Worthy of all thanks and praise!

He Alone is Worthy!Now this forthcoming book looks interesting: He Alone is Worthy! (PDF) by Naomichi Masaki.

It remains to be seen whether I dare to add it to my groaning shelves of not-yet-read books, but the blurb alone has some fascinating points to make about the distinctive nature of Lutheran liturgy, and its influence on other parts of the church (as we’ll see in a moment).

In this book Dr. Naomichi Masaki highlights the liturgical thinking of Theodor Kliefoth (1810–95). Kliefoth served as Oberkirchenratspräsident in Schwerin, Germany, and found his liturgical ideal in the Reformation era liturgy. Fundamental for him were the interaction in the liturgy between the Lord’s giving and our receiving, between sacramentum and sacrificium, and His service to His people in the means of grace through the means of grace office.

This idea, of our worship (in particular, though not only, the Lord’s Supper) as being about God’s service to us, rather than the other way round, was fundamental to Luther’s understanding of the liturgy. As I posted on some years ago, Luther:

made a distinction between worship as sacrificium – a sacrifice offered to God – and worship as beneficium – a gracious gift of God to His people.

Luther regarded the medieval church’s understanding of worship as sacrificium to be one of its greatest errors. As Bard Thompson (quoted at more length in that post) put it, for Luther:

All of worship, and the Mass in particular, must be viewed as a beneficium of God, “who gives but does not take” – who gives freely out of pure mercy for the undeserving, asking only to be confessed and glorified.

It sounds from the first paragraph of his book’s blurb, though, as if Dr Masaki sees the Lutheran position as being slightly more nuanced than an outright rejection of sacrificium. The point is that our sacrificium is our response to the beneficium that has already been bestowed upon us (concretely, in the word and sacraments) by a gracious God. This is captured well in Norman Nagel’s introduction to Lutheran Worship:

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol him. We build each other up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.

This understanding of the liturgy is expressed concretely in how Lutheran liturgies treat the words of institution in the Lord’s Supper: not as part of a prayer directed towards God, but as words spoken by Christ, through his minister, to the congregation. Christ gives, we receive. This is one of the distinctives of the Lutheran liturgy that I appreciate the most.

One other interesting point from the blurb to Dr Masaki’s book:

When the thinking of Kliefoth in the 1850s started to influence the liturgical thinking in Sweden, one consequence was that the culmination point of the Lord’s Supper’s Preface should no longer be formulated as Det är rätt och tillbörligt (“It is right and proper” or “It is meet and right so to do”), but instead as Allena han är värdig tack och lov! (“He alone is worthy of thanks and praise!”). This acclamation becomes the prism through which Dr. Masaki studies how a number of Swedish theologians drew consequences of Kliefoth’s theology and eventually let them have their way into the liturgy of the 1894 Kyrkohandbok / Church Agenda.

It would seem that the Swedish liturgy has influenced contemporary Anglican liturgies here. One of my favourite parts of the Church of England’s communion service in the Alternative Service Book was its rendering (taken from the ICET texts) of the end of the Sursum Corda and the start of the preface:

P: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
C: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

P: It is indeed right, it is our duty and our joy…

The Swedish Lutheran influence can perhaps be seen in the wording of that response: “It is right to give him thanks and praise” having clear echoes of “He alone is worthy of all thanks and praise!” (Though see the first comment to this post.)

The Lutheran Service Book uses the same response (“It is right to give him thanks and praise”) in its first communion setting, Divine Service 1. The more traditional setting, Divine Service 3, has “It is meet and right so to do”. Similarly, the response in the new translation of the Catholic mass is the rather pedestrian “It is right and just”.

As for the phrase “it is indeed right, it is our duty and our joy”, this is surely one of the finest expressions ever of what should motivate us as Christians, not only in the liturgy, but in our private prayer, our vocations, and in every other area of life: our sacrificium in response to God’s beneficium.

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9 thoughts on “Worthy of all thanks and praise!”

  1. I posted a link to this on the mailing list on which I came across news of Dr Masaki’s book, and Dr Masaki himself replied as follows:

    The Anglican “thanks and praise” language came directly from ICET text which was influenced by the Roman Catholic liturgical movement that was affirmed at Vatican II. The Swedish liturgy in the 19th century is totally opposite. While Rome’s attention goes to “we” who give thanks and praise, the Swedish liturgy is an acclamation of the Lamb of God, i.e., “He alone.” It speaks nothing of us to celebrate our act of thanksgiving.

    I’ve edited my post to reflect the ICET source for the “thanks and praise” language. I also take Dr Masaki’s point about the differing intentions of the ICET and Swedish texts – which goes to the point made in the first half of my post, about the “direction” of worship – though I still wonder if the actual choice of language (which is what I was mostly remarking upon) shows some influence from the Swedish liturgy.

  2. Luther regarded the medieval church’s understanding of worship as sacrificium to be one of its greatest errors.

    This is something in Lutheranism that I have never been able to relate to. The notion of the sacrifice of the Mass seems entirely natural to me, even blindingly obvious. But that is because I have always understood the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice of the Cross to be one and the same — that is, in the Mass the sacrifice of the Cross is made present to us, we plead for and receive its benefits, and we eat of the sacrificed flesh and blood. When looked at in this way it is clear that it is not we who are really offering the sacrifice, but as the ancient Ambrosian hymn At the Lamb’s High Feast puts it, “Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.”

    Or, as the anaphora of St John Chrysostom more fully says: For Thou, O Christ our God, art the Offerer and Thou art the one Who art Offered; it is Thou Who receivest the offering and Thou art Thyself the offering which is distributed Not much room for there for the idea that the Mass is in any way our sacrifice.

    Maybe the mediaeval Western teaching was much different from this. But I simply don’t see what the problem is.

    1. Chris, the mediæval notion of sacrifice was different from what you describe. Arguably, the current doctrine and practice of the RCC is different from what you describe. On the other hand, what you describe is not at all alien to Lutheran theology. Indeed, you find it in Luther’s Babylonian Captivity and in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (no page ref.s to hand—sorry!).

      This is rather different from: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands
      for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church.” (reference)

      The sacrifice at the priest’s hands is not one whose acceptance needs to be prayed for; rather, the sacrifice (or the ‘peace offering’, if you like) at the priest’s hands is being offered by God to the people.

      That’s also why those Lutheran rites that do have an epiklesis (and most don’t) always invoke the Holy Spirit on the people, not the elements: that they receive the sacrifice in faith for their benefit.

    2. Chris, thanks for this. This is why I was quite careful to refer to the “medieval church’s understanding” – or, even more precisely, Luther’s take on the medieval understanding.

      It’s not even that I have a major problem with “eucharistic prayers” as such, and certainly not with the sacrifice of the Mass as you have expressed it. But the Lutheran way of doing the words of institution bears witness in a particularly clear way to the Mass as Christ’s gift of himself to us, and I’m glad that that witness exists. In other words, my aim was just to make a positive observation on the Lutheran practice, not a negative observation about how other churches do things.

  3. Hello John and all,

    quick thought: was struck by “This idea, of our worship (in particular, though not only, the Lord’s Supper) as being about God’s service to us, rather than the other way round, was fundamental to Luther’s understanding of the liturgy….”. Do you hear any echoes of this, in James Alison’s take on the atonement as God offering sacrifice to us, God propitiating us? Or am I just obsessed by JA’s work…?

    in friendship, Blair

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