I recently concluded a brief study of the traditional (often called the Tridentine) Latin Mass. This Rite simply WAS the MASS before Vatican II, and had been so everywhere throughout the world for our Romanist friends since around 1570. I now have a much better understanding of what “was going on” during those Services which I attended in my pre-seminary days with some of my Catholic friends.
And though Lutherans sometimes eschew using Anglican terminology, I think that in matters of the Mass, the Confessing Lutheran communities, normed by the 1580 Book of Concord, and informed by our own traditions (if only the Common Service), are the true “via media” between Rome and Geneva—i.e. between the stark polarities of mysticism and academia.
One of the hallmarks of conservative Protestantism is Bible Study (or as I sometimes waggishly write: bahh-iii-uhhh-bull study). At their Sunday morning services, particularly their sermons and Sunday schools (adult Sunday Schools) the emphasis is on Biblical knowledge: stories, events, histories, names, places and dates. It isn’t that one finds Charles Stanley or Chuck Swindoll boring when they launch into their 30 minute monologues on Exodus (it is usually Exodus; which is one of my favorite Books of the Old Testament—so I listen J ) it’s rather that fascinating as the arcane trivia they come up with is (and I am) it’s so “besides the point” since it is usually devoid of the Christocentric emphasis of the means of Grace found in the preached word of Christ Crucified for the forgiveness of sins and applied through absolution, Law & Gospel, and the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Yeah, it’s nice to know the dimensions of the Tabernacle and various Hebrew feasts…but to what end, if it's not a "type" of the Bleeding Lamb the Incarnate Temple of God which is placed into our lips every Sunday! We are of course to study and learn the Scriptures, for they make us wise unto salvation. But we read, study, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God so that we would better understand the Incarnate Word of God.
And now that I have a better understanding and appreciation of the Tridentine Mass—The Sacrifice of the Mass, I understand why for many faithful Romanists, it matters not whether they listen or even hear the Pericopes or the Homily; or even whether they approach the rail to receive the Blessed Host. For that reception (of Word and Word made Flesh) as important as it is, is not, ultimately, WHAT the Roman Mass is all about. The Mass for pre-Vatican II parishioners is an event, a Holy and Sacred tableau of reverent watching, contemplating, praying, adoring, and worshipping the true Body and Blood of Christ Jesus—ON CALVARY. Oh, yes, let’s be clear, they too embrace (in a Thomistic way) Hebrews 9.28, and they understand that what happens on Sunday is not the SAME thing as what happened on Golgotha—but, it’s linked to it in a way that opens a portal for parishioners to stand worshipping with (if not physically present with the historical) the Blessed Virgin, John Zebedee, and the Magdalene at the foot of the bloody Crucifix, and gaze into the love of the God/Man dying for them. And for Lutherans who talk about our own deceased as being alive IN CHRIST (He is not the God of the dead but of the living; Mark 12. 25-27) and who catechize their flocks to the trans-kingdom (shimmering and touching) interface that occurs at our Lutheran communion rails (with angels and archangels and with ALL the company of heaven) we do not gainsay the truths of said Romanist view. But, here the Catholic mindset is also light-years away from the Confessional Lutheran understanding of the Mass. While the Protestant wants to “school-marm” you with more “stuff” to know, the Catholic stands in quiet, severe, emotional, and reverent awe at being present while his/her Priest offers up the Son of God in an un-bloodied sacrifice to the Father. What’s important for them is not what they receive but of what they witness in faith with spiritual hearts and eyes. It’s the Calvary event for the Romanist. Which actually, is a far better view than making it the Geneva College auditorium class room event for the Protestant.
And here is where Lutheranism is the via media. The Lutheran understands that the Verba of consecration actually effects something because it IS Jesus’ very words, Jesus’ IS make it so! But the Lutheran pastor and flock, rather than focusing solely on Calvary’s six hours of suffering, pain, and death (although that is certainly a part of the input into the Sacrament!) also connects The Sacrament,by faith, to the Maundy Thursday, upper room reality—i.e. the giving, the feeding, the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood for forgiveness and peace. Peter, James and Matthew didn’t sit around the table on that night in silence, observing, and meditating on Jesus’ love—they ATE & DRANK! That was the whole point: "Take EAT, Take DRINK" and "given and shed FOR YOU..."
Following Luther’s axiom that the drunken horse rider must avoid falling off on either side of the beast, the New Testament Saint, normed by both Scripture and the Symbols, must avoid both the excess of turning the Mass into a Theology Lecture on the one hand (though there will be catechesis in our Service to be sure) and a pious mystic quiescence on the other hand (though there will be reverence and solemnity at the true mysterion/sacramental-union of Body and Blood with bread and wine).
The same way a Lutheran will resist the attempts of both Protestants and Romanists to choose either/or, we must remain on the narrow way of BOTH Law & Gospel, Faith & Works, and Christ’s Teachings & Christ’s true and very Body and Blood for forgiveness and strength.
We do take joy and comfort in learning more of Holy Writ—which is all simply more Jesus…His Person and His Work. And we do norm our conduct and passive receptivity by the belief that Christ IS actually present with His Body and Blood, to be placed on our tongues.
Not our works in being smart or memorizing and grasping knowledge; not our works in observing, yearning, weeping, and keeping company with the Saints of all ages at the foot of the Cross: But God’s Work in Christ Jesus His Son, FOR US!