in Church Architecture

The Altar is a Table

The chapel at Hartenfels Castle in Torgau dedicated by Luther himself.

From The Conduct of the Services, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, edited by Charles McClean, 57-59:
In his German Mass of 1526 Martin Luther wrote: “In the true mass, however, of real Christians, the altar should not remain where it is, and the priest should always face the people as Christ undoubtedly did at the Last Supper.”[70] The practice to which Luther here alludes was common in Christian antiquity![71] The celebration of the Eucharist facing the people should not, however, be regarded as a kind of liturgical “orthodoxy.” The celebration in the so-called eastward position—the celebrant turning his back to the people so that he faces the (liturgical) east—also has a venerable history. It is still the most common practice among Lutherans, has not ceased to be the usage of the Eastern Orthodox communion, and probably is still the use of the majority of Anglican congregations.[72]

The celebration of the Eucharist facing the people serves to emphasize that the altar is a table and that the Holy Eucharist is a meal.[73] The family of God gathers around the Lord’s table for the family meal. This way of celebrating the Eucharist provides for a kind of involvement of the people with the action of the presiding minister which is not possible when the Holy Eucharist is celebrated by a minister with his back to the people.

The following directions distinguish sharply between the service of the Word and the service of the sacrament. The first part of the great service centers in the holy Word, the second centers in the holy food. The Lord of the church comes through the Word and through the bread and wine of the holy meal. A book is the focus of the service of the Word; bread and wine on a table are the focus of the service of the sacrament. To emphasize this distinction no part of the service prior to the eucharistic meal itself is conducted at the altar. There is no need for the altar, that is, the table, before the meal is to be prepared and eaten. A table is necessary neither for the prayers and hymns nor for the reading of the lessons in the service of the Word: for this a book is sufficient. Also to emphasize the table character of the altar and the meal character of the Eucharist, the corporal (the linen cloth on which the vessels for the bread and wine are placed) is not spread on the altar nor are the sacred vessels themselves placed on the altar until the eucharistic meal itself is about to begin, that is, at the offertory.

Celebrating the Eucharist facing the people reflects an approach to the liturgy, common to the pre-medieval period, which emphasizes the involvement of the whole church in the eucharistic action. In the pre-medieval period the bishop, seated behind the altar and facing the people, preached and offered the great eucharistic prayer, but the remaining portions of the liturgy were almost wholly conducted by others. The celebration of the Eucharist was understood as the action of the whole church of God in a given place, an action in which each member functioned “in his vocation and ministry.” This idea was given form by assigning various parts of the liturgy to various persons or groups of persons. Even during the Middle Ages—and for many years after the Reformation in some parts of the Lutheran Church—the normal Sunday and festival service of at least the large city churches was the “high mass,” a Eucharist celebrated by a priest assisted by deacon and subdeacon, servers, choir and congregation. But with the passage of time many Christians have come to look on this full type of service involving many participants as extraordinary, and to regard a service conducted by a solitary clergyman as normal. This development is probably regrettable, since it has unduly clericalized worship and has given the impression that the Eucharist is a rite to be read by the minister rather than an action in which the whole church participates. A return to the ancient ideal would give concrete expression to the thought that the Eucharist is the action of the body of Christ, an action in which the several members of the body of Christ have various functions to carry out.[74] For this reason these ceremonial directions encourage the participation of as many people as possible: reading the lessons, bringing the gifts of bread and wine to the altar, and so on.

In terms of the rationale of this type of eucharistic celebration, the use of the term “celebrant” for the minister who presides at the celebration is misleading. For the whole church celebrates the Eucharist; the minister only presides at the Eucharist according to his vocation. But while the term “celebrant” is misleading, the term has been retained in the following directions for the sake of convenience. More accurately one should speak of “the minister who presides at the celebration of the sacrament,” or of “the president of the eucharistic assembly.” But while these phrases are more accurate, they are also quite awkward.

The following directions provide for two kinds of eucharistic service: first, a simple way of celebrating the Holy Eucharist facing the people; second, a way of celebration involving greater use of traditional ceremonial features.

Except in cases where the prescriptive “shall” rubrics of our synod’s authorized service books are cited, the following directions should be regarded merely as suggestions rather than normative prescriptions. These directions suggest a way-of celebrating the Eucharist facing the people, a way which reflects the long history of how this has been done among the people of God, which is sensitive to ecumenical consensus, and which may prove to be an orderly and helpful way of doing the liturgy at the present time.

Celebrating facing the people is much more demanding on the officiating clergy than celebrating in the “eastward” position. The officiants are continually in full view of the people. This makes it absolutely necessary to avoid all nervous habits. The officiants must be conscious of facial expression. They should not stare at the congregation, since the members of the congregation would in this way be made most uncomfortable. The minister should look at the people when addressing them, for example, during the salutation. To grin or grimace or wink the eyes or roll them around is intolerable. (This does not, however, imply that the celebrant should look grim or unhappy.) When one person is carrying out his function, for example, reading a lesson, the other persons in the chancel should not stare or look around, but rather look at the person who is carrying out the assigned function. When the celebrant is offering prayers he may, if he is sure of the text of the prayer, lift his eyes “to heaven.” When reading a lesson, one should keep his eyes on the book as a sign that he is reading the words of another. Gestures should be bold and deliberate, without being either mechanical or theatrical. For example, when the celebrant lifts the chalice from the altar at the words, “He took the cup,” he should do this deliberately and lift the chalice high enough above the mensa of the altar so that the people can clearly see what is being done.

In general, the less “liturgically minded” pastor may find it necessary to employ more ceremonial actions than he has been accustomed to use when celebrating in the “eastward” position. The more “liturgically minded” pastor may find that some ceremonial observances possible in the “eastward” position tend to be distracting when done in full view of the people.[75]
[70] Martin Luther, “Deutsche Messe,” in D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesammtausgabe (Weimar: Hermann Bohlaus Nachfolger, 1897), XIX, 80. (Hereafter this edition of Luther’s works will be referred to as WA.) Martin Luther, “German Mass and Order of Service,” in Luther’s Works, 53 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 25. (Hereafter this edition of Luther’s works will be referred to as LW)

[71] Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia), trans. Francis A. Brunner (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1951), I, 274ff. Basil Minchin, The Celebration of the Holy Eucharist Facing the People (n.p., n.d.7, pp. 3-12,19-27).

[72] “To pray to the East is a Christian custom that has its roots in apostolic worship since the primitive church celebrated the Eucharist in expectation of the Lord’s return. (I Cor. xi. 26) It was believed that the parousia would be heralded by the sign of the cross in the Eastern sky, as mentioned in Matt. xxiv. 30. Hence to turn to the East was an acknowledgment that the Eucharist was being celebrated in expectation of the second Advent.” Cyril E. Pocknee, The Parson ‘s Handbook, 13th edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 21. See Jungmann, I, 70f.

[73] In Christian tradition the altar is also the symbol of Christ in the church and, therefore, of the presence of God with His people. The altar is by definition a place of sacrifice and therefore stands in the church as the symbol of the one perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross, of which the Eucharist is the memorial.

[74] On this whole matter see Jungmann, I, 221E, 67ff., 195ff. See also Basil Minchin, Every Man in His Ministry (London: Darton, Longmans and Todd, 1960), pp. 188ff.

[75] For example, the celebrant probably should not kneel behind the altar as it may appear ludicrous to see only the celebrant’s head protruding above the altar.

SELC Newsletter #235

Peace to you, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ…

… and happy new year!

At the end of the last year our Bishop Vsevolod traveled to Chita region to conduct the Christmas services there. He visited Chita and Yasnaya.  We asked the Bishop to tell us a little bit about his travel east.

Here is the Bishop:

“Well, as usually, the travel was good, but some roads were very bad, sometimes there were no roads at all, we just drove through hills and desert places covered by snow. It was not far to drive: only about 200 miles from Chita to Yasnaya.

You know, when I was in America, I have heard many times how people told me “oh, you are from Russia! We visited Russia, we were in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”  And I usually replied that if they were in Moscow and St. Petersburg only, it means that they did not visit Russia. Because such big cities are totally different, and majority of people in our country live in small provincial towns and remote villages where there is misery and desolation, and alcoholism, and demoralization, where there are no normal roads, schools and hospitals.

People live there in hopeless poverty.  Many do not work.  They are trying to find job, but they do not have money for travel to big towns.

In Yasnaya, our Church does not have its building, and the Divine services are performed in the houses of the parishioners.  This time, we served the Christmas liturgy at the home of the lady from our parish, her name is Juliana.

She is member of our Church for many years, she was converted to Christ because of the preaching of Pastor Igor Kizyaev.

In the past, Juliana was a drug dealer (very primitive narcotics, such as cannabis, because the locals could not afford to buy more expensive drugs). And then she was arrested by the police and the court gave her four years probation, because she had children.

At that time she met Christians for the first time.  But she continued with drugs and did not stop, and she was arrested again, and then court had to give her a real prison term, but due to the fact that Pastor Igor Kizyaev had some friends among the judges, he pleaded them to give her conditional sentence again.

At the same time the Pastor explained to her that it was her last chance to start a new life. If she does not repent, but will return again to drugs, she will be just put into jail, and her children will grow up without their mother.

And Juliana repented and promised to no longer break the law, and for many years she has been keeping her promise.  Now she has cows and pigs in her yard, and she works hard, but lives honestly, although her family is very poor. Her house has no running water and water closet. And when we were in her home, the hosts brought a pail of snow from outside to melt it and so boil water to make a tea for us.

I always admire the way how Pastor Igor Kizyaev manages to find a common language with people in those areas where the habitants are demoralized and live in poverty.

As usually during the Christmas time, we brought the gifts from our parishioners from Novosibirsk. Every year during Advent we collect money for children in the poorest parishes of our Church. There are many children there for whom these gifts are the only gifts for Christmas, and if we do not give them, they do not have anything for that great festival. But imagine, it would have been totally intolerable for a child not to receive any gifts for Christmas!

After the service in Yasnaya, I conducted the Christmas liturgy in Chita. This parish doesn’t have its building also, and we rent a classroom from the local Roman Catholic school. It is not easy for our parish life, and we dream about our own church building.

For me, it is always a great joy to serve to our parishioners who live in those remote and challenged places.”

Please pray for our clergymen and parishioners who are living in Eastern Siberia.

“Faith and hope”

Christmas greetings from SELC

Peace to you dear Brothers and Sisters,

May we bring to your attention the words of greetings from the Christmas Address of our Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin that will be read in the parishes of SELC during the Christmas liturgy.

Brothers and sisters,

At the festival we preachers love to talk about the popular Christmas “clichés.” We are talking about the birth of the babies. Multitudes of relatives come to be around the newborn. But this is an inner family thing, and it isn’t what unites us on this evening.

We also talk about ancient history. Scientists investigate events that have changed the world, while dictators are fond of rewriting history. But it isn’t history that brought us together in the church this night.

Or, for example, all the people have a sense of poverty, including that One who was born at the outskirts of the Jewish village called Bethlehem. Poor people are subject to easy control, but nobody forced us to come here this night.

So, what has gathered us together, united as also the millions of our brothers and sisters around the world? Or, rather, Who has gathered us — capital letter “Who.” It was the Son of God who came down to earth for us and for our salvation.

The Word who was made flesh, the Word who comes to us in the flesh from the altar at every Divine Liturgy. It is Christ who gathers us in the church. Here our salvation is being performed, here we receive eternal life through partaking of Him, partaking of His eternal life.

My beloved parishioners, I congratulate you with Christmas and the New Year. It would be good if the coming year were better than the outgoing, without pain, troubles and concerns. But above all I wish you that the Lord be always with you and you with Him.

We wish you all God’s blessings during this holy time of Christmas!
“Faith and Hope”

winter