Saturday, January 9, 2010

Liturgy Review: Rubrics (Why do we do what we do the way we do it?)

Baumgarten, Barbara Dee. Vestments for All Seasons. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2002. 143 Pages. Paper. $19.00. (LHP)

Michno, Dennis G. Illustrations by Richard E. Mayberry. Revisions for Third Edition by Christopher Webber. A Priest's Handbook: The Ceremonies of the Church (Third Edition). Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1998. 299 Pages. Cloth. $35.00. (L)

Provance, Brett Scott. Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship. Downer's Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. 136 Pages. Paper. $8.00. (L)

Klein, Patricia S. Worship Without Words: The Signs and Symbols of our Faith Expanded Edition. Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2007. 255 Pages. Paper. $19.95. (L)

The term "rubric" is similar to the English word "ruby," reminding us that directions during a liturgy were traditionally printed in red to contrast with the black of the usual liturgical texts. (My favorite is the burgundy color for rubrics printed with the black text on the ivory pages of Lutheran Service Book.)

It has been my experience first as a layman and now as a pastor that Christians may not know (or remember) why Christians do what they do during a church service. Four books recently crossed my desk that shed light on Christian liturgical practice.

The first two have an Episcopal perspective.

First up, Vestments for All Seasons.

Author Barbara Dee Baumgarten brings history, theology, and the sewing arts to bear on traditional vestments. Apart from an openness to women in the ministry, the text is quite helpful to a Lutheran in The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod.

Her review of vestment history and a glossary with some illustrative sketches are quite valuable. Some vestments outgrew their original practical reasons for existence and now adorn liturgy with symbolism and beauty. I appreciated her distinction between Eucharistic vestments, vestments for the choir and others, and those reserved for the use of bishops (but usually not LCMS district or synodical presidents).

Chapter Three focuses upon design, Four on spirituality, and Five on the skills and tools of sewing. I have some familiarity with the topics in these chapters (but not much personal experience) since my mother was a Home Ec teacher. I can sew on a button...

The remaining chapters give detailed vestment patterns for specific times in the Church Year. The author and publisher were wise to include color photographs of these garments on the front and back covers. This is a detail forgotten by many similar books.

  • The Advent set (front cover, Chapter 6) combines both colors appointed for the season, purple and blue. I would personally prefer that the red was omitted and that the purple was violet, a better complement for the indigo blue.

  • Rose is not found very often even in liturgical circles (back cover, Chapter 7, appointed for 3 Advent and 4 Lent) except for the "pink" candle in an Advent wreath. I like the design, but would prefer a slightly more masculine selection of fabric.

  • The Christmas set (back cover, Chapter 8) is reverent and churchly. The blue is a good tie to the Advent season. Another set would be necessary for the Easter season. I appreciated the inclusion of the rose and crown symbolism.

  • The Lenten set (back cover, Chapter 9) is probably my favorite because of its ancient design. It would work well with an Anglican "Lenten Array" or traditional Violet.

  • I have objections to the idea of a child wearing a chasuble due to my pastoral concern of avoiding confusion at worship. It gave me the impression of "childish," not "childlike." This was a missed opportunity to show off Easter Gold on the highest feast of the Christian year, the physical Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

  • Chapter 11 provides patterns for both Pentecost Sunday and the Trinity/Pentecost Season. The back cover also depicts examples of both. The fire on the red fabric could lend itself to some real creativity. The three interlocking circles for Trinity could be a labor love for some dedicated quilters. Perhaps a smaller version of the design could be added to a more plain garment. There is the danger of a vestment that is "overdone."
Consider involving your congregation's altar guild in constructing vestments through this helpful reference.

 The second book for our consideration is also a product of Morehouse Publishing. A Priest's Handbook is now in its third edition.

Written to complement and supplement the current books in use by the Episcopal Church, nameley The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 and The Hymnal 1982, A Priest's Handbook has something to say to Lutherans. This volume will join its intended companions on my shelf.

The red cover speaks to the Office of the Holy Ministry, the Blood of Christ through which we enter heaven, and the traditional color of rubrics in black/red printed books.

Now in the Third Edition, it features a theological Introduction (17) of sorts. While dancing around the God-centeredness of Liturgy, orderliness, the "self-giving love of the Incarnate Word" and Word and Sacrament, I yearned for a statement that condensed it all into worship/liturgy being primarily God's Word for us delivering His Gifts, rather than humans gathering themselves together to offer their thanks and praise to God. Considering previous editions (likely) didn't have such an introduction, I believe progress has been made.

I appreciated the descriptive and pictoral treatment posture, termed Ceremonial Acts (21ff) and an explanation of Genuflecting (22). "Manual Acts" (23ff) appropriately refer to "The positions of hand for prayer and other manual actions by the celebration, officiant and others..." Manus = hand.

These features were a helpful reminder and addition to what we have had widely available. Already, this book was worth reading!

Lutherans will have other differences with our Reformation cousins descended from the Church of England. The practice of Holy Communion gives evidence of honest differences in theology 75, et al, on the reservatin of the sacrament). On a less important (but more emotional) level, I was bothered by the comment "It is desirable that nothing be inserted between the proclamation of the Gospel and the sermon. A hymn at this point is out of place..." (38). So much for our Lutheran Hymn of the Day!

Good liturgy always proclaims Christ. Word and ceremony point to Him, both who He is and what He has done for us. Perhaps in the study of a volume like this one may reconsider what the Word made flesh says about Himself, His people, and His desire for holiness.

I pray that the remarkable liturgical unity of the English Reformation in the Book of Common Prayer would lead to the more important unity of the Truth of God's own Word. Serious challenges face the Anglican Communion. Political solutions and politically-correct resolutions solve and resolve nothing. Only the Word creates authentic unity.

A true companion reference like this for Lutheran Service Book is desired. Perhaps that will be the role of the LSB Liturgy Desk Edition. Until then, I will consult A Priest's Handbook and some old Lutheran classics.

Looking for a compact, yet serviceable guide to better understand Christian liturgy and worship? IVP Academic provides this fresh offering by Brett Scott Provance.

There are challenges to defining one's terms. Provance is brief and fair. We're dealing with a very short book that has great weight on its shoulders.

The definition for "liturgy" (79) is man-centered rather than God centered. This is perphaps the greatest flaw of the book, largely due to the influence of the "work of the people" school. Lutherans have used the German term Gottesdienst, meaning Divine Service, or God's service to clearly confess the priority of His work for us over and above our work for Him.

"Mystery Religion" (88-89) sadly owes a debt to the history of religions school, in part denying the uniqueness of Christian baptism as opposed to other ritual washings. "Baptism" (23) does not fully confess what the Bible gives to the sacrament. Providing "immerse" as a synonym without much clarification is unfortunate.

I do not envy the author's job in explaining theologies and practices without necessarily advocating them. His descriptive definitions for terms and practices in the so-called "contemporary" realm are fair, yet slightly critical.

While not my first choice for a reference of this size and type, IVP should be commended for daring to explain chasubles, altars, candles, historic communion practice, censers and incense to a wider Christian readership.

My favorite reference to present to you here is an expanded edition of Worship without Words, an explanation of "The Signs and Symbols of our Faith."

The author, Patricia S. Klein impressed me with the prior edition. She attends a congregation that was a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America ( This background helps explain her wide knowledge base.

I was particularly interested in seeing how the prior thin novel-size edition was "expanded." I loved the detailed black and white illustrations and clear, concise definitions. I could see this book as a good guide to a newcomer to liturgical Christianity. Particularly helpful here are explanations of symbols. She also adds terms to incorporate the terminology and practices of American Evangelicalism and its Pentecostal-movement-inspired so-called "contemporary" worship.

Explanations include a very brief one on "Open Communion Versus Closed Communion" (139). Consubstantiation is mentioned (156) but not identified with Lutheranism (thankfully, since it is a mere caricature of a Biblical teaching of the Real Presence of Christ's Body and Blood in, with, and under the bread and wine). A brief guide like this will at times explain that something is done (e.g., lifting hands, 171) without explicitly explaining why that practice is done. (The orans position of a pastor at prayer is a different understanding of Psalm 141 than "Holy Spirit satellite dishes.")

Worship without Words is a favorite of mine. Personally, I prefer the smaller format of the earlier edition to the larger version here.

The author excels in explaining the following verbally and visually:

  1. Sacred Places, Sacred Spaces
  2. The Altar
  3. The Cross
  4. The Liturgical Year
  5. Liturgical Worship
  6. The Music of Worship
  7. The Sacraments
  8. Private Worship
  9. Lessons and Books of Worship
  10. We Believe
  11. The Body of Christ
  12. Vestments
While it couldn't serve as a primary text for a Lutheran adult membership class, I would freely share information and explanations from it for others. This would be a great reference for questions about worship practices in other Christian church bodies or perhaps sister congregations.

"Which way do I turn?" is a common question among those beginning their service in the chancel, especially at the seminary. Rubrics help guide Christian pastors-in-training to know why we do what to do as well as why we do what we do. There is usually a reason for turning clockwise as opposed to counter-clockwise at the beginning of Divine Service and then vice versa after receiving the sacrament. (That could be an article in itself!) Rubrics, in the freedom of the Gospel, are a way of showing reverence to the Lord, respect for those saints who have served before us, as well as those yet to come, and honor to the congregation for the sake of pastoral care and good order.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.