III.  Some of Luther’s Sacramental and Theological Principles

That the sacraments are gifts from God, not works of men, is probably the most fundamental principle of Luther’s sacramentology.  Certainly Luther’s most basic and persistent complaint against Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass is that it converts the Eucharist into a work, into something that man can offer to God:

We know that they sell their works and masses….They take over Christ’s office and work, saying:  ‘I am the Christ,’ Matthew 24.  This is one thing against which I have fought.  (LW 38, p. 117)

Twenty or twenty-two years ago…I began to condemn the mass and wrote sharply against the papists that it was not a sacrifice or our work but a gift and present or a testament from God, which we could not sacrifice to God but which we should and had to receive from God, even as baptism was not a sacrifice but a gracious gift…. (LW 38, p. 313)

This is the heart of Luther’s position on the sacraments:  any ambivalence in his positive statements concerning sacrifice has to be understood with this starting point in mind.  In this respect, then, Louis Bouyer is mistaken in suggesting that Luther accepts a Pelagian Eucharistic doctrine.  Bouyer argues that by limiting sacrifice to the human sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and by excluding ‘every notion of a participation in the unique and completely divine sacrifice in rejecting the sacramental communication of its reality’, the reformers kept only ‘the very Pelagian sacrifice that man, and man alone, offers to God in gratitude for his benefits.’[1]  This criticism might well apply to some Protestants, especially those with a receptionist doctrine.  It seems far off the mark, however, for Luther.

Yet there is an ambiguity in Luther’s use of the term ‘sacrifice’.  It is clear that Luther rejects any belief in a Eucharistic repetition of Christ’s sacrifice:

But I fear, no, alas, I see that your sacrificing amounts to offering up Christ anew, as Hebrews 6:6 predicted: They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him openly to shame.[2]

Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, yet they go ahead and sacrifice him daily more than a hundred thousand times in the world.[3]

The same rejection can be seen in Luther’s self-defense against charges made by Karlstadt:

…Jack Absurdity, Dr. Karlstadt, comes blustering and jolting against me with his heavenly prophets and directs a book against us.  In it he chides us Wittenbergers for being murderers of Christ, crucifiers of Christ, new papists, etc., and becomes very rude and repulsive….(H)e interprets offering a sacrifice as being the same as having crucified, slain, and slaughtered Christ….Now he knew exceedingly well that we Wittenbergers did not regard the sacrament as sacrifice; for by this time we had contended for almost three years with the papists that it could not be nor could it be called a sacrifice, but was a gracious gift….  (LW 38, pp. 314-5)

Here Luther tacitly accepts Karlstadt’s typically late medieval equation of sacrifice and killing.  This acceptance in turn explains the obvious reluctance to admit the word ‘sacrifice’ however defined.  Nevertheless, immediately before the references to Karlstadt in the ‘Brief Confession Concerning the Blessed Sacrament’ (p. 314), as well as elsewhere in his writings (e.g. in the ‘Admonition Concerning the Sacrament’, LW 38, p. 117), Luther develops the idea that the Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  This development seems in tension with the apparently categorical rejection of the word ‘sacrifice’ in the course of his defense against Karlstadt.[4]

Luther might explain the tension by saying that God’s grace is present for man in communion, and that this grace, conveyed by a gift, leads to thanksgiving.  The thanksgiving may be referred to metaphorically as a sacrifice, though strictly speaking it is not, since it does not belong to man and is not his to offer.  On the limits of Luther’s concept of thanksgiving, Bouyer’s opinion is reliable:

…Luther, still following the medieval pattern, looked upon the communion as the foremost opportunity for acts of penance grafted upon the worship of the Christus passus.  The sole ‘thanksgiving’ he retained was the medieval thanksgiving for the assurance of forgiveness that was renewed in this way.[5]

Yet Luther does contribute to some recovery from the medieval reduction of the Eucharist in that he requires a positive participation from the worshipper.  The Lutheran is not merely to ‘hear Mass’, but is to receive God’s testament or pledge by active reception of the sacrament.[6]

These few comments on Luther’s sacramental theology hardly deal adequately with an important and large subject; however, they may suffice to help explain many of Luther’s concrete liturgical proposals.  Luther shifts understanding of the Eucharist, so that it is seen as active reception by the believer of Christ’s covenanted gifts by means of faith and communion.  That view is quite different from an offering of Christ by the priest for a largely passive community of mostly non-communicating observers.  This shift certainly explains the introduction of vernacular texts and the elimination of secret priestly prayers and of private, non-communicating Masses.  In addition, as already noted, Luther systematically rejects liturgical references to sacrifice on theological, though historically inadequate, grounds.

As with most of the reformers, Luther’s initial proposals for liturgical change are relatively conservative.  Luther is willing to retain those things that do not positively conflict with what he considers the obviously Scriptural:

For where it can be done without sinning and endangering the conscience or without giving offense, it is indeed fine for the churches to agree in external matters, which are in any case voluntary…. (LW 38, p. 317)

In general Luther works for a simplification of ceremonial, but he leaves these things in the realm of adiaphora and lets others do the same.[7]

A number of other principles or assumptions could be listed here, but will become clear through a detailed study of Luther’s proposals for change in the baptismal and Eucharistic liturgies.  This study follows next.

  1. The First and Second Taufbüchlein of Martin Luther

Luther’s liturgical efforts here will be illustrated by considering his proposal for baptism and the Eucharist.  These are, of course, the only two sacraments recognized as such by the mature Luther.  But more importantly, these two cases show Luther at work on two different sorts of cases.  The heart of the Eucharist in the old rites is the canon, and this Luther considers an utter abomination, along with all the doctrines, devotions, and practices that taught sacrifice.  In marked contrast is Luther’s view towards the medieval baptismal rites, as expressed in the Babylonian Captivity:

Blessed be the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who of his rich mercy has preserved at least this one sacrament in his church unspoiled and unspotted by man-made ordinances, and made it free to all races and classes of men; nor has he allowed it to be suppressed by foul money-grubbing and ungodly monsters of superstition.[8]

By considering Luther’s proposals in these two cases, therefore, one can see him at work with and without doctrinal motives predominating.  If in the end Luther does not really see the old baptismal rites as completely ‘unspotted’, as stated in 1520, still in his initial proposals for baptism he is less the doctrinal reformer and more the pastor sensitive to the practical effects of liturgy.

Indeed Luther’s disagreement with late medieval theories of sacramental causality and his own view of the role of faith in baptism do not explain his proposed changes to the rite, with one exception.  That exception is Luther’s decision to introduce a vernacular form in 1523, the Taufbüchlein.  In the epilogue to this booklet Luther explains the change from Latin:

And therefore I have put into German what hitherto took place in Latin, that is, to baptize in German, so that the sponsors and bystanders may be moved much more to faith and to a more earnest reverence, and the priests who baptize should have much more care for the hearers.  (Fisher, p. 6)

This use of German was not wholly without precedent.  The pre-reformation use of Strassburg (1513), for instance, permitted German for the formal request for baptism, for the instruction of the godparents, and for the renunciation of Satan (Fisher, p. 30).  Furthermore, as will be seen below, Luther did not wish to supplant Latin totally with the tongue ‘understanded of the people’.  Still, the change was extremely important.  The words of the rite became understandable to most people for the first time, where before the meaning of the rite was grasped more through the ceremonies or through clerical instruction.

The epilogue also suggests that evil clergy should not be allowed to baptize.  Luther does not say that such baptism would be invalid, only that it would be scandalous and could bring the sacrament into ill-repute (Fisher, p. 7).  The rest of the epilogue is mostly uncontroversial exhortation.  But the shape of future revision is suggested when Luther notes the ceremonies retained:

…breathing under the eyes, signing with the cross, placing salt in the mouth, putting spittle and clay on the ears and nose, anointing with oil the breast and shoulders, and signing the top of the head with chrism, vesting in the christening robe, and giving a burning candle into the hand.  (Fisher, p. 7)

These ceremonies Luther calls the least important parts of baptism.  Luther keeps such ‘man-made additions’ (Fisher, p. 8) so that tender consciences may not be offended and so that no one may accuse him of instituting a new baptism.  In fact these ceremonies will mostly be suppressed in the second Taufbüchlein in 1526.  This pattern of gradual change of ancient liturgies and ceremonies is common in the Protestant reformations of the 16th century.[9]  In the case of baptism, it is precisely the absence of the ceremonies just noted that Roman Catholic apologists mentioned most in their reaction to Luther’s later baptismal rite.[10]

The first Taufbüchlein

With one important exception Luther’s first proposals for baptism seek to reform by omission, translation, and minor changes, not by addition.  Luther works from the use of the Magdeburg Agenda of 1497.[11]

In the opening rubric the Agenda retains a vestigial reference to the origin of the first part of the baptismal rite: ‘Here begins the order of catechising a catechumen.’  Luther omits the reference.  This omission is not practically significant, unless one is interested in distinguishing the oil used in the first anointing (oil of catechumens) from that of the second anointing (oil of Chrism).  The Agenda does not note this distinction any more than does Luther.  Furthermore, it is only fair to note that Lutheranism helped produce the great 16th century revival of catechism, if not of the catechumenate.[12]  Nevertheless, by suppressing this reference Luther obscures the origins, and therefore the full meaning, of this part of the rite.  In this respect one can see at work the first medieval trend described above.  Also, the Agenda’s rubrics speak in the plural and assume that many baptisms will take place at once.  It did not normally so happen in the Middle Ages:  this too is a survival from the days when large numbers of catechumens were baptized on Easter and Whitsunday.  Luther conforms the rubrics to the common practice by speaking in the singular.

Both rites open in the same way, with the exsufflation in which the priest breathes thrice under the eyes of the infant, meanwhile commanding the unclean spirit to depart and give place to the Holy Ghost.  Both rites also have the sign of the cross given on the forehead and breast, followed by two prayers for the child.

Luther also retains the next part of the older rite, namely the giving of salt.  However, Luther omits the exorcism of salt which precedes the gift in the Agenda.  Two reasons might be suggested for this omission.  First, the reformers generally rejected blessings and exorcisms of inanimate objects.  Secondly, the particular form in question might suggest to someone unclear about the character of a sacramental that the salt by itself was in some way intrinsically efficacious:

…the holy God…created thee for a protector of the human race…a saving sacrament…a perfect medicine….  (Fisher, p. 10)

In any case, though Luther omits the exorcism, he retains the bestowal of the salt, with a pax immediately following.

After the giving of salt the Agenda has three prayers for those to be baptized: one for all to be baptized, one for males, and one for females.  This distinction too is a vestige of the old Easter and Pentecost baptisms, where the catechumens were divided by sex.  Here too Luther rationalizes, leaving only the first prayer, to be used indiscriminately.  This prayer in fact Luther expands greatly, turning it into the Sintflutgebet, the ‘flood prayer’, his one major addition to the rite.  The present writer has not been able to find any references to Luther’s sources for this prayer, if indeed he had any, but it bears resemblance to the benediction of the font at the Great Vigil of Easter.[13]  The prayer refers to various biblical passages involving water, from Noah’s ark to the New Testament image of the Church as the new ark.   The Sintflutgebet is a most impressive production and a genuine recovery of ancient baptismal themes, imagery, and typology.

An exorcism of the child follows in both the Agenda and the Taufbüchlein.  In the Agenda five prayers are given: one is invariable and four are variable (two for males, two for females).  Luther keeps the invariable prayer and the two for male children, but eliminates the rubric, so that the same three prayers are said over all children.  After this exorcism comes the reading of the Gospel.  A prayer precedes the exorcism which asks that the child be illumined so that he may come to the light of baptism.  Luther retains this prayer, which is reminiscent of the Munda cor meum said by the cleric reading the gospel at Mass.  Luther and the Agenda prescribe the same lection, St. Mark 10:13-6, though Luther no longer has the lection introduced as ‘The continuation of’ the Gospel.

The prayer before the gospel reminds one that this part of the rite still belongs in origin to the ancient rites for catechumens.  After the gospel more such reminders come, some of which Luther retains.  In the Agenda the priest puts his stole and hand on the child’s head and says the Pater and Credo – a vestige of the ancient tradition of the arcane prayers of the Church.  If Luther knew of the disciplina arcana, it is doubtful that he recognized its survival in this part of the baptismal rite.  Once again Luther modernizes away an ancient survival:  he has all kneel down and say the Lord’s Prayer only.  Luther also omits an additional prayer of exorcism included in the Agenda.  While it is true that Satan has already been well-exorcized in both rites, the Magdeburg prayer serves as an introduction to the Ephthah, which in Luther’s form follows immediately after the gospel and Lord’s Prayer.

All that has been done and said to this point in both rites takes place outside the church door.  This location recalls the exclusion of catechumens from the heart of the Divine Liturgy.  Now, after the completion of the part of the rite that is in principle separable from baptism proper, the child is brought into the church, while the priest says, ‘The Lord preserve thy going in and thy coming out…’.  Then comes the immediate prelude to the baptism:  the renunciations of Satan and all his works and the inquisition (in three questions, following the Apostles’ Creed with the Christological articles reduced to one sentence).  If the godparents answer appropriately, the child is anointed with ‘the oil of salvation’ on the breast and between the shoulders.[14]  Next the inquiry is made, ‘Wilt thou be baptized?’, and then the child is baptized.  In all of this Luther follows the Agenda almost exactly, except in the mode of baptism.  Luther’s rubric directs simply that the child is to be dipped in the font.  The Agenda says:

Then by immersing them the priest shall dip first the males and then the females, their head turned to the east….  (Fisher, p. 16)

Of course one may assume that the first priests to use Luther’s rite would perform the baptism in the mode to which they were accustomed.  Still, it is a shame that Luther does not preserve the little touch of turning the child’s head to the east.

Both rites conclude similarly.  First, while a godparent holds the child standing in the font, the child is anointed with chrism (Agenda) or oil (Luther), on the crown of his head, while a prayer is read.  Luther adds another pax after the anointing, which is not in the Agenda.  Secondly, a white cap (mitra) is put on the child, the ‘white robe’ which the child is to preserve unspotted until the Judgement Day.  This cap is a survival of the white christening robes that the newly baptized wore through the Easter octave, from their baptism at the Great Vigil until Low Sunday, Dominica in albis.  The robe survived, and survives, in England in a less reduced form as a linen or lace baby gown, the chrysom.  Finally, a ‘burning light’ (i.e., a candle) is given to the child in the person of his godfather, to represent the lamps of the wise virgins.

Almost all of the changes that Luther makes from the Agenda amount to removals from the rite of vestiges of the catechumenate.  In so doing Luther removed very ancient elements of the rite, while no doubt intending to remove liturgical accretions without meaning.  The two main exceptions are the addition of the Sintflutgebet and the removal of the exorcism of the salt.  The addition is admirable and the omission less than ruinous.  In fact, except for its being in German, the first Taufbüchlein is a thoroughly typical late medieval baptismal rite:  more typical, indeed, than the Agenda, since Luther eliminates those elements of the rite which had lost their practical foundation in the Church’s pastoral situation.  Luther’s rite is more medieval and less patristic than the Agenda.

The second Taufbüchlein

By 1526 and the second Taufbüchlein the ‘tender consciences’ that apparently caused Luther to be notably conservative in 1523 were no longer tender or, at any rate, influential.  In any case in 1526 Luther removed most of the ceremonies that he earlier had declared to be unimportant.

The second Taufbüchlein opens with the epilogue to the 1523 rite, without the paragraph about tender consciences and ceremonies.  The rite itself still begins with the prayer of exsufflation, but the breathings under the child’s eyes are gone.  After the prayer the sign of the cross is still given.

At this point with three exceptions Luther eliminates everything that follows until the reading of the gospel.  The first exception is the retention of one of the two prayers before the giving of the salt.  The other two prayers and the salt itself, having lost their savor, are cast out.  Secondly, the Sintflutgebet is retained.  Thirdly, the extended prayers of exorcism (five in the Agenda; three in the first Taufbüchlein) are reduced to a simple formula:

I exorcise thee, thou unclean spirit, in the name of the Father +, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit +, that thou come out and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Here, on the one hand, one can see Luther at work simplifying the rite and eliminating even ceremonies such as the giving of salt which have biblical meaning but no explicit biblical institution.  On the other hand, Luther has not succumbed to the sort of puritanical biblicism that rejects anything not positively commanded by Scripture.  Nor does Luther show himself opposed to exorcism in theory, though he prunes heavily.

The exorcism provides the immediate prelude to the introduction and reading of the gospel.  From the reading itself through the baptism nothing is changed, except that the Ephthah and preliminary anointing are suppressed.  After the baptism Luther still has the godparents hold the child in the font while the ‘robe’ (instead of ‘cap’) is put on him.[15]  The rite ends with a general prayer and without the bestowal of the lit candle.

The second Taufbüchlein is not a typical late medieval baptismal rite, though it does exhibit several late medieval tendencies.  With this work Luther breaks decisively with the liturgical tradition.  His rite still follows the basic outline of the Agenda, but unlike the form of 1523, it omits entirely important elements of the older rite.  Perhaps the most notable of these omissions is that of both anointings.  In terms of liturgical symbolization, this omission largely deprives the rite of symbolism of one of the three elements of Christian initiation, namely reception of the Holy Ghost.  The three elements are clear in the Agenda:

  1. Conversion (the admission of catechumens, including notably the renunciation of Satan; the hearing of the gospel; the tradition of the great prayers; the exorcism and first anointing;
  2. Baptism;
  3. Reception of the Holy Ghost (the second anointing, imitative of the descent of the Spirit on Christ after his baptism, followed by the ceremonies and prayers indicative of the new life of grace and the demands it makes)

This third element is only present obscurely in the second Taufbüchlein, namely in the giving of the robe and the accompanying prayer, which briefly speaks of regeneration by water and the Holy Spirit, and prays for strengthening grace.  This omission, in the present writer’s opinion, is most unfortunate.  Nevertheless, it seems likely that Luther’s conscious intention was simply to shorten the rite and eliminate man-made accretions.

  1. The Formula Missae and the Deutsche Messe

Doctrinal considerations are more obviously present in Luther’s proposals for the Eucharist than for baptism.  In fact most of Luther’s changes noted below follow naturally from principles already elaborated.  Rather than making a detailed, narrative comparison of the rites in question, as was done above with the Taufbüchlein in its two versions, a schematic comparison of Eucharistic rites follows below.  Five initial comments will preface this comparison, and a section will follow it to comment on its significance.

  1. Liturgical language. Although Luther obviously rejected Roman Catholic claims that German should not be used as a liturgical language, he was not unsympathetic to the pastoral and practical arguments that could be marshalled for Latin.[16]  As Ulrich S. Leupold says:

For ecumenical, academic, and musical reasons, Luther wanted the Latin services retained wherever the Latin language was still taught and used (and that meant everywhere except in villages and very small towns).  (LW 53, p. xvi)

Luther himself, writing Against the Heavenly Prophets in 1524, says:

I am happy the mass is now held among the Germans in German.  But to make a necessity of this, as if it had to be so, is again too much.  The spirit cannot do anything else than continually create laws, necessity, problems of conscience, and sin.  (LW 40, p. 141)

And in fact while Luther’s first reformed Eucharistic rite, the Formula Missae et Communionis (1523),[17] permitted German preaching and encouraged German hymnody, both of which existed long before the Protestant reformation, it retained a Latin version of the Ordinary.  Luther did not produce a German version of his Ordinary until 1526, and then only after what apparently was a considerable amount of prodding.  Luther’s musical and literary sensibilities prevented him from rashly producing a German Mass, as is clear from his own comments:

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 text and retain 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.  (LW 40, p. 141)

One is reminded of George Rutler’s comment that the Vatican II Missa Normativa is now available in the vernacular, but not yet in English.  Luther wanted a German, not merely a vernacular, Mass.

Even when good German texts and music were available, Luther apparently wanted Latin to co-exist with German as a liturgical language.  Leupold argues that the Deutsche Messe (1526) was produced for small, mostly rural parishes, where Latin would have no constituency and where a choir might not be available to sing the chants.[18]  If this is correct, then the two forms considered below are not a semi-reformed or ‘interim measure’[19] and a fully reformed rite, with the second intended to supplant the first.  Rather the two are liturgies intended for different situations.  Luther clearly foresaw revision of the Formula Missae, but it does not seem that the Deutsche Messe is the end product that he had in mind.  In any case, Luther was not obsessed with liturgical uniformity or with the imposition of a particular form or language.[20]

  1. Secret prayers. As Luther well knew, the parts of the old Mass to which he most objected were never heard by the laity: the offertory prayers (the ‘little canon’) and the canon were private prayers said by the priest:

…God has wonderfully arranged it so that essentially the priest reads secretly the evil parts of the mass which deal with sacrifice and works, and this is called the secret mass; but whatever is publicly sung by the choir or the multitude is essentially a good thing and a hymn of praise.  (LW 38, p. 123)

It follows that where the Formula Missae was used, the laity would hardly have to notice a difference between the old and the new rites, except in communion under both kinds.  It is easy to forget that much of the liturgical struggle of the 16th century was essentially clerical.  What the people commonly heard (the Gloria, the Alleluia, the Lord’s Prayer, the Preface and Sanctus, the Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei – Luther’s list in LW 38, p. 123) was least likely to be changed.

  1. The Kalendar. With a few exceptions for New Testament saints, Luther abolished the proper Masses of the saints (LW 53, pp. 14 and 23).  Luther also discouraged weekday Masses, so that the ferial Masses ceased to be held, and the saints’ days were not replaced (LW 53, p. 13 and pp. 37f.):

The daily masses should be completely discontinued; for the Word is as important and not the mass.  But if any should desire the sacrament during the week, let mass be held as inclination and time dictate; for in this matter one cannot make hard and fast rules.  (Page 13)

The change in piety implied by this rather casual opining, particularly the change in clerical piety, is huge.  Luther retained feasts of Our Lord and the Church seasons, as also weekly celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays.

  1. Ceremonial. Luther’s general attitude towards ceremonial is noted above, but he mentions several such matters in the Formula Missae:

And what shall I say of the external additions of vestments, vessels, candles, and palls, or organs and all the music, and of images?  There was scarcely a craft in all the world that did not depend on the mass for a large part of its business.  (LW 53, p. 22)

Despite such rather dismissive statements, Luther did not abolish vestments, church music, or the rest.  Luther even retained the elevations, though whether as a concession ‘for the benefit of the weak’ (LW 53, p. 28) or because of some positive liturgical value (cf. LW 53, p. 82) is unclear.[21]  Certainly Luther does not want to make such things matters of conscience.

  1. Hymnody. This is not the place for an extended consideration of Luther’s hymnody; however, the matter deserves a few words.  In the Formula Missae rite German hymns provide a role for congregational participation.  In the Deutsche Messe the hymns basically replace the Latin chants.  In both cases Luther gives German hymns great importance.  Vernacular hymns were common in the late Middle Ages.  Luther and Lutheranism did not invent the vernacular hymn, but rather gave it a new place in the rite itself.

With these general comments as preface, this paper now turns to a comparison of four Eucharistic rites.  The ‘control’ is the Tridentine Mass, though the Roman missal of 1474 or a German missal might do as well.  Luther’s two rites will be examined along with Thomas Müntzer’s Deutsch-evangelische Messe, a German Mass that preceded Luther’s Deutsche Messe by two years (1523-4 vs. 1526).[22]  Though Luther objected to Müntzer in general, claiming that Müntzer had ‘swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all’, and to his slavish adaptation of the plainsong Mass settings in particular, still Müntzer’s earlier effort provides an interesting contrast with Luther’s.  Furthermore, Luther permitted the use of the Müntzer rite in Brunswick and Erfurt.[23]

Prior to Trent Western uses differed most in the preparation prior to the Introit, in the sequence, and in what followed the postcommunion collects, with the Last Gospel being a particularly late addition.

Of the elements of the Roman Mass omitted by both Luther in 1523 and also by Müntzer only two were said aloud by the priest: the Orate, fratres, with its explicit reference to sacrifice, and the immediate preparation for communion, the Domine, non sum dignus.  Both Luther and Müntzer omit the postcommunion proper collects, with their frequent references to sacrifice, but Luther permits the priest’s fixed private postcommunions to be said aloud, and that would have filled some of the hole.  Since the remaining omissions were never heard by the congregation anyway, these two rites would not have seemed particularly strange to the laity.  This is particularly true, of course, in the Latin form retained by Luther.  A conservative use of music and ceremonial would increase the sense of continuity among laymen.

Müntzer is very conservative in many respects.  Müntzer retains the preparatory prayers at the foot of the altar, though he makes them public and replaces the Confiteor and its address to the saints with a reformed general confession.  Müntzer changes little in the proanaphora, except that he drops the silent Munda cor meum and changes the number of Kyries.   Luther omits the preparation entirely, but is otherwise similarly conservative insofar as the proanaphora is concerned.  Both men drop the offertory entirely, except that Müntzer keeps the psalm verse that the choir sang or the priest said to introduce the offertory.

As for the heart of the Mass, neither man attempts what Cranmer does in 1549, namely to construct a full replacement for the Roman canon.  Müntzer retains all from the Salutation and Sursum corda dialogue through the Benedictus, at which point he jumps to the words of Institution.  The Lord’s Prayer, Pax, and Agnus Dei then serve as a preparation for communion.  Luther retains the same elements as Müntzer at this point, except for the proper Prefaces, but he switches the Sanctus and Benedictus to a point after the Institution narrative.  This change by Luther suggests the medieval (and later) custom of covering the silent Canon and action at the altar with elaborate musical settings, except for a pause between the Benedictus and the Agnus Dei for the Dominical words and elevations.  Luther, of course, no longer has a silent Canon, but he has failed to break the habits it bred.  By eliminating the private postcommunion prayers and the postcommunion collects and the Last Gospel, both Luther and Müntzer ensure that people would be out of church quickly after communion.

Even granted the purposes for which the Deutsche Messe was produced, it is unfortunate in its omissions.  In the proanaphora Luther drops the Gloria in excelsis, which he speaks of highly in the Formula Missae.  Luther then reduces the Eucharistic action proper to the words of Institution.  This exclusive focus on these words is a medieval tendency already noted in this paper.  The Lord’s Prayer is to be paraphrased after the sermon, but has no place in the anaphora.  The Sursum corda dialogue and even the common Preface are suppressed, despite their great antiquity and Biblical foundations.  In fact little survives, and it is hard to discern the four-fold action of the Eucharist in this putatively Eucharistic liturgy.  The Deutsche Messe is a liturgy of the Word with the words of Institution and communion tacked on.  Luther’s Deutsche Messe reminds one of the ‘High Mass’ that became the traditional Swedish observance on Sunday morning:  not a Mass at all, but an antecommunion service with hymns and sermon.  Though Luther’s Latin rite and Müntzer’s rite both could be made to seem very similar to the old Mass from the lay perspective, the substance in both cases is radically altered.


Luther, like Thomas Cranmer, is at his best as an author and translator of texts.  Luther’s translations, hymns, and original compositions, such as the Sintflutgebet, are often of a very high quality.  The tragedy of his liturgical efforts is that, apart from his hymnody, there is little positive production in evidence.  Almost all of Luther’s prescriptive liturgical work is negative:  criticizing certain elements, omitting others, and discouraging the use of still others.  In the end his doctrinal standards seem to overcome his aesthetic ones, and one is left with the barebones Deutsche Messe.  Even the Formula Missae and the first Taufbüchlein, conservative as they are, are essentially negative.  With the exception of the Sintflutgebet, even these conservative liturgies are cases of reform by exclusion and excision.  The most that one can say is that the addition of Luther’s remarkable hymnody, particularly with the addition of the glorious Lutheran musical tradition, helps to make up some of the loss.

What of Luther’s omissions?  One might suggest that, even conceding his doctrinal presuppositions, many of the omissions were unnecessary.  Luther could, for instance, have retained references to sacrifice, but in the sense of thanksgiving and expressed in Biblical language.  Cranmer does better with ‘this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving’.  All too often what Luther omits is the generally accepted, genuinely ancient element, such as the anointings in baptism, the Gloria in excelsis, and the four-fold shape of the Eucharistic action.  Again, all too often what Luther retains are the peculiarly late medieval assumptions:  e.g., that the words of Institution are all that really matters.

Luther’s efforts were bound to show the effects of contemporary beliefs, practices, and needs.  All 16th century liturgies show the same insofar as they assert themselves to change older rites.  What in the end did the most harm was not this general limitation, but rather Luther’s willingness to reject large swathes of the liturgical tradition without much produced by way of alternatives.  Again the comparison with Cranmer is apt.  Whatever one thinks of the doctrine of the Prayer Books, they show the activity of a literary genius and an author of sensitivity and boldness.  Many of Cranmer’s negative doctrinal goals are similar to Luther’s:  omit references to sacrifice, eliminate the cult of the saints, simplify the rite, radically prune ceremonial, increase the amount of Scripture read and understood.  But Cranmer implements his doctrinal program with positive liturgical production, while Luther purges.  It is possible that Cranmer might have followed Luther to more a negative end if he had lived.[24]  It is our good fortune that that possibility did not come about.

[1] Bouyer, op. cit., p. 387.  Cf. p. 414.

[2] Cited by Vilmos Vajta, Luther on Worship: An Interpretation (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1958), p. 55.  WA 8, p. 421.  This book hereafter is cited as ‘Vajta’.

[3]Cited by Vayta, pp. 55-6.

[4] For a sympathetic assessment of Luther on sacrifice and thanksgiving, see Vajta, pp. 27-63.

[5] Bouyer, p. 388.  Cf. especially LW 38, p. 122.

[6] Infrequent communion is, of course, another important medieval tendency that all of the reformers worked against, but which continued powerfully nonetheless in the reformed churches.  Since the reformers largely abolished non-communicating Masses, the effect of the conservative lay tendency to communicate only infrequently was to move the Eucharist from its central place in worship, despite the explicit statements of Luther, Calvin, and other reformers.

[7]Cf., e.g., ‘A Christian Exhortation to the Livonians’, LW 53, pp. 46ff.

[8] Cited by J.D.C. Fisher, Christian Initiation, The Reformation Period: Some Early Reformed Rites of Baptism and Confirmation and Other Contemporary Documents (London: SPCK, 1970), Alcuin Club Collection number 51; p. 3.  This volume henceforth is cited in notes and text as ‘Fisher’.  For the full statement of the Babylonian Captivity on baptism, see Martin Luther, Three Treatises (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), 4th printing; pp. 178ff.

[9] For examples from baptism rites see BCP of Edward VI, pp. 236-42 vs. pp. 394-9.  Fisher, gives three rites from Strassburg on pp. 30-3 (1523-4), pp. 35-7 (under Bucer, 1525-30), and pp. 38-42 (rite after 1537 – note the surprising reference to the child’s guardian angel, p. 42).  Fisher also gives two examples from Zurich, pp. 126-9 (1523) and pp. 129-31 (Zwingli’s rite of May 1525).  In all of these cases the first reform is quite conservative.  The reformers seem to have taken to heart Cicero’s dictum that prudence is the god of this lower world.

[10] Fisher provides samples of the reaction, with selections from the Enchiridion of Cologne (1538), pp. 45-53 and from Gropper’s Antididagma (a response to Archbishop Hermann’s reform-minded Consultation), pp. 70-1.  This is one of the few matters that Eck does not deal with extensively in his Enchiridion.

[11] For the Agenda see Fisher, pp. 6-16.  For the first Taufbüchlein see Fisher, pp. 23-5.

[12] On the rise of catechisms and catechesis, see William P. Haugaard, ‘The Continental Reformation of the Sixteenth Century’ in A Faithful Church: Issues in the History of Catechesis (Winton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1981), ed. John H. Westerhoff III and O.C. Edwards, Jr.; pp. 109-73.

[13] The points of similarity are references to the flood and saving of eight persons, to Christ’s baptism and the Jordan, and to the drowning of sin.

[14] On the baptismal anointings see Gabriele Winkler, ‘The Original Meaning of the Prebaptismal Anointing and its Implications’, in Worship 52.1 (January 1978), pp. 24-45.  Winkler argues that in the West the prebaptismal anointing had always a purificatory or exorcistic purpose (p. 24), but that in the East this purpose only gradually was admitted.  In the East the initial anointing was first seen as signifying birth, entry and conversion (pp. 43f.).  The post-baptismal anointing developed under the influence of the New Testament accounts of the descent of the Spirit upon Christ after his baptism.  In the Eastern Orthodox Churches today, of course, the post-baptismal chrismation is the sacrament of Confirmation.

[15] Westerhemd vs. Haube.  For the German version of the first Taufbüchlein, see Codex Liturgicus: Ecclesiae Lutheranae in Epitomen Redactus, volume II in Codex Liturgicus: Ecclesiae Universae in Epitomen Redactus (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1966), ed. by. H.A. Daniel; pp. 185-201.  For the second Taufbüchlein, see Luther’s Liturgische Schriften (München:  Chr. Kaiser, 1950), pp. 56-60.

[16] For a contemporary Roman Catholic opinion, see Eck, op. cit., pp. 264-9.

[17] In LW 53, op. cit., pp. 19-40, as An Order of Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg, translated by P.Z. Strodach, revised by U.S. Leupold.  Henceforth cited generally in the text as Formula Missae.

[18] Ibid., p. xvi.

[19] D.H. Tripp, ‘Protestantism and the Eucharist’, in The Study of Liturgy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), ed. Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, & Edward Yarnold, SJ; p. 151.

[20] See ibid., pp. 62f.  Here Luther gives reasons for wishing to retain a Latin Mass, mainly to encourage language study in the young.  Luther speaks of three kinds of Mass:   the Latin (Formula Missae) for the educated; the Deutsche Messe for ‘the unlearned lay folk’, and ‘a truly evangelical order’ which would be held privately in the house and in which one could ‘center everything on the Word, prayer, and love.’  (Pages 64f.)   The last order seems far off, though, since ‘it might turn into a sect.  For we Germans are a rough, rude, and reckless people, with whom it is hard to do anything, except in cases of dire need.’ (Page 64)  As so often Luther’s theological principles if followed consistently are deeply radical.  Luther did not follow them consistently not least because, as Auden observed, where Zwingli hated the Real Presence, Luther feared the peasants.

[21] Cf. also LW 38, pp. 313-6.  Here it seems that Luther retained the elevations because Karlstadt wanted him to drop them!  On the position of the altar, see LW 53, p. 69.

[22] Thomas Müntzer, Schriften und Brief: Kristische Gesamtausgabe, ed. by Günther Franz, volume XXXIII in Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte (Götersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1968), pp. 157-206.

[23] See Tripp, op. cit., p. 251.

24] See the suggestions of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s ‘history that never happened’ in Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven & London: Yale, 1996), pp. 618-20.

2 thoughts on “Luther’s Baptismal and Eucharistic Liturgies: Context and Content. Part 2.

  1. One indication of Luther’s perspective on the Sacrament of the Altar is the timing of the elevation to match the paraphrase of the Sanctus, “Isaiah, Mighty Seer.” This involved the speaking of the Verba or Words of Institution, to use typical Lutheran phraseology, twice, once in Latin before the Sanctus and again in German afterwards. What was behind all of this was the massive emphasis placed on the perceived dual purpose of Verba: both as the means by which the Sacrament is confected and as a proclamation of the Gospel. So the Sacrament was consecrated, and then elevated, and then the Verba were repeated so that everyone clearly heard them, including those who only understood German, though it was expected that everyone with a modicum of education would learn Latin, so that the Latin would still be retained, as you indicated. The “showing” of the Gospel, and the adoration which is the climax of the Chief Divine Service (der Hauptgottesdienst), is then underlined by having the consecrated Sacrament elevated at the precise moment of the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Sabbaoth” in the Deutsche Messe. There are some Lutheran parishes which still follow this custom when the English version of the Deutsche Messe is used. If I remember rightly, Fr. John Fenton, who is now Assistant Vicar General of the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, did his STM thesis on this matter of the use of the “Isaiah Mighty Seer” at Concordia Seminary- Ft. Wayne some years ago. But the extent of Luther’s Eucharistic piety is often unknown today, even to most Lutherans. The events at his last Mass, when his shaking arms caused him to spill some of the contents of the chalice, are an illustration. He placed the chalice on the altar, got on his knees, and licked the Blood of Christ up off the floor so that it would not be trodden on, and the whole congregation burst out in loud weeping. The two volumes of Edward Peters ThD dissertation at Concordia Seminary- St. Louis, “The Origin and Meaning of the Axiom: ‘Nothing Has the Character of a Sacrament Outside of the Use,’ in Sixteenth-century Lutheran Theology”) from a number of years ago are filled with all kinds of major insights into Luther’s perspective (as well as giving a major corrective to false ideas about the original meaning of that axiom from the Book of Concord). The book “Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig” by Gunther Stiller (Concordia Publishing House, 1984) shows how the very highly liturgical and catechetical practice, which generally disappeared in Lutheranism within two generations of Luther’s death, still lingered in a few places.


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