Saturday, February 28, 2009

On being ashamed of Jesus

Sermon for Sat. after Ash Wednesday, on St. Luke 9:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On Kissing Jesus' Feet

The weeping woman of St. Luke 7: the sermon for mass on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday.

On Repentance, II

The second of two Ash Wednesday sermons at St. Paul's.

On Repentance

The first of two Ash Wednesday sermons at St. Paul's.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Father of Receptionism

The comments are now at 205 in the continued discussion, all of which can be accessed under the label "reservation of the elements."

It is undeniable that receptionism was afoot in Lutheran circles from the start. Not only is it possible that Andrae had receptionist leanings, and that the tension between those leanings and Chemintz' aversion to them is reflected in the Formula of Concord itself; it is clear that the tension existed a generation earlier, between Melanchthon and Luther. Jurgen Diestelmann has recently provided some compelling data on that tension, though his work is only available in German.

But even without that data, Luther scholars have long pointed to a fundamental difference in orientation between the Reformer and his closest compatriot, a difference of which he may even have been naively unaware.

The language of Luther in connection with the Sacrament tends to focus on what it is, while the language of Melanchthon tends to focus on what it does. This difference cannot be overestimated.

Hence we see from Luther the Small Catechism's first question on the matter: "What is the Sacrament of the Altar?" But from Melanchthon we see a whole host of meanderings culminating in the Variata of the Augsburg Confession, which could only go as far as to say that the body and blood of Christ are "shown" to the recipient: "Concerning the Lord's Supper our churches teach that with bread and wine the body and blood are truly shown to those who eat in the Lord's Supper." This statement is true as far as it goes, but the tragedy here is that it is Melanchthon's "improvement"; what it replaces is a confession "that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord."

What resulted was much ado about Something. Friedrich Bente aptly described the fallout from this little change in his historical introduction to the Book of Concord, "The changes made in the Augsburg Confession brought great distress, heavy cares, and bitter struggles upon the Lutheran Church, both from within and without."

You can say that again. Not only in our history, as Bente reports: "Church history records the manifold and sinister ways in which they were exploited by the Reformed as well as the Papists; especially by the latter (the Jesuits) at the religious colloquies, beginning 1540, until far into the time of the Thirty Years' War, in order to deprive the Lutherans of the blessings guaranteed by the religious Peace of Augsburg, 1555"; but also right down to the moment: receptionism is arguably the most salient controversy among us today, and is at least partly responsible for the 205 comments and counting on this thread.

Luther was dedicated to his friend Melanchthon, and as far as I am concerned, his dedication to him is the primary reason he was not more forthright in recognizing and dealing with the man's receptionism. Melanchthon was, in Luther's estimation, a Greek scholar second to none, a brilliant thinker and writer, and, most importantly, a close companion and confidant in the midst of some life-and-death theological struggles which were very personal. One does not easily part ways with someone in whom so much personal approbation is invested.

Hence we may attribute a certain blindness on the part of Luther to the true leanings of his partner.

But there was no blindness in him regarding the Sacrament. None of the ambiguities in Melanchthon can be found in Luther. His well-known insistence at the Marburg Colloquy on the meaning of "is" in the Sacrament may be contrasted with his consternation over the fact that Melanchthon, who was sitting right next to him, would not do more of the talking.

Luther's death in 1546 prevented him from learning of the degree to which Melanchthon desired to form alliances with the Calvinists, which is now a matter of record.

In short, receptionism never arose in the heart of Luther. The birth of that dragon may be traced to Melanchthon.

Several years ago I paid my respects at Luther's grave before the pulpit in the Castle Church at Wittenberg. The church was filled with pilgrims and distractions that day, which may explain why I neglected to remember that Melanchthon's grave is there too, on the other side of the nave, before the lectern. Or perhaps it was Providence which kept me from Melanchthon's side. It certainly is Providence which has kept my heart stayed on the words This is my body which, evidently, are farther from Melanchthon's side than we might have thought.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Difference between a Tabernacle and a Monstrance

The discussion continues.

We're now up to 185 comments on, I think, four posts. Click on the "reservation of the elements" label for all the relative posts.

Let's consider now the difference between a tabernacle and a monstrance.

Aside from the obvious, the monstrance allows for a perpetual elevation of the host. The monstrance essentially does what the celebrant does when he holds the host aloft immediately after it is consecrated. With its gilded rays, it also silently confesses that the host is the Body of Christ.

All in all, a monstrance is certainly preferable to a wastebasket!

And yet, as one ponders its use over against the use of a tabernacle, the question of abuse does inevitably arise, which we will do well to define carefully.

What is the abuse against which the Formula warns? I would suggest that the abuse is twofold, when one attempts to use the elements for a purpose for which they were not intended. We could all agree that using the host as an amulet or charm is an abuse. Placing it into the coffin of a loved one, or on one's mantle, is an abuse. What about a Corpus Christi procession? What about a monstrance?

The nature of possible abuse here is, it seems to me, one of two kinds, or both. It's either in expecting the Sacrament to do something it has not been instituted to do--we'll call this the abuse of questionable expectations--or in keeping it from doing what it has been instituted to do, namely, forgive sins when it is received in faith. We'll call that the abuse of impediment. And the abuse of questionable expectations may have the potential of giving rise to the abuse of impediment.

In itself, the nature of the former abuse, of questionable expectations, is somewhat forgivable. The woman who came up behind Jesus to touch the hem of His garment was certainly not chided for expecting something good to happen to her where Jesus had not promised it, and yet, in that case, something good did happen to her, and Jesus certainly did not rebuke her, though she feared He might. Similarly the people who expected something good to happen to them by the shadow of the Apostle Peter passing by were not reproached for this expectation, either by the Apostle, or by St. Luke the writer.

In a curiously similar way, people who expect good to come from proximity to the Sacrament, though it is not specifically promised, may perhaps be forgiven for this (especially the uninformed). They might even benefit from it, for all we know, though we have no promise that they will, and we become uncomfortable with the idea that people might turn to this kind of thing rather than to blessing where blessing is specifically promised and given. That would become the second abuse--I have called it, for lack of a better term, the abuse of impediment. That abuse is certainly the abuse of greatest concern. In fact, the primary difficulty with the abuse of questionable expectation may well be that it leads to the abuse of impediment.

So the matter of the use of a monstrance might be said to fall within the category of questionable expectation, though not necessarily.

Elevation of the elements prior to their reception is certainly not an abuse; yet it is specifically for adoration alone that the elements are elevated. It is a confession that what we are about to receive is truly Christ. No false expectation there, and no impediment. It is a laudable thing to elevate the host and cup.

Hours of adoration before a monstrance seem to fall within the category of questionable expectation, since people come to the church for no other reason than to pray there, before the exposed Sacrament. Put together with the faulty view sometimes promulgated within the Church of Rome that there is more benefit to be gained from merely witnessing the Mass than from receiving the Sacrament, this can be a problem, an abuse of the impediment variety.

Hence, the tabernacle seems a better receptacle for the reliquae than the monstrance, though not necessarily. We certainly would not want to discourage oral reception of the Sacrament. I suppose there might conceivably be a setting in which a monstrance would be understood as the fit receptacle for reliquae waiting to be carried to the sick, though I'm certainly not convinced of it. For my part, I think a tabernacle is preferable, since it is more clearly a place whose intention is reservation for the intended use of the Sacrament, in addition to which it is a safer place, when there is no one keeping guard.

Interestingly, and in spite of this, a recently uncovered reference in Luther indicates that he seems to have thought a monstrance acceptable, believe it or not. German scholar Jurgen Diestelmann has some new evidence which needs to be considered, of which you may expect a review to come forth from the pen of John Stephenson, in the next issue of Logia. Now if Luther recommended a monstrance, whatever else that might mean, it certainly adds weight to the already substantial mound of evidence that he believed that the real presence was not a temporary thing.

And that, of course, is something I am eager to confess. And this was the reason I determined the tabernacle to be ultimately a better thing than a pyx and cruet kept in the sacristy.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

So We're A Little Behind

. . . which, as I always say, is better than being a big behind.

Still, it would be nice if the problem of a Gottesdienst balance below where it really needs to be could be alleviated with a little here, and a little there, from our loyal subscribers and friends of Gottesdienst. Anyone who can spare a little extra, say five or ten bucks even, please click here:

We do have a record of using all our donations efficiently and knowing how to operate well on a shoestring. Thanks in advance!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

St. Paul's on the Air

Here are all the programs we've put up on the web since January. The most recent, which is last on the list, is for Quinquagesima (February 22) and the coming of Lent. Have a listen:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Reserve the Reliquae?

The discussion continues unabated, and I am pleased to find that some even find it edifying. It started, I think, over a post I rather offhandedly made in late January, at Gottesdienst Online about my desire to return to the historic historic readings. This was quickly picked up at, and some folks offhandedly remarked that I was all about innovation. I replied, huh? It turned out that some were a bit uncomfortable about my use of the tabernacle, and so I pulled the discussion in here, at my own blog, first with this post, and then with this one. In all, I count 144 comments made on this matter, in the space of about half a month. As Venkman has noted, it's about as much writing as some M.Div. theses.

Fr. Skillman has recently provided a nice summary on the nature of the entire discussion:

"This and the last major post have constituted a great discussion. Would you agree?

"The questioners are usually thoughtful, kind, and direct. The answerers (yourself included, of course) are thought provoking. I still have some confusion on this subject, but I have been edified by the discussion.

"I trust no one here thinks that this is keeping them from their 'real ministry'. I believe that discussions such as these are part of the 'real ministry'.

"Anyway, what a wonderful discussion. Thanks to you, our host, and the other participants."

I agree, Fr. Skillman, and thank you, too.

Fr. Messer, I alao appreciate your fine impersonation of me in my brief absence yesterday; I am truly flattered. Thank you. And you are right, of course; I couldn't have said better myself what you said:

"Thanks much [to interlocutor Michael Francis] for clarifying your logic. I now understand where you are having trouble with Fr. Eckardt's practice, although I'm confused about your assertion that the only inference you can make regarding Fr. Eckardt's desire to always keep something in reserve is that he does so for the sake of adoration (so that he might always have something to which he might genuflect).

"The reason for my confusion here is because I thought he already gave answer to this above when he stated that he always keeps something in reserve in case an emergency arises and he needs to distribute the Sacrament. His answer was not, 'I always keep something in reserve so that I might have something to adore and something to which I might offer my genuflection'. Why, then, must the only inference at which you can arrive be that he always keeps something in reserve for adoration? It seems to me that another possible inference (indeed, even a solid conclusion) is that he always keeps something in reserve so that he might have the Body and Blood of Christ available for distribution. Thus, where you see a 'glaring contradiction', I see a faithful consistency in his practice.

"Nevertheless, I should probably bow out and allow Fr. Eckardt to speak for himself."

Fr. Messer, you saved me the trouble and time of figuring out how to say the same thing. Again, thanks.

Honestly I have been a bit mystified by Michael Francis' continual allegations that I am being evasive. Rev. McCain makes the same claim, of course. It's a clever ploy to say someone's being evasive rather than to say either that you don't understand what he's saying, or that you simply don't agree with it.

What's puzzling to some is the fact that Mr. Francis is calling me inconsistent because I said that if I were called out to an emergency on a Saturday night, and only one host remained, I would still break it in half and leave half behind. Now the practical answer to that should be self-evident. What if, on returning, say, at 11 p.m. and going home, I should be called out at 2 a.m. on yet another emergency? Responsible reservation dictates perpetual reservation, for this expressed reason: the nature of an emergency is that one never knows when it will happen.

In addition, however, this practice also prevents the awkwardness of having to indicate to parishioners arriving on a Sunday morning after an emergency in which the last host was used, that there happened to be no Sacrament in reserve today, so be sure not to genuflect, for if you did so, you'd be doing so accidentally. To which most would look quizzically and say, huh? Much easier, and more effective, to teach that the elements are in reserve, the eternal light is always lit, and therefore be advised that it is appropriate to genuflect when you enter.

But actually, I'm slightly amused by the allegation that I'm being evasive. Evasiveness implies sneakiness, or having something to hide. Let's see, what could I have to hide? The fact that I desire to adore the body of Christ? But clearly I am not hiding that desire! Would that all the world knew of it!

But no, it's not really that, is it. It's the thought that I would only consecrate them to adore them, even though I made it clear that I meant to consume them (or have them consumed) at some point after adoring them. I guess that would mean it's the thought that I would mainly want to adore them, even more than wanting to consume them.

Well, let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that that were true.

So what?

Would that constitute abuse?

I trow not. For I suggest that someone whose main desire, even during communion, is to consume, more than to adore, is the one who's really being abusive. Consider St. Paul's problem with the Corinthians: "For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not."

For if we consume without adoration--by which we must mean at least some form of acknowledgment of the Incarnate One--we have certainly become guilty of abuse of the Sacrament: "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."

Now just so nobody gets all rankled, I am not accusing anyone here of taking things that far; but I am seeking to draw out some questioning threads so that we might venture to see where they may logically lead.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Join Us at the Table

Every week we have this little radio Program, St. Paul's on the Air, which for the past two years or more has been going out on the local radio station every Sunday morning at 7:30, and, ever since Issues, Etc. was kicked out of the Missouri Synod and launched an internet based station, Pirate Christian Radio, has been appearing there at, I think, around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesdays.

Well actually, if you'd like to have a listen, you can do so any time you want, by going to our own website. In fact, if you want, you can listen right now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Confessional Ingredient in Having a Tabernacle

A hundred and nine comments on one blog post is about enough. One of you owes me an evening with a fine single-malt.

But there are some matters which need further exploration, it seems to me, as opposed to mere hashing over old arguments.

A desire to know my real reasons for building a tabernacle is a fair enough inquiry.

Of course there is the chief reason, mentioned in the former post on this subject (required reading for anyone wanting seriously to contribute to this conversation), which, simply, is that it is the best way to give honor to the reserved elements.

This begs a second reason, which is that, in my view, reservation is preferable to celebrating mass in a hospital room.

There is a third reason, which has been lurking in the background of much of our conversation in the former post, and I was reminded of it by the antepenultimate comment, by a certain Anonymous:

"Which came first:

"- Your desire to take Holy Communion to the shut-ins from the same elements as were used in the Sunday mass, and so you retain it and thus adore it during its retention; or

"- Your desire to adore the elements from the Sunday mass, and so you retain it under the good intention of taking it to the shut-in?

"Trusting that no one here would side with the second half of the question, there is nothing sinful or evil with this practice."

The truth is that what came first was a simple reservation of elements, many years ago, in a fit receptacle in the sacristy. I began to feel uncomfortable with that, and to think that for fitness I could really do better. The members of my parish agreed, and the rest is history.

And yet what happened as a result, almost instantly, I realized how this had become an opportunity to confess the Real Presence against receptionism.

Today, nobody in my parish is afflicted with that ghastly disease, I can tell you. Nor does anyone believe in the Real Withdrawal either. And everyone, including some little children, knows that the church is the place for reverence, because of the Body of Christ on the altar.

I admit that I was a bit unsure, when we went to building the tabernacle, about whether it was worth the grief I knew I would catch for doing it, and whether it was worth the sideways glances even from some of my close friends. But these words were repeating themselves in my mind every time I wondered: This is my body. So I went ahead with the plans.

And I must tell you, it has paid off in spades. For my parish, first (and most importantly), in countless ways. It has taught them in a way worth a thousand words what the Sacrament is, and remains. It has also shown them how very serious I am, as their pastor, about the Holy Mass. And they have learned a sacramental piety for which I am truly grateful.

And secondly, for whomever in the world of people in Lutheranism happens to take notice, it has paid off. It has smoked the ugliness of receptionism out into the open for all to see. Now, before anyone starts fuming here, I am not accusing everyone who disagrees with me here of receptionism. Far from it.

Rather, I am interested in exposing the beast. It is a hideous monster. It forces otherwise pious Christians to think console themselves with regard to spilled elements, or shoddy practices that rot like skeletons in their closets; it acquits them of years of not having had to think the unthinkable: have I desecrated the body of Christ?

And in exchange for that service, the beast gets its pound of flesh: a puny, pitiable religion that doesn't bother to think past the idea that somehow, somewhere out in space the communicant is being united with the body of Christ as he eats this little "wafer." It's enough to make John Calvin proud.

And if someone wants to label me a quatenus subscriber to the Confessions over this, all it tells me, frankly, is that the beast is alive and well. And as long as the beast lives, I will gladly confess, at every opportunity, the body of Christ.

Did you know, that's kind of how the elevation of the host developed? I'm thinking it was the eleventh century, and in France, that the practice of elevating the host began to assert itself, against one Peter the Stammerer, who began teaching a strange new doctrine, probably at Paris. Peter insisted that the host did not become the body of Christ until after all the words of institution were spoken. Against this the faithful, up in arms, began to support a new means of confession against said Peter, namely, a silent pause in the midst of the Verba immediately after the consecration of the first species, in order to elevate it for all to adore.

Not only, therefore, will I defend my decision to erect a tabernacle here; I encourage you, as you are able, to try it as well. You might be as surprised as I was at the results you get.

I'll say one thing: it has made the beast unwelcome in my parish. And that is no small victory.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Happy Birthday Ronaldus Magnus

A walk down memory lane is the perfect balm for souls sickened by this golden opportunity for a spending spree that has the White House (which had been looking forward to it for about a year) and Congress so excited.

Guess what today is? The Gipper's 98th birthday. I couldn't agree more with the caption over at Shining City: "If any day should be a holiday . . ." Amen to that, and thanks for the pic, Jen.

Still at It

The discussion on reserving the reliquae is taking some fascinating turns. Have a look.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Before the Incarnate One

The reason we built a tabernacle at St. Paul's is simple. It has always been my custom to take reserved elements to the sick. I had a place for them in the sacristy, from which I took them. Not ever having been trained in these things, I simply intuited that if the Sacrament was to be reserved, it should be designated, and proper deference should be given to it. It is, after all, the body of Christ. Hence it was only a matter of time until I figured out that the tabernacle would be the best and most salutary way to do that. Though I knew it would lead some to a state near apoplexy, I found myself actually wanting to confess that the reliquae are indeed the body and blood of Christ, and nothing less.

Closet receptionists will here grumble that nothing is a Sacrament apart from the use, but they misread the meaning of that, as I and others have written elsewhere. In short, our rebuttal is simply this: certainly one may not use the body of Christ for some reason other than that for which He gave it, but just as certainly He did not say, "Take eat, this is my body until you are done using it."

A seven-year old child can tell you what the reliquae are, notwithstanding all protestations to the contrary. Jesus said it was His body. Therefore it is.

So now I am being accused again of abusing the Sacrament, in this a recent thread of blog comments over at Historic Lectionary (not by the blog itself, which I find quite helpful, but by a commenter). I am actually being accused of innovations, of all things, among which is: "the tabernacle and the apparent custom of reverencing it apart from its use in the distribution (an issue that I think runs very close to the proscriptions of the Formula)."

See there, very close! Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my! I guess that settles it, I am to be avoided.

As an aside, a careful parsing of the complaint reveals that there is no distinction made there between reverence and adoration. For while I will reverence an empty tabernacle, just as I would an empty altar, I will always adore the body of Christ, and so you will see me genuflecting before a tabernacle being used to house the reliquae. But never mind that.

Another matter at issue here is the maddening use of the Confessions as a club. I recall having written about this somewhere too, and having retorted, Nothing is a Confession apart from the use. The Lutheran Confessions were not written to sit as the ultimate Judge and Dictator of What We Shall Believe. Listen, if you really want to argue theology with me, don't throw the Confessions at me. They are simply a rehearsal of what I believe. They don't tell me what I shall believe, so much as they tell me what I do believe, though I'll grant that the closing words of the Athanasian Creed do come close to the former.

You can't, in short, settle the question of what the reliquae are by some quotation from the Confessions. That, in my book, is what comes close to the proscriptions of the Formula. Take a look at the Formula's opening words if you don't believe me: "We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone."

And as for you who refuse to adore the body of Christ, I could of course quote the Confessions at you, but that could make me guilty of the very offense I am outlining here. I'll just defer to a marvelous quip I remember from Dr. John Stephenson in that regard: "You'd stand before the Incarnate One?"

Sunday, February 01, 2009

You've Got a Friend

There must be some synchronized kinetic energy in the air across Illinois or something. Just yesterday for some odd reason, my thoughts drifted to the old James Taylor songs I used to love. I even learned to play the guitar from his charts. And here I find that Fr. Dave Juhl also posted something about James Taylor yesterday on his blog.

His music has always been soothing, but more than that, as I was thinking, it provided some decency by which a malleable young mind, such as mine was in those days, could by intuition learn to mature. I mean, contrast his lilting nasal ballads with the kind of disgusting material upon which young minds of our day has to feed.

Take You've Got a Friend, for example. Written by Carole King, I think it also uses her voice in the background at the refrain, starting on a sweet major ninth chord, which promises,

You just call out my name,
And you know whereever I am
Ill come running
To see you again.

Winter, spring, summer, or fall
All you've got to do is call
And I'll be there,
You've got a friend.

There's something very good about defining a friend like this, whose promise is so altruistic and unassuming.

It wasn't only the music of the 1970's that was better than what plays on FM these days; it was the lyrics too.