Friday, June 27, 2014


   How does one receive the gifts of Christ Jesus? The “old man” doesn’t even want them to be sure, so we understand that our own recalcitrant nature wants only to grab and take the “way we want”…when we want [hence the refusal of many to countenance Every Sunday Mass].

   We do well to let Jesus inform us even as He continues to mold our bodies and souls in His cruciform .  The Lord tells the prickly and controlling “12”: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” [Lk 18. 16-17].   Certainly the paradigm for entrance into the Lord’s sheepfold is as little lambs not self sufficient Billy Goats. Passivity.

   Much has been written recently in Roman Catholic publications (especially online) about the aberration to centuries of official teaching on both the propriety and rule of Communion “on the tongue.” The Church of Trent (and long before) up until the notorious Vatican II Council knew nothing of receiving The Lord’s precious Body in the communicants hand.

   We are not Romanists and are not bound by some Ecclesial “law” but nonetheless share in their traditions of the Western patrimonies.  Save for only one (1) reference to the permissibility of communion “in the hand” by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem—and that reference coming from the disputed Fifth Mystagogical Lecture (perhaps we should say “Pseudo-Cyril”) all Church Fathers write of the Holy Communion “on the tongue” as the rule and norm.  Even Saint Basil who seems to make an exception does so only in matters of extreme emergency and persecution.

   So, while not bound by a “law” nor constrained by a virtual unanimity of Patristic consensus, we of the Evangelical Lutheran persuasion are buoyed by the traditions of 2,000 years which are meet and right.  How So?

   Novelty is to be eschewed and the “thing” should always inform the “doing.” That is, the “essence of what we believe” should be observed in what and how we “teach and confess.”

   We genuflect at the Verba not because we like ostentatious gestures and showmanship from our pastors and lay but because we truly believe we are in the presence of The Living and Present God/Man!  Might this not be a, or even “the” perfect reason to receive our Lords Immaculate Body on the tongue and not in “our” hands? Yes.

   In our age of relaxed casualness and “buddy-buddy-familiarity” might it not be salutary to let the Lord come into our sinful selves in passivity—the passivity of Holy Spirit worked faith?

   How are we fed by our loving and caring parents when we are children? Babes are fed by the hands of their parents and caregivers and do nothing save open their little mouths. How are we fed at the end our long travails when we lie dying on our beds? The old and infirm parents are fed by the hands of their dear children and grandchildren and do nothing save open their aged mouths. All sustenance is ultimately a pure gift and the receipt of Grace. Even those little birds that The Christ loves so much that not one falls without His knowledge, [Mt. 10. 29] receive their daily bread (or worm) by the act of mamma Robin dropping the life into their hungry little gullets.

   Communion “in the hand” is not a sin but does it not add to the lessening of The Mystery of the Hosts true “res?”  

   As for me and my house—we will gladly join with Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Augustine, Ambrose, Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard, Wilhelm Loehe, and two millennia of Saints and simply open our mouths, tilt back our heads, and join in the great “Amen” to the words: “The Body of Christ for you.” 

--Fr. Jay Watson SSP

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

[A homily for our upcoming Lords Day]

Saint Matthew 16. 13-20
Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles: 29 June Anno + Domini 2014
Fr Jay Watson SSP

In The + Name of Jesus

   The Son of Man martyrs His Kingdom to you. The King is His Kingdom. The Savior is Salvation and He gives you Himself!

   To be a Christian is to follow Christ yes, but to follow as a wounded lamb—lost, impotent, and blind—means to be carried. To be a Christian means to be IN CHRIST. Jesus is I AM the God/Man. He is neither coach nor magic genii but exactly Who Holy Scripture reveals Him to be. Who is He?

   One day upon the rocky mountainous region of Caesarea Philippi He told the “12.” He continues to tell His disciples by His same words and presence.

   He told Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

   “Whom do men say that I The Son of man am?”

    Unbelievers might answer a holy and wise teacher. Pagans could retort a revolutionary or mystic healer. Men unaided by Graces revelation, using only the eyes in their head or their reason, will say: “John the Baptist, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.”

   But Christ Jesus is not like John a “voice.” He IS The eternally begotten Word. He is not “a” lamp to guide the way to the source. HE IS The Light of the world, light of light, the very source Himself. The Lord is not Elias, one who raised a child from the dead and who himself was ascended bodily into heaven. He IS The very Resurrection Himself Who will raise all flesh from the dust; He is The One Who first descended from heaven with flesh and blood and Who ascended with the same Body to the right hand of majesty. The Nazarene is not one of the prophets. He IS The Prophet of the Godhead.

   To know these things is a gift from God. This revealed knowledge—faith—comes from The Father through The + Son by The Spirit. 

   He questions some of the elect on Caesarea Philippi for their benefit and for the elect gathered here today by The Spirit. “But whom say ye that I am?” Simon of Capernaum, and prince of the Apostles answers correctly: “Thou art the Christ, The Son of the living God.” This man Simon called Petros, (Peter) by Jesus is indeed the rock man for his stone-certain answer is a gift from Jesus’ Father “Who art in heaven.” This revealed faith is a gift from the God/Man standing in front of Peter’s face—the very countenance and image of The Father in the visage of Mary’s son!

   This is both Who and how. This Jesus is The Son of Man Who martyrs His Kingdom to you in His Word and in His Body and Blood.

   Today the Church Catholic is gathered to be fed this faith and garmented with this grace which is Jesus! The Church is both a world-wide communion of Saints but also a trans-generational (pan-chronological) Flock of all time and space. We commemorate our Brothers in Christ: Saints Peter and Paul. In these heroes you see the totality of all Jews and Gentiles gathered into Christs one body. You worship the Redeemer not only with angels and archangels but also with the fisherman and tent-making Saints.

   This is salutary for “their sound is gone out into all the earth; and their words to the end of heaven.” The words, spoken by apostles, pastors, and laity, are the Words of Christ! You are family. Jesus says “I have chosen you out of the world that ye should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain.”

   Do you bring forth good fruit and good works? Do you love God more than anything and is it reflected in your worship and walk? Do you love your neighbor as yourself; seeking his well being physically and spiritually? No. You don’t love perfectly; neither did Saint Paul and Saint Peter. One doubted the resurrection and rejected it. One betrayed his Master and one tried to capture and kill His followers. One had little faith on the Sea of Galilee and one knew his buffeting and thorn so well that he correctly claimed the approbation “chief of sinners.” But both were touched by hand of God in Christ and sealed by the Spirit. This is “the Spirit of Truth [Who] will guide you into all Truth,” that “ye shall be My witnesses because ye have been with me from the beginning.”

   You and the Apostles have been with Him from before the beginning—In His love which is His predestination of you. Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you for “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” But The Son of Man martyrs His Kingdom to you. His Flesh and Blood reveals to you your heritage and lineage. His Blood and Water washed you clean and placed you into His heart. His Blood was shed for your trespasses and His Body was given unto suffering and death in your stead.

   “Blessed are you Simon Bar Jonah” for the greater Jonah Who burst forth from death and not just from a great fish loves you and forgives you. Blessed are you Saul of Tarsus for the real King, not Saul, not even David, is your God and Lord Who has come to you “one born out of time” and made you one of the “12” to be His ambassador to the barbarians. Blessed are you brethren for you have been chosen in The Martyr to join this host…with James and Stephen proto-martyrs; with Elias and John Baptizer martyrs from the Old to the beginning of the eternal. Blessed are all you Saints “when ye are persecuted for My + Names sake for the Kingdom of heaven is yours.”

   Peters bold confession as well as his person was the rock upon which Christ built His Church. The Confession of John Baptizer “behold the Lamb of God,” and his beheading, was a confession upon which Christ built His Church.  Pauls missionary zeal and evangelism to the ends of the earth was a confession upon which Christ built His Church. Your own + Baptisms and confessions of faith in word and deed are the testimonies upon which Christ builds His Church.

   In Jesus—His Word and His Blood, all Christians are martyrs—i.e. “witnesses.” You at this juncture are “white martyrs” cut off from sin in Baptism (buried into death with Him). Saints Peter and Paul are “red martyrs” shedding their blood in testimony to their beloved Lord. The Church, Jesus Kingdom, is built on these pillars by and in His Holy Precious Blood. The Son of Man martyrs His Kingdom to you.

   “Whom say ye that He is?” Your words of the Nicene Creed are still echoing in the Kingdoms banquet room. Peter’s bold confession is yours. But, who does The Son of Man say that all of you are? “Ye are my brothers and sisters; ye are my lambs, my children; ye are my friends and my family; ye are Forgiven”---

In The Name of The Father and of The + Son and of The Holy Ghost

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

There Is More to the Ordo than Words

What does it profit a synod to recapture the Ordo, but continue to forfeit its theology?

This is the question I have for my confessional brethren who argue that, if we can come to an agreement in our synod that "the Ordo is non-negotiable," it will suffice in bringing a cessation to our worship wars. I wish I was as optimistic as some of them seem to be, and I do certainly appreciate their sentiment, but I just don't think that will do it. I should also add, before continuing, that I do realize that there are many of my brethren who acknowledge that making the Ordo non-negotiable would be but a first, salutary step in healing our synodical divide on the worship front. I can agree with that. It would indeed be a first, salutary step. But, it cannot be the last step.

Years ago, I had an LCMS pastor say to me, "The liturgy is still there; it's just hidden." This was in response to me questioning him about what had happened to the liturgical service, which was now replaced with a contemporary praise service. He believed that he was staying true to AC/AP XXIV by keeping all of the liturgical elements in place, but substituting them with CCM songs (e.g., "Here I Am to Worship" by Michael W. Smith in place of the Kyrie, or "Lord, I Lift Your Name On High" by Rick Founds in place of the Creed, etc.). He was wrong. These substitutions not only failed to keep the liturgy in tact, as he believed, but they also put forth a different confession of the faith that is most definitely not in line with our Lutheran confession of the faith. Which makes sense, of course, since the writers of these songs are not Lutherans.

Keeping the Ordo in tact is not a matter of counting the number of liturgical elements in the Divine Service and making sure to have the same number of songs to replace them in a pieced-together invention of a pastor's, or worship team's, creative imagination. The words of the Ordo must be kept in tact wholesale, or it's not the same Ordo. Words matter, after all. Those words were carefully and specifically chosen by our fathers in the church catholic for a reason. They are God's words (or, God's Word). They come directly from Holy Scripture and retell the story of our salvation through Christ, our Lord, each time we are gathered in His Presence, and, more than that, deliver that salvation to us via His Holy Word and Sacraments. Those words work together in the Ordo to become the language spoken and confessed by the faithful. They are Holy Words confessed by Holy People in God's Holy House in the Presence of their Holy Lord. They are not to be substituted with words composed by individuals, which pour forth from their hearts and emotions to reveal how they personally feel about God. To do so is to replace the Church's confession of the faith with this or that individual's love songs to God. It doesn't work. It can't work.

However, I would also argue that the Ordo is not kept in tact simply by keeping the words of the liturgy in place. I've witnessed the attempt to do this, and it doesn't work any better than substituting CCM songs for each liturgical element. In fact, I think these so-called blended services are even worse than full-blown contemporary praise services. I attended a District function once that began with "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord," then went through the liturgy until the Hymn of the Day, which was another CCM song (thus, NOT a hymn!), then followed the liturgy again until more CCM songs were used in place of hymns, and so forth. I know this was a well-intentioned attempt to please everyone, but it was just a train wreck. And, it didn't accomplish its goal anyway, as neither the liturgical crowd nor the contemporary crowd was pleased. Everyone was just confused. The only people something like that could please are those who simply don't know any better. If you're going to go contemporary, just go all the way. At least, then, people know what they're getting.

So, the Ordo is not kept in tact either with the substitutionary method or with the blended method. We can say it is all we want, but we're just lying to ourselves. The only way the Ordo can truly be kept in tact is if the words are kept in tact and the hymnody employed matches those words. But, even then, it can all be ruined through poor preaching and irreverent behavior. If the hymnal is used verbatim from the liturgy and only hymns from the hymnal are sung, that's great, but it can all be for naught if the pastor's preaching doesn't jive with what is confessed in the liturgy and hymnody. Granted, the liturgy and hymnody can rescue the people from poor preaching, which is something we liturgical folks like to point out as one of the best arguments for their employment, but a consistent dose of "how-to," motivational messages, rather than Law-Gospel sermons, can (and will) lead the people astray, despite the liturgy and hymnody. In other words, Lutheran preaching must accompany Lutheran liturgy and hymnody for the Ordo to be truly kept in tact.

Likewise, irreverent behavior and nonchalance can also prevent the Ordo from being kept in tact. We confess that ceremonies teach, and we are right to confess that, because they do. Ceremonies do not have to be the same everywhere, to be sure, but this does not mean that "anything goes," as many seem to believe. Reverence is not optional. We confess that we retain the Mass, religiously defend it, and celebrate it with the highest reverence. This, of course, doesn't mean that we all must bow at all the right places or genuflect and elevate or chant or hold our hands a certain way, and so forth, but what it does mean is that we must behave as if we're in our Lord's Holy House, where He continues to Tabernacle among us in His Flesh and Blood. All frivolity is out if we are to keep the Ordo in tact. 

All of this is to say that there is a lot more involved to keeping the Ordo in tact than sticking to the words in our hymnals. There is more to the Ordo than words on pages. I pray that we're not going to settle for some self-defined lowest common denominator, and then, once achieved (if ever), pat ourselves on the backs as if we've brought the worship wars among us to a peaceful conclusion. If we're going to shoot for recapturing the Ordo among us, let us keep plowing forward until our churches of the Augsburg Confession can be recognized as the "our churches believe, teach, confess, and practice . . ." described in that Confession. For that to happen, not only must the words of the liturgy be kept, but the hymnody must match those words, as well as the preaching and the ceremonies employed, all of which are focused on the voice of our Good Shepherd and His Bodily Presence at the Holy Altar.

Or, to put all of this another way, look at the picture at the top of this post and imagine that both of those congregations say the exact same words of the liturgy (i.e., follow the same Ordo). Would that really be enough? Really?     

Sunday, June 15, 2014

2014 SSP Retreat

Last week (June 10-13), our Society held its first Retreat since 2009. We gathered at Toddhall Retreat and Conference Center in Columbia, IL, which is a fabulous venue and was the perfect setting for us. The Tyndale House was our place of residence during our stay at Toddhall, and it was simply sublime. Very comfortable and, as a bonus, it connected right to St. Cecilia's Chapel, where we gathered several times daily to pray some of the Daily Offices and to receive our Lord's Gifts at Holy Mass.

The theme of our Retreat this year was "He Who Has Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear: The Parables of Our Lord Jesus Christ." We heard excellent sermons preached by the Fathers in attendance every day on various of our Lord's parables, and spent time studying a few of them in depth together. In addition, Fr. Richard Futrell gave an excellent presentation on "New Covenant Worship as the Fulfillment of Old Covenant," showing in detailed fashion the connection between the two Covenants and the continuity between them when it comes to how God's people worship Him.

Our Retreat began Tuesday afternoon. After checking in and getting settled, we gathered in the chapel for Holy Mass at 4:00 p.m. (Votive Mass of the Holy Angels), with Fr. Larry Beane serving as Celebrant and myself as Preacher. After Mass, I made my world-famous brats (okay, maybe not world famous, but pretty good, nonetheless) and Fr. Larry's wonderful wife, Grace, assisted me in the kitchen, preparing sides and salad. We rounded off the day with me leading a discussion on the theme of the Retreat, as well as introducing a publishing project for our Society to the Fathers and Brothers in attendance, which was well received and will begin to be implemented in the next couple of months. We also had ample time to relax, visit, and shoot the breeze with one another throughout the afternoon/evening, and gathered to pray Compline to end our day, with Dcn. Joe Greene serving as liturgist (as he did each evening at Compline). Our Retreat was off to a great start!

Wednesday began with Matins at 7:30 a.m., with Fr. Aaron Filipek serving as Liturgist and Preacher, blessing us with a proclamation on the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We gathered for breakfast at the Toddhall Dining Hall at 8:30 a.m. and were back in the chapel at 10:00 a.m. for Holy Mass (Feast of St. Barnabas), with Fr. Richard Futrell serving as Celebrant and Fr. Jay Watson as Preacher. At 11:00 a.m., Fr. Richard gave the first part of his presentation, mentioned above, and we followed that with the Office at Sext at 12:15 p.m., with me serving as Liturgist and St. Cyril of Alexandria as our Preacher. Then, it was off to lunch in the Dining Hall at 12:30 p.m. and back to the Tyndale House at 2:00 p.m. for the second part of Fr. Richard's presentation. We prayed Vespers at 3:30 p.m., with Fr. William Weedon serving as Liturgist and Preacher, sharing an excellent homily on the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, then we gathered for dinner in the Dining Hall at 5:30 p.m. We had a couple hours of free time until we gathered at 8:00 p.m. to hear Dcn. Latif Gaba give a presentation on "The History of the Society of Saint Polycarp," which lead into a discussion and brainstorming on the Society going forward. Compline to round off the day.

Thursday again began with Matins at 7:30 a.m., with Fr. Larry serving as Liturgist and Fr. Richard serving as Preacher, holding forth on the Parable of the Talents. After Matins, Grace made us breakfast, employing the farm-fresh eggs Dcn. Joe brought for us, and then we were off to pay a visit to the International Center of the LCMS. Unfortunately, Fr. Richard had to leave after Matins to attend to an unexpected death in his parish, so he wasn't able to join us for our visit to the I.C. and had to miss the remainder of the Retreat. Fr. William left early on Thursday to head over to the I.C., as he was serving as Liturgist and Preacher for chapel there at 10:00 a.m. When we arrived at the I.C. a little before 10:00 a.m., Fr. William greeted us and showed us to the chapel, where he lead Responsive Prayer 1 and preached a short homily on Acts 2 (the Day of Pentecost) to all who were in attendance. After the Service, he introduced us as "his brethren in the Society of Saint Polycarp," as well as all the other guests who were there that day. Then, he lead us on a tour of the I.C., which included taking us into the Executive Offices, where the Rev. Dr. Jon Vieker (Senior Assistant to the President) graciously showed us around. Unfortunately, President Harrison wasn't in that morning, but we all got to sit in his chair and pretend to be "king for a day." :)

After touring the I.C., we went out for lunch to a restaurant Fr. William recommended, where everyone but Leo (Fr. Larry's awesome son) and me ordered sirloin tip salad (or something like that), per Fr. William's suggestion, while Leo and I ordered sandwiches, as is normal for lunch. :) (Actually, the salad thingy everyone got looked very good and they all raved about how delicious it was; but, the sandwiches were pretty good, too). After lunch, it was back to Toddhall for Holy Mass at 1:30 p.m., with Fr. William serving as Celebrant and Fr. Larry as Preacher. Then, we relaxed until it was time for Vespers at 4:30 p.m., with Fr. Aaron serving as Liturgist and me as Preacher, tackling the Parable of the Good Samaritan. After Vespers, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant called "Who-Dats," which served New Orleans food and made the Beane family feel right at home. In the evening, we were tremendously blessed to be lead in a study of the Parable of the Sower by Fr. Larry and a study of the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector by Fr. William. Both of these learned brothers presented us with some of the best teaching on these parables any of us has ever received, which lead into fantastic and deep discussions of them. It was like a Bible Study on steroids. Truly awesome! Then, we closed our night by praying Compline again.

Friday, our last day of the Retreat, began with Matins at 7:30 a.m., with Fr. William serving as Liturgist and Fr. Jay serving as Preacher, proclaiming the Good News of Isaiah 65:17-25 and the Parable of the Ten Virgins. After Matins, we took a little break to set up the altar and then celebrated Holy Mass (Votive Mass of the Holy Cross), with Fr. Aaron serving as Celebrant and me as Preacher. After Mass, Grace cooked us another delicious breakfast with Dcn. Joe's eggs and then it was time to pack up and depart by 11:00 a.m.

That's a rundown of our time together, but it doesn't do justice to how enormously blessed we were at this Retreat. Lots of time to relax and enjoy our time together, lots of laughs, some good drinks and cigars, good food, lots of theological discussion and reflection, and being in our Lord's Holy House to receive His Holy Word and Sacraments multiple times daily - well, it just doesn't get any better than that! And, we were so impressed with the facilities at Toddhall and the kind folks who run it that we have already set the date and reserved the Tyndale House and St. Cecilia's Chapel for next year's Retreat, which will be held Tuesday, June 9 - Friday, June 12.

Special thanks to Grace for cooking and cleaning for us during our stay, and to Leo, who lead most of our meal prayers IN LATIN, which was very impressive. Fr. Larry is blessed with a wonderful family. Special thanks also to Fr. William for playing the organ/piano during many of our Services, and for leading us on a tour of the I.C., and to Dcn. Joe for bringing the eggs and leading us in Compline each night, and to Frs. Richard, Larry, and William, and Dcn. Latif for their Presentations/Bible Studies, and to all the Fathers who preached and celebrated. It was all outstanding; I really don't know how it could have gone any better than it did.

Can't wait for next year's Retreat!

In Christ,
Fr. Thomas Messer
SSP Dean

+ Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam! +