absolute unanimity the liturgical tradition reproduces these seven actions as four: (1) The offertory bread and wine are "taken" and placed on the table together. (2) The prayer; the president gives thanks to God over bread and wine together. (3) The fraction; the bread is broken. (4) The communion; the bread and wine are distributed together.[8]  

"What he has done, quite unashamedly," comments Paul Santmire, "is to find the Shape in the many fourth century documents, discover the same in the third and second century evidence (with which he begins the book) and then make the leap - over a considerable hiatus in historical evidence -- from the familiar Shape of the pre-Nicene type, as he calls it, to the original Lord's Supper."[9]  

It should be clear, even without tracing the discussion of Dix's thesis, that the "four-action shape" is one man's definition of tradition and represents a distinct theological position. It is not possible to adopt the "four-action shape" without adopting the theological point of view that goes with it. It is quite irrelevant, then, what the commissioners might have had in mind when they decided to use the "four-action shape" rather than the "Catholic minimum." The theology is implicit in the "shape."

It is evident from his method that Dix thinks it important to continue doing what Jesus did at the Last Supper: the "four-action shape" "with absolute unanimity ... reproduces the seven actions" which he finds in the accounts of Jesus' institution. His reconstruction of the Last Supper is questionable. Scholars do not even know what kind of meal was held in that upper room, since the church did not consider incidental details important enough to remember. Joachim Jeremias thinks it was a Passover meal. Dix thinks it was a Chabburah meal. It does not matter. In his discussion of the problem Hans-Christoph Schmidt-Lauber says, ". . . the significant element of that meal was not in its traditional ceremonial and emphases, but in those two actions at the beginning and at the end of the main meal. Both these actions are to be found in every ordinary meal ... the actions are singled out at this hour so they can be filled with a completely new and unique content."[10

If we do indeed have to do with two elements which have been taken out of the context of a meal, the task of interpreting the holy communion is clearly more complex than simply emphasizing that it is a meal. (St. Paul thought people ought to eat at home. I Cor. II: 34)

It is also clear that overlooking the element of newness in Christ's institution and emphasizing rather the continuity with Jewish practice represents a kind of Judaizing trend. The decision of the Jerusalem Council (A.D. 49/50; Acts 15, Galatians) to abandon the particular Jewish customs of circumcision and kosher diets, leaving only baptism, has its parallel in the church's abandoning what remained of the Passover (or whatever other meal formed the background for Jesus' institution). It would seem to be quite a sensible idea, at a time when we are all concerned about a "contemporary" liturgical rite, to explore the implications of the newness of the covenant for the forms we use.

Let us now take a closer look at the first three of Dix's four actions to determine whether it is legitimate to claim that the church is under obligation to include them in the celebration of communion. Since the ILCW has published no theological rationale for its work, I shall take the risk of assuming that Dr. Eugene Brand's article, "Luther's Liturgical Surgery: Twentieth Century Diagnosis of the Patient," in which he discusses the above actions and expresses his dissatisfaction with Luther's reforms, is a fair representation of the ILCW's disenchantment with Luther.[11] Meant for popular reading, the essay is more useful as an indication of the attitude that led to the ILCW order than as a theological justification for it. Dr. Brand cannot be faulted with any kind of deception; he is quite open about the sweeping changes he wants to effect.

"Our offering thus is the first action of the Supper," according to the new order. By "offering" is not meant the mere collection of' money, but a ceremony in which the worshipers carry bread and wine to the altar, "corresponding," the rubric has it, "to our Lord's taking of bread and wine." Of course no exegesis, no matter how clever, could make the words, "Jesus took bread" into a requirement that a procession be made; the reason for insisting on the offertory procession is that it is a part of church tradition.

Dr. Brand argues in his essay for a "proper offertory" and cites the early practice of the church. What he does not say is that the early Christian practice was even older than the gospel, reaching right back to the pagan Greek mystery cults. Theodor Klauser, a Roman Catholic liturgical authority, writing about the early beginnings of the liturgy, says, ". . . in the regular practice of the ancient world, whereby members of the community themselves presented the sacrificial offerings, lie the roots of the so-called offertory procession."[12] The practice has caused a great deal of mischief in the past, since it was the source of the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass and thus of the sacrificial priesthood, according to another Roman Catholic authority, Josef Jungmann of the University of Innsbruck. "The development must have taken place in this fashion: that the contributions of the faithful which they had been accustomed to bring from time immemorial for the needs of the church and for the poor, little by little became associated with the celebration of the eucharist. This connection occurred the more easily since they were already accustomed to calling gifts for the church and for the poor, "sacrifice."[13]

Echoing the Council of Trent, which decreed that sacrifice be continued because the nature of man requires it, Dr. Brand argues the need to sacrifice. "Yet the void left by Luther's surgery on the medieval offertory still wants filling in a satisfactory manner. We do receive monetary offerings and sing a fragment of psalmody now, but that does not satisfy the need. [14]  

It hardly needs emphasizing that the need to sacrifice pressed on us with such urgency has been rejected as a pagan claim by the Lutheran tradition. To give one example, out of a vast literature: "The sacrament, then, is a gift of God. If the gospel is to be expressed through the sacraments, we must wholeheartedly adopt the conception of God as giver. If there is the slightest thought that communion is an offering to God, a sacred act in God's direction, then the gospel is rendered null and void at once."[15] There has been a good deal of discussion about sacrifice since 1950. Dr. Brand, who says his opinion is "conditioned by the current debate," sounds very different from Dr. Bring: "My sacrifice is shared in that what we offer together will be returned to us as heavenly food for our sustenance and joy. In this cultic motion from sacrifice to sacrament the mystery of God's action among men is demonstrated: what we surrender to him he gives to us and through us to others.[16]  He departs from Luther too, of course. Luther expressly denies the validity of the idea Dr. Brand expresses. "The same thing cannot be received and offered at the same time, nor can it be both given and accepted by the same person."[17]  

"Our thanksgiving is the second action." Now it is clear that Luther was flatly opposed to any kind of eucharistic prayer, since the implication for the liturgy of his emphasis on grace was that the mass is essentially something God does for man, not vice versa. He was consequently very concerned that whatever the liturgical form, the direction of movement from God to man be safeguarded. "We must therefore sharply distinguish the testament and sacrament itself from the prayers we offer at the same time."[18]

Roman Catholics have come a long way toward adopting Luther's insight. The Reformers pointed out the absurdity of the expression, "pray the mass." How could one "pray" the epistle? It was not a prayer at all but something addressed to the people! What was the sense of beseeching the Lord to "lift up your hearts?" That was a greeting to the people. In fact, so much of the mass was directed toward the people that Luther thought the celebrant ought to stand behind the altar to give emphasis to the proper direction of movement. "In the true mass, however, of real Christians, the altar should not remain where it is, and the priest should always face the people as Christ doubtlessly did in the Last Supper. But let that await its own time."[19] Today, as we are all aware, that time has come. Ironically, the reform came from Catholics, not Lutherans. What is to prevent them from making a more profound analysis of the tradition and eventually conducting that itis not only gospel and epistle,, salutation and benediction which are meant to be addressed to the people, but the mass itself, as Luther says?[20]

We cannot make great changes in theological positions before we examine the issues squarely. Dr. Brand's discussion of Luther's attitude toward the eucharistic prayer does not deal with the main issue, the direction of movement. "Luther's objections to the cannon were essentially two: 1) He insisted that the words of institution should not be said in a low voice (as was the custom), but that they should be sung for all to hear. They are proclamatory in nature and one does not whisper what is to be proclaimed. 2) He could not accept theologically the strong sacrificial emphasis of the Latin canon,"[21] Brand's explanation that Luther's objections have been met by the decisions of Vatican II, which discontinued the custom of repeating the words of institution in a low voice, or that they may be met by new texts for the canon with less explicit sacrificial terminology, simply does not take Luther seriously. He was against all eucharistic prayers, because they reverse the direction of the movement from God to man. The mass becomes something man does.

Defending the use of the eucharistic prayer, Dr. Brand advances the authority of tradition: "As far as anyone can tell, the words of institution had always been placed within a context of prayer modeled after Jewish blessings.".[22] Here he is fairly representing the majority of those engaged these days in liturgical studies. The wind from Oxford has taken on something like hurricane force. Consider the fact that the following statement by the editors of the liturgical order of the Churches of Christ Uniting (COCU) represents the voice of Calvinism in the United States: "The thanksgiving is an essential part of every celebration, ancient and modern and it is the primary text that gives definition and meaning to what we are doing."[23] Before we bend before that wind, we ought to pose the question of how much weight the argument from tradition has. Luther maintained that the basic decision on the shape of the liturgy should be a teleological one. Even if it were demonstrably true that the words of institution were "always en-closed," the doctrine of the gospel is more important than the tradition. "What shall we say then of the canon of the mass and the patristic authorities? First of all, I would answer: If there were nothing at all to be said against them, it would be safer to reject them all than admit that the mass is a work or a sacrifice, lest we deny the word of Christ and destroy faith together with the mass."[24]  

Is it really true that the words of institution were always enclosed by a eucharistic prayer? It was not true about the mass of Addai and Mari from Syria, for example. The version Of St. Paul would seem to indicate that Jesus first gave thanks and after he had given thanks, he addressed the words of institution to his disciples. Since the question as to the exact moment of the consecration was not raised until later, it need not concern us here.

The researches of Joachim Jeremias suggest that the enclosure of the words of institution by the eucharistic prayer may have been a clumsy development based on confusion about the original function of the prayer. His reconstruction of the development goes like this: The early church had a dinner (the agape meal), after which grace was said the Jewish blessing, beginning, "lift up your hearts." with which we are all familiar. After the meal and the prayer were finished, communion was celebrated. The confusion of the words of institution and the prayer of thanksgiving came about as a result of a new enthusiasm for fasting. To be able to take communion on an empty stomach, the Christians reversed the order of events. Now communion was served first and the agape meal afterwards. Since they had forgotten that it was a table grace after the meal, and had become accustomed to hearing it before communion, the prayer accompanied the communion to the earlier position. Now it assumed the function of a preface to communion. When the meal finally disappeared completely, due to larger crowds, the place of prominence the prayer had assumed was acknowledged in the new name for the whole procedure, eucharist. The prayer grew longer and came to surround the words of institution, which were assigned to a subordinate clause, effectively reversing their direction.[25

One wonders how carefully the COCU statement has been read; to say that the canon is "essential" is the same as saying that Protestant celebrations of communion have been invalid ones. Liturgical writers can get away with such statements only if liturgy is excused from theological scrutiny.

For Luther, the action here is not ours, but God's, addressed to the congregation. "Pronouncing the words," he says, ". . . is the principal and most efficacious action in the sacrament.".[26] The "four-action shape" views the action as man's actions Paul Santmire comments on Dix's theological position, which informs the "shape." "The New Testament view of the Divine Word, held by many modern men, is that a word is by nature something ethereal and ineffective. In this connection we may surmise that Dix's apparent presupposition that a word is not an authentic action lies behind his curious lack of interest in the New Testament church as a preaching community and his lack of interest in the words of institution in particular as effectual proclamation.[27]  

One wonders whether Dr. Brand understands Luther's point of view at all when he denies that Luther emphasizes action. "He (Luther) views the sacrament in terms of the bread and wine alone, not as an action involving bread and wine. He cannot get beyond the Western preoccupation with the elements, and so the Sacrament remains a 'thing' to be received or offered, rather than an act to be celebrated.[28] One might reverse the criticism and ask whether Dr. Brand can conceive of any action which is something other than man's action. Dix's enormous popularity is surprisingly effective in changing the theological situation. Krister Stendahl, in an essay which mentions Dix with admiration, shows that he, too, has adopted Dix's position. "We note that when the eucharist is celebrated in Corinth (I Cor. 11) that very act pronounces the kerygma, celebrates it "until he come," but the church is not the object for that kerygma but the subject that "does it."[29] But is Dix's emphasis on man's activity in the liturgy sufficiently weighty for us to change our basic orientation to holy communion? Not necessarily. Perhaps we should consider the opinion of the former Roman Catholic, Leonhard Fendt, who has few equals as a liturgiologist: "The formal exegetical statement that the disciples are the subject of the imperative, "this do," does not justify making the Lord's Supper into the Supper of Christians."[30]  

The casual reintroduction of the anamnesis and epiclesis, which are required in the new rite, and both of which are associated with complex theologies which attempt to locate the action, is an issue too complex for discussion here. Since the theological interpretations which accompany their use implicitly deny the centrality of the Word, it is inconceivable that they should be introduced into the Lutheran rite without a clear understanding of how their use should be interpreted in an evangelical context. There is nothing objectionable about breaking a piece of bread into two pieces, unless someone says that you must do it because it was commanded by Christ. That is the clear implication of the ILCW text: "After taking bread and wine, and giving thanks, Jesus broke the bread, the third action."

Thomas Erastus, the famous defender of complete state power of the church ("Erastianism") and professor of medicine at Heidelberg, wrote what we can consider the classic defense of the necessity of the fraction. His tract appeared concurrently with the famous Calvinistic Heidelberg catechism. The argument is as follows: "The command contained in the words, 'this do in remembrance of me,' is to be understood not only in the sense of eating and drinking, but also as including all the other things that Christ did. Since he broke bread, with thanksgiving. such words should not be considered as counting the inclusion of the thanksgiving and the fraction any less important than eating . . . The fraction . . . which is expressed, commanded, cannot be considered a matter of liberty."[31] Erastus goes on to insist that the church was under obligation to use no more than one loaf of bread at each communion service. He does not explain whether exceptions to the law might be possible in case of large congregations.

In Liturgy, Coming to Life Bishop Robinson manages to come to the same position as Erastus: "And when he told his friends to 'do this' . . . he enjoined this action upon us."[32]  

To a good many people the rediscovery of this legal obligation comes as an exciting and "contemporary" revelation. We have clearly done an inadequate job of teaching liturgics when this comes up and nobody remembers that the matter ever came up before.

Unless we have a clear understanding of just how much is included in the command, "this do," there is no reason to leave out such probable features of the Last Supper as foot washing, reclining, or eating bitter herbs. There is, in fact, a clear Lutheran understanding of the limits of the command: the confessions are quite clear that it implies only the consecration and the distribution. When it became a polemical issue after the publication of Erastus' pamphlet, the theologians spelled it out in detail. Quenstedt, for instance, makes a precise distinction between actus formales and actus concomitantes. "It is permissible (licet) that the bread be broken in connection with the distribution. Nevertheless, it is not one of the formal acts of the sacrament, nor is it necessary that the fraction take place during the celebration. It is an arbitrary matter and can be taken care of before the holy Supper."[33] The ILCW should make it rubrically clear that the practice is permitted but not required. But in that case it could hardly be called "the third action."

The meaning assigned to the fraction, "breaking of the bread . . . reminds us of post-Easter appearances like that at Emmaus," follows the tradition of Amalar of Metz, the ninth-century allegorist.[34] There is no basis, however, for assuming that church tradition supplies us with a consensus on its meaning. Some pious explanations have included the passion of Christ (Dix, p. 81), the immolation of Christ's sacrifice (Dix, p. 615), the unity of the church (Dix, p. 132). Robinson's explanation is the following: "Look! he is saying, this is my body, which I am breaking!" There is no reason for requiring the fraction, then, on the basis of some valuable intrinsic meaning. If the one loaf signifies the unity of the church, why does not the breaking of the one loaf signify the deplorable disunity of the church? One reason for its being omitted in Reformation orders is that too many fanciful explanations had developed."[35]

The "four-action shape" is a definition of' catholicity. It appeals to Lutherans because they are adverse to being thought of as sectarian. There is an important distinction to be made, however, between catholicity and conformity. In the name of catholicity Lutherans have been urged repeatedly during the last four centuries to conform. The most extreme form of the appeal was, in fact, a demand. The arrogant sermon of the auxiliary bishop of Mainz, preaching to the military leaders, who by force of arms were about to impose the ancien regime on the churches of the Reformation demanded conformity to every last syllable of the mass, since they all had come down directly from the apostles. "In the same original apostolic church the holy, salutary body and blood of Christ in the holy eucharist had the name "mass," just as it does today and consisted of the same actions as it does today."[36]  

The extent of the conformity necessary to achieve catholicity was reduced a bit by the humanist theologian, Georg Witzel. He talked about the authority to be found in the "consensus, of' the first five centuries." Lutherans should not be so radical; conformity to tradition was safer. "How much safer to use the old form . . . Nothing has been removed; the Lord's Supper is put into a better light by the auxiliary ceremonies, and the older they are the more sacred they are.[37] Witzel's definition of catholicity was a bit more modest than Helding's; Dix's version is a vastly reduced version of the old argument. Apparently it is getting easier to achieve liturgical catholicity. The difference between the "catholic minimum" and the "four-action shape" is only a quick snap of bread, a short procession, and a prayer.

But can we seriously argue that the offertory procession, which developed in pagan Greek mystery rites, is a condition for being Catholic? Is the eucharistic prayer absolutely necessary'? Even Gregory the Great admitted, in effect, that it was not apostolic when he said that "some professor wrote it. Must we have a fraction? Does catholicity, in short, mean conformity to church practice?

An early critic of Lutheran practice, the Dominican Johan Fabri, thought so. His assertion of catholicity-as-conformity is probably the most ingenuous form the argument has ever taken. "The office of holy mass has been carried out by command and rule of the Holy Spirit in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, the islands of the ocean sea, in England, Scotland, Crete, Cyprus, Rhodes, Sardinia, Corsica, by the Greeks, Russians, Muscovites, by all who confess Christ in Syria, in Armenia, in India, in Ethiopia, Palestine, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, on Mount Sinai, in the newly discovered world in America, in Pennsylvania, etc., which new world, now found by God's providence, is more than three thousand miles long and five thousand miles in diameter."[38] That the argument has had an influence on the ILCW, or at least on Dr. Brand, is evident from his statement: "The Lutherans claimed that they had not abolished the mass, and yet when they celebrated it they omitted two parts which any Christian, eastern or western, would have considered essential."[39] There was a torrent of criticism of Luther's audacity in the sixteenth century. Helding demanded that Lutherans conform to the complete Latin text; liberal humanists like Witzel, in love with antiquitas, would settle for the "consensus of the first five centuries," but nobody complained about the omission of "two parts" because the "four-action shape" was not defined until 1945.

It is Luther's minimum which is catholic. It is based on the earliest apostolic tradition. He puts the same emphasis on the words of institution that the holy fathers, Augustine, Ambrose, and Thomas did. There is a solid case to be made, in fact, for considering Luther a legitimate abbreviator of the mass in the same sense that Gregory I was. ". . . an abbreviation of the mass, even the canon itself, was no damnable crime against the mass of the Middle Ages, but a reform in the best sense of the tradition. [40]

It would be odd if Lutherans were willing to accept the implied claim that the ILCW order is "contemporary;" it is based on decidedly old-fashioned ceremonies. On the face of it, one might think that Luther's minimum structure, which in dispensing with hoary rituals, emphasizing the newness of the New Covenant and making room for new expressions of devotion, would recommend itself as the basic shape for a contemporary order.

It is probably safe to assume that the commissioners saw in the liturgy a means by which they could further church unity, and it is also probable that they considered the "catholic minimum" sterile. It is true, in fact, that the distinction between what was commanded and what fell in the area of adiaphora did tend to impoverish the liturgy.

The fault lay not in the distinction; it was a psychological phenomenon. Inasmuch as secondary matters were termed adiaphora theologians did not take them seriously. Ironically, it is the same psychology which has made it possible for Lutherans to appoint a liturgical commission which has an inadequate representation of theologians; liturgy still seems to be something indifferent, something for musicians. There is no reason for changing our theological position. We can simply learn that secondary matters are not unimportant.

There is no reason, either, to assume that the "Catholic minimum" must be sterile. As long as it were not required, there would be no objection to the gospel procession, for example. And consider the pastoral possibilities of the words of institution, now that the celebrant may stand behind the altar. The provisional order of the Presbyterians is really more Lutheran than the ILCW order because its compilers recognized the theological problem and provided the words of institution twice, once as proclamation and once in a eucharistic prayer.[41] It seems strange, on one hand, to consider as obligatory for the church the incidental circumstance of Christ's breaking of bread and, on the other, to ignore the significance of his speaking the words of institution "to his disciples." Why not learn from the Presbyterians, who think that the direction is important? We could place a firm Amen after the first part of the eucharistic prayer, then direct the words of institution to the congregation, and then after doing our homework on the epiclesis and anamnesis and deciding if such dubious practices can be understood in some evangelical way - we could continue praying.

It may even develop that the Catholics are not really adamant about the Godward direction of movement in the canon. Catholics with whom I have discussed the canon have not even heard about the problem. Some of them already think of the canon as a kind of conversation, anyway.

The commission has done several things well. It has made sure that the order cannot be cut in half. It has constructed a beautiful and classic beginning. It has given us some graceful new texts. But because of the crucial nature of the theological problem it presents, provision should be made for a review, especially since under present regulations there is almost no check on its mandate to "act for the churches."[42]

Inasmuch as one of the peculiarities of liturgical studies at present is that they are carried on largely in isolation from other theological disciplines, they have developed a pelagianizing theology which has little in common with other theological disciplines.[43]  I see no reason that the "new insights into the meaning and uses of the liturgy," about which the ILCW preface speaks, make it necessary to change the communion rite so that man's actions are emphasized at the expense of God's. Nor is there any reason that the pace of change in the modern world should lead to the relaxing of our theological responsibility.

When the Rev. Abdel Ross Wentz moved at the 1948 convention of the United Lutheran Church that the "proposed texts [for the Service Book and Hymnal] be approved with the exception that the eucharistic prayer shall be omitted," his motion was defeated, and the SBH included a eucharistic prayer.[44] However, its use was made optional, rendering its challenge to Lutheran practice less serious. There is no evidence that the synods which now make up The American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod were aware of how drastic the proposed changes were.

Things are different now. The ILCW order requires not only the eucharistic prayer but a "shape" based on theological principles foreign to our tradition, and introduced out of a conviction that Luther's reform was a "heretical distortion." Lest I be misunderstood, let me say that I consider extremely important the ecumenical, sociological, psychological, and esthetic aspects of worship. The church will be served best, however, if we observe the right priorities and make certain that the basic framework of the liturgy - the "shape" - expresses a responsible theology.

1. (Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, 1970). Back to text.

2. Worship in the Name of Jesus. (St. Louis, 1968), 294. On the other hand, the eminent Luther scholar of the University of Bonn, Ernst Bizer, says of Brunner's book, "I cannot reconcile this doctrine of communion either with Luther or with the Lutheran confessions. What sense is there in appealing to the Lutheran confessions if one is deviating from them so far both in content and method?" Evangelische Theologie, Vol. 16, No. 1, ( 1956), 17 f. Back to text.

3. Jahrbuch fur Hymnologie und Liturgie. (Kassel, 1967), 64. Back to text.

4. Brunner is one of the most influential voices in the German high church movement, which is seeking to reaffirm the authority of the fourth century tradition. Rudolph Stahlin discusses the debate among liturgiologists concerning the relative authority of the first and fourth centuries in Leiturgia I. (Kassel, 1954), p.6 Back to text.

5. The four New Testament accounts of the institution of holy communion are not direct reports of the Last Supper, but reflections of liturgical usage. Back to text.

6. "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," Luther's Works. (Philadelphia, 1959ff), 37. Back to text.

7. The Shape of the Liturgy, (Westminster, 1945), 369. Back to text.

8. Ibid., 48. Back to text.

9. "The Shape of the Liturgy; A Review Article." The Lutheran Quarterly, Vol., 19 (1967), 38. Back to text.

10. Die Eucharistie als Entfaltung der Verba Testamenti. (Kassel, 1957), 48, 65. Schmidt-Lauber's analysis of the structure, which proceeds not on the basis of tradition, as in Dix's case, but on the words of institution themselves, probably would have been a more acceptable alternative for the commission, especially as he shares many of their concerns. Back to text.

11. Interpreting Luther's Legacy: Essays in Honor of Edward C. Fendt. (Minneapolis, 1969), 108-119. Dr. Brand was chairman of the Liturgical Text Committee of the ILCW. This group prepared the text for the new rite. Back to text.

12. A Short History of the Western Liturgy. (London, 1969), 8. Back to text.

13. Missarum Solemnia II. (Vienna, 1962), 5. Back to text.

14. Brand, op. cit., 111. Italics added. Back to text.

15. Ragnar Bring. "On the Lutheran Concept of the Sacrament," World Lutheranism of Today: A Tribute to Anders Nygren, 15 November 1950, (Rock Island, Illinois, 1950), 87. Back to text.

16. Brand, op. cit., 118. Back to text.

17. Luther's Works, Vol. 36, p. 52. Back to text.

18. Ibid., 50. Back to text.

19. Luther's Works, Vol. 53, p. 69. Back to text.

20. Cf. the "Treatise on the New Testament", Luther's Works. Vol. 35, esp. p. 82.Back to text.

21. Op. cit., 110. Although Brand mentions proclamation, his subsequent discussion does not stress the function of proclamation, merely the question of audibility. Back to text.

22. Loc. cit. Back to text.

23. An Order of Worship for the Proclamation of 'the Word of God and the Celebration of 'the Lord's Supper, with Commentary. (Cincinnati, 1968), 66. Back to text.

24. Luther's Works, Vol. 36, p. 52. Back to text.

25. Joachim Jeremias. The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. (London, 1966), 116f. Back to text.

26. Prolatic verhorum quae est potissima et proncipalis actic in sacramento. Lettero Wolferinus, 20 July 1543. Luther’s Works, Weimar Edition 10, p. 348. Back to text.

27. Santmire, op. Cit., 48. Back to text.

28. Op. cit., 116. Back to text.

29. "The New Testament Background for the Doctrine of the Sacraments," Oecumemica 1970. (Minneapolis, 1970), 45. Back to text.

30. "Sundenvergebung im Abendmahl," Jahrbuch fur Hymnologie und Liturgie. (1936), 85. Back to text.

31. Erzelung etlicher Ursacher, warum das hochwurdige Sacrament des Nachtmahis unsers Herrn und Hylandts Jhesu Christi nicht solle ohne das Brotbrechen gehalten werden. (Heidelberg, 155.3, 1556), Biii. The controversy between the Calvinist and Lutheran points of view continued. The pamphlet was reprinted in 1891. Back to text.

32. J. A. T. Robinson. Second edition. (London, 1963), 72. Back to text.

33. Johannes Quenstedt. Theologia Didacto-polemica IV., 216. Back to text.

34. Adolf Franz. Die Messe im deutschen Mittelater. (Freiburg, 1902), 387. Back to text.

35. Dix records advice to that effect by Martin Bucer to the Archbishop of Canterbury p. 671.Back to text.

36. Michael Helding. Von der heiligen Messe. Funffzehn Predige. (Ingolstadt, 1548), Ciii Back to text.

37.  Georg Witzel. Defensio Ecclesiasticae Liturgiae. (Cologne, 1564), C4.  Back to text.

38.  Johan Fabri. Antwort auff das unnutz, unrain, irrig Geschwetz, etc. (Dollingen 1558), L.  Back to text. 

39.  Op. cit., 110.  Back to text. 

40.  Leonhardt Fendt. Einfuhrung in die Liturgiewissenschaft. (Berlin, 1958), 38. Back to text. 

41.  The Book of Common Worship: Provisional Services and Lectionary for the Christian Year. (Philadelphia, 1966), 29-31. Back to text. 

42.  The American Lutheran Church. Reports and Actions. (Minneapolis, 1968), 507.  Back to text. 

43.  In this connection David Granskou requests that liturgical revision take into account the results of New Testament scholarship. Lutheran Quarterly. Vol. XIX, No. 1, (February 1967), 74ff.  Back to text. 

44.  United Lutheran Church. Minutes of the Sixteenth Biennial Convention. (Philadelphia, 1948), 444.  Back to text. 

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