Wednesday, July 19, 2006

One Voice for the Our Father

When in the old tradition of the Mass the Celebrant chanted the Our Father alone, he was not only following a venerable tradition which dates to the Early Church--which ought to be reason enough to retain this noble practice--he was also serving as bishop, the symbol of the unity of the Church. It is the same as when he chants the Collect alone (which, by the way, he should also do alone, especially in the Mass). It is called the collect because it is the prayer of the collected faithful: the many become one, expressed by the one mouth of the bishop.

Similarly, the Our Father is a prayer in which the many become one. The celebrant speaks for all the people, he performs a priestly duty here. But more importantly it is a Christic duty; in performing this duty he is serving as Christ for the people, presenting their petitions to God out of his own mouth.

After all, what gives us the right to call God our Father? Is He not the Father of Jesus Christ? And is not Jesus the only-begotten Son of God? God has no other children than Christ: he is the only. Then how is it that Jesus bids us to call God our Father? Surely, this can only be properly understood as an invitation for us to pray in Christ. We pray this prayer to God as though we were Christ Himself, for we are in Him. Heathen cannot rightly pray this prayer. It may not be prayed by one not baptized. This is why the pastor lays his hands on a child presented for Baptism, during the Our Father: it is an indication that the Our Father is here, in Baptism, being given to this candidate as a gift: he is being incorporated into Christ. Now, having been baptized into Christ, he is privileged to call God Abba, Father.

When at the High Feast of Salvation this principle is most properly expressed by the celebrant's utterance of this prayer alone. All Christians say this prayer day by day; but at the Altar, where the many become one, so the prayer fittingly becomes uttered by one voice, the voice of Christ. Christ employs the mouth of His servant, the celebrant, but the voice is most certainly His own. And thus all the people pray this prayer as one.

And it is said in immediate proximity to the Verba, the words of Institution, spoken also by the celebrant alone, in the stead of Christ.

Adapted from a 1999 article. Father Eckardt will be on vacation until mid-August. Comments will not be answered until then.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What's so Golden about the Middle?

It has become fashionable for church bureaucrats to instruct pastors with whom they have to do that while whacky, out-of-touch, loony "liberals" with their antichristian agendas are certainly not to be tolerated, there are also those who are too far out on the other side. The implication is that the middle is golden.

This is certainly true of some things. But the fact that it is gives no license for the maxim to be applied to all things.

There are not always two fringes.

Are we to say that someone who is way out on the 'no-integrity' fringe is no worse than someone who is way out on the 'too-much-integrity' fringe? Or what of someone who lies all the time. The other fringe would be someone who is too truthful. The reductio ad absurdem is not too hard to find.

So too, while there is certainly a too-loose fringe in matters of worship, that is, a kind of worship in which anything goes, and in which therefore everything becomes objectionable for those who truly want Christian worship, must there necessarily be a corresponding too-rigid fringe? "Rigid" of course is a nasty term by which bureaucrats like to refer to liturgists who take matters of worship with all gravity and seriousness. But is there a too-tight fringe? Actually if it be a truly opposite fringe to one that is too "loose," we must define "loose." I rather think it means casual, or lacking formality. But what's formality in worship? Is it not synonymous with reverence? Can one be too reverent? Ah, that is the real matter. Too reverent?

As in, have we shown Christ (whom we believe to be present) too much deference? Too much adoration? Too much worship?

I'm not sure the reference to the lukewarm in the Apocalypse is meant to apply to this, but I'd say it sort of fits. Sometimes the middle is not so golden.

New blog

Pastor Jonathan Naumann has a new blog called Engelein. Check it out here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


One of the more amusing clichés which has evolved in recent years is that now-ubiquitous sign-off now used by many a clergyman, whether in print or in person: “Blessings!” Most commonly the expression begins “Blessings on your . . .” To this is added a word fitting the occasion. So to a pastor one might say, “Blessings on your ministry,” or to a committee, “Blessings on your conference.” To a pastor about to preach, “Blessings on your message” is heard. Or often the word stands alone, as in correspondence, being a closing salutation.

Whence this came is anyone’s guess, but what this historian finds amusing is the fact that it’s so often used by the kinds of Lutheran clergy who at the same time hold tenaciously to an acute anti-Catholic bias. They won’t wear a chasuble or intone the Introit, because that’s Catholic, but they’ll dispense blessings more freely than the most Tridentine of priests!

Among traditional Roman Catholics, the blessing of the priest is eagerly to be sought, and taken quite seriously when obtained. People would approach a priest for no other reason than to ask a blessing on their children (though not, I might add, while kneeling beside their parents partaking in the Sacrament of the Altar). The Vatican magisterium has routinely taught that a solemn duty of the priest is to dispense blessings upon his people.

I am, to be sure, rather vaguely averse to the usage, but not because of this. If anything, the thought that if taken seriously this cliché might offend against the anti-Catholic bigotry in our midst (one of the last acceptable forms of bigotry left in current society) would lead me to find it more, rather than less, palatable! I think Lutheran ministers would do well to consider the dispensing of blessings to be a solemn duty they too ought to do. These can take the form of brief benedictions when meeting with the bereaved, the sick, the distressed, or anyone who comes to meet with them. It ought to be done with the laying on of hands and signing of the cross on the forehead (and perhaps even with chrismating oil, as St. James says). In fact, the thought sits comfortably with me that this is really what is going on at the confirmation ceremonies of our young. The young teens are simply receiving the blessings of their priest as they enter adulthood. We already treat Lutheran confirmations as a sacramental kind of thing, even though we insist that confirmation is not a sacrament. But we routinely have parties whose celebratory mood can rival that of any bar mizpah or quinceñera. These youngsters are simply debutantes of a kind. Fine. So we do it in church, give them the blessings of their pastors, and think those blessings sort of sacramental, in a way. Perhaps a fuller consideration of this would be a fit topic for another day.

Regarding blessings in general, let us take them more seriously than as the bland, vanilla blubbering which the term “blessings” has come to be. Taken as it currently is, I would submit that to those who hear it, at best it generally communicates absolutely nothing, and at worst it gives an indication the one saying it must be a very holy person, that he speaks such a holy word. The latter inference is of course particularly odious to faith, because it smacks of the worst kind of pharisaism.

Let Lutheran ministers take the dispensing of blessings to be a solemn duty, then: they were ordained to do this, certainly, as Jesus said, “He who hears you hears me.” But let them never think that this can as well be something they ought carelessly dispense, in effect attempting to raise the estimation of others as to the degree of their holiness.

Adapted from a 1999 article.