«Chapter Eight: The Mass as the Gospel The Identification of the Lord’s Supper with the Gospel When a Lutheran is asked what the Gospel is, it is ...»
Chapter Eight: The Mass as the Gospel
The Identification of the Lord’s Supper with the Gospel
When a Lutheran is asked what the Gospel is, it is not unusual to hear something
akin to a recitation of the fourth article of the Augustana. Justification is regarded as the
key to expressing the good news. Yet, repeatedly Luther answers the question of what the
Gospel is in a different way. Rather than turning to the third and fourth chapter of Romans
or to John 3:16, he turns to the Words of Institution. He finds in them a full summation of the Gospel, indeed the Gospel itself.
In the 1521 treatise The Misuse of the Mass, he writes:
For if you ask: what is the Gospel? You can give no better answer than these words of the New Testament, namely, that Christ gave his body and poured out his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins. This alone is to be preached to Christians, instilled into their hearts, and at all times faithfully commended to their memories.1 Indeed, the Words of Institution gather up the entire Gospel into themselves: “Therefore these words, as a short summary of the whole Gospel, are to be taught and instilled into every Christian’s heart.”2
He repeats the same thought two years later in The Adoration of the Sacrament.:
Everything depends on these words....They are words of life and salvation, so that whoever believes in them has all his sins forgiven through that faith;
he is a child of life and has overcome death and hell. Language cannot express how great and mighty these words are, for they are the sum and substance of the whole Gospel. 3 AE 36, p. 183.
AE 36, p. 183.
AE 36, p. 277.
For Luther, the Gospel is always the power of God at work for salvation, thus he says of the
Words of Institution:
That is, you should hold it to be a living, eternal, all-powerful Word that can make you alive, free from sin and death, and keep you so eternally; that brings with it everything of which it speaks, namely, Christ with his flesh and blood and everything he is and has. For it is the kind of Word that can and does do all these things, and therefore it should be so regarded. 4
Indeed of the words, ‘Take and eat, this is my body,’ Luther makes the bold declaration:
“This word is the whole Gospel.”5 This is not hyperbole.6 The Words of Institution embrace in themselves the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God, his self-sacrifice, and the consequent remission of sins, not as an idea, but as a present reality, a gift delivered into the mouth by the express command of the Lord Jesus himself. In the 1528 Confession Concerning
Christ’s Supper, Luther unpacks the way in which the whole Gospel is embraced anddelivered by the Words of Institution:
See, then, what a beautiful, great, marvelous thing this is, how everything meshes together in one sacramental reality. The words are the first thing, for without the words the cup and the bread would be nothing. Further, without the bread and cup, the body and blood of Christ would not be there.
Without the body and blood of Christ, the new testament would not be there.
Without the new testament, the forgiveness of sins would not be there.
Without forgiveness of sins, life and salvation would not be there. Thus the words first connect the bread and cup to the sacrament; the bread and cup embrace the body and blood of Christ; body and blood of Christ embrace the new testament; the new testament embraces the forgiveness of sins;
forgiveness of sins embraces eternal life and salvation. See, all this the words of the Supper offer and give us, and we embrace it by faith. Ought not the devil, then, hate such a Supper and rouse fanatics against it.7 AE 36, p. 278.
AE 36, p. 288.
Indeed, the Lutheran Church’s insistence on the Sacrament as the Gospel alone explains the manner in which she has been unwilling historically to yield to the Reformed Church’s demand that their disagreements over what is confessed of the presence need not be church divisive. For the true Lutheran Church, the Sacrament is itself the Gospel and without unity in the Gospel there can be no altar fellowship and so no church fellowship.
AE 37, p. 338.
This understanding of the Words of Institution as the Gospel itself is not to be taken as a private opinion of Luther. Its inclusion in the Large Catechism makes it the doctrine of the Lutheran church. “Now, the whole Gospel and the article of the Creed, ‘I believe in the holy Christian church, the forgiveness of sins,’ are embodied in this sacrament and offered to us through the Word.”8 Does such a lively apprehension of the Words of Institution and the reception of Christ’s body and blood in faith as the Gospel itself find a corresponding liturgical confession? Indeed it does. Already in the Latin Mass, Luther introduced what sounded to his contemporaries like a novel idea: the Words of Institution were to be sung aloud. The people actually got to hear them. In this service they were grammatically fused into the Preface, though they were to be separated from the Preface by a brief pause and sung to the Lord’s Prayer tone.9 What the Latin Mass began, the German Mass carried further. The Words in this service were also to be sung, but without being joined to anything else; they stood by themselves.
Even a superficial look at the German Mass is enough to give most liturgiologists pause. Liturgiologists tend to concern themselves with liturgy as text. There is text, to be sure, in the German Mass, but a vast quantity of the work is dedicated to music. Psalm tones for the Introit, music for the Kyrie, musical instructions for the collect and extensive (and confusing!) instructions on the chanting of the epistle and the Gospel readings, a musical setting for the Words of Institution and the German Sanctus. The fact that there are no corresponding musical instructions for the Latin Mass is simply due to the fact that the Latin Mass was only a set of instructions in how to use the missals and other liturgical books already on the altars and in the choirs in an evangelical manner.
What is the meaning of the music in the German Mass? Was it simply artistic filler? For Luther it was clearly more than that. It is true that in Against the Heavenly
Prophets he expressed his concern for what today would be called inculturation:
I would gladly have a German mass today. I am also occupied with it. But I would very much like it to have a true German character. For to translate the Latin tone or notes has my sanction, though it doesn’t sound polished or well done. Both the text and notes, accent, melody and manner of rendering ought to grow out of the true mother tongue and its inflection, otherwise all of it becomes an imitation in the manner of the apes.10 But Luther did not stop with his concern that the service music be authentically German for the German people. He listened to the tones for chanting and interpreted them. Johann Walter, the court musician who helped Luther with the composition of the music for this Mass, says that Luther chose the Gospel tone he did “for Christ is a kind Lord and his words are sweet.”11 To Luther the tone then matched the Words and expressed their content. Thus when the tone Luther chose for the setting of the Words of Institution is examined, their theological signficance is revealed.12 The tone Luther used was simply the Gospel tone: “Luther used the same melody for them as for the Gospel. The cadences are the same, and here as there Luther uses a different reciting note for the narration and for AE 40, p. 141.
“Introduction, The German Mass” AE 53, p. 59.
One must in this, however, beware of reading more into the music than Luther intended.
The words of Paul Nettl, Luthera and Music (Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1948) which Spinks cites in his Luther’s Liturgical Criteria and His Reform of the Canon of the Mass are likely pushing the data beyond what it will carry: “As with other texts which deeply stirred him, this too begins with a high note, ‘C’, stressing the first syllable, Unser. Then the voice, as though in humility, drops a third and plays around with ‘A’, then to sink down to the ‘F’ at the second syllable of the word Verraten, as though expressing deep despair at the misdeeds of His disciple. There, where Jesus himself speaks, Nempt, the melody starts in with a low ‘F’with concise simplicity, moves around this repercussion tone, to rise at the phrase, fur euch, as if to give melodious expression to salvation by the Saviour’s death.
What we experience in this simple sequence of tones, full of symbolism, is that deeply personal, sorrowful, yet consoling devotion which radiates from the mystery of the communion as Luther felt it.” Spinks, p. 34. Luther would likely have been amazed at such a romanticizing and might well have replied: “No, I just used the Gospel tone according to the rules of chant which I borrowed from the Passion stories, which tone I rather find sweet and consoling.” Christ.”13 Such a use was a distinct musical confession that these words are nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their being sung to such a tone remains a unique feature of Lutheran liturgy.14 This settting of the Words to the Gospel tone is carried out in Herzog Heinrch and Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. Both orders simply prescribe that the verba testamenti be sung in German and with clarity.15 Obviously the musical confession would be severely lessened if the readings were not chanted to their distinctive tones. While Herzog Heinrich does not indicate one way or the other whether the readings were sung, we find in Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel the preference given to singing. “Then the priest turns to the people and sings or reads the epistle....Then the priest sings or reads to the people in German the Gospel.”16 The musical confession of the Words of Institution as Gospel encapsulated is not the sole expression of the mass as Gospel itself. The exhortations invited that they be heard as the good news which they are: words that hold out forgiveness, life, salvation to those who receive them worthily and in faith.17 The communion hymn “Let God Be Blest” likewise finds in the gift of the mass a distinct link between incarnation and redemption as
By thy holy body without blame which from thine own mother Mary came, Ibid.
It is quite amusing in this regard to listen to the complaints of congregational members against that “catholic” chanting of the Words of Institution. Rome has never done so! It is a solely Lutheran practice.
See Sehling, I,1, pp 271,272 and VI,1, p. 149. One of the great defects of Sehling’s monument work was that it omitted all the music. For this the original orders must be examined, but such an examination bears out the continued use of a setting based on the Gospel tone, though with minor variations. See for example the splendid copy of the 1581 Herzog Heinrich Order in the library of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis or the copy of the Cassimiriana of 1626 in the library of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Sehling, VI,1, p. 143.
See the citations from the exhortations provided above.
And by thy holy blood Help us Lord, from all our need.
Kyrieleison!18 Here indeed is the whole Gospel: The Son of God who assumed flesh from the Virgin Mary and shed his blood on Calvary now offers to us that self-same flesh and blood as our help in every need. Thus in the texts, as in the music, the mass is proclaimed to be nothing less than the Gospel of Christ.
The foregoing chapters have demonstrated the manner in which the liturgy of the Lutheran church in the 16th century provided an explicit public confession of the doctrine of the Lutheran church regarding the Sacrament of the Altar. Those who attended such services were regularly exposed to the joyful reality of the mass as testament of Christ, real presence, bestowing action of Christ, anamnesis, eucharist, communion, sacrament of faith, and, indeed, as the Gospel itself. How does the current liturgy of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod fare in this regard? What does it confess regarding the Supper? How faithfully has it preserved the heritage to which it is heir?
In regard to the mass as testament of Christ, Lutheran Worship carries forth its heritage quite well. In the first order of Divine Service, the prayer of thanksgiving prior to the Words of Insititution, asks: “Grant us faithfully to eat his body and drink his blood as he bids us do in his own testament.”1 Further, whereas many modern orders completely eliminate the word “testament” from the Words of Institution, replacing it with covenant2, Lutheran Worship continues to use a form of the Verba that says: “this is my blood of the new testament,” and this in all its orders of divine service. 3 In addition, Lutheran Worship restored to use the “Admonition to Communicants” in the third order of Divine Service.
Here the old words from the German Mass still ring out: “I exhort you in Christ that you give attention to the Testament of Christ in true faith.... Let us then in his name, according to LW, p. 149, emphasis added.
See for example LBWor CW or the proposed Book of Common Prayer, and even the postVatican II missals.
LW, p. 150, 171, 191.
his command, and with his own words administer and receive the Testament.”4 Thus the doctrine of the Lutheran church that the mass is indeed Christ’s own last will and testament is faithfully maintained in the current liturgy.5 The mass as action of Christ is, perhaps, best witnessed to in Lutheran Worship by its adherence to the old Lutheran practice of not including the Words of Institution in any prayer formulation. They stand alone as Christ’s words, Christ’s action. He is the one who is speaking in them, causing the bread to be his body and the wine to be his blood.