Arrogance and Tradition

The church has a beautiful series of prayers to be used throughout the year. They are called “Collects” because they collect the themes of the day into a short, one-sentence prayer. Or rather they did. With revisions in the hymnal came revisions in the prayers. Prayers were often divided into two or more sentences. Language was re-arranged and softened. No one really noticed at the time. It became more visible the longer we worked with them. (It took me a decade before I noticed important things were missing.) When discussing it with other pastors, we all pretty much agreed that it would be arrogant to just go off on our own and re-work the prayers to restore the craggy and beautiful contours of the original.

For those who aren’t pastors, here is an example from Rogate Sunday (Easter 6):

Original: O God, from whom all good things do come, grant to us, Thy humble servants, that by Thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be right and by Thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

LSB: O God, the giver of all that is good, by Your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding accomplish them; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The overall theme of the prayer is the same. But we are no longer humble servants. I’ve noted elsewhere the loss of humility in our new hymnal. And instead of performing things that are right, we pray we would accomplish them. The former is directly instrumental. The latter just arrives there somehow. Subtle, but the struggle is missing. We have jumped to the end, rather than living in this world of not-yet.

It’s all minor. There is nothing heretical in either prayer. But I’ve spoken often about how the church has been rather lulled into a false sense of couch-potatoism. We are well fed and fat and out of shape. The last year was a clarion call to arise from the couch and get back into training. And one of the things I think we need to do is re-engage the idea of an active, vibrant, and healthy prayer life. The Divine Service will be our model for this, whether we intend it to be or not. And so, I’ve begun re-introducing the prayers of old. It’s a halting effort in a sense. I remove the archaic language without changing the overall pattern of the prayer. Why remove archaic language? That boat has sailed. It isn’t coming back. I may not like it, but its true. If we are to use these prayers, we need to at least attempt to follow the pattern of our worship elsewhere and update them.

Is it arrogant presumption of me? Yes, I suppose it is. But I think an argument can be made that it was arrogant presumption of the committee to make the changes in the first place. They probably didn’t realize what was being lost. But that’s rather the point of leaving the gate in place isn’t it? You don’t get rid of it until you can explain why someone put it there in the first place. The attempt may have been noble, but it was naive. And I think arrogance born of naiveté is far more dangerous and destructive than arrogance born of experience and hard labor, and a desire to save something which is in danger of being lost.

So, this year, I’m going through the collects, restoring them, and re-introducing them to the congregations I serve. I started on Easter. And I’ve found that the differences often hide areas where my preaching has been deficient on these texts in the last decade or so. There is actually a lot of good theological insight in the missing or changed words, and I haven’t been guided by those words for a lot of years. I’m putting them back, and – when appropriate – preaching on them. It should be an interesting year.

PS. For those who are curious, here is what we will pray on Rogate:

O God, from whom all good things come, grant to us, Your humble servants, that by Your holy inspiration we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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