Reforming the Daily Office: Examining Two New Lutheran Books
The creation of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as I understand it, was generated by the convergence of two factors. One was the fervent desire on the part of a relative minority in the church to end the use of masculine pronouns (“he,” “him,” “his”) to refer to God. The other was the increasingly serious financial situation of the church’s publishing house, Augsburg Fortress...
The creation of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as I understand it, was generated by the convergence of two factors. One was the fervent desire on the part of a relative minority in the church to end the use of masculine pronouns (“he,” “him,” “his”) to refer to God. The other was the increasingly serious financial situation of the church’s publishing house, Augsburg Fortress. A new worship book would make congregations pray and talk about God in ways that the influential minority considered essential and would at the same time be a big seller to bail out the publisher. And so it has happened.
Concordia, the publishing house of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, also with a keen eye to marketing, could not countenance a book that could possibly draw off some of its own source of income, and so the 2004 convention of that church approved a “new hymnal,” Lutheran Service Book (LSB).
The two projects did not simply go their own separate ways. There is abundant evidence that the LCMS project did not avert its eyes from the parallel work of the ELCA. And yet the result is two very different books, much farther apart than were their predecessors, Lutheran Worship (LW) and the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW). That divergence is a great and depressing tragedy for any sense of the church and its unity that had been struggling to emerge with the cooperative work on the LBW.
The stated purpose of the LSB (p. ix) is to combine the best (or at least the best-loved) aspects of the two previous books, The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 (TLH) and LW from 1982. The result is a book in which the tradition is respected and generally preserved. The impetus behind ELW is murky. Unlike previous books, there was no merger to prepare for, no cooperative work that had been invited, no coherent dissatisfaction with the existing book. Marketing was the driving force behind the project, and therefore the preparers of the book felt compelled to make changes here and there, the purpose of which seems primarily to indicate that this book is different from the previous one; everything is to be perceived as fresh and new. Continuity and tradition were little respected. Evidence of this myopic perspective is found in the reference in the Leaders Edition to “the historic Paschal Blessing” (p. 49). The Paschal Blessing was basically invented by the subcommittee of the Liturgical Text Committee of the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) in 1976 for Contemporary Worship 9: Daily Prayer of the Church. For ELW, the passage of a mere thirty years apparently makes a practice historic. By contrast, the Preface to the Common Service of 1888 boasted of its collects, “there are but few that have not been in continuous use for more than twelve hundred years.”
The Lutheran Service Book of the LCMS, appearing a few months before the ELCA book, is the more conservative of the two new books, and of course there is no surprise there. The linguistic controversies that that have taken place in the ELCA have not touched the LCMS in any appreciable way. Indeed, it seems as if the LCMS has deliberately tried to show that it has no part in the language revolution that has currently won the day in the ELCA. The Psalter in the LSB, an evangelical revision of the Psalter in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, retains masculine pronouns and imagery for humanity (Psalm 1 begins, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked”) and for God and, further to make the point of its conservatism on this issue, a late nineteenth-century custom reflected in TLH and the Common Service Book (CSB) is revived and personal pronouns referring to God are capitalized: God is identified as “He.” The church, moreover, is unabashedly feminine, e.g., “The church and her mission” (p. 305).
The unfortunate title of the ELCA book is, in its way, appropriate. This book, unlike previous books, is no longer the book of the church (remember, for example, The Church Book of 1868 or the CSB of 1917–18), no longer a compendium of the church’s rites according to Lutheran use, designed to unify the denomination through the use of one liturgy. Evangelical Lutheran Worship endorses wide diversity, encourages those who want to explore “creative options,” and is, in fact, an invitation to chaos. Worship in “Evangelical Lutheran” assemblies (we don’t have congregations any more, forgetting that “congregation” means “assembly”) is free and loose, rubrics have been downgraded to suggestions of various possibilities, assemblies are encouraged to do as they please whatever is thought to work in a specific place without regard to what may be done elsewhere.
As the title of the ELCA book may be seen as curious borrowing from LW, the 1982 LCMS answer to the LBW, so the title of the LCMS book, Lutheran Service Book, paradoxically echoes the 1917 CSB of the United Lutheran Church and to a lesser degree the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal of the ALC-LCA. The LCMS insists on the name “Lutheran” in the title, but the book, properly at last, is no longer identified simply as a “hymnal” as if it contained no liturgical sections.
A basic principle of the work on what was to become the LBW, enunciated by Hans Boehringer of the LCMS, was that the new book should be no less rich than previous books. It was to offer more rather than less to those who used it and who would be formed by it. By that standard, the Daily Office in ELW fails. Until the present book, Lutherans expected to find propers for daily prayer (antiphons, versicles, responsories; LBW also provided from third- and fourth-century sources two additional forms of the Thanksgiving for Light for Evening Prayer.) None of these propers is to be found in ELW. Nor is the third of the ecumenical creeds included, the so-called Athanasian Creed, used in knowledgeable places as a canticle in Daily Prayer and at the eucharist on Trinity Sunday. It is not clear whether this omission is due to weakening theology or weakening consciousness of the confessional and liturgical tradition of the western church.
ELW is based on the assumption that it is sufficient for the church that its services derive from a basic and general outline or ordo and that what one does within that pattern should not be constrained with any kind of uniformity. Daily Prayer is thus outlined in this way: Opening, Psalmody, Word (which includes the Gospel Canticle), Prayers. The limitations, even dangers, of this approach are revealed in the order of Compline. The pattern of the two major offices of Matins and Vespers, in which the Gospel Canticle comes before the prayers, is imposed upon the shape of the quite different office of Compline, and the result is that the lovely and satisfying conclusion of that quiet office which joins the end of the day with the end of life is destroyed. In the Roman, Anglican, LBW, and LW/LSB tradition, Compline has its distinctive form, and after the prayer and Our Father, the Nunc Dimittis is sung to conclude the prayer in an extraordinarily effective and moving way. With Simeon, we are ready to sleep, whether until morning or until the resurrection. One gets the sense that those who made such a radical revision have little experience with actually praying that office day by day, year after year. A note (p. 324) does allow that “as an alternative” Nunc Dimittis may be sung before the Benediction at Compline, but, one suspects, few will notice it and still fewer will follow the option.
ELW would have benefited from a knowledgeable and meticulous editor. The language, especially in the rubrics (if one is still allowed to use that word), is remarkably careless and jargon-dependent. The carelessness is evident in such instances this: “We begin the pattern of daily prayer by opening our hearts and voices to the presence of God” (p. 296). One can open lips, but 1) how does one open a voice and 2) how does one open a voice to the presence of God? We can open a heart, mind, or even perhaps ears to God’s presence because they receive, but with a voice we express our thoughts and feelings.
Another example: “The word of God’s blessing concludes daily prayer” (p. 297). What does “The word of” add to the meaning of the sentence? Or is it the blessing of [bestowed by] the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ?
“Reflection on the reading(s) includes a time of silence, and may take other forms, too: a response through music or other arts” (p. 297). What does “too” mean here? In addition to the silence or in place of the silence? And what other arts besides music and perhaps dance are envisioned? Painting? Sculpture? Architecture? Writing?
After the Venite (Venite and Benedictus, p. 299, are the only Latin titles preserved in ELW), “[t]he assembly is seated” (p. 301), which does not mean the same as the more direct “sits down.” “The assembly is seated” is either descriptive of their current posture or is a direction to the ushers to seat the audience as at a performance.
Another curiosity: the rubric before the prayers at Morning Prayer reads, “The assembly kneels or stands.” That much is required. But the next sentence reads, “The following or another form of prayer may be used.” Standing or kneeling is required; actual praying is not. Sometimes hymns are called just that (p. 304); sometimes they are called “assembly song” (p. 302). Perhaps there is a distinction between the two names, but it is not apparent, and “assembly song” is an ugly construction.
The jargon-dependency is evident in phrases such as “Evening and morning are primary times for common prayer in various faith traditions” (p. 295). Or, “we conclude with intentional forms of prayer” (p. 297). As opposed to unintentional forms of prayer? Thoughtless clichés frequent the prayers: the Lord “who makes every day new”; “the hurts of all your children”; “for the gifts of relationship with others” (bad and destructive as well as good, perhaps); “for the communion of faith in your church” instead of the communion of saints and faith in God. A prayer in Compline asks, “Help them meet the needs of others.” Clichés prevent thinking.
There are grammatical errors also, such as the misplaced modifier in “As part of daily prayer, we hear and reflect on readings. . . .” We are not part of daily prayer; the readings are. Such lack of attention to detail is not encouraging. The book delights in being sensitive to the varied conditions of people; the illustration at the Service of the Word, for example, includes a person in a wheelchair. The surprising insensitivity shown in the opening of the prayer for daily work (p. 331) is, therefore, all the more inexplicable: “God our creator, you have given us work to do.” How will the unemployed hear that statement?
What the LBW and all previous books called “versicles” ELW has taken to calling a “dialogue,” curiously spelled in that older style; LBW used the more modern “dialog” (p. 126). The versicle at the beginning of Morning Prayer, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise,” is called a “dialogue,” apparently on the mistaken notion (introduced by LBW in its Service of the Word) that any verses said alternately by leader and people constitute a dialogue similar to the Preface dialogue, which is properly so called because the presiding minister and people talk back and forth to each other: “The Lord be with you,” “And also with you,” “Lift up your hearts,” “We lift them to the Lord,” “Let us give thanks,” “It is right.” At the beginning of Morning Prayer, the lines and the doxology that follow are addressed to God. The opening rubric says, “The leader begins the dialogue, and the assembly responds, concluding with a doxology.” To what exactly does the assembly respond? There is not a response but a continuation of the biblical verse addressed to God, “O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall declare your praise.” If this versicle is in fact a dialogue, “your” must refer to the Leader. The seasonal versicles (the LBW term) that open the service of light at the beginning of Evening Prayer are also called a “dialogue,” even though there is no actual conversation between leader and people.
The LSB, which does not otherwise use psalm prayers, retains the one after Psalm 141 at Evening Prayer. ELW, which vaguely allows “a psalm prayer” and in the Leaders Edition provides texts, paradoxically does not include the psalm prayer after Psalm 141 in Evening Prayer.
The center of the office is the praying of the Psalms. The two books each have new and divergent Psalters. The LSB moves in one new direction, employing the English Standard Version (2001), a revision of the Revised Standard Version made by Crossway Bibles, “a publishing ministry of Good News publishers, Wheaton, Illinois.” ELW, moving in a different direction, has chosen to revise the psalter that the LBW had borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The LBW had chosen that translation instead of the Grail Psalter or the Psalms in an existing Bible translation such as the RSV or the NEB because of the long experience of the Anglican church with praying and singing the psalms in English and because of its literary qualities that reach back to the sixteenth century.
The ELW psalter is at the heart of dissatisfaction with the book. The BCP/LBW version has been rewritten, expurgated, one may say, to avoid calling God by masculine pronouns. The principal way this is accomplished is to turn all the psalms into second-person address, “you” instead of “he.” This has been variously defended as the objections came in. It was said that many people had wanted to pray the psalms and this new form facilitated that by making them prayers, ignoring the long tradition beginning in Judaism of praying the psalms in the existing biblical form. It was then said that the new form facilitated singing, ignoring the Anglican practice of choral evensong and the principal glory of the Anglican church, Anglican chant. The Leaders Edition attempts to diffuse the continuing objections by noting that “[t]he 150 psalms presented here use a version intended for common sung prayer and proclamation, rather than a translation for study.” When one who cares about study and scholarship is referred elsewhere, one becomes suspicious of the product. Should the church use in its liturgy something that does not stand up to scholarly examination?
Then, as if to suggest that users of the book are free to ignore this part of the book, the notes make the self-evident observation, “Translations of the psalms, such as the New Revised Standard Version, are readily available” (p. 335). No mention is made of the BCP/LBW original from which this “version” derives. Nor is advice and direction given for those who use the psalms in private (as opposed to “common”) or said rather than “sung” prayer. The daily use of the psalms as the basis of daily prayer day in, day out, whether alone or in community, is apparently unknown or at least is unacknowledged by the drafters of the book.
The verses in the BCP/LBW psalter have been renumbered, apparently to conform to the NRSV numbering (and, one suspects, to differentiate it from the previous form and make use of the BCP/LBW form difficult.) More significant is the elimination of the asterisk in each verse, essential to singing the psalms to Gregorian and Anglican chant (modes apparently not considered by the editors of the book), helpful to reading the psalms when one makes a distinct pause of two or three seconds duration at the asterisk, and useful in maintaining the connection with Old English poetry with its distinctive medial caesura in each line.
The omission of a table of psalms causes the loss of the traditional and indeed “historic” use of the Laudate Psalms (147–150) in Morning Prayer, expanded in LBW to include Psalms 145 and 146. The fixed use of Psalm 141 in Evening Prayer is weakened as is the use of Psalm 95 in the morning.
The LBW psalm prayers, deriving primarily from the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, are revised in ELW. The principles on which the revisions were made are difficult to identify. Nearly always, indirection is blunted, such that “your people” becomes “us”; almost always the prayers are addressed to the Father rather than to the Son; references to the church as bride, and references to the saints and the martyrs, are almost entirely removed. The exceptions to these generalizations are perplexing. The concluding formula for each prayer is invariable, “through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,” avoiding the standard reference to “your Son” and thus selfishly relating him only to us and not also to the Father. There is abundant material for a doctrinal dissertation examining these prayers and the implications inherent in them and in their revision. The psalm prayers seem not to be required. The rubric says, “Each [psalm] is followed by a time of silence, which may be concluded by a psalm prayer” (pp. 302, 313, 322), thus allowing for their omission or for the use of some other psalm prayer than those given in the Leaders Edition.
The Gospel Canticles have suffered the same abuse as the Psalms. Masculine pronouns of third person address are gone, and God is addressed directly in the second person as “you.” This approach, among other things, destroys a principal beauty of the Magnificat. In the Bible, the frightened and bewildered young woman to whom an archangel spoke does not dare to address the “Most High” directly. With careful and humble indirection, she averts here eyes and confesses, “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Her use of the third person is essential in her address to God, which is at the same time an address to “all generations” that come after her. Similar observations can be made of the Benedictus (in its biblical form) in which Zechariah makes the distinction of talking to God in the third person but addressing his son in the second person.
One is dismayed by the nearly total absence of canticles in both books. The ELW order removes the LBW provision (shared with the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours) for the use of an Old Testament Canticle at Morning Prayer and a New Testament Canticle in Evening Prayer. Most remarkable in a book praised for being so eco-friendly is the omission of the magnificent canticle Benedicite, omnia opera, “All you works of the Lord, bless the Lord,” that had been in Lutheran books for more than a century and, in its wonderful way, calls upon all aspects of creation to join in the praise of the Creator.
ELW is notable for its elimination of nearly all of the traditional office hymns. It is an unfortunate loss that impoverishes the book. The LSB hymnal is more conservative and therefore more responsible in this regard. But the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 does a better job of preserving the best of the office hymns of the church.
Lutheran books, at least in America, have had a difficult time coming up with an acceptable and useful daily lectionary. Each new book had a new one; none was used widely. The LBW borrowed the carefully prepared two-year daily lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer, respecting the Anglican experience. It remains eminently suitable and useful. But the two new books abandon it, and each moves off in a different direction.
The three-year Revised Common Lectionary is of primary importance in shaping the liturgy in ELW. The book provides three Prayers of the Day for each Sunday and festival and provides a bizarre daily lectionary prepared by the English Language Consultation that also focuses on the Sunday lectionary. There are two readings per day, OT and NT, which are intended in some way to relate to the Sunday readings. No readings, other than the eucharistic lessons, are appointed for Sundays, festivals, and the days of Holy Week. Moreover, a coherent sense of the week is destroyed by the provision that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday flow from the previous Sunday reading and that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday prepare for the next Sunday: for ELW, the week begins on Thursday. One Psalm is appointed for each of the three days before each Sunday and another for the three days following. There is no psalm table appointing different psalms for each day of the week, to say nothing of the traditional attempt to read the whole Psalter over a period of time such as, in the BCP, over one month. Thus familiarity with the psalter is drastically reduced, and the truly historic use of the Laudate psalms in the morning, restored to Lutheran use in LBW, is removed from ELW.
This radically reinterpreted lectionary makes no pretense of reading through much of the Bible in course, as is the case with the two-year daily lectionary that the LBW borrowed from the BCP which appoints three lessons for each day of the year, one from the OT, one from the NT writings, and one from the Gospels. The BCP/LBW daily lectionary had the added benefit of serving as a daily eucharistic lectionary for those who celebrate the eucharist on week days and who choose not to use the excellent Roman Catholic Daily Lectionary or its Episcopal adaptation given in Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
The understanding of the church’s liturgy having two foci, the days and seasons of the church year and the daily round, is gone. Traditionally there has been the Sunday eucharistic emphasis and also the “satellite” services of the daily office. Sundays and feast days connect us with the Christian mysteries; daily prayer connects us with the basic rhythms of the earth, nightfall and daybreak, darkness and light.
As if self-conscious about its odd and limited lectionary, ELW relegates it to the back of the book (pp. 1121–1253), and suggests the use of “a lectionary,” without providing any specific direction (p. 297). As is true throughout the book, apparently anything goes.
LSB preserves a somewhat more traditional understanding of the purpose of the daily lectionary. It provides a one-year daily lectionary with two readings, one from the OT and one from the NT. It is arranged in an interesting way. It begins on Ash Wednesday with the reading in course of Genesis and Mark. After Trinity Sunday the dates of the civil calendar are followed until the next Ash Wednesday. The odd pattern has ancient precedent. In the old Roman Breviary, the reading of Genesis began on Septuagesima Sunday, marking a sort of new year.
LSB includes a table of psalms for daily prayer, lightly revised from LBW, commendably retaining the use of the Laudate psalms.
LSB provides three forms of daily prayer. First, there is the old Roman office, borrowed from the CSB, and familiar to many from TLH, consisting of what are called Matins and Vespers (pp. 219–234). The language is updated from CSB/TLH (“thou” becomes “you”), and chant is provided for the minister’s parts as well as those sung by the congregation. Both offices (Evening as well as Morning) begin with the versicle “O Lord, open my lips.” Every liturgical item is given a biblical reference; the opening verse is identified as “Psalm 51:15.” (ELW provides a list of such references and allusions on pp. 1154–1159.) After the Gloria Patri, the Alleluia is expanded: “Praise to you, O Christ. Alleluia.” “Alleluia” is omitted in Advent as well as in Lent. The Invitatory is now called an antiphon, and the common antiphon provided is the one for Trinity Sunday.
Additional psalms may follow the Venite with the office hymn after that section; TLH inserted the hymn between the Venite and the other psalm(s). Three Responsories are provided from TLH (Common, Lent, Easter), with music. There is provision for “a sermon or catechetical instruction” following the lesson(s) and Responsory, the option of Te Deum (a note indicates that the concluding verses are not in the oldest texts) or Benedictus (in that order, with TLH music and with the traditional translation updated) or a versification of one of these at Matins, only the Magnificat (to a new melody) at Vespers. The three-fold Kyrie, Our Father (in LSB always given only in the “traditional” form), collects, benedicamus, and benediction conclude the office.
Second, LSB has Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline as revised by LW from LBW, with little of the persistent tinkering that characterizes ELW (pp. 235–259). There is a provision for a sermon after the readings in Morning and Evening Prayer, rather than as in LBW after the office has been concluded. The reasoning behind the LBW order is that the offices, not being preaching services, traditionally did not make provision for a sermon. However, aware that a principal use of such offices in Lutheran congregations is as mid-week services in Advent and Lent, as well as an occasional substitute for ante-communion, the LBW recognized that a sermon is often desirable and provided for the addition of a little preaching office after Morning and Evening Prayer. The LSB form, like ELW which was misled by imposing its outline on the order such that Sermon belongs under “Word,” distorts the intention and shape of Morning and Evening Prayer, by allowing their conversion into preaching orders. In Morning Prayer in LSB, the Paschal Blessing is noted but the Gospel is not provided in the book; the Te Deum from the LBW is given as hymn no. 939. At Evening Prayer, the Service of Light is provided as in LBW/LW, although inexplicably the preface verses (“The Lord be with you,” “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”) are omitted before the Thanksgiving for light (set to a new chant). Psalm 141 is in the LBW/LW translation with one odd alteration from LW: “But my eyes are turned to you, O God” (LBW: “to you, Lord God.”) The LBW psalm prayer follows; no other psalm prayers are provided or noted. The Magnificat in the English Standard Version is set to a new chant. The Litany is set only to the Byzantine chant following ELW; the first LBW/LW tone is omitted. In Compline, the Nunc Dimittis retains its proper place immediately before the benediction.
Third, LSB provides forms for “Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families” for morning, noon, early evening, and close of the day (p. 294). These four one-page forms are intended to be said, not sung.
In addition to these three forms of daily prayer, the LSB includes “Responsive Prayer 1: Suffrages” in a form closer to LBW than to LW, providing a set of versicles for “Morning” and another for “Afternoon/Evening” and prayers for Morning, Noon, Afternoon, and Evening. The book also provides “Responsive Prayer 2,” a confusing title, for the form is unlike the service of that name in LBW and LW and derives from Morning Suffrages in CSB/TLH with the addition of prayers for Morning, Evening, and Before Travel. ELW similarly combines Responsive Prayer 1 and 2 from LBW into one form, “Responsive Prayer: Suffrages” with two sets of versicles, one for “Morning” and the other for use “At other times,” and with prayers for Morning, Noon, Afternoon, Evening, Daily Work, and Before Travel.
The most regrettable feature of the LSB is the omission of the Sunday and Festival collects. The people are thus deprived of access to these prayers for their devotion, and this undermines the usefulness of the book for family and individual use.
The practice of daily prayer is, or at least ought to be, exactly that: the pattern and practice of prayer each day, morning and evening, of all the people of God, individuals, families, groups, and congregations. This understanding has often been set aside or ignored because such use is not common among us. “Daily devotion” gets short shrift in Lutheran churches, and people (clergy as well as laity) are too often content with disappointingly thin fare. These two books will do little to remedy that lamentable condition.
One final thought. Both ELW and LSB have adopted a new and jarring style, borrowed from The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), in referring to how a service or part of a service is to be rendered. The older rubrics were “The Minister shall sing or say” and, deriving from this, “Then shall be sung or said,” e.g., the Gloria in Excelsis, or, giving the reverse preference, “The Nicene Creed shall be said or sung.” ELW and LSB have both departed from this established traditional practice and have uniformly replaced “said” with “spoken”: “The Litany [in Evening Prayer] may be spoken, or it may be sung” (LSB, p. 249), where LW directed, “The following LITANY is chanted or said.” Even this style is not entirely consistent in ELW: in Compline a rubric reads, “One or more psalms… are sung or said.” The proper contrast is between singing and saying. Carlos Messerli helpfully describes chanting or intoning as “speaking on a note.” This is a small alteration, to be sure, but it grates on the ear of those who have learned otherwise and is yet another departure from traditional and wider use.
Philip Pfatteicher is Associate Pastor of First Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh and Adjunct Professor of Sacred Music at Duquesne University. He was a member of the Liturgical Text Committee of the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship and chair of the sub-committee on Daily Prayer and is the author, among other things, of the Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship.
This article is reprinted from CrossAccent, the Journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians 15/2 (2007): 32-37.