Category Archives: Lutheran

On the Penitential Orders

Or, more properly, on the “Penitential” Orders.

A little bit of back-story first…

Regular readers will know that I grew up Lutheran in an ELCA church. While it used the Service Book & Hymnal (aka “the red book”) in the first few years after my birth, it’s fair to say that I grew up as a child of the Lutheran Book of Worship (aka “the green book”). Every Sunday, worship began with the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness. This has a few basic elements:

  • A Triune invocation
  • the Collect for Purity
  • 1 John 1:8,9 (If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…)
  • Confession of Sin
  • Absolution

Then the service starts as usual and goes on its merry way. (I’d love to know if it still appears this way in the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship aka “the cranberry book”)

As Episcopalians know, our Confession of Sin appears after the Prayers of the People (as long as we’re not using Prayer D…).

But, why…?

The Eucharist in the 1549 prayer book places the Confession of Sin at the very end of the service right before the reception of the Eucharist. The 1552 book adds in several more Confessions and moves it to what will become its normative spot in the Anglican rites. [Edited to fix my original error that Michael pointed out…] In this book, a Confession of Sin kicks off Morning Prayer (and thus the whole Sunday rota), then comes the Litany. Then, in the Communion service, another confession is added—but only for those (few) people who are remaining for the Eucharistic rite; everybody else gets dismissed beforehand. In both of these books, the reason for placing the Confession late in the service and in particular after the Prayers  derives from the (odd) custom of only a few people remaining for the act of Communion, and a redundant Confession being offered for them at that point. (For all the heinous sins they must have committed since being absolved at the beginning of Morning Prayer…)

In the Historic Western Liturgy, the Confession occurred before the proper start of the Eucharist: in the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. We see this in the Sarum and in the Tridentine books. Thus, the Lutheran placement that I grew up with is more “mainstream” in that it follows the classical placement better than the Anglican placement does which was related to a practice of restricted Eucharistic reception.

So—all of that having been said, the current Book of Common Prayer includes optional orders (one for each Rite) before the Eucharistic services proper with the ominous-sounding title “The Penitential Order.” What’s in these orders when used before a Eucharist (rather than as a stand-alone service)?

  •  The three standard options for the Opening Dialogue
  • The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) [optional]
  • One of three Scriptural sentences [optional]
    • Mark 12:29-31 (Jesus’ Summary of the Law)
    • 1 John 1:8,9 (If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…)
    • Hebrews 4:14, 16 (Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens…)
  • The Confession of Sin (just as it appears after the Prayers of the People)
  • The Absolution (just as it appears after the Prayers of the People)

Question: what exactly makes this penitential?

The Decalogue is penitential specifically because of how it’s framed. That is, following each commandment with “Amen. Lord have mercy” or “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law” is an indirect acknowledgement that we have failed to do so.

But if the Decalogue is not used, what qualifies this order as penitential? Because it has one sentence of Scripture that may directly (1 John 1) or indirectly (Mark 12, Hebrews 4) refer to the fact that we have sin?

Hatchett’s commentary states: “A penitential order is provided for optional use in Lent or at other times when it is desired to emphasize the penitential element in the Eucharist or when a special service of preparation for the Eucharist seems appropriate” (p. 311). Personally—I’m not feeling it. In particular, I can’t help but notice that we have three options for the opening dialogue and they are—get this—the standard one (Blessed be God: Father Son and Holy Spirit…), the Easter one (Alleluia. Christ is risen…), and Lent/penitential one (Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins…). Silly me, if this were intended to be particularly penitential, I’d think we would only have the last, and would certainly not include the Easter one!

Maybe it’s my Lutheran roots showing, but the more I look at these, the more I think that they make perfectly good sense for regular Sunday use. Why?

  • They place the Confession back in its proper historical location and not where it was put for the sake of reduced-reception Communion.
  • We get at least a sentence of Scripture which reminds us of the reality of sin and our need for grace.
  • We provide a place for the regular (though optional) hearing of the Decalogue. The Church has historically maintained—even through the medieval period—that all congregants should know the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments in their native tongue; this gives us a liturgical framing for it.

There’s only one good argument against it to my mind: as currently written, the Penitential Order and the Collect for Purity sit in an either/or position. If a Penitential Order is used, the regular Eucharist picks up with the Gloria/Kyrie, omitting the Collect for Purity. The irony, of course, is that this “penitential” order is exactly where the Lutheran Book of Worship inserts the Collect for Purity!

Modern seminarians are taught to believe that “penitential” is a bad word. In turn, that’s what they teach their congregations. Saddling this rite with the title “Penitential Order” unduly prejudices what we find there. The reality is that it’s more a reassembly of elements into the classical order than the addition of a great liturgical or psychological burden. The truth is, I think its more frequent use would be a great benefit—particularly with the “unlawful” addition of the Collect for Purity in its natural spot. And, hey, if anyone gives you grief about the insertion, you can say you’re just honoring our Full Communion agreement by prefacing the Episcopal Eucharist with a Lutheran service…

CWOB News: Ecumenical Edition

Communion without Baptism is in the news again, but not from the Episcopal Church this time. Rather, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, an ecumenical partner (and the church in which I was raised), is in the midst of its Churchwide Assembly—analogous to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention.

I haven’t followed Lutheran church politics  for years and so I’m a little sketchy on the exact polity details here—I’m going to describe things as best I can from the outside with the hope that those who actually do know what they’re talking about will correct me when I err…

Unlike our system, they vote on “memorials” rather than “resolutions.” Like our resolutions, they are often bubbled up from local groupings (synods rather than dioceses). One of the memorials on tap this meeting comes from the Northern Illinois Synod. I’ll now cite from the Memorials Committee Report [pdf] of the pre-Assembly materials:

Category D1: Communion Practices

1. Northern Illinois Synod (5B) [2012 Memorial]
WHEREAS, The Use of the Means of Grace (1997), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) guiding document on the “Practice of Word and Sacrament,” clearly states that “The Holy Communion is given to the baptized” (Principle 37, pp. 41–42); and
WHEREAS, since the publication of that document the ELCA has entered into full-communion partnerships with church bodies that do not share that same understanding; and
WHEREAS, the implementing resolutions of our full-communion agreements encourage us to extend sacramental hospitality to one another’s members; and
WHEREAS, some congregations of the ELCA currently have Communion policy statements which would effectively bar members of church bodies with which we are in full communion from participation in the Sacrament; and
WHEREAS, some ELCA congregations welcome everyone present to partake of the Eucharist without stipulating the need for Baptism; and
WHEREAS, clarification concerning Lutheran Sacramental theology and practice would be helpful in the life of this church at this time; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Northern Illinois Synod memorialize the 2013 Churchwide Assembly to institute a process necessary to review and possibly revise the ELCA’s guiding documents concerning admission to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.


The current guiding recommendations for the practice of Holy Communion are found in The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament which was adopted by the 1997 Churchwide Assembly.
Principle 37 of that document states,

The Holy Communion is given to the baptized


Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized.

Application 37G.

When an unbaptized person comes to the table seeking Christ’s presence and is inadvertently communed, neither that person nor the ministers of Communion need be ashamed. Rather, Christ’s gift of love and mercy to all is praised. That person is invited to learn the faith of the Church, be baptized, and thereafter faithfully receive Holy Communion.

In regards to the ELCA’s ecumenical relationships, the document also says this in Application A of Principle 49…

In the exercise of this [Eucharistic] hospitality, it is wise for our congregations to be sensitive to the Eucharistic practices of the churches from which visitors may come. (UMG, p. 52)

This guiding principle remains the recommended practice of this church. However, there is diversity in practice regarding who is welcome to the table among the worshiping communities of this church. Below are two examples of welcome statements in worship folders:

“We believe and teach the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and we invite all who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to commune with us.”

“At meal-tables around the world, strangers become friends, and friends become family. In Holy Communion, we are invited to the Table of the Lord. No conditions, no coercion, just words of welcome and promise: “this is my body, given for you.” We are glad to have you worship with us! All visitors are welcome to share in the Lord’s Supper.

These statements represent the varying practice of Eucharistic hospitality in this church. It is important to recognize the desire to welcome people to the Lord’s Supper. This has been attributed as a response to the growing number of unbaptized people present at worship. The current religious context in which the church finds itself is increasingly
diverse, and local worshiping communities are met with numerous challenges to the practice of mission and ministry.

At the same time, this church recognizes that the celebration of Holy Communion occurs in the assembly of the baptized people of God. The importance of the clear connections between baptism and communion also needs to be recognized.

Staff in the churchwide worship team receive a number of inquiries on whether Holy Communion should be presented to only the baptized. Some are in favor of this, some are not in favor, and a good number simply ask, “What should we do?”

In the fall of 2012, the worship team gathered the professors of worship from the ELCA seminaries for a conversation about this issue. A similar conversation took place at a meeting of the Lutheran Caucus at the North American Academy of Liturgy in January 2013. In both of these conversations it was clear that more needs to be said than what exists in current ELCA documents. Regardless of the decision, it remains evident that this church would do well to have more resources on the relationship between Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

Ultimately, decisions about communion practices are local decisions, and there is a need for a resource or resources to help congregations faithfully discern their communion practices.

Recommendation for Assembly Action

To receive with gratitude the memorial of the Northern Illinois Synod requesting a process to review the ELCA’s guiding documents on communion practices;

To invite members, congregations, synods and the churchwide organization into conversation and study regarding the Use of the Means of Grace;

To request the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, in consultation with the Office of the Presiding Bishop and the Conference of Bishops, to establish a process to review current documents concerning administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and

To request the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit to bring a report and possible recommendations to the April 2014 meeting of the ELCA Church Council.

So—this looks very much like the situation that the Episcopal Church was in at the last General Convention. We had Resolution C029 coming from the Diocese of North Carolina recommending a study but without the implied request for change that this memorial seems to bear. I covered this back at Convention-time; the result for us was that the wording of the resolution was substantially changed, the study was nixed and the canons were left unchanged.

However, based on Twitter chatter and the Assembly News, it would seem that this resolution passed, giving the green light for the requested study:

The 952 voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a proposal designed to invite the 4-million-member church, its nearly 10,000 congregations, 65 synods and churchwide organization into conversation and study regarding the Use of the Means of Grace – a statement on the practice of Word and Sacrament. The assembly called on the Congregational and Synodical Mission Unit of ELCA churchwide ministries, in consultation with the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop and the Conference of Bishops, to establish a process to review current documents concerning administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The assembly also requested that the unit provide a report and possible recommendations to the ELCA Church Council in April 2014.

What the Lutherans do is worth keeping a close eye on. We have a very close ecumenical relationship with them—the closest thing there is to merger without it actually being a merger. Ecumenical relationships are mentioned as one of the spurs for this proposed change, yet what will such a move do to our ecumenical relationship? What should it do?

Question for Lutheran/Protestant Users of SBB

…if there are any, that is…

The current OF Roman kalendar is waiting in the wings at the breviary, but I received a suggestion that I should include the Lutheran or other protestant kalendars for my non-Anglican/Roman readers. Is there sufficient interest and a large enough body of Lutheran/protestant sorts who use St Bede’s Breviary to make this worthwhile?

Tradition–And Lutheran Stuff Again

In the face of a spate of recent criticisms of the new (ELCA) Lutheran worship book, the Lutheran Zephyr raises an important set of questions and issues. He writes:

When large numbers of congregations reject the beloved traditions
enshrined within Lutheran Book of Worship (and Service Book and
Hymnal), what is the ELCA to do? 

  • Should the ELCA just sit there and do nothing while an
    increasing number of congregations fish around for worship resources
    from other traditions?
  • Should the ELCA whip these congregations into Latin-rubric
    submission and simply give them more of the traditional liturgies that
    they are already rejecting?
  • Or should the ELCA venture to create liturgies that embrace the
    spirit – if not the letter – of the church’s grand liturgical
    tradition, while simultaneously welcoming new language, tunes and

The ELCA had to create a book for the church we have – a diverse
church whose identity 20 years post-merger is not yet formed – not for
the church some of us wish we had.  We’re a church, for
better or worse, with a congregational polity, freedom in matters of
worship, diverse heritages, and pieties that range from evangelical
catholic to haugian.  Would a Lutheranized Book of Common Prayer be the
prescription for this church?  That seems to be the answer Pfatteicher
and others would provide, but it is not the right answer for our

I note in this passage the many times and many ways in which the word tradition is used. In particular, I want to draw attention to the ways that the word is used in the three bulleted points. (Let me preface this by saying that I’m not criticizing the Zephyr here, rather I’m interested in how the word is functioning rhetorically.)

In the first case, “tradition” is that which is alien–given the contrast with “ELCA”, these would appear to refer to non- and un-Lutheran traditions. I’m thinking he means praise choruses and “contemporary” music from low-church denominations and para-church movements. But I find myself wondering if “Catholic” traditions would be included in this category or not.

In the second case, “traditional” is both natively Lutheran and pejorative. Traditional is that which is being rejected. Interestingly, this same use is modified by “beloved” in the opening paragraph of the quote, clearly drawing a distinction  between those for whom these traditions are “beloved”  (i.e., Pr. Pfatteicher, LutherPunk, myself, etc.) and the greater majority of Lutherans who are rejecting them.

In light of these two, the third use is particularly interesting. Here “tradition” is modified by “grand” and “liturgical.”  The rhetorical intent identifies liturgies that are, once again, natively Lutheran but are distinguished from those being rejected. The “grand” implies  (for me at least) both a broader scope—perhaps implying that the (or a) reason for the rejection in the liturgies in 2 is that they were narrowly or parochially Lutheran—and implying an aesthetic difference.

The Zephyr is confronting, I believe, one of the major issues that faces church leaders and liturgists of our generation. That is, in the face of disjunctive upheaval in our societies and our denominations, how do we connect or reconnect with the “grand traditions”–liturgical and otherwise–from which we believe we should take our bearings? At the root, it’s a question about identity.

Furthermore, it’s a question about direction. Here we are at this time and in these places. Where do we go from here and where should we look for guidance? How do we talk about who we are and how do we shape who we will be?

I’ve wrestled with these same questions before on this blog. In a piece I linked to yesterday I talk about my reaction to the construction of liturgy and tradition in the Anglican Missal while in this post I discuss the elusive quality of tradition especially when it’s backed by historical research. Yes, research and historical knowledge complicate rather than simplify the issues.

I’m guessing that the Zephyr and I agree on the big picture: tradition is not a thing to be grasped for its own sake but rather is a thing to be pursued because of the ways that it enables us as individuals and as “traditions” to proclaim the Good News of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ and the effect that this Good News should have upon our lives–what we think, what we do, how we choose to be incarnate in the world.

I also know we have some disagreements on the little picture –how this works out on the micro-level, especially liturgically. As a Lutheran I was very much for a “Lutheranized Book of Common Prayer.” Indeed, I argued that given the freedom of liturgies enshrined in Augsburg Confession, Article 7, there was no reason why Lutheran congregations couldn’t use the BCP as is…

Disagreements aside, this conversation about how we uncover, construct and utilize a “grand tradition” is an essential one. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, and others should not only be having these conversations in their own groups but should be sharing methods, findings, and dead ends on the road. Personally, that’s one of the things I’m hoping to achieve with this blog. So, while I disagree with some of the choices that the Lutheran Zephyr might make in his construction, I heartily encourage and support his process of discovery and construction as I parallel it with my own.

More Lutheran Discussion

Sure enough, LutherPunk, Chris and Christopher have all weighed in on Pr. Pfatteicher’s article trashing the ELW’s renditions of the Daily Office. (And it looks like Christopher may be offering a series on it…)

I want to lift up in particular Chris’s point in which he cited Augsburg Confession Art. 7: not only is the particular use of liturgy not specified in the Confessions, it is also true to say that the Office has not historically been a major part of Lutheran piety.

Chris is quite right to note this. I have observed this before and, indeed, it is one of the several reasons why I left the Lutheran Church.

Must-Read Article on the New Lutheran Service Books

Lee points us to a must-read article by Philip Pfatteicher, one of the Grand Masters of American Lutheran liturgy.

He writes a devastating critique of the new ELCA work, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, and damns the new LCMS Lutheran Service Book with faint praise. In particular, he focuses upon what these books have done to the Daily Office.

If you run in any sort of protestant liturgy circles (and if you’re reading this you do…), don’t miss this article!

Both the Lutheran Zephyr and Lutherpunk left notes at Lee’s place indicating they might say more; I’d be interested to see what they have to say about it.

For the Person Searching for Goth Liturgy…

Check out the Sanctorum Mass at Church of the Apostles in Seattle if you haven’t already done so. Church of the Apostles is an Emergent experiment staffed by both ELCA Lutheran and Episcopal clergy.

I linked to this a while back and noted that I had a friend in the Seattle area who had a Skinny Puppy collection rivaling LutherPunk’s and that I’d ask him if he’d heard of it. No need to—he’s the priest who leads it… :-D

(…and yes, I’ve received several click-throughs on various days for ‘goth liturgy’ Google searches…)