Marquart on Liturgy

One of my biggest regrets of my seminary days is that I only had one class with Professor Kurt Marquart.  One of the enduring memories I have about his class is that even though he would regularly end class 10 minutes early, I always felt like I had learned more in 45 minutes with him than I would in an hour and a half with other teachers.  It was a combination of his keen insight into all matters theological, as well as the ability to present those insights in a manner that anybody could understand.

Though I was privileged to take only that one class, Professor Marquart served as my academic adviser when I began seminary and I was also able to hear him lecture outside of class on numerous occasions as well as ad hoc, informal conversations that roving groups of seminary students tend to strike up with their professors.  But perhaps the biggest influence upon me theologically and pastorally are his writings.

Beginning in 2014, I’m introducing a series on this website called Marquart Mondays.  Every Monday I’ll be sharing an excerpt from one of Professor Marquart’s writings.  This week I’ll start with an essay from Lutheran Worship: History and Practice entitled, “Liturgy and Evangelism.”  This essay was one of the assigned readings I had at Concordia University–River Forest, and is responsible for my own (re)discovery of the richness of the Lutheran liturgy.

The word liturgy itself is a good conversation starter.  It seems to be taken by many as a collective term for everything that is not important in a service: Liturgy means the fillers to round things out, the icing on the cake, or, even more bluntly, the window-dressing for the proper stage-managing of sermons and collections.  And so we have “opening” and “closing” liturgies, but the meat of the sandwich is somewhere else.  If liturgy is simply decorative, it is of course basically trivial.  Since, in this view, it has no theological substance of its own, it naturally becomes the plaything of psychology, sociology, “cultural” this and that, and of course “the arts.”

How different  is the understanding of liturgy in Article XXIV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:

But let us talk about the term “liturgy.” it does not really mean a sacrifice but a public service.  Thus it squares well with our position that a minister who consecrates shows forth the body and blood of Christ to the people, just as a minister who preaches shows forth the Gospel to the people, as Paul says (1 Cor. 4:1), “This is how one should regard us, as ministers of Christ and dispensers of the sacraments of God,” that is, of the Word and sacraments.

Clearly, liturgy here is first of all theological content, not ritual form.  In itself the word means simply and generically “public service.” (The expression divine liturgy should therefore raise eyebrows as little or as much as divine service, of which it is the exact equivalent.)  More concretely, the church’s liturgy means its whole cycle of ordered services, including the daily offices like Matins and Vespers, and other “minor” services, which grew out of New Testament adaptations of Old Testament forms and practices (see Acts 2:15; 3:1; 10:9; 12:12).  The Apology, however, uses the term liturgy in a more special sense here.  Following the custom of the Eastern Church, the Apology equates liturgy with what had come to be called the Mass in the Western Church of the Middle Ages.  In other words, not any sort of service in general is means, but quite concretely the rite of the Lord’s Supper as the matrix and content of regular Gospel proclamation.  This bifocal liturgical structure of sermon and sacrament forms the heart and core of “the whole worship of the New Testament,” and is therefore the vital center or gathering point of the church’s public assemblies (1 Cor. 10:17; 11:20, 33).

Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, “Liturgy and Evangelism”