Thursday, May 21, 2009

When Is there Too Much Ceremony? and What about the Pentecost Vigil?

Too much ceremony? Can there be too much?

I believe there can be.

[Pause, to let the shock of hearing this from the editor of Gottesdienst sink in]

Luther did too, actually. As I recall reading, he nixed a number of the baptismal ceremonies, even while retaining a great many of them, as he felt some of them distracted from the meaning of Baptism itself.

And our Confessions also warn against-what is it?-the baptizing of bells, I think, and other such superfluous ceremonies.

This brings me to the subject of the Vigil of Pentecost.

According to the traditional Western Rite, as I understand it, the Vigil of Pentecost contains a number of rituals not normally seen in Western churches these days, to say nothing of Lutheran churches.

At the third (baptismal) part, the rubrics call for a number of elaborate ceremonies sometimes said to be "of high antiquity" (whatever that means).

The Paschal Candle is in use for this, having returned since its removal after Ascension Day (memo: after the Ascension Gospel is read, the Paschal Candle is extinguished, and after the mass, it is removed altogether).

So among the ceremonies, which take place at the font, the candle is dipped three times in the water, the pastor blows upon the water in the form of a cross and of an upsilon (a very awkward thing to do, it seems to me), and the pastor takes water from the font and casts some in each of the four directions. And there are words and prayers which accompany all this.

So here's my question. Is this a bit too much? Frankly, right now I think so. I have done this in the past, and even then I wondered.

I'm beginning to think that these things strike as adding too much ceremony, to the point of distraction. Using baptismal water for things other than Baptism is problematic, it seems to me. On the other hand, one does use baptismal water to make the sign on one's forehead when this option is available (as, for instance, at the Fort Wayne seminary). But one could argue that in this case the water is being used as a physical reminiscence of actual Baptism.

But in the case of exsufflation on the font, and casting the waters here and there, I think the connection is more difficult to make.

So here I am in the middle. Protestants would recoil at the ceremonies simply becuase they are lavish. And I recoil at the thought of being labeled a Protestant. In the end, I want to do what's right.



David said...

Our Savior, Momence will celebrate the Vigil of Pentecost without the extra-ceremonial of the Mass.

I would have to do more research on the day but, yes, I'm there with you Fritz. There can be too much ceremony that covers up the essence of the rite.

Good post. Thank you.

Scott Diekmann said...

Thoughts? Yes! Is the word "exsufflation" something all pastors know, or just you Pastor Eckardt? :>)

The whole thing seems to be a bit over the top, especially if the parishioners do not understand the significance of the various ceremonies.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Sorry. Exsufflation means that the pastor breathes on something or someone.

As I said, I tried it once, and it seemed over the top.

Anonymous said...

Then don't blow so hard! :)

I always liked when our parish priest blew upon the waters when there was a baptism...the ruach...

maybe don't excise the ritual but possibly modify?

dan pharr

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks for bringing this up, Father. It has caused me to ponder the question, and so I have prepared a modest blog post on it. If interested, please read:

Dcn. Muehlenbruch said...

Fr. Eckardt,

I tend to agree with you that there can be too much ceremony

[Pause, to let the shock of hearing this from the Deacon sink in]

The repetition of the blessing of the baptismal font at Pentecost, most likely, is a remnant of the time when baptisms were performed Pentecost because it was too cold at Easter to do them then. (It would not be out of the question to wait until after the Spring thaw before trooping the candidates down to the river.)

As a result, the attendant ceremonies would be (perhaps were) omitted at the Easter Vigil, and would be (were) supplied at the Vigil of Pentecost.

There would be no liturgical reason to repeat these ceremonies at Pentecost if baptisms had already taken place at Easter.

It would appear that this is not a case of too much ceremony; but a question repeating ceremonies that have already been performed at the
Easter Vigil.

This repetition would not be necessary if Pentecost baptisms were also being celebrated. In this case, the baptismal water that was blessed at Easter would be used without the reduplication of the attendant ceremonies.

Therefore, I would suppose that the ceremonial of the blessing of the baptismal font would have taken place at Easter or at Pentecost; but not at both.

To repeat these ceremonies does seem to be too much ceremony.