Thursday, November 02, 2006

The LSB and the Eucharistic Prayer

The new hymnal is out and in use already in many congregations. Although we will probably not adopt it in our congregation, I have a copy. There are many good features in the new hymnal that commend it to congregational use, but one thing that, at least to this poor sinner, strikes me as something of a dissapointment. That, as the title might suggest, is the Eucharistic prayer.
I ran across this little gem in Sasse today as I was re-reading, 'We Confess the Sacraments.' In a chapter on the Lutheran understanding of the consecration, Sasse defines the main difference between the Church of the Augsburg Confession and Papal Church in the function of the Words of Institution. Sasse says, "Hidden deep in the Canon of the Mass among purely human prayers and in such a way that the Christian people can no longer hear them, the words of the Lord's Supper, the Gospel pure and simple, are stuck...they have robbed the words of consecration of their real meaning. For in the Mass they are no longer good news to the believing sinner but only a consecration in the sense in which there are other consecrations..."
As is characteristic of Sasse's writing, he has succinctly summarized the main issue before us. Now I know that many good, liturgical scholars worked on the hymnal and a lot of thought went into it. I don't want to impugn them or their efforts. But as Sasse points out, in clothing Christ's words of pure gospel in our prayers, we have robbed them of one of their most important functions.
The Words of Institution are not only used by the church as a consecration of the elements but an announcement of the gospel itself. Here the Church stops praying and listens. Here they listen to Christ give us His body and blood. The attention is focused on His words and we are built up in our most, holy faith by them. This is the rationale for the freestanding altar. Now the pastor can face the congregation and speak to them. He can speak these words into their ears as well as into the elements.
In our desire to remain faithful to the customs of the ancient Church, which is in most cases a commendable motive, I feel that we have lost a Lutheran and evangelical distinctive. I know that in the LSB it is only presented as an option, but why provide the option of obscuring our Lord's pure words of gospel by surrounding them in merely human prayers.

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