Friday, June 27, 2014

RECEIVING CHRISTS PRECIOUS BODY

   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]

“THE SON OF MAN MARTYRS HIS KINGDOM TO YOU”
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

Sunday, June 22, 2014

To Thee, O Lord, I Show My Wounds

One of the prayers I often use before Mass is a prayer of Saint Ambrose, the great fourth century bishop of Milan.  One line in that prayer goes like this:
To Thee, O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. 
As I ponder those words in the moments before Mass, it often proves helpful that, at Luther Memorial Chapel, there is within my sight a large crucifix above the altar.  For I have come to see that while this line references my own filth and unworthiness, it is also a wonderful reminder that there is One Who also shows His wounds, and lays bare His shame.  He shows them to His Father, and He shows them to us. 

In the minutes before the start of Mass, the Christian has the opportunity interiorly to bare his soul, as it were, before the holy God, and to ponder both his great need for forgiveness and healing and the fact that he is about to receive God's forgiveness and healing lavishly set before us in Christ's Word and Sacrament.  I hasten to add that the Christian has also the rich opportunity to do the same thing quite orally in the Sacrament of private Confession. 

And when he thus bares his wounds, and lays bare his shame, whether interiorly before the Holy Supper or orally in Confession, it is encouraging to consider Christ crucified as clearly set before us, for there He shows us His wounds.  His wounds remind us simultaneously of our sin and shame, on the one hand, for that is what they reflect, that is what He bears thereby, and of our salvation and healing, on the other hand, for by those wounds we are healed.  His wounds are so deep they have the capacity to bear and swallow up even our sin.  His wounds are an invitation for us to find our consolation within them.  Indeed, sacramentally speaking, we do just that. 
Today I was reminded of these thoughts in a special way by the Gospel read in the Mass.  For in that holy lection, from the second half of the sixteenth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, we hear of Lazarus, the beggar whose body is full of sores.  His is the position of the Christian, whose blessed role is that of beggar.  Yet Lazarus also portrays for us the Christ, Who lays bare His shame, and His sores, for all to see.  Of course He did this in the historical event of His passion and death, and obviously we portray His wounds in Christian art, but let us never forget that it is in the Blessed Sacrament itself that, in a unique way, we proclaim His death until He comes.  There outside the gate, we go out to meet Him, and find our consolation in those wounds, licking, as it were, His sacred sores. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Reverence of the Early Church Toward the Eucharist

When Lutherans advocate and practice traditional reverent care for all clear and discernible particles of the consecrated bread and wine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, are they relapsing into a thirteenth century vintage scholasticism rejected by the Blessed Reformer?  This is the view of some, and must be answered anew at every opportunity. 

Certainly such care and reverence is not a departure from the theology and practice of the Reformer himself, as has been amply shown elsewhere.  But is it even the case that it arises only out of late medieval theology and rubricism?  We might not be so quick to entertain such ideas if we go back a millenium earlier, and give a fair hearing to the early church. 

And so, for example, from the third century, let us consider these words of Origen, who gives witness to a practice which might not be universal, but was certainly commonly known in his day.
You who are accustomed to attending the divine mysteries know how, when you receive the body of the Lord, you guard it with all care and reverence lest any small part should fall from it, lest any piece of the consecrated gift be lost.


As further food for thought, I suggest that this witness, in itself, implies the likelihood that this type of practice and level of care for the Sacrament predates the third century, and goes back into the silent age of the first few centuries, the age when the Sacrament was considered such an awesome mystery that it was considered best for the most part not even to speak or write about it publically, and comports with the care intimated in the Church of the first century, which is the true ecclesial context of the Gospel of John, wherein our Lord instructs after the miraculous feeding in John 6,  "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Glimpse of the 2006 Retreat





The Society of Saint Polycarp had its first recorded retreat in the year 2006.  Four of us were able to meet that year.  From left to right in this picture we have Joe Greene, Fr. Dave Juhl, Fr. Larry Beane, and it seems that Latif was there as well.  Brother Joe has since been made a deacon, and even in his prediaconal days he was graciously sharing the bounty of his family farm.  Father David, erstwhile member of our Society, invited us into his home and parish.  He, his family, and his parish (Trinity, Iuka, IL), showed great hospitality and gave us a memorable retreat.  Father Larry was at the time, indeed for several years, the dean of the Society, and from the looks of things, was celebrant on this occasion. 

I recall much prayer, fraternal conversation, and a good discussion of Michael O'Brien's novel, Father Elijah.  Of course, a retreat wouldn't quite be a retreat without the Holy Mass.  And before we headed home, we concluded by praying the Itinerarium.  All in all, it was an excellent retreat, and it set the stage for the ones to follow.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why I Kneel

The traditional practice of kneeling for the celebration of the Eucharist is one which I embrace, whether at my own home parish, or really in any place I might find myself.  And so, I would not be surprised if some people see this behavior and are unsure what to make of it.  For their sake, and for the benefit of the general reader, I offer this brief reflection on why it is that I kneel in church.

According to Lutheran doctrine, doctrine that is rock solid and stands firm against all opposition because it derives from the Word of Christ Himself, the bread of the Lord's Supper is the very Body of Christ, and the wine of the Supper is the very Blood of Christ. To be clear, when I say "of the Lord's Supper," what I mean is the valid celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, not the documented cases of liturgical fraud perpetrated by so-called deacons and so-called vicars who think it is their place to play pastor. Let me also clarify that the reason Lutherans traditionally add the word "very" to such a statement is to signify that when we say "body" we actually mean Christ's own real body, His true flesh and blood. This doctrine cannot be emphasized enough in today's religious milieu, wherein Protestants, Roman Catholics, and even many Lutherans fail to appreciate what it is that Lutheran theology holds regarding the presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist.

When, for example, Lutheran theology speaks of the consecrated bread as bread, neither is it a denial of the presence of Christ's holy Body in the Sacrament nor does it imply a so-called consubstantiation. It is, rather, an insistence on taking every part of the Words of Christ's Testament seriously, and an understanding that there is no need to infer an annihilation of the physical elements that were placed upon the altar. I do fear, however, that too many Lutherans have been cheated out of being trained properly, by catechesis as well as by liturgical example, in the wonderful, awesome, and comforting reality of the presence of Christ's very body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, and so in many cases are actually harmed by hearing the Lutheran teachers in their life who tend only to speak of the consecrated bread, to the exclusion of it being the real Body of Christ in our midst.

Consider for a moment the genius of Luther's Little Catechism on the what of the Eucharist:
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.
Every part of that statement is important and meaningful, yet the very core statement by which it begins, that initial duodecimal verba, is a statement which is true in and of itself. It is true that the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament are sub pane et vino, yet if one cannot bring himself simply to say of what is in the hand of the celebrant, after the Words of Consecration have been spoken, that it is the very Body of Christ, then he has yet to appreciate the eucharistic realism of Lutheran doctrine. That is, he has yet to appreciate the reality of what is going on in his midst. Nor does Luther in this brief definition feel the need to resort to any of the handy formulae to which we have become so accustomed, like the ubiquitous prepositionally plentiful formula in, with, and under, though some feel it to be sine qua non to the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament.

In fact, while I don't absolutely condemn them, it is worth noting here that conceptions such as the spatial prepositions in, with, and under are understood by Luther (eg., the Great Confession of 1528) and the Lutheran Confessions (Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration VII) to be inferior to the plain identification language of Christ's own testament. Consider, eg., this riff in the Great Confession:
Even if nothing but bread and wine were present in the Supper, and yet I tried, simply for my own satisfaction, to express the thought that Christ's body is in the bread, I still could not say anything in a more certain, simpler, and clearer way than, "Take, eat, this is my body." For if the text read, "Take, eat, in the bread is my body," or, "With the bread is my body," or "Under the bread is my body," it would immediately begin to rain, hail, and snow a storm of fanatics crying, "You see! do you hear that? Christ does not say, 'This bread is my body,' but, 'In the bread, or with the bread, or under the bread is my body!'" And they would cry, "Oh, how gladly we would believe if he had said, 'This is my body;' this would have been distinct and clear. But he actually says, 'In the bread, with the bread, under the bread, so it does not follow that his body is present." Thus a thousand evasions and glosses would have been devised over the words "in, with, and under," no doubt with greater plausibility and less chance of stopping it than now. (306)

Luther would have us recognize with the eyes of faith, first of all, the radical and wonderful reality that in the Blessed Sacrament the real Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are present. His Body and Blood are present not merely when we have engaged in all of the requisite action of the sacrament, but by His Word spoken by His called and ordained Minister over the bread and wine in the eucharistic celebration. The Words which bring about that which they declare are Christ's. The priest and celebrant of the Sacrament is Christ. So no, it is not the celebrant's act of speaking the words that makes the Sacrament, nor his faith, nor our faith, but Christ's own testament and Word, which He declares in our midst through the mouth of His servant, and by that Word and testament (made effective like all testaments must be, ie., by the death of the one who gave it), His real flesh and blood are present, right there on the altar.

Now before proceeding, let me emphasize that the stark terms by which I describe the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament are intentional and chosen with due consideration. But does this not mean that the Lutherans believe in a sort of cannibalism? No. For that notion implies a mode of Christ's presence by which He is present in a circumscribed manner, and is gradually eaten up, part after part (as though one person takes this part of Christ's arm, and the next takes His little finger, etc.). Yet we have always taught, with Thomas Aquinas and all of churchly tradition, that Christ's holy Body is given out, in each particle, to the first as to the millionth. He gives His all to each one. While He is consumed by the communicant, yet His presence, like the burning bush of old, is never consumed. As Luther said to Zwingli at Marburg in 1529, "God is above all mathematics." Or as we confess in the great seventeenth century hymn by Johann Franck:
Human reason, though it ponder,
Cannot fathom this great wonder
That Christ's Body e'er remaineth
Though it countless souls sustaineth
And yet we need not shy away from realistic terminology in order to protect ourselves from the accusations of a capernaitic or cannibalistic eating. These charges are baseless, and we need not buy into their premise. So Luther, for example, in his Great Confession of 1528, is bold to assert that the communicant tears Christ's Body with teeth and tongue:
Therefore, it is entirely correct to say, if one points to the bread, “This is Christ’s body,” and whoever sees the bread sees Christ’s body, as John says that he saw the Holy Spirit when he saw the dove, as we have heard. Thus also it is correct to say, “He who takes hold of this bread, takes hold of Christ’s body; and he who eats this bread, eats Christ’s body; he who crushes this bread with teeth or tongue, crushes with teeth or tongue the body of Christ.” And yet it remains absolutely true that no one sees or grasps or eats or chews Christ’s body in the way he visibly sees and chews any other flesh. What one does to the bread is rightly and properly attributed to the body of Christ by virtue of the sacramental union.
Luther did not invent this realism; we see great precedent for it. First, of course, I would argue that we have Christ's own preaching, given to us by the beloved disciple, in his sixth chapter, where Jesus is bold to use an earthy, realistic verb like trogein, which gives the picture of chewing and masticating. I bring this up, knowing that John six, and its place in a theology of the eucharist, is much controverted among Lutherans, and will be dismissed out of hand by many. We also have a long tradition of theological and devotional testimony, stretching from the early church through the medieval age. Take, for example, Berengar's often forgotten first confession of 1059, which speaks of the body of Christ being chewed by the teeth of the faithful. Or take these words of St. John Chrysostom from the fourth century:
Wherefore this also Christ hath done, to lead us to a closer friendship, and to show his love for us; he hath given to those who desire him not only to see him, but even to touch, and eat him, and fix their teeth in his flesh, and to embrace him, and satisfy all their love. (quoted in Alvin F. Kimel's article, "Eating Christ", Pro Ecclesia Vol. XIII, no.1)

Or take this prayer to the eucharistic Lord, ie, the Sacred Species after the consecration:
Hail forever, most holy flesh of Christ, before all else and above all else the highest sweetness! Hail forever, heavenly drink, before all else and above all else the highest sweetness! (a medieval prayer, from the Sarum Missal, quoted in Kimel's article as above)

And despite how some mistakenly use a passage in the Formula of Concord as a statement against the stark realism of Luther's Great Confession as being dangerously capernaitic, we must make clear that the Formula of Concord actually perpetuates this realism by its full endorsement of the Great Confession:
Now, as regards the various imaginary reasons and futile counter-arguments of the Sacramentarians concerning the essential and natural attributes of a human body, concerning the ascension of Christ, concerning His departure from this world, and such like, inasmuch as these have one and all been refuted thoroughly and in detail, from God's Word, by Dr. Luther in his controversial writings: Against the Heavenly Prophets, That These Words "This Is My Body" Still Stand Firm, likewise in his Large and Small Confession Concerning the Holy Supper, and in other of his writings, and inasmuch as since his death nothing new has been advanced by the factious spirits, we would for the sake of brevity have the Christian reader directed to them and have referred to them. etc.
Many Lutherans, unfortunately, give in to the notion that Luther was guilty of a crass capernaitic understanding, and so they come up with ways to soften his eucharistic realism, claiming, for example, that we may speak of Christ's body in the Sacrament but not His flesh, or that it is in no way accurate to speak of Christ being physically present, but rather that He is substantially present. While a term like physical can be misleading, if it is not qualified by pointing out that Christ's presence in the Supper is not of the same local, or circumscribed mode as is my body in this room right now, nevertheless, using such a term as physical not only cannot be ruled out per se, but can actually be helpful, especially over against the protestant gnostic worldview that is all around us today. Further, while one can certainly argue that the term substance is accurate and even preferable, if properly understood, it too can be misleading, for it can actually lead to a softening of the reality of Christ's presence in the minds of our people.

As Dr. John Stephenson puts it in his article, "Reflections on the Appropriate Vessels for Consecrating and Distributing the Precious Blood of Christ" (LOGIA, January 1995),
Luther's consistent testimony that not the mere idea or substance of Christ's body but rather the "true, natural Body" itself is present in the Eucharist prompts one to deem it appropriate to label the real presence a "physical" presence, while making the qualification that the body naturally present is present in the definitive and not in the circumscriptive mode.
I find it unfortunate that popular LC-MS publications give in to just the sort of softened language which sets up, intentionally or not, a distancing from the realism of Luther's language. Take, for example, the 2010 CPH book, Lutheranism 101, which out of an admirable desire to clarify matters, ends up awkwardly distancing its position from language used by the Blessed Reformer, and taken over into the Confessions. On page 150 we read:

Yikes! Are Lutherans Cannibals?

Because Lutherans teach that Jesus is really present with his body and blood, they have been accused of cannibalism. Rest easy; it isn't true. A cannibal eats physical flesh with his teeth. While we teach that Jesus is bodily present, we do not teach that He is physically present. Things are physical when they take up space; we believe that Jesus is really present with His body and blood but in a mode that doesn't take up space. Can He do that? Yes!
It is all very admirable what the writer is here trying to do, but he ends up twisting himself in a knot to stay clear of the capernaitic position. Luther's realism is not capernaitic, and his contemporary opponents knew this. So all this twisting, in which, mind you, the writer unfortunately does a lot of relying on the spatial preposition "with" (an over-use of which is suspiciously Philippist) ends up unnecessarily leading us away from good earthy realist terms like flesh.

Even Pope Paul VI, a bona fide Thomist, in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei, says that in the Sacrament:
Christ, whole and entire, in His physical 'reality' is bodily present, although not in the same way that bodies are present in a given place.
The reality, then, is that in the Holy Mass, ie., in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are present on the altar, on the paten, in the chalice, and in the pastor's hand. And as you approach the altar, He is there waiting to be joined with you in this great and mysterious way. Already, while you wait for the usher to get to your pew, there are people, your brothers and sisters in Christ, who are going back to their pew, bearing in their bodies the Eucharistic Lord. And then you get to the altar, and kneel down. The pastor walks toward you. His thoughts might be on what is doing. They might momentarily stray to things he sees around him, or what he said in the pulpit, or what he will do later. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Himself, in His sacred Body, is in the pastor's hand, and is being placed on your tongue. The real and precious Blood of Jesus is then given to you. Even as you get up, and walk back to your pew, He abides with you. In those moments you, and those around you, are veritable tabernacles of the presence of Christ in the venerable Eucharist. What could this be but holy ground?

Let us also note why it is that Christ makes Himself present in the Holy Supper. He does so not to be worshipped. In fact, He knows full well that in the Sacrament of the Altar He will be disregarded, even abused, by many in this world. He makes Himself present precisely for us. He became a man for us men and for our salvation. The same incarnational reality obtains in the Holy Supper. He comes to us in the Eucharist to bring to us that salvation which He earned in His bitter passion. He wants to deliver and serve it to us personally. In uniting Himself to the communicant in the Holy Supper, the baptized Christian finds the high point of his life in this world, and realizes his true identity as one whose soul is espoused to Christ. In that gift, that self-giving, Christ promises the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of utter forgiveness leaves us with pure and true life itself, life in its fullness, and thus salvation. The unbeliever who receives this awesome and holy Presence, on the other hand, is confirmed in his unbelief; he is totally unprepared for such a gift, and can only be harmed by it.

Christ nowhere demands to be adored and worshipped in the Eucharist. It is not as though He has said, "At what time ye hear the sound of the sanctus bells, ye fall down and worship My presence in the Blessed Sacrament." Those who make this point are quite right. He doesn't make such a demand. Our Christian brethren of past ages, and even today in other lands, however, faced with the awesome reality of the salvific gift of Christ's holy Body and precious Blood in the Sacrament, have preferred to approach the matter of their posture or comportment from a different perspective, namely, by the simple thought, Why would I not fall to my knees and adore Him here, where He has promised to be present?

And so, in traditional fashion, some of us will, even in twenty first century America, kneel down during the consecration, and for the entirety of the Communion. It is a good way to prepare oneself in prayer. It is a good way to remind oneself of what is happening. It is a good way to thank Him afterward. And it is a good witness.

In case anyone is tempted to think of this as an aping after Roman Catholic practice, let us set the record straight. Matters are not nearly so clear cut and easy to divide into the neat categories too many of us were taught by our teachers. On the one hand, Eucharistic adoration, though you may not see it much among your friends or in your own congregation, is truly at home in the Lutheran tradition. And on the other hand, the common Lutheran notions of the ritualism and reverence to a fault that will be found in Roman Catholic churches are really cute, but sadly naive. There are many Roman Catholic parishes today, and in some places virtually whole dioceses, where Roman Catholics are ridiculed by other Roman Catholics for daring to genuflect or kneel before the eucharist. They are mocked as "cookie worshippers." In terms of actual Catholicism on the ground (instead of, say, rumors, folklore, or centuries' old texts) what we see is that in many places Catholics (including some pastors and bishops) are repulsed and embarrassed by traditionalist Catholics in a way reminiscent of the attitude of the Philippists of old, for whom adoration of the eucharist was artolatreia - bread worship. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us. So no, I am not copying the Roman Catholics when I kneel; rather, too many Roman Catholics have become Philippist in the brave new post-conciliar age. I am daring not to go with them.

Faced with the true presence of the Creator of all things, Who comes to me in the holy Eucharist, my heart and knees fail me. By faith, I am bold to approach, for He invites me. But I do so with awe and wonder. I cannot not kneel. My heart yearns to greet Him, but it does so with loving reverence. For the Sacrament is my hope, my life, and my everything.  With Flannery O'Connor, I confess that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.  And now you know, dear friends, my reasons. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Complicating Matters of Worship

Those in the Church who think the liturgy is theirs to manipulate or tweak, who think the liturgy is their personal (or parish or bureaucratic) possession with which to tinker, have come to surround their position with notions now treated as axiomatic.  We can pass over the irony that a movement which sees its ideas as axiomatic also tends to be seen as courageous and brave.  More important is the fact that the very foundations of an idea are in question when its advocates treat them as beyond question.  I am here to challenge just such axioms.

For example, liturgical traditionalists are often thought (even by some liturgical traditionalists) to be advocating a complicated liturgical practice, while, conversely, the liturgical innovators are often thought to be advocates of simplifying the liturgy.  This becomes the template, the assumption, upon which all participants in the conversation agree, forcing the one side to come up with arguments for their complications and enabling the other side to assert that theirs is the side that is truly caring, pastoral, and user friendly.  Yet at its core there is something misleading about this line of thought.  Sure, a liturgical style freed from detailed rubrics may in one sense be described as simplified, but this dichotomy is well worth a deeper look.

Consider something as small as the salutation, "The Lord be with you."  The traditional response to this in Latin is always and everywhere "Et cum spiritu tuo," the traditional rendition of which in classic English is always "And with thy spirit."  Such language is at once precise and poetic, familiar and dignified, rich and simple.  And in that classic simplicity it is deeply memorable.  It becomes part of the comforting ritual of our common life together, a life which unites the family of baptized brethren in the worship of Christ our Immanuel, a family in all its intellectual, physical, emotional, cultural, linguistic, and generational diversity, a family which includes those who lack sight to see the printed page, those too young to know how to read, those who never learned, those without the mental capacity to follow along with frequent changes in liturgical settings, those with short attention spans, those whose hearing is waning, and whose liturgical response might be set on a sort of auto pilot set decades earlier, and those from sister parishes in other states, and other continents. 

By contrast, the situation which often prevails today is one in which there is no certainty about what one's response should be until he has had the chance to study which of the five masses in LSB will be used that day.  If it happens that Divine Service 1, 2, or 4 is being used, then he must know to say "And also with you."  If he is supposed to be turned to Divine Service 3, then he should say, "And with thy spirit."  If his church is using Divine Service 5, he is directed by the book to say, "And also with you" (despite the fact that this mass is often described as being based on Luther's German Mass, wherein the phrase "and also with you" will not be found in any language).  At Vespers, before the collect the response is not "and with thy spirit," as it is in Divine Service 3, but rather "and with your spirit," thus throwing everyone off.  In the Funeral Service, a rite which often brings together generations of family and friends, many of whom have fond memories of the liturgy of their youth, they are now called upon to say "and also with you."  Finally, with all of this diversity of forms in the book, what is a congregation to say when, outside of a printed service, the pastor opens a bible study or some other such meeting with the words, "The Lord be with you"?  Unfortunately, the result in our age will often be a slightly confused combination of responses. 

Which way is simpler and which has complicated matters, the traditional consistency of form or the modern service book's diversity of form?  It's really the people's fault, for they ought not be going into worship with expectations.  They should learn that those who have put such hard work into all of this material have done so out of love and care for them.  They should meet these planners halfway.  Seriously, though, sometimes the consistency is broken down even further.  I attended a Holy Week liturgy recently where two different responses were used within the same liturgy.  Consistency from place to place may be long gone, but now so is consistency within a parish, and even within the same hour of worship, necessitating the constant reading of the printed material in our hands, and thus stultifying our sense of worship.

Consider just one more small element of our liturgical life, the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father, etc.).  This is not a mere extra word of doxology we tack onto our psalms and introits, a little something we do for the sake of liturgical flourish.  In other words, it is not a mere formality.  It is, rather, a beautiful and immensely rich prayer.  And once it becomes part of the very heart of a man, once it is woven into the very fiber of his life of prayer, then, as with all of the greatest prayers, it may begin to elevate him to contemplation and true prayer.  Saint Francis said, "Study well the Gloria Patri.  In it you will find the whole substance of the Scriptures."  But the first step toward such prayer and contemplation is knowing the text by heart, just as before we can begin to appreciate how the Small Catechism can serve as a rich form of prayer, Luther would first have us settle on a form of it, and learn it.  Learn it to the degree that it soaks into the heart, mind, and soul.  Then one is properly fit to begin learning to use such forms as the vehicle for what Luther in his open letter on prayer calls true prayer

But what is the situation today with our use of the Gloria Patri?  In Divine Service 1 and 2, the following form is used at the Nunc Dimitis after Communion, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen."  The same will be used for introits.  In Divine Service 4 the Gloria Patri is not to be found at all, unless a church chooses to opt for the introit or psalm instead of a hymn before the Kyrie.  The hymnic paraphrase of the Gloria Patri found on page 211 of that service is not the Gloria Patri, but, as I say, a paraphrase.  A church could quite conceivably use Divine Service 4 and never have the Gloria Patri.  If a church uses Divine Service 5, the Gloria Patri might be heard once if the planners of the liturgy there opt for an introit, possibly twice if they opt for a psalm instead of a gradual (is the Gloria Patri used where a psalm replaces a gradual?), and quite conceivably not at all.  For the sake of throwing a bone to the traditional element, the makers of the LSB included a rendition of the Common Service, Divine Service 3.  And so one might expect to hear the classic wording, "Glory be the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."  Don't be so quick with your expectations, though, dear reader.  Yes, the classic form is found at the Nunc Dimitis.  But how about the introit?  There it gets a bit tricky.  The book tells the reader (you see that we are now first and foremost readers in church, rather than worshipers) that the classic form of the Gloria Patri may be used.  And what happens if they use the introit as it is printed in the normal LCMS material?  They get the modern version.  So the traditional service in LSB affords occasion for the most inconsistency of all.  That's hardly a bone that satisfies traditional notions of consistency of form.

Many more aspects of the liturgy could be discussed in their relation to the question at hand.  But the two we have explored here, the response to the salutation and the Gloria Patri, suffice to show just how deceiving some of our accepted notions can be.  The way toward a worship life that is spiritually edifying in its essential simplicity is the way of consistency.  That way is blocked by the current accepted worship forms.

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! +