Senn, Frank C. "Chapter Eighteen: Liturgical Revision and Renewal." Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997, 637-692.
Senn concludes that toward the end of the 20th century (note the copyright in 1997) forms of liturgy stabilized somewhat across denominational lines, showing similar patterns in eucharistic theology, the use of a calendar and a lectionary, along with increasing similarity in hymnody (Senn 1997, 637). He reviews a number of worship books published since the late 1960s. Senn notes that the publication of trial editions of liturgy has shed a good deal of light on projects of liturgical development (Senn 1997, 639). The liturgical developments spurred, among other things, a commission which saw cooperation between the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Lutheran Church in America to develop a new pan-Lutheran hymnal (Senn 1997, 640ff). In 1978 the Lutheran Book of Worship was released, even as the Missouri Synod withdrew from the process and released their Lutheran Worship in 1982. Methodist and Presbyterian groups have made similar efforts to test, approve, and release liturgical materials (Senn 1997, 643ff).
In Senn's opinion, many of the liturgies published in the late 20th century are similar in shape and use very similar texts (Senn 1997, 645). The shape essentially gathers the people, delivers the word, then the sacrament, then dismisses the people. Senn continues with a chart comparing the service in Roman, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian customs (Senn 1997, 646-647). While the elements are not identical across the spectrum, and while different bodies allow for different insertions or omissions, the worship elements do build a similar service. Senn discusses a few of the distinctive features briefly.
Senn further describes a convergence in eucharistic theology across denominational lines. He goes on to describe "conclusions reached in the Anglican-Roman Catholic and Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues, in the historic Leuenberg Concordat between the German Lutheran and REformed churches, and to the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission document, 'Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry' (BEM), which has been in the process of 'reception' by the churches of the world" (Senn 1997, 651). The example Senn goes on to discuss involves a definition of "personal presence" of Christ in the Eucharist which is sufficiently vague to allow for nearly any interpretation (Senn 1997, 652ff). Discussion is ongoing about the nature of the communion elements, the role of the officiant, and the relationship between pastor/priest and congregants.
The development and adoption of some form of the three year common lectionary signals to Senn a substantial basis for fellowship and cooperation (Senn 1997, 657). The similarity of readings may lead to a greater similarity of priorities in the life of the Church. Senn provides details about the overall construction of the cycles (Senn 1997, 657ff).
Ecumenical discussion of baptism has been another area of concern in the late 20th century, particularly due to issues surrounding missionary work (Senn 1997, 661ff). Both Christian initiation of children and of adults are concerns in these discussions. Senn describes in some detail the process defined in Vatican II known as RCIA, the Rite of the Christian Initiation of Adults, which tries to build a process based on early Christian descriptions (Senn 1997, 662ff). The process was slow to be adopted in Roman Catholic circles and has seen more resistance outside of the Roman Catholic Church. Where a more standard process has emerged it has mostly been between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Baptism and confirmation, generally understood as initiatory rites, are not the only occasions when liturgy marks a milestone. Senn observes a number of other times are typically accompanied by rituals. Marriage ceremonies are very important from a social and religious standpoint. The challenges of an expectation that secular and ecumenical customs will be brought into a wedding service are very real, and are a matter of some delicacy in pastoral care (Senn 1997, 666).
Rites for ordination within the Roman Catholic Church are very clearly defined (Senn 1997, 667). Senn describes these ceremonies in some detail. The Episcopal rite is relatively similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church (Senn 1997, 668). In contrast, since Lutherans do not normally understand the functions of bishops, pastors, and deaconesses in the same way, these ordination rites follow different patterns. Methodist ordination tends to be similar to that in the Episcopal tradition.
Penance, or reconciliation, is now often treated as a rite of restoration, rather than as an element of church discipline (Senn 1997, 669). Vatican II treated it also as a rite to gather people who had resolved a conflict against one another. The social relationship between Christians has a greater focus than does the confession of sin before God (Senn 1997, 670). Lutherans typically use a brief order of public confession and absolution as a prelude to a Divine Service in which communion will be celebrated.
A ritual for anointing the sick and praying for healing has been a typical feature of Chrsitian practice. Protestants who practice these rituals must overcome a bias against "extreme unction" while Roman Catholics must overcome a history of holding off on anointing with oil until the deathbed (Senn 1997, 671).
Funeral practices remain a significant element in rites of passage, though the reality of death has been tempered by medical and funeral home practices (Senn 1997, 671). Senn observes that this can be overcome by use of historic funeral liturgies which are full of Chrsitian symbolism (Senn 1997, 672).
The growth of an emphasis on liturgy has influenced the sense of Christian community and has even resulted in some changes of architectural patterns as the spaces used for worship are designed to reflect current emphases (Senn 1997, 672-673). Senn describes some of the building designs that emphasize either a liturgical or a non-liturgical viewpoint.
Senn closes this chapter with a lengthy discussion of liturgical challenges. First, as liturgy lives within culture, it is always influenced in some way by local cultural expression (Senn 1997, 676). The attitude within Roman Catholic circles has increasingly accepted a multicultural view of the Church (Senn 1997, 677). It is not altogether clear whether Senn approves of this or not. He does describe Lutheran studies which consider whether the liturgy should be contextualized. In general, Lutherans have spoken about the need for the Gospel to have some contrast with the culture (Senn 1997, 678). However, Senn goes on to discuss adaptation of cultural ritual into Christianity as a matter of pastoral discretion. He appears open to a wide array of rituals which do not have roots in Christian practice (Senn 1997, 679). The world of musical composition has seen both moves toward and away from historic liturgical usage of music (Senn 1997, 680-681). Senn notes that in much of African American piety there are practices which, though they are from white Western culture, have become thoroughly adapted and now appear characteristic of an African-American culture. This begs the question of to whom the liturgy "belongs" (Senn 1997, 682). A similar question of cultural accommodation is the recognition of holidays, when a secular calendar observes a number which have roots in Christian piety, but has re-invented some of those holidays. Senn speaks about the challenge to Christianity as it seeks to retain its own calendar (Senn 1997, 683).
Senn devotes considerable space to the critiques lodged by feminists against the liturgy. It is important for understanding this portion of the book to recall its publication in 1997. Liturgical reforms of the 1960s and beyond had focused on use of "gender-inclusive" language (Senn 1997, 684). At this time in history, the term implied an acceptance that male and female terminology could normally be used interchangeably. The concept of gender fluidity was not widely known. Senn notes the difficulties already inherent in the 20th century attempts to create gender-neutral language (Senn 1997, 684-685).
The church growth movement is another source of challenges to the liturgy which Senn identifies. Its open advocacy of having no liturgy and its rejection of historic forms of church practice creates an environment which is very hostile to any codified liturgical worship (Senn 1997, 687). Senn identifies the practices of this movement as directly related to the revivalist frontier Christianity of the 19th century (Senn 1997, 688). Senn provides a summary of a typical service from a megachurch in Arizona. In my experience, things have changed a great deal since the late 1990s. The materials from the church in Arizona seem very orthodox compared to much practice some 25 years later.
Senn concludes briefly that, in the face of various types of opposition, it is necessary for churches to emphasize the richness of their liturgical heritage (Senn 1997, 691-692).