Thursday, May 04, 2006

Why ceremony?

On second thought, rather than merely directing you to our church's newsletter (if you do want to see it, click here), I think I'll just post the lead article here for your consideration. And take a look at this picture. What, eleven servers? Nice. Anyhow, here's the article:

Why Ceremony?

IN THE COURSE OF human events, there come various occasions during which the use of ceremony, that is, of formality in proceedings, is called for. Great ceremony attends the President=s annual State of the Union address, for example. He is announced with great pomp: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States! and everyone rises and applauds, as he moves toward the podium for his address. This always takes a few minutes, because he must shake hands with the people in the aisles. Then, when he finally arrives at the dais, the applause finally fades, and then the Vice President, who is presiding at this joint session of Congress, speaks first, saying something like: It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you the President of the United States! Cor something very similar; something very similar, in fact, to the words of the person who had shouted out the president=s first introduction moments earlier. And then everyone begins to applaud all over again, and sometimes for a very long time. One might wonder why all this has to happen every time the president gives this address. After all, everybody in the world knows who he is, yet here he is introduced twice. The reason for all this, then? Ceremony, of course. Ceremony dictates that certain occasions need great formality, either because of who is present, or because of the moment of the occasion, or both. People tend instinctively to understand the necessity for ceremony at times.
Strangely, however, of late there has arisen a startling lack of ceremony in Christian churches everywhere. This is troubling, for it belies a lack of understanding not only of ceremony=s place, but of the reality present in the Mass. Certainly, if we understand the need for ceremony when the President is present to speak to the nation, how much more ought we to understand the need for it when Christ Himself is present to speak to His holy Church! Could it be that those who wish to make the Divine Service informal fail to realize that worship in Spirit and truth is indeed an occasion in which Christ enters the holy place, opens His holy mouth, and speaks? Not only so, but He really sits among us, on the altar, in the Sacrament.
Consider for a moment which kinds of churches have greater ceremony, and which tend to have less: those whose worship would be considered very formal and ornamentedCRoman Catholics, High Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, and some LutheransCall hold something very much in common, in spite of the differences between them: they all share a profound belief that the Sacrament is no symbol or representation, but really and truly is the body and blood of Christ. But the churches which of late have preferred a more folksy style, or even a style full of the trappings of entertainment (clowns, balloons, rock bands, flashy Gospel choirs, costumes, etc.) tend to be Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and, sadly, some Lutherans. In these churches there is, not surprisingly, also a shared belief that the Sacrament is nothing but an extra, a symbol of some kind, or simply an ordinance of God, whose motions we must go through for no other reason than that He said we should. Even in the Lutheran churches where such tomfoolery is found, there is always, upon investigation, a woefully weak understanding of just what is meant by This is my body.
If anyone does not share this belief with us, he can easily find a church where the Sacrament is given much lower place, or even omitted altogether. We force no one to believe as we do, certainly; but neither will we be forced to believe anything other than what our Lord says: This is my body.
So let us heed to the admonition of St. Paul in this matter, from the Epistle for Easter Sunday: Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed; therefore let us keep the Feast (I Co 5.7-8). For it does not matter what anyone else may say or believe; we know that Christ here gives us His true body and blood; that Christ Himself is truly present here to give us His divine grace; and that, accordingly, if ever there is a time for ceremony, it is first of all in church.


Pastor Beisel said...

Great observations Fr. Eckardt. I think you've hit the nail on the head.

Lawrence said...

hmm.. I feel a joke coming on about thumbs and hammers... but I digress.


Martin Luther II said...

You forget that rites and ceremonies are adiaphora in their specifics but are not adiaphora in their underlying form or paradigm. If the underlying form is retained, then the specifics can be flexible within that form. That underlying pattern is simply the Law/Gospel pattern Luther exclaimed as being able to make anyone who grasped it worthy to called a Doctor of Theology. Your publication and present blog entry has the underlying premise that theology follows ceremony, when the correct approach is that ceremony follows theology. So Luther's reaction to the Iconoclastic Controversy was due to the underlying pattern to their thinking, that the removal of all artistry was necessary for Christian worship because its inclusion was detrimental for salvation. Now, how would he respond today, to the vocal collective of fanatics vested in Lutheran garb who claim that no worship is true worship without a scene a kin to the picture in your entry? How would he respond to the speculation that the presence of Christ's Body and Blood is determined by the human ceremonies: by candles, incense, by the number of lucifers or deacons? It is obvious he'd go against the clowns, that's needless to say; but would he condemn a congreation who doesn't cross themselves, or do it three times during the Lord's Prayer? Who would be so willing to judge other than a fanatic? This is what your approach leads others to think. That is like saying that the divinely instituted rites are determined by the human institutions. That concept is a perversion of the Law/Gospel paradigm. It is the opposite extreme to the icon haters of yore but the motive reeks of the same theological mire that ceremonial purity is necessary for salvation And please do not misunderstand me: I say ceremony, not rubrics. Raising the Host may bring someone to a closer understanding of Christ's true presence therein, but it is certain that an improper rubric will confuse the believer altogether. You emphasise action much more than it should be. You should be looking at theological content and motive.

Your connection to the US President and national ceremony is glib at best in comparison the the L/G Pattern of Luther. Granted many ceremonies on the generic Christian scene are incorrect with their 40 praise sessions and hour long prep talks. Whether they are slighty wrong like Rome or England, or outright not even churchly, like clowns, they are incorrect because they do not hold to the proper pattern under discussion. Just because a church body has a "greater ceremony" does not by definition equate to a greater faith or a greater adherence to the Law/Gospel pattern. Just look at Rome, past and present. You put together the Church of England, Rome, and "some Lutherans" in one camp and the Baptist style in another camp and insodoing you fabricate a straw man and your point is easily disproven as inaccurate. Do the Romans have a more faithful, Christian worship because they have a better adherence to ceremony, or are they so vested into their ceremony that their faith is hampered? Resacrifice, Mary, you name it. The Orthodox does not have a faith worship because they pray to icons and because they have an inaccurate Nicene Creed. We Lutherans have a unique and solitary niche in the relgious world in that we have a proper worship because we do not focus on ceremony as our outward marks but we focus our outward identity in the proper preaching of Law and Gospel and the proper administration of the Sacraments. All else can burn in comparison to these two solitarily divinely ordained rites.

Read AC XV and realise it does not agree with your position. Clowns in worship is stupid, yes, but it is unfairly equated to Baptist worship which is short-sighted. You and your ilk put as much emphasis on ceremony and rites as the Iconoclasts put on NOT having them. The Sacrament of the Altar is not given a lower place by the kind of ceremony, but by the L/G patterned faith confessed by the Church. Rome has a lower view of worship, not an higher one, as do the C of E, the Baptists, and the Pentecostals. Only the Lutheran faith has a proper confession on the matter, and those who hold to that faith view the Lord's Table with proper reverence. They look to the Supper itself, not all the extra ceremonial pomp which is present in its varying degrees. Such true Christians would avoid worship services which not only add clowns to the divine service but also those parishes whose pastors teach that specific ceremonies are necessary for Christ to be present. To the Christian, the former is not seen as Churchly at all and the latter would be seen as a Romanistic perverted concept of properly patterned worship. Have the candles, have the incense, or no; cross yourself, bow, and elavate the Host, or no, as long as Christ is rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly given (i.e. as long as the divine institutions are emphasised over the humans ones), then proper worship is present. So to reiterate: rites and ceremonies are adiaphora in their specifics but they are not adiaphora in their underlying form or paradigm. If the underlying form is retained, then the specifics can be flexible within that form.