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?"