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What WordAlone must do to preserve Lutheran worship

by Dr. Oliver K. Olson (taught at Luther Seminary, St. Olaf College, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and Marquette University)

November, 2003

The Xerox machine is not the best weapon for fighting the battle of the Lord. We have to have hymnals. But we have to have reliable hymnals. But the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is promoting—threatening!—an unreliable hymnal. In its published plan, Principles of Worship, the committee makes clear that the ELCA is planning to reverse the ritual direction. Swedish theologian Ragnar Bring warned us against precisely what the ELCA plans to do:

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.[1]

I am very pleased with the assigned topic. I am very pleased indeed to have in WordAlone a ready-made audience. Last time, when thirty years ago the green book committee was also planning to reverse the ritual direction, I determined to do what I could to preserve Lutheran worship. There was nothing else to do than to produce my own audience. So I raised a ruckus. The committee for the green book, the Intersynodical Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW), felt it was necessary to call a meeting for October 7, 1973, at Waukegan, Illinois, to hear my objections. Since there were some who were not eager to publicize the meeting, you may never have heard about it.

At the meeting, a peculiar rule was enforced—members of the liturgy committee were merely observers and were not allowed to participate in the discussion. Still, I was able to read my long paper and have it published in Lutheran Quarterly. Since most of my arguments then are applicable now, I brought along copies that you can pick up at the table outside the nave. Since I was about it, I decided to bring along copies from that campaign—one against the eucharistic procession, the noxious ceremony that magnifies human initiative, and some more recent, one against the notion of the “presidency of the eucharist” and a reaction to the disgraceful Lutheran-Episcopalian celebration of Called to Common Mission (CCM) that began with holy water.

To save Lutheran worship from that Lutheran liturgical committee of thirty years ago, an ALC review committee was formed, one of whose members, Gerhard Forde, had this to say:

Lutherans should recall readily that the Reformation raised weighty theological objections to the medieval form of “The Great Thanksgiving,” the Roman Canon of the mass. The objections were raised because The Great Thanksgiving, as it was then practiced, had the effect of reversing the entire direction of the mass. The mass was made over into a sacrifice offered to God rather than a proclamation and a gift given to the people. The Words of Institution were included within the prayer of thanksgiving offered to God and were not set apart as a proclamation announced to the people…

I objected to the Epiclesis of the Baptismal Water—a prayer to the Holy Spirit to enter the water. How, I asked, could churches, whose catechism denies that water does such great things, tolerate a ritual for enchanting the water? It is not the water, Luther insisted, but the word connected with the water.

Furthermore, how could the ILCW require the ritual of breaking the communion bread? It turns out that by adopting the “four action shape” of the Anglican, Gregory Dix, they had blundered into Calvinist doctrine. More than one of those experts, including the chairman of the ILCW, even wrote that without the fractio panis, the sacrament was invalid. That statement was proof that they knew nothing about the two-century long liturgical battle in Lutheran history. Against Luther, Philip Melanchthon located the Real Presence not in the elements, but in the ritual of bread-breaking. Melanchthon’s notion that no communion service is valid without that ceremony is still being taught in Calvinist churches that use the 1673 Heidelberg Catechism. I also brought along two articles for those who would like to know more about the bread-breaking controversy—or, more correctly, the controversy about the Real Presence.

The ILCW never admitted or apologized for its blunders. But when the green book arrived, lo, there was no eucharistic procession, no prayer for the Holy Spirit to enchant baptismal water, no required fractio panis ritual. And—a reluctant alternative—there was Luther’s order, in which Jesus’ words are addressed to us. Since the most important matter was the ritual direction, the green book, against the will of its compilers, preserved Lutheran Worship. Waukegan had worked!

But they are at it again. Again, in the resource, Principles for Worship, that lets us know what they are up to, they ignore Luther and substitute another order. This is their Principle 43:

The biblical words of institution declare God’s action and invitation. They are set within the context of the Great Thanksgiving. This eucharistic prayer proclaims and celebrates the gracious work of God in creation, redemption, and sanctification.

The notion that a prayer is “proclamation” reminds one of listening to one those long extemporaneous addresses to God that could better be called sermons.

Principle 43 is the death of Lutheran worship, because it reverses the ritual direction.

According to Luther,

For this is the true God who gives and does not receive, who helps and does not let himself be helped…in short, he does and gives everything, and he has the need of no one; he does all things freely out of pure grace without merit, for the unworthy and undeserving, yes, for the damned and lost.[2]

Shortly before he died, Theodore Tappert, my predecessor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, remarked to me that if the eucharistic prayer were adopted, we would have to fight the Reformation all over again.

How did we come to the day in which a “Lutheran” church publicly rejects Luther? How did we permit the very Reformation to be endangered? You can blame it on the word, adiaphora, which means “optional” or “indifferent,” that every seminarian learns. The word, adiaphora, like a vaccination, has made our pastors and bishops immune from serious thought about the liturgy. Discussions about the liturgy normally concern, not theology, but taste. For a long time, none of our graduate students investigated our own liturgical history. That is why the liturgy professors at all seven ELCA seminaries have little idea about Lutheran worship. Typically, they have learned the subject from Roman Catholics. Moreover, if the Reformation had been taught more thoroughly at the seminaries, the clergy would be familiar with the other two watchwords of the adiaphora, controversy—mandata (what has been commanded), and damnabilia (worthy of condemnation). The eucharistic prayer belongs not to the adiaphora, but to the damnabilia.

Four centuries ago, the word, adiaphora,, was already making mischief. Someone in the Saxon city of Torgau was heard to say:

What kind of word is adiaphora,? I think the accursed devil himself invented it. Now everything is adiaphora, whether one prays to God or the devil. [3]

Blame it on the Thirty Years’ War on Pietism. Blame it on the loss of the Latin language, so that Lutheran thought on the subject is hidden from those earnest Lutheran graduate students. Blame it on the fact that in Europe, Lutheran churches were state churches. Since liturgical orders were decided by the government, it was not a subject for discussion or research. Or blame it on the confusion of immigration. Whatever the cause, older Lutherans remember what Lutheran worship was, but most often don’t remember exactly why.

In this part of the country, the fatal vacuum also had to do with a dumb decision at Luther Seminary. Plain Norwegian farmers resented chanting a symbol of the snobbish society of the old country they had come to America to escape. To keep peace between the Hauge Synod and the Norwegian Synod, it was decided that there would be no course at Luther on liturgics. That is only one of the many reasons for our liturgical amnesia. Then, into the vacuum blew twin hurricanes, the Episcopalian “Oxford Movement” and the Roman Catholic “Liturgical Movement.” Episcopalians and Roman Catholics are emphatically convinced that liturgy is not an adiaphoron.

But now it’s time to cut to the chase. The most menacing threat to Lutheran worship that those hurricanes brought with them—the reversal of ritual direction.

Ritual Direction

Here is what Luther wrote:

Let us confine ourselves to the very words by which Christ instituted and completed the sacrament and commanded it to us. For these words alone, and apart from everything else, contain the power, the nature and the whole substance of the mass. All the rest are human productions, additions to the words of Christ, things without which the mass would still continue, and remain at its best.[4]

On them [the words of institution] 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. …For in these words nothing is omitted that pertains to the completeness, the use, and the blessing of the sacraments.[5]

From here on [that is, from the offertory] almost everything smacks and savours of sacrifice. And the words of life and salvation [that is, the Words of Institution] are imbedded in the midst of it all, just as the ark of the Lord once stood in the idol’s temple next to Dagon…Let us, therefore, repudiate everything that smacks of sacrifice, together with the entire Canon [eucharistic prayer] and retain only that which is pure and holy. [6]

Nobody can miss the conclusion that for Luther, the ritual direction was from God to the church. But our “Lutheran” church is determined to ignore Luther. The ELCA has made a decree, which reverses the ritual direction. Accordingly, the direction of the liturgy is from the church to God. Listen again to their Principle 43:

The biblical words of institution declare God’s action and invitation. They are set within the context of the Great Thanksgiving..[7]

Imbedding the Words of Institution in a framework of prayer necessarily takes gives the initiative from God and gives it to the church. The Lord’s Supper becomes the Church’s Supper. The wrong ritual is congruent with Lutheran doctrine—that the Lord’s Supper is “testament.” About “testament,” Luther wrote:

Faith and testament are correlatives. The loss of testament as promise is the loss of faith, and this is the first abuse of the mass.[8]

Listen to his student, Matthias Flacius:

…the work which God shows to men, that he has created, renews, upholds us and promises eternal life, cannot be called a sacrifice of thank-offering.[9]

Three decades ago, I asked a colleague to join the resistance to the “eucharist.” He declined, saying, “They would tear me apart.” “They” were the liturgical experts. But you don’t have to be intimidated by their mysterious language. You already know the word adiaphora means indifferent or optional. Anamnesis means remembering. (And we should remind the ritualists that Jesus’ words, “This do in remembrance of me” does not mandate a ceremony, but simply eating and drinking.) In a moment I’ll explain the word, “re-actualization.”

Most mischievous is the word “eucharist” because it is the mechanism by which to reverse the ritual direction now pressed on us by the Episcopalians. The word means “thanksgiving.” A eucharistic prayer, then, is a prayer of thanksgiving. Who, one will ask, can be against giving thanks?

Since you now are a master of that esoteric vocabulary, you are equipped for back talk.

There is a good deal of loose talk these days of the Universal Priesthood of Believers. But it is the legitimate business of lay people to know the theological underpinnings of the church and to make judgments about who is telling the truth. The ELCA appeals to “a renewed understanding of the central pattern [read: Communion Service] of Christian worship.” But what “scholarship” (Service Book and Hymnal, vii) or what “renewed understanding” (Principles for Worship, Introduction) can obscure the simple difference between up and down?

Four centuries ago, Flacius asked:

Who cannot understand that this name, Eucharist, or Thanksgiving does not properly pertain to the sacrament of the altar? For in this fashion, the meal of every Christian could be called “eucharist,” since before and after eating he gives thanks to God the Lord for his benefits, and every common prayer and thanksgiving of the churches can rightly be called “eucharist,” even when no distribution or giving of the sacrament occurs.[10]

Christ speaks, we should eat his body and drink and thus remember him. But they say, “We should sacrifice him.” “The mass is not a sacrifice…for the work which God shows to men, that he has created, renews, upholds us and promises eternal life, cannot be called a sacrifice of thank-offering.”[11]

A Christian can properly “do eucharist,” in fact, on Thursday afternoon by helping an old lady across the street.

Instead, Flacius argues, it should be called “communion:”

It is more accurate to call the sacrament communion, a work whereby our Lord God shows himself gracious toward us, for just as in Christ’s stead the minister baptizes, absolves and comforts in the name of Jesus, he also offers us his body and blood, in order that we receive the communion from him and not (as occurs in the mass) that we sacrifice. That is what the words of the meal clearly imply.

We do not sacrifice, but receive it. The words of institution imply that one does not sacrifice, but receives, just as it is God who baptizes, absolves, and comforts with the only Gospel. In the sacrament of the altar, it is he who offers us his body and blood. As the word of God, it cannot be called men’s sacrifice any more than can absolution and baptism.

…the work which God shows to men, that he has created, renews, upholds us and promises eternal life, cannot be called sacrifice of thank-offering.[12]

More recently, the Norwegian theologian, Carl Friedrich Wislöff wrote:

Whereas the Lord’s Supper, according to the words of institution, is purely a gift of God, the mass had been turned into a kind of performance on the part of man. Here, where God himself sets the table and everything is completely prepared that, on our part, nothing else is asked than a thirsty soul, humility, and readiness to receive, men now began, instead, to busy themselves with their own preparation, their own worthiness before God and their own expressions of piety. The mass was simply made to serve that work-righteousness which is the religion of the natural man.[13]

The Theology Of The Eucharistic Prayer

It should be clear to everyone that the eucharistic prayer brings with it a specific theology, and that the theological meaning of the eucharistic prayer is what the Roman Catholic Church says it is. The warning of Matthias Flacius is still true today: “The whole papacy is in the canon.” [14] Often quoted but little heeded is the ancient insight: lex orandi lex credendi—the rule of prayer is the rule of believing. “Liturgical changes,” Flacius wrote, “will be the window through which the wolf will enter the evangelical fold.[15]To achieve conciliation with the papist in ceremonies,” he warned, “is not possible unless they first agree with us in doctrine.”[16]

During fifteen years of teaching (happily) among friends in a Jesuit university it became clear to me that the doctrine of justification by faith alone poses few difficulties for Roman Catholics. Not optional, however, are two doctrines—the “historic episcopate,” and the “eucharistic prayer.” The same two doctrines, which constitute the framework of Roman Catholicism, were pressed on us five hundred years ago in the 1548 “Interim” law of Charles V. The war of 1552 prevented the introduction of those two doctrines. One of those doctrines is demanded of us by the Episcopalians. The other, albeit with encouragement of the Episcopalians, is being forced on us by our own wayward ELCA.

There is no way to accept the prayer and still subscribe to Lutheran doctrine. Listen to Wilhelm Averbeck:

One probably must say that everywhere where the “eucharistic prayer” has been renewed, Luther’s position is basically abandoned, in that the mid-point again has its direction toward God (prayer) and not toward men (proclamation).17]

To test Averbeck’s statement, we need only consider how Roman Catholic liturgical doctrine has already influenced Lutherans Consider, for example, the final ALC Statement of Communion Practices:

It [Holy Communion] is anamnesis, a word rendered somewhat inadequately as “memorial.” This means not only a reminder of Jesus’ life and death, but the present re-actualization (becoming a present reality) of God’s deed in Christ. It is the projection of God’s saving act into the present life of the congregation.[18]

Here, the ALC abandoned the Lutheran doctrine of “testament” and replaced it with the new notion of “re-actualization.” The ALC statement, in fact, sums up post-Vatican II Roman Catholic teaching about their mass. For us, it can serve as a handy way to find out what they believe.

We begin with the crucial term, re-actualization.

The Notion of Re-actualization Contradicts Scripture

To be specific, the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Council of Trent that re-organized Roman Catholics after Luther insisted that the mass was a sacrifice. It did not explain, however, how the church’s sacrifice was connected to Christ’s sacrifice, merely that it is:

The oblatio rememorativa [memorial sacrifice] however, is more than a mere memorial. It is at the same time in truth the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ, the same that was offered on the cross, none other. Only now it happens in an unbloody fashion. The two sacrifices are the same according to their substance, but different according to the manner and ceremony of sacrificing.[19]

Now, after Vatican II, Roman Catholics are ready to explain how. Listen to Karl Rahner:

…the Church has been entrusted by Christ with the power to celebrate liturgically Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross precisely in order that the Church may enter by faith and love into this action of its head…the visible sign of its simultaneous co-offering by the Body of Christ with its head.[20]

The church’s action is Christ’s action. This astonishing new doctrine is based on the investigations of Odo Casel, in the opinion of Gerhardus von der Leeuw, “the most important theologian of the last one hundred and fifty years—with the possible exception of Karl Barth.” Having investigated Greek paganism, Casel wrote:

In the mystery cult the epiphany goes on and on in worship, the saving, healing act of God is performed over and over. Worship is the means of making it real once more, and thus of breaking through to the spring of salvation. The members of the cult present again and again in ritual, symbolic fashion, that primeval act: in holy words and rites of priest and faithful the reality is there once more…Thereby they win a share in the new life of God; they enter his chorus, they become gods. The mysteries’ way is, therefore, the way of ritual action as sharing in the god’s acts; its aim is union with the godhead, share in his life.[21]

Applying that pagan insight to the church, Casel wrote:

Christ’s salvation must be made reality in us. This does not come about through a “justification” from “faith,” or by an application of grace of Christ, where we have only to clear things out of the way in a negative fashion to receive it. Rather…what is necessary is a living, active sharing in the redeeming deed of Christ.[22]

Logically, that means that Christ always keeps on dying. And, in fact, the official Roman Catholic teaching these days is that Christ’s sacrifice is “perpetual.” It is not difficult to notice the contradiction to Hebrews 9.15:

Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

The pagan model for all this is explained by Chicago Professor Mircea Eliade. He discusses “abolition of time through the imitation of archetypes and the repetition of paradigmatic gestures”:

A sacrifice for example, not only exactly reproduces the initial sacrifice revealed by a god ab origine, at the beginning of time, it also takes place at that same primordial mythical moment in other words, every sacrifice repeats the initial sacrifice and coincides with it.[23]

But the writer to the Hebrews did not believe in “sacramental time.” He held to plain old chronological time: Christ’s sacrifice happened only once:

For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect as long as the one who made it is alive, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. (Hebrews 9.15)

…he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9.12)

Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly…for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself ...And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many…. (Hebrews 9.25ff.)

How can a mass celebrated in A.D. 2003 also take place in A.D. 33? Is the communicant actually at Calvary? The Roman Catholics answer, “Yes,” because of “sacramental time.” The right answer, however, to the question, “were you there when they crucified my Lord?” is “No.” My Lord was crucified two thousand years ago, and I wasn’t there. If through the ecumenical fog we get things clear, we will come to the common-sense conclusion that when we take communion we do not participate in Christ’s deed. An informed Lutheran theologian will tell us that at communion, as heirs, we inherit the results of Calvary, the ratification of Christ’s testament.

The ALC erred by voting that the crucifixion coincides with the celebration of sacrament. Since Christ’s deed happened once for all, how can it be “projected” into the congregation? I requested and was granted an audience with ALC President Kent Knutson to voice my objections to the ALC Statement. Perhaps he, too, thought that the ruckus was merely about adiaphora. At any rate, he chose to ignore the matter.

The Roman Catholic perversion of Hebrew 9.12 is not new. It was also cleverly blunted in the sixteenth century, argued by the most prominent advocate of the Eucharistic prayer, Coadjutor Bishop Julius Pflug of Mainz, the bishop forced on Saxony after the military victory of Charles V. His slick way of getting around Hebrews: In the mass, Christ’s sacrifice was “repeated,” “continued,” “fulfilled.” His argument was:

…a clever presentation of Catholic doctrine, in which he maintained both the one-timeness of the sacrifice on the cross as well as the sacrificial character of the mass.” [24]

Bishop Julius Pflug of Naumburg (who after the war was forced on Naumburg, as replacement for Lutheran Nicholas Amsdorf), taught the same—that in the mass Christ’s sacrifice was “continued.” That interpretation, exactly what advanced Roman Catholics teach today, was known and emphatically rejected by Lutherans then. Lutheran pastors who ask their confirmation classes “How does a Catholic priest dare to claim he sacrifices Christ again?” are behind the times, still battling the Council of Trent. The new Roman Catholic doctrine—the one the ALC Statement blundered into—is that the Eucharistic prayer is a re-praesentatio of the action of Calvary.

[Note: Roman Catholics do not use the word, “representation,” in a Platonic or Calvinist sense. They sometimes insert a dash (re-praesentatio), to make it clear that they mean “contemporization.” Against Calvinist doctrine, Lutherans assert not “representation” but real presence.]

A refreshing contrast to the notion that our “action” is merged with Christ’s “action” on Calvary is a 16th century Lutheran statement.

It is truly a great consolation to hear the Son of God himself, speaking “thou” through the mouth of his minister, compelling and saying clearly with true words of life, “take and eat…” To take away all this fullness of great consolation of God’s Son from the communicant, to remove the words of life of the most secret testament itself would be sacrilege.[25]

Since Eucharist Does Not Mediate Forgiveness, Forgiveness Is Relegated to Baptism

Any instructed Roman Catholic can explain: Baptism is an “initiation” into the Corpus Christi. As members of that Body of Christ, free from mortal sin, we have taken on a righteous habitus that qualifies us to unite our self-sacrifice with Christ’s self-sacrifice. (Venial sins we commit from time to time are taken care of in the confessional.)

In a frank admission, which in another time would have been dangerous for a Lutheran professor, Wartburg Liturgy professor Thomas Schattauer described his discovery of eucharist:

I know that those beautiful and gracious words about fleeing for refuge to God’s infinite mercy sunk [sic] deeply into my being. I also know that I spent a great deal of my spiritual energy reflecting about how I was “by nature sinful and unclean” and precisely how I had sinned against God “by thought, word and deed,” so that I could flee to God’s mercy.

Having been converted to eucharist, he no longer accepts Lutheran doctrine:

It would be difficult to identify the point where my own liturgical piety began to shift. As I have indicated, traces of something else were already present in my early liturgical formation. The Contemporary Worship series, the trial materials that prepared the way for the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) in 1978, in conjunction with my own seminary studies…were especially formative.

…the LBW also promoted attention to the eucharistic center of Christian worship and exposed me to eucharistic praying that set the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (and my Last Supper piety) within the sweep of God’s activity from the creation of the world to the consummation of all things…

In graduate school, he was further influenced by the Munich theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg:

According to Pannenberg, there were signs that this penitential piety was giving way to a new type of piety, which he called eucharistic. Whereas the old piety had its origin in the medieval practice of penance, this new piety had its source in a renewed practice of eucharist. “The rediscovery of the eucharist may prove to be the most important event in Christian spirituality of our time…”

Thus enlightened, he learned more from the Russian Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, who convinced him (as also any Roman Catholic might have) that the liturgy is the action of the church. “The liturgy,” he writes, “most especially the eucharist, enacted God’s world-redeeming and world-reconciling purpose in Christ….”[26]

Compare the words of the catechism Schattauer rejected:

What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

Answer: The words, “given for you” and “shed for you” for the forgiveness of sins show that forgiveness of sin, life and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words….

Perhaps some Wartburg seminarians still are inclined to believe the catechism, but, having opted for eucharist, their professor is teaching something else.

The Eucharistic Prayer Encourages Clericalism

Not at all impressed with talk of laypersons’ “participating” in the mass, according to the New York Times, one archbishop boasted about priests:

Waxing eloquent on the unique power of priests to accomplish things that not even kings and queens could do, he [the archbishop] reminded us that even God obeys the words of a priest when he consecrates the bread and wine at mass.[27]

Another way of saying (as CCM does) that the priest has a higher rank in a hierarchy is to require that every mass have a “president.” The Augsburg Confession does not mention “presidency,” but “administration.” Maintaining Lutheran worship means abandoning the word, “presidency.”

Defenses Refuted

That Worship Must Maintain Continuity with the Old Testament

The French Roman Catholic (and former Lutheran) theologian, Louis Bouyer would have us believe:

Just as the New Testament cannot be understood, even in what is radically new in it, unless we begin with the Old Testament, and take advantage of the whole unbroken Jewish tradition, so it is also with the new eucharist. For it gave full meaning to the lines of the old eucharist already laid out by divine providence, as they now met in their great focus, the cross. But the new eucharist did not change those lines.[28]

But there is no continuity. Not, as is often argued, through the Berakah and Chabburah prayers.

Nor is there continuity through the Seder. There is not enough evidence to prove that the Last Supper was a Seder meal. In a well-researched article, which you ought to send to any pastor tempted to stage a Seder meal—the Passover meal—during Holy Week, Luther Seminary Professor Mark Throntveit has demonstrated that there is no continuity between the Seder and the Christian sacrament of the altar. (Lutheran churches should not stage a Seder in Holy Week.)[29]

Not so long ago, Lutherans were still clear about this. In his inaugural lecture as professor of liturgics at the seminary in Springfield, Ohio, John Frederick Krueger said: “This conception of the Old Testament leiturgia was completely and definitely set aside by Christ.”[30]

That the Eucharistic Prayer is Traditional

The argument from tradition is not dead. Eugene Brand, chief planner of the LBW, prefers “tradition” to the Lutheran confessions:

Ecumenical commitment was mandated by the ecumenical nature of the liturgical tradition itself. From our beginnings, we Lutherans remained within the liturgical tradition, and no matter what the Lutheran confessions may imply, the liturgical tradition is a major component of the tradition of the Church.[31]

In many ways, his green book shows it. Acknowledging his success, he wrote:

It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the common liturgy for a united Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic church is already there. The difference lies more in who leads the liturgical celebration and how the structures are used than in the liturgical orders themselves.[32]

That argument from tradition convinced victorious Emperor Charles V, who with the backing of his Spanish troops, demanded restoration of all manner of medieval ceremonies, particularly the eucharistic prayer.[33] The Imperial government was fully convinced by Coadjutor Bishop Michael Helding of Mainz, who in a sermon said:

I am certain of this, and can explain it with good grounds, that in the first Apostolic church the true and holy body and the salutary blood of Christ in the eucharist had the name and also the action called “mass” and that both the name and the action has been maintained in the church everywhere up until our time.

He applied his absurd argument to the eucharistic prayer:

We know… that the canon has been preserved from the time of the apostles absolutely, word for word, and that all the words of the canon…are found in the books of those who lived and wrote a thousand years ago.[34]

That the Eucharistic Prayer Was Used in the Early Church

In fact, there is too little evidence about what forms the early church used two thousand years ago. In the first volume of the German series, Leiturgia, Rudolf Stăhlin wrote:

The first clear picture is furnished us in the fourth century, whence the most ancient liturgical formularies have been passed down. The decisive question, which this situation confronts us is this: Are the liturgies of the fourth century the direct development and the organic unfolding the bases given in the New Testament, or is there a break between the two periods? Is there a continuity or do we have to judge that the original was perverted in a “catholic” way?[35]

The few documents we have, Justin Martyr and Hippolytus, for instance, are not conclusive. We do not have enough evidence to know what the church was doing in the second and third centuries. The Lutheran argument that Luther’s order was the original, apostolic order, has been largely forgotten.

By printing its own version of the eucharistic prayer as an attempt to supply “contemporary worship,” the hymnal, With One Voice, takes sides in a distinctly un-contemporary discussion.

That at the Reformation the Reformers Were Too Busy to Deal With the Eucharistic Prayer

On page vii of the Service Book and Hymnal we read:

A vision clearer than was sometimes possible in the turmoil of the Reformation controversy has revealed the enduring value of some elements, which were lost temporarily in the sixteenth century reconstruction of the liturgy, as, for instance, the proper use of the Prayer of Thanksgiving…[36]

The expression, “proper use” of the eucharistic prayer, of course, implies that Luther’s mass reform was improper.

The truth is that at the Reformation, the eucharistic prayer was clearly understood and rejected. In 1548 when he had defeated the Lutherans in battle, to force them back under papal rule, Emperor Charles V forced Lutherans to adopt the historical episcopate and the eucharistic prayer—the very pair of doctrines that Episcopalians are thrusting on us now.

During the crisis of the 1548 Imperial “Interim” law, Flacius commented about the eucharistic prayer, which then had been re-named “Prayer of Thanksgiving”:

Formerly in the papacy they taught that the mass is in itself such a holy work, which is valid before God and must be an acceptable propitiatory sacrifice. Now in the Interim they reject the old error and put a new error in its place, that the mass is a thank-offering [eucharist].[37]

Although prominent Protestant princes were willing to compromise, the introduction of the eucharistic prayer was thwarted by Philip Melanchthon.

That the Eucharistic Prayer is Authorized by a Lutheran Confession

In a recent Notre Dame dissertation written to convince the Missouri Synod to introduce the eucharistic prayer, Don Richard Stuckwisch, Jr. argues that the prayer is authorized by the Apology to the Augsburg Confession:

Lutherans also need to get over their knee-jerk reactions to any talk of sacrifice, which reactions demonstrate (again) a lack of knowledge and familiarity with their own Lutheran confessional heritage (as articulated in Apology XXIV).[38]

The same argument is made by an explanatory footnote to Principle 43 in the ELCA’s Principles of Worship. But a careful reading of Article XXIV shows that this passage does not authorize a eucharistic prayer:

There are also statements about thanksgiving, like that very beautiful statement of Cyprian concerning those who receive the sacrament in godly fashion. He says, “In returning thanks to the Giver for such an abundant blessing, piety divides its thanks between what has been given and what has been forgiven.” That is, piety focuses on what has been given and what has been forgiven; it compares the greatness of God’s blessings with the greatness of our ills, our sin and our death, and it gives thanks. From this the term, “Eucharist” arose in the church.

The truth is that the author of the Apology, Philip Melanchthon, was totally opposed to the prayer, which he called “a wicked thing.” The eucharistic prayer, he wrote, was “something that could not be received without impiety.”[39] How can we tolerate such an egregious misuse of the confessions as in Principle 43?

In a conference in 1548 at Jüterbog, Melanchthon opposed both Electors, Brandenburg and Saxony, who pressured him to accept the prayer. “If Luther were alive now,” Johann Agricola, chaplain of the Elector of Brandenburg, wrote at the time, “and only heard that the mass…was only a commemorative and eucharistic sacrifice he would live ten years longer for joy.”[40] But Melanchthon commented:

The controversy about the canon was very important to me, and I give thanks that I am successful so that that wicked thing has not been demanded of the pastors.”[41]

In the canon there are still some very difficult and highly important disputations…indeed, in a proper council, it will be the most important matter.[42]

We have the right to expect that in the forthcoming resource the ELCA liturgical people will abstain from quoting Apology XXIV to defend their Principle 43.

He rejected the argument of the Elector of Brandenburg, that it should be accepted because it was traditional. “…many pious ancient Christians and martyrs, some of whom shed their blood for the sake of the Christian faith, made use of this hundreds of years ago and never charged that it was an outrage, as do these hair-splitting follows.”[43]

The controversies about the canon were of the highest importance to me, and I thank God, if I succeed in preventing that these impieties are forced on the pastors.[44]

Because of Melanchthon’s opposition, during negotiations at Leipzig there was no agreement on the eucharistic prayer, and a decision was postponed.[45] (Note: the eucharistic prayer he opposed had been edited to eliminate language about sacrifice and invocation of saints.) Afterwards, he was convinced that by preventing acceptance of the eucharistic prayer he had saved the Reformation.

According to Melanchthon, Luther’s order was complete:

In the evangelical liturgical orders all essential parts of the mass were retained [without the eucharistic prayer!]: consecration, distribution, reception, prayer for forgiveness, and thanksgiving.[46]

The Episcopalians Insist On It

The truth is that the Lutherans—not all of them, but just the LCA—did promise to use the prayer in joint services:

Since the eucharistic prayer is required in the Episcopal tradition and an option in the Lutheran tradition, Lutherans should employ a eucharistic prayer. This prayer is to come from the Book of Common Prayer if an Episcopal priest is the presiding minister or from the Lutheran Book of Worship if a Lutheran pastor is the presiding minister.

In such circumstances [joint services] the eucharistic prayer will be one from the Lutheran Book of Worship or the Book of Common Prayer as authorized jointly by the bishop of the Episcopal diocese and the bishops/presidents of the corresponding Lutheran districts/synods.[47]

But, of course, back in 1983 even the LCA was probably not yet ready to promise to use it exclusively. Up to now, Lutheran pastors have had a choice. The high-church minded were inclined to use the eucharistic prayer. Others chose the Words of Institution alone, often, to the despair of the Romanizers, as a way to limit the service to an hour. It is safe to say that voters who accepted CCM at Denver were not aware they were granting Episcopalians the right to dominate our hymnbook—or even change our doctrine.

What Must WordAlone Do?

Appeal to the ELCA

In selecting its Theological Advisory Board, whose advice on liturgical practices was presented last night, WordAlone has already contributed to the preservation of Lutheran worship. Helpful would be pressing the following in letters to the appropriate divisions of the ELCA:

  • There is no convincing proof that “a renewed understanding of the central pattern of Christian worship” mentioned in the preface to Principles for Worship is superior to Martin Luther’s understanding of the central pattern of Christian worship. Many of the scholars who have contributed to the “renewed understanding” are, in fact, Roman Catholics, oath-bound to adhere to the understanding of church-centered orders that conform to the decrees of the Council of Trent.
  • The radical reversal of ritual direction required by Principle 43 cannot, cannot be justified by an appeal to an unspecified “renewed understanding of the central pattern of Christian worship,” or its faulty appeal to Apology XXIV.
  • The agreement with the LCA that the eucharistic prayer be used in joint services with Episcopalians, cannot justify omitting Luther’s form. Most of our services are not joint Communion services. (It is not clear whether the ELCA is bound by LCA agreements.)
  • At least, the present compromise should be printed in the new resource.

Appeal to Thrivent

It is difficult to determine whether an appeal for funding the new hymnal has been sent. Still, since Lutheran Brotherhood was a traditional funder of the hymnals, it is worth writing to individual members of the Thrivent board:

  • By reproducing the quotations (above), which demonstrate that the planned hymnal is abandoning Luther and Lutheran liturgical orders in the centuries since the Reformation in favor of Episcopalian order.
  • Reminding them that Thrivent (and its predecessors) has traditionally supported Lutheran, not Episcopalian, causes.

If All Else Fails, Boycott!

Boycott! If admonitions are ignored, we are still free to buy what we want. WordAlone should in that case officially adopt a Lutheran hymnal!

Having examined most of them, I recommend the Lutheran Hymnary, an updating of the Lutheran hymnary beloved in the old ELC. In the venerable tradition of the old Lutheran hymnary, and because it was mandated to conform to the A.D. 1640 order of the Church of Denmark, it retains the Communion Admonition, the Catechism and the Augsburg Confession—abolished by the committee for the red book, but remembered fondly by a former younger generation remembering boring sermons. And it faithfully supplies the order for communion from Luther’s reform of the mass.

Since it costs only $15.00 (plus postage), we can all afford to order a copy, just in case.

  • Bethany Bookstore
  • 700 Luther Drive Mankato, MN 56001
  • Tel: 507.344.7777

Admittedly, the hymnary’s sponsor, the ELS (formerly “Little Norwegian Synod”) is strange to us. Because they were more determined than the other Norwegians to emphasize only faith, they went their own way in 1918. So they, and not the Episcopalians, have faithfully guarded our precious tradition.


  1. “On the Lutheran Concept of the Sacrament” World Lutheranism of Today: A Tribute to Anders Nygren. Stockhom: Svenska Kyrkans Diakonistyrelses Bokförlag, 1936. 54. back
  2. Luther’s Works 38, 107. back
  3. Ein Vermanung zur Bestendigkeit in bekentnis der wahriet, Cretuz, und Gebett, in dieser bewtrūbten ziet, sehr nützlich und tröstlich. Magdeburg: Michael Lotter, 1549. A iiij v. back
  4. Martin Luther. Selections from His Writings. Ed. John Dillenberger. New York: Anchor Books, 1961. 271ff. back
  5. Luther’s Works 36, 37. back
  6. Ibid. 3. 26. back
  7. Principle 43, Principles for Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002. 134. back
  8. Luther’s Works 35. 92. WA 6 364. back
  9. Widder das Interim Magdeburg: Michael Lotter, 1549. B ij v. back
  10. Von der Hailissten Messe Ingolstadt: Wiessenhorn, 1548. C r. back
  11. Ibid. B ij v. back
  12. Wider das Interim B ij v. back
  13. Carl. Fr. Wislöff, Worship and Sacrifice. 154. back
  14. Widder den Auszug des Leipsischan Interims, oder das kleine Interim. Magdeburg: Christain Rödinger, 1549. B ij r. back
  15. Bulla Antichristi de ratrahendo populo Dei in ferream Aegiptiacae servitutis fornacem, Maguntini Rabsaces blasphemis lteris consons. Magdeburg: Michael Lotter, 1549. B iij r. back
  16. Heinrich Bindseil, ed. Epistolae, iudicia, consilia, tesimonia alloqumque ad eum epistolae quae in Corpore Reformatorum desiderantur. Hildeshsim, New York: Olms, 1975. 582. back
  17. Der Opfercharakter des Abendmahls in der Neueren Evangelischen Theologie. Paderborn: Verlag Bonifacius-Druckerei, 1966. 785. back
  18. Statement on Communion Practices. A Statement Adopted by the Fourth General Convention of the American Lutheran Church. October, 1968. 2. back
  19. Henricus Denzinger. Enchiridion Symbolorum. Ed. XXXIII. Rome: Herder, 1964. No. 940. back
  20. Karl Rahner and Angelus Haussling. The Celebration of the Eucharist. New York: Herder and Herder, 1968. 30. back
  21. The Mystery of Christian Worship and Other Writings. Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1962. 53. back
  22. Ibid. 14. back
  23. Cosmos and History. The Myth of the Eternal Return: New York: Harper and Row, 1959. 35. back
  24. Heribert Smolinski. “Michael Helding” in: Erwin Iserloh, ed. Katholische Theologen der Reformationszeit II. Münster: Aschendorf, 1985. 129. back
  25. Confessio Ministroum...in Ecclesia Antwerpiensi 1566. E. back
  26. Worship in an Age of Mission. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1999. 6f. back
  27. Paul E. Dinter. “A Catholic Crisis, Bestowed from Above.” NYT, January 1, 2003. back
  28. Liturgical Piety. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1965. 29. Cf. Rudolf Bultmann. Theologie des Neuen Testaments. Tübingen: Mohn, 1961. 116f. back
  29. “The Lord’s Supper as New Testament, Not New Passover.” Lutheran Quarterly 1997. 271-289. back
  30. “The Lutheran Liturgy and Life.” Lutheran Church Quarterly 3 (1930) 65. back
  31. “Liturgical Reconnaissance,” http://www.wordalone.org/brandhtm. 5f. back
  32. “Die Erneuerung des Gotteesdienstes. Zur Liturgischen Arbeit in den lutherischen Kirchen.” Lutherische Monatshefte, April 1987. 170. back
  33. Melanchthons Briefwechesl 5434. back
  34. Von der Hailigen Messe.. C r. Niij r. back
  35. “Di Geschichte des christlich Gottesdienstes von der Urku\irche bis zur Gegenwart.” Leiturgia. Handbuch des Evangelischen Gottesdienstes I Kassel: Johannes Stuauda Verlag, 1954. 6. back
  36. Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House et al. 1958. vii back
  37. Etliche greiffliche…warzweichen Magdeburg: Rödinger,1549. back
  38. Don Richard Stuckwisch, Jr. “Truly Meet, Right and Salutary...or Not? The Revision of the Order of the Holy Communion of the Lutheran Book of Worship in the Preparation and Development of Lutheran Worship,” II. 889. back
  39. “quae sine impietate recipi non possunt.” Corpus Reformatorum (CR) VII 297. back
  40. Karawau. “Gutachten” 278. back
  41. “Maxima mihi certamina de Canone fuerunt: et Deo gratias ago, si obtineo, ne imperent illa impia pastoribus.”Corpus Reformatorum VII 342. back
  42. The “Celle Interim,” signed also by Prince George of Anhalt, Johann Bugenhagen, Melchior von Ossa and Chrsitoph von Carlowitz. CR VII 214. back
  43. Nicholas Müller. “Zur Geschichte des Interims.” Jahrbuch für Brandenburgische Kirchengeschichte V (190810 76) back
  44. CR VII 342 back
  45. “Lipsica action no facit in Ecclesia mutationem, quia controversia de Missa et Canone reiicitur ad alias deliberationes.”CR VII 292 back
  46. “Refutation and Explication of Recent Soiphisms, by which the Blasphemires of Private Masses and the Canon are Depicted Idolatrously.” CR VI 234-247. back
  47. “The Lutheran-Episcopal Agreement: Commentary and Guidelines. Network:” Division for World Mission and Ecumenism, Lutheran Church in America. 1983. 9. back