Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Giertz: The Origins of Liturgy in the Apostolic Age

"The relation of liturgy to the apostolic age is obvious. It has flowed through the centuries like a ceaseless stream. It had its first deep sources in the synagogue. It is not only that a few words have remained in continuous use since that time, such as Amen, Hallelujah, and Hosanna, but the whole structural form of our order of worship shows clearly its relation to that worship which Jesus Himself shared in the synagogue at Nazareth and in which, as a grown man, he officiated when He was invited to read and interpret the Scriptures. To the ancient worship of the synagogue the apostolic church added the Holy Communion, that new creation which she received from the Saviour Himself and which is the center of all liturgy. As it is celebrated still, with the traditional chants, the Preface and the Sanctus, it is essentially a contribution of the first century."

From Swedish Bishop Bo Giertz's Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Gothburg in 1949 (Herdabrev), published in English as 'Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening' (trans. C.A. Nelson).

The origins of the traditional Western liturgy in the ancient synagogue and the Apostolic age may be well-known to scholars and pastors, but how many of our lay people are aware of it? It is Giertz's purpose here in this Herdabrev to educate the laity of his diocese, after all. Having acknowledged the legitimacy of the lay concern for spiritual awakening and its apostolic origins (so often opposed in his day and ours to the so-called 'dead formalism' of liturgy), he then also points out that the liturgy is also the work of the same Spirit who inspires all genuine awakenings, and thus ought to be reverenced as the Spirit's gift to the church just as much as are 'revivals' of faith and piety.
Needless to say, there is much of relevance here to our contemporary 'worship wars' and the relation of charismatic and revival movements to the life of the church in our day. Would that the bishops and church presidents of today might take up, like Bishop Giertz, the mantle of authoritative teaching that is so sorely needed in this confused time.


Phil said...

Pr. Henderson,

I agree with your point, although I have a few reservations.

It seems to me that while the laity may be unaware of the roots of the Chrisitan Liturgy in the synagogue, the understanding of the Liturgy by our clergy, after Vatican II, seems to be colo(u)red almost exclusively through the synagogue, and of course this is a relatively easy historical case to build, given twentieth century scholarship.

What seems more difficult is to understand the continuity between the Christian Liturgy and the Temple Liturgy, possibly out of a reaction to the RC characterization of the clergy as a new Levitical priesthood. Thankfully, your compatriot Dr. Kleinig labo(u)rs to make this connection much clearer, and he testifies that the as-yet-untranslated Kliefoth apparently worked at this as well.

Still, we Lutherans after Vatican II are in the habit of calling the thing in our apses an altar, though we're not quite sure why. Our theologians are more comfortable calling it a table, and since it's a table, we'd like to pull it away from the wall and clear the crucifix off of it so we can see the celebrant's face better.

Likewise, we are quite comfortable thinking of Christ as a synagogue teacher, even The Teacher, but we are less at ease worshiping Him as the atoning Sacrifice, the High Priest, and the Altar. We have a hard time understanding what it means that Christ has fulfilled the Law because we have a hard time understanding how He fulfilled the sacrificial laws (or why we should care).

We have liturgical scholars who provide a facile explanation of the Christian Liturgy as one instance of a general class called "ritual" which can be identified across all religions, instead of finding its origin, with Luther, in the Tree in the Garden--the Tree itself having its origin in God and not sociological theory.

We likewise are quick to see the distinction between the Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament, and yet at times we may fail to see the way that the Sacrament--the sacrificed Body and Blood of Christ--penetrates into the Service of the Word (the now-outmoded incensation of the Altar and the crucifix thereupon, for example) and how the Word penetrates into the Eucharistic Liturgy (to whom is the Celebrant saying the Verba, exactly?).

Just a few thoughts for consideration from a Christian brother in the global North.



Schütz said...

Good questions, Phil.

Mark, is the english translation of this pastoral letter available on the internet?

Melanchthon said...

Good words from Phil and the bishop. Is the book still available?



Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks Phil. I may respond in greater detail in a day or two.

Jon and David, I've provided a link to the full Giertz letter in the 'Essay File' in the right hand column, but here 'tis anyway: