Monday, December 30, 2013

An Extra-Mild Post

For a good while now, I suppose at least six months, I've been away from not only this blog, but also Facebook, and even personal email.  It is not that I decided to cut down or draw back from Internet usage, though I respect those who have made such decisions.  On the whole, Americans have become too disconnected from the real world.  This, however, was not a decision of that sort.  The reason I have been away is simpler and less philosophical, though it will be hard for some to understand.  Namely, I have been kept from it by lack of time & energy.  Beginning, I suppose, around the start of the summer busy season at the brewery this year, my days have been dedicated to long hours at work, which is not to complain about my work, just to share with you what's been going on with me, ie., not much besides shipping and invoicing beer.

I'm trying, finally, to get back to interaction with my friends on the Internet and my activity here, etc., which is helped by the fact that my boss convinced me to take some vacation time.  It feels weird to be away from my job.  Suddenly, about half of Springsteen's oeuvre doesn't apply to me.  You know, all those songs about a guy who's been working all week, or who's late for work, or who's getting off work, etc.  The first few days of my vacation were consumed with Christmas activities and so forth.  Now, I seem to have come down with a cold-almost of a type bad enough that I would not want to be at work if I were not on vacation.  So I suppose it's a good thing I'm on vacation.  So, while I'm in no condition for social interaction, these next few days of my vacation should enable me to spend some overdue time in my study, getting some good reading, maybe a bit of writing, and hopefully even making an appearance on Facebook.  I was actually thinking of getting back onto Facebook first, then posting something here, but I couldn't think of my password, so I created a new one, and updated some other information, and as a consequence, Facebook is requiring me to wait 24 hrs to log in. 

So for now, I'll let this serve as my notice that I am back online, and my request that you forgive any failure to respond to anyone in any Internet format: Facebook, blog comment, email, whatever.  I was not consciously ignoring you.  Rather, I was literally ignorant of all activity in this realm, and so was not here to respond, let alone correspond.  It's certainly not that I didn't have anything to say.  Perhaps I'll finally get back to sharing some of those things here.

And now, I wish to give you a little treat on this the Sixth Day of Christmas.  And I dedicate it in particular to my sister, Fatime.  (Please note that Fatime's name is spelled in the Albanian manner, but is pronounced the same as in the following Youtube video.)  On Sunday mornings, as I drive out to the edge of town to pick up my nephew for Mass, sometimes I say a psalm to myself, other times I have a CD playing, sometimes I have NPR on the radio (WUWM 89.7 FM), sometimes I listen to the Catholics (Relevant Radio 100.1 FM), sometimes I check Radio Milwaukee (88.9 FM), and sometimes I turn the dial to WMSE (91.7 FM).  One of the things you will hear on MSE on Sunday morning is Frontier Radio Theatre, which plays old radio shows, and once in a while the show played in that time slot is an episode of the old Dragnet radio show.  Yes, you guessed it, when WMSE broadcasts the old Dragnet shows, the listener also gets to hear the commercials that were made for that show back in the day (circa 1951).  I confess that I find these commercial ads most amusing (so does my nephew), for they cannot help remind us of the Fatime that he and I both know (my sister and my nephew's mother).  

Enjoy:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-p6u_qkO_4

Sunday, April 7, 2013

thoughts of Luther at mid-career

Ruth pointed out to me that my blog has accumulated some spam comments, so I took a few minutes to clean that up.  Now that I'm here and have a minute, perhaps it would be good to offer a thought or two.  After all, if I merely subtracted the spam comments and didn't add something, then I would only be doing something negative, and we wouldn't want that.  I am, if nothing else, a positive Lutheran.  Where have I been lately?  Working.  Which is cool, considering that there was a while there, in 2011, when I was out of work.  And indeed, there was a couple years, from, say, '08 to '11, where I was moving from one abusive and/or otherwise soul-crushing job to another.  So I am quite blessed with my current work situation.  But it makes for long days.  A goal for the next few months will be to try to regain some space in the week for blogging, etc.  Badly mistaken you would be if you were to conclude that the slowness of posting here is due to sparsity of things on which to write.  In the coming weeks I might just get to some of them.  For now, a note on Luther at mid-career.

Today at Luther Memorial Chapel, in the Bible study after Mass, we began what will probably be several weeks on the Johannine epistles.  This is a massively significant part of Holy Writ, and I look forward to the discussion that will surely develop out of it.  Because I am strange, when the topic was announced after Mass, it reminded me of Luther's 1527 lectures on 1 John, and Luther's life-situation at the time, and for a moment, while walking down the stairs to get in line for coffee, I became unstuck in time, and went to Wittenberg, 1527. 

Why did Luther choose to lecture on First John that year?  I believe it was in large part because of what was happening in his life.  Despite it being the ten year anniversary of the "crushing of the indulgences," it was otherwise a hard year for Doctor Luther personally, and for the church around him.  1527 proved in many ways to be a year of crisis, and for Luther himself we might even say it made for a real mid-life crisis.  First, consider his productivity.  In that year he preached on average a bit more than once per week, wrote over a dozen tracts or treatises, wrote on average two letters per week, was engaged in his ongoing work on the German Old Testament, this besides his lectures and his ongoing battle with Zwingli over the truth of Christ's presence in the Holy Eucharist.  Second, consider his standing in the greater world.  He was still an enemy of both Rome and the Empire.  Third, consider that he became a husband two years earlier.  He cared deeply for his wife and children; at this time Kate was pregnant with her second child. 

We must now add into that mix his troubled health.  Luther suffered severe headaches, dizziness, bouts with the kidney stone, a buzzing in his ears which caused him great pain, and severe chest pain, which brought him to what he and everyone else feared was his deathbed.  He had Bugenhagen hear what he thought might be his final confession, and even expressed concern for the physical and spiritual care of his wife and children. 

If all this were not enough, the plague came to Wittenberg that year.  Luther firmly believed and taught that men of public responsibility ought not flee the plague, so while the university was temporarily moved to Jena, Luther, with a few others (notably Bugenhagen and Georg Rorer), stayed in Wittenberg, where the former friary, now the de facto Luther home, became a veritable hospital.  Many people close to Luther, and close to his heart, fell victim to the plague or other physical afflictions not made any easier by the presence of the plague. Rorer's wife Hanna died after giving birth to a stillborn child.  Here I must interject that while Luther is widely known as a man of great passion in his writings, many do not appreciate that he was also a man of great compassion, which is to say that he empathized, or suffered with those around him.  When Rorer's wife died, Luther mourned as though it were his own wife that died.  In the midst of all of this, they worried for Luther's son, John, who was teething, and indeed, for Katherine, who was with child.  To this we can now add Luther's bouts with depression, and his spiritual anfechtung

What does a man of God do in times like this?  He prays, even more than when times are good.  And he is there for the people.  That is, he clings to the Word, for his own sake, and for the sake of his hearers, and the church at large.  That Word includes the comforting texts of the letters of Saint John, who in the midst of his own persecution, by both false brethren and the empire of his day, steadfastly remained attached to the worship of Christ, our Immanuel, the One Who walks among the seven lampstands, and makes His presence, His very real and fleshly presence, among us.  He walks with us even in the fiery furnace of the worst moments of this life, when the world, the flesh, and maybe even synod refuse to walk with us.  The Gnostic temptation, in the first century, as in the sixteenth or the twenty first, is to conclude that the world is essentially evil and also that it is unfitting for God to join Himself to actual flesh, and thus to join us to His divinity.  Luther knew that in Christ we have a Brother Who has joined Himself to our flesh, and also to our suffering.  In fact, no one has suffered what He suffered.  By the end of 1527, Luther may have already written, or begun to write, his great hymn paraphrase of Psalm 46.  Even when the devil and the world do their best to weaken us, we can stand firm in the confession of what John in his letters calls "the truth," which I take in part to mean Christ Himself, the Man Who lives, and Who fights for us.  Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth. 

(I am reminded that Philipp Nicolai, another great Lutheran churchman and hymn writer, also served in the midst of great suffering, as his parishioners in Westphalia in the late sixteenth century died by the hundreds from the plague; and he too fortified and comforted his people in part with hymns, such as "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying".  But I digress.)

So I look forward to this study of the letters of Saint John, the beloved disciple, who has so much to teach us today about the love of God in the midst of the false love of the world.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Luther on modes of presence

In the first place, an object is circumscriptively or locally in a place, ie. in a circumscribed manner, if the space and the object occupying it exactly correspond and fit into the same measurements, such as wine or water in a cask, where the wine occupies no more space and the cask yields no more space than the volume of the wine.
In the second place, an object is in a place definitively, ie. in an uncircumscribed manner, if the object or body is not palpably in one place and is not measurable according to the dimensions of the place where it is, but can occupy either more room or less.  Thus it is said that angels and spirits are in certain places.  For an angel or devil can be present in an entire house or city; again, he can be in a room, a chest or a box, indeed, in a nutshell.  The space is really material and circumscribed, and has its own dimensions of length, breadth, and depth; but that which occupies it has not the same length, breadth, or depth as the space which it occupies, indeed, it has no length or breadth at all.  Thus we read in the gospel that the devil possesses men and enters them, and they also enter into swine.  This I call an uncircumscribed presence in a given place, since we cannot circumscribe or measure it as we measure a body, and yet it is obviously present in the place.
This was the mode in which the body of Christ was present when he came out of the closed grave, and came to the disciples through a closed door, as the gospels show.  There was no measuring or defining of the space his head or foot occupied when he passed through the stone, yet he certainly had to pass through it.  He took up no space, and the stone yielded him no space, but the stone remained stone, as entire and firm as before, and his body remained as large and thick as it was before.  But he also was able, when he wished, to let himself be seen circumscribed in given places where he occupied space and his size could be measured.  Just so, Christ can be and is in the bread, even though he can show himself in circumscribed and visible form wherever he wills.  For as the sealed stone and the closed door remained unaltered and unchanged, though his body at the same time was in the space entirely occupied by stone and wood, so he is also at the same time in the sacrament and where the bread and wine are, though the bread and wine in themselves remain unaltered and unchanged.
In the third place, an object occupies places repletively, ie. supernaturally, if it is simultaneously present in all places whole and entire, and fills all places, yet without being measured or circumscribed by any place, in terms of the space which it occupies.  This mode of existence belongs to God alone, as he says in the prophet Jeremiah, "I am a God at hand and not afar off.  I fill heaven and earth."  This mode is altogether incomprehensible, beyond our reason, and can be maintained only with faith, in the Word.
All this I have related in order to show that there are more modes whereby an object may exist in a place than the one circumscribed, physical mode on which the fanatics insist.  Moreover, Scripture irresistibly forces us to believe that Christ's body does not have to be present in a given place circumscriptively or corporeally, occupying and filling space in proportion to its size.  For it was in the stone at the grave, but not in that circumscribed mode; similarly in the closed door, as they cannot deny.  If it could be present there without space and place proportionate to its size, my friend, why can't it also be in the bread without space and room proportionate to its size?  But if it can be present in this uncircumscribed manner, it is beyond the realm of material creatures and is not grasped or measured in their terms.  Who can know how this takes place? 
Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, 1528

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why I Kneel During Holy Communion

The following is a reflection I posted at this blog in 2011.  The topic is ever-relevant, and some may benefit from considering my take on the question.  So I post it anew.

Whether at my own home congregation, or really any other church I might visit, I would not be surprised if some people see that strange guy in the next pew and wonder at his unusual practice. They might even ask themselves questions like these, Why is he kneeling on the floor? or, Is he Catholic? or, Does he think he is more pious than everyone else? or, Is he trying to draw attention to himself? or maybe, Is he worshipping bread? These are good questions, and so I'd like to address the general concern behind them by reflecting briefly on exactly 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, before all the commas, is true in and of itself. It is true that the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament are sub pane et vino (as it says in the Catechism), 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 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.

What is the Christian thing to do with the weaker brethren in your midst? We all know the answer to this. We are patient with them. We make allowances for 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. They are too weak to stand before Him. I am bold to approach, for He invites me. But I do so with awe and wonder. I cannot not kneel. And so now you know, dear friends, my reasons. Bear with me, even as we bear one another's burdens.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

a thought on the Anima Christi

This morning after returning from the altar, I was praying the Anima Christi, and when I came to the familiar line, "Body of Christ, save me," I was reminded of what blessed Paul the Apostle writes to the Romans, chapter 7, "O wretched man that I am!  who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"  We can say, then, that the Body of Christ saves, or delivers, us precisely from our own body of death.  I love this juxtaposition; and to be sure, it is not that the body is inherently bad and we must escape it. Rather, the salvation of our flesh lies in our entering by faith into the paschal mystery of the life giving death our Lord Jesus Christ.  For the Christian, nothing could be more life affirming, and body affirming, than this Supper.

from the Great Confession of 1528


My grounds, on which I rest in this matter, are as follows:  The first is this article of our faith, that Jesus Christ is essential, natural, true, complete God and man in one person, undivided and inseparable.  The second, that the right hand of God is everywhere.  The third, that the Word of God is not false or deceitful.  The fourth, that God has and knows various ways to be present at a certain place, not only the single one of which the fanatics prattle, which the philosophers call "local."  Of this the sophists properly say: there are three modes of being present in a given place: locally or circumscriptively, definitively, repletively.
Blessed Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rutler on the Novus Ordo

After a brief description of what the Oakland, California School Board termed "ebonics," Fr. Rutler continues:
What I do object to is the suggestion that all this is the brainchild of the Oakland School Board. Thirty years ago, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy invented a proleptical and prolegomenous form of "Ebonics" for the new vernacular Mass.  Catholics in America have thus been speaking this way since Vatican II.
Mark Twain deftly mastered the syntax, as did the nineteenth-century repertoire of dialect songs, like those of Stephen Foster.  One might protest that these were affectations of an idiom, but so were the many wistful Irish songs written by the agile Jewish song masters of Schubert Alley.  The most distinguished precursor of ebonical syntax in drama, after Harriet Beecher Stowe, was Dion Boucicault, whose play The Octoroon opened in the Winter Garden in New York City on December 5, 1859.  By a strange coincidence, that was the day Senator Charles Sumner returned to his Senate desk after having been beaten with a cane by Senator Preston S. Brooks on May 22, 1856 during a debate over slavery in Kansas.  No such violence has yet been inflicted on a liturgical translator, not even on those responsible for the alternative opening collects of the ebonical Novus Ordo, the English translation of the Roman Rite which parses like Thomas Cranmer on Prozac.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

To Thee I Show My Wounds

One of the prayers I often use before Mass is a prayer of Saint Ambrose.  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 pondered those words recently, it was surely helpful that I happened to have within my sight the large crucifix above the altar.  For I came to see that this is precisely what Christ does.  He shows His wounds; He lays bare His shame.  He shows them to His Father, and He shows them to us. 

In the brief moments 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. 

I hasten to add that this is yet another devotional benefit of praying before the crucifix.  If you are denied this opportunity in your church, develop a hunger for it, and give voice to this need.  If your church does have a crucifix, develop and cultivate your appreciation for it.

O You Lamb of God

Is the common, dumbed down style of language, which is inflicted on us in four out of the five mass orders in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's latest hymnal, really just as beautiful and worthy of liturgical use as is the classic liturgical English that has been sung in the Church for centuries?  The answer to this can no longer be assumed as self-evident; nor do many today even appreciate the value of the question, who have been led to think that beauty should be demoted in the priority scale of considerations for how best to address liturgical matters, and consigned a place far behind new priorities, like comfort.  Therefore we must never tire of addressing these questions anew in today's church. 

I suggest that one unscientific way of putting the vulgar second person singular pronoun, you, to the test, in terms of it's use in addressing God in the liturgy, is to take the classic English version of the eucharistic hymn, "Agnus Dei", and imagine just replacing "thou" for "you." 

So instead of singing this:
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God

try this instead:
O Christ, You Lamb of God

Obviously the makers of modern liturgy know this is unworkable, so they leave out altogether the opening address to "Christ," and go straight to "Lamb of God."  And of course the "O Christ" is a poetic flourish and not in the Latin.  Nevertheless, a little exercise like this goes to show the linguistic and aesthetic limitations of throwing in the "you" where we once had "thou."

the art of hagiagraphy

Though I do not always agree with Father George Rutler, he being a Thomist and I being a Lutheran, I do deeply appreciate much of what he has to say, in theological, liturgical, and historical matters, as well as the way he says it.  In some ways he is a jolt of fresh air amidst the liturgical devastation of modern Romanism.  One of my favorite reads, by the way, is his book, Coincidentally, in which, for example, the discerning reader gets a particularly tasty riff on the Novus Ordo.  I also recommend his book on the Cure of Ars, The Cure D'Ars Today, but only for the theologically discerning.  In the following passage he reflects on the balance that must be struck when writing about the saints.
In depicting the saints, there are bad and good portraits. It may be that Vianney scorned his portraitists, not because they drew bad likenesses, which they usually did, but because they liked him. Hagiagraphy may flatter saints but, when it does, it insults them; an affectionate picture of a man who is detached from the world can make him seem disconnected. In true devotion, though, to like a subject can give a good likeness. Strachey's word portraits of his eminent Victorians were no truer for being written with venom. In the case of the saints, you either have to attach yourself to their detachment, and let sympathy become empathy, or you have to reject it until scepticism becomes satire. But either is more apt to give some sense of a soul than the clinical indifference which claims to be objective. No one can remain indifferent to an object and get an impression of it.
The one pertinent consideration is the validity of the impression. Though it should not be shaped by less than history, it may take its form from a calculus behind history; it may be under the influence of a tale more delicate and shining than the most fabulous enchantment; it may have met the truth of myth and the object of legend. The saints impress by possessing their own heart's desire within themselves. If the prophets have prefigured a truth to come, the saints have postfigured a truth that came and stayed. When the wise have lived to foretell the way of God with man, the lives of the saints are its very telling. Here is how the saints make such an impression, and no unbeliever has dared completely to deny it. The atheist denies God, but he ignores the saints; he would not do that had he not been influenced by a need to ignore them. The need assumes a paradoxical and even compulsive quality, like the nihilist insisting it is true that there is no truth and like the atheist believing that there is nothing to believe. But the saints continue to live visible lives. As the sacraments are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, the saints are living sacraments; they are sacraments of the sacraments. And no story about them, no display of their souls' architecture, can be so grand and schematic as living their story with them. The voice of Ars said it: "At the Holy Altar I had the most singular consolations. I was looking at the Good God."

christological implications of Zwinglianism

Zwinglianism is not merely a slightly incomplete view of the eucharist, but even has christological implications; in this passage, Luther sheds light on one of them:
They raise a hue and cry against us, saying that we mingle the two natures into one essence.  This is not true. We do not say that divinity is humanity, or that the divine nature is the human nature, which would be confusing the natures into one essence. Rather, we merge the two distinct natures into one single person, and say, God is man and man is God. We in turn raise a hue and cry against them for separating the person of Christ as though there were two persons. If Zwingli's alloeosis stands, then Christ will have to be two persons, one a divine and the other a human person, since Zwingli applies all the texts concerning the passion only to the human nature and completely excludes them from the divine nature.  But if the works are divided and separated, the person will also have to be separated, since all the doing and suffering are not ascribed to natures but to persons.  It is the person who does and suffers everything, the one thing according to this nature and the other thing according to the other nature, all of which scholars know perfectly well.  Therefore we regard our Lord Christ as God and man in one person, "neither confusing the natures nor dividing the person.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Zwinglian arguments face the meat grinder of Luther

In this section of Martin Luther's great treatise against Zwingli and for Christ's presence in the Eucharist, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, we get a particularly penetrating riff.
Let this suffice to show that our interpretation is not contrary to Scripture or the Creed, as this mad spirit deludes himself into believing.  Next he comes to the two principal points at which I have attacked most strongly, viz. that Christ is at the right hand of God, and that the flesh is of no avail, where he was to prove that these two propositions make it impossible for Christ's body to be present in the Supper.  I had called attention to these passages with capital letters, so they might not skip over them.  Now this dear spirit comes along with his figure, alloeosis, to make everything plain, and teaches us that in the Scriptures one nature in Christ is taken for the other, until he falls into the abyss and concludes that the passage, "The Word became flesh," John 1, must not be understood as it reads, but thus: "The flesh became Word," or "Man became God."  This is to give the lie to Scripture.
I cannot at this time attack all this spirit's errors.  But this I say: whoever will take a warning, let him beware of Zwingli and shun his books as the prince of hell's poison.  For the man is completely perverted and has entirely lost Christ.  Other sacramentarians settle on one error, but this man never publishes a book without spewing out new errors, more and more all the time.  But anyone who rejects this warning may go his way, just so he knows that I warned him, and my conscience is clear.
You must not believe or admit that this figure, alloeosis, is to be found in these passages, or that you can put one nature of Christ in place of the other.  The insane spirit dreamed this up in order to rob us of Christ, for he does not prove it to you nor can he do so.  And even if this error of his were true and right, it still would not prove that Christ's body cannot be present in the Supper.  I have pressed them to show conclusive grounds why these words, "This is my body," just as they read, are false, though Christ is in heaven.  For the power of God is not known to us, and He can find a way to make both true, viz. Christ in heaven and His body present in the Supper.  That was the principal question.  What I demanded, writing in capital letters, was that they should show how the two were contradictory.  But he is silent on this point, passes over it without one letter as if it did not concern him, and spouts meanwhile about his alloeosis.
When I proved that Christ's body is everywhere because the right hand of God is everywhere, I did so-as I quite openly explained at the time-in order to show at least one way how God could bring it about that Christ is in heaven and His body in the Supper at the same time, and that He reserved to His divine wisdom and power many more ways to accomplish the same result, because we do not know the limit or measure of His power.
Later, the Doctor goes into a discussion on various modes of existence, which you won't want to miss.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

distinguishing the merit of Christ from the distribution of merit

The day is far spent, so I assume you have read some Luther already today.  That's okay; read some more.  From, where else? the Great Confession of 1528. 
The blind fool does not know that the merit of Christ and the distribution of merit are two different things.  And he confuses them like a filthy sow.  Christ has once for all merited and won for us the forgiveness of sins on the cross; but this forgiveness he distributes wherever he is, at all times and in all places, as Luke writes, chapter 24, "Thus it is written, that Christ had to suffer and on the third day rise (in this consists his merit), and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name (here the distribution of his merit comes in)"  This is why we say there is forgiveness of sins in the Supper, not on account of the eating, nor because Christ merits or achieves forgiveness of sins there, but on account of the word through which he distributes among us this acquired forgiveness, saying, "This is my body which is given for you."  Here you perceive that we eat the body as it was given for us; we hear this and believe it as we eat.  Hence there is distributed here the forgiveness of sins, which however was obtained on the cross...
In the same way I carefully wrote against the heavenly prophets that the fact of Christ's suffering and the use of it are not the same thing: factum et applicatio facti, seu factum et usus facti.  The passion of Christ occurred but once on the cross.  But whom would it benefit if it were not distributed, applied, and put to use?  And how could it be put to use and distributed except through Word and sacrament?  But why should such great saints read my treatise?  They know far better.  Well, they have their reward, that they consider the fact and the application to be one and the same, and thereby reduce themselves to folly and shame.  They fail to see that in the Supper the application of the passion, and not the fact of it, is concerned.  It serves them right for never reading, or for reading superficially-so proud and presumptuous are they-what has been written against them.
(AE 37)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to deal with a Zwinglian

From the Great Confession of 1528:

Next this fellow leads my finger, as if I were a blind man, to the word, "Do this," which St. Paul is said to explain thus: "As often as you eat this bread," etc.  From this he attempts to deduce that with the words, "Do this," Christ refers to the eating of the bread and not the eating of his body.  Of course, if St. Paul had said, "As often as you eat this bread which is not the body of Christ"-which this spirit has added out of his own head-there would have been no need to lay my finger on it; I would have been able to see it more than five paces away. Every time I hope they will produce scripture, they produce their own dreams.  Therefore I repeat, I would like them to lay their finger on the preceding word, where Christ refers to the bread and yet says, "This is my body." Here also stands the word "this," which is waiting to be grasped by the fanatical spirit's fingers. That word exerts a greater and stronger pressure upon me to conclude that Christ's body is eaten in the bread than this fellow's word "this," out of which he would like to make mere bread.  For my word "this" and his "this" both refer to one and the same bread, as they admit. And yet, where I cite the word "this" it reads, "It is my body"; but where he cites the word "this" it does not read, "It is not my body," but he must insert it and skip over the whole context in which my word "this" stands. What a faithful, zealous expositor of scripture!
Now let the whole world be judge between me and this spirit, which bread must yield to the other. My bread has on its side the text, "Eat, this is my body," and explains with emphatic words that this bread is the body of Christ. The spirit's bread has on his side the text, "Do this," or "As often as you eat this bread," and does not explain that it is mere bread or that it is not the body of Christ.  No, the spirit must emend the text and say it is not Christ's body, as he has been commanded to do-yes, by the devil! Now if one "this" must yield to the other, then properly his should yield to mine, since his is bare and naked apart from explanations, whereas mine carries its explanation with it. Or else he must sweat still more in order to prove that my "this" must yield to his "this."  Finger-pointing doesn't help. If he wished to act fairly and squarely, he should not point out to us with his fingers how his "this" indicates the bread. This indeed we could discover without his spirit, explanations, and arguments.  But he should first parry the thrust of this text, "Eat, this is my body." If he could prove that the bread there is not proclaimed as Christ's body, then of course we would know perfectly well ourselves that his "this" does refer to mere bread. However, he does not do this. Thus it is a "begging of the question" and hopeless twaddle, for he does not answer what we ask and beg him to answer, as I continually complain. We say, however, that if the first "this" refers to the body of Christ. then his "this" in the next instance must refer to it also; for "this" in both cases refers to the bread, and yet the first at the same time stands in immediate connection with Christ's body, as the words say, "Eat, this is my body."
(AE 37)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Christological View of St. Michael Is Not Heresy

Last Sunday & today we had seminarian-led catechesis, and I appreciated it, because it was on the Holy Trinity, a truly great topic.  Last week, however, the point was made, in one of the vicar's power point images, that one of the trinitarian heresies is the idea that Christ and Michael are the same.  It is quite possible that he did not mean it the way it reads, but of course this point must be clarified, lest it lead people to draw the wrong conclusions.  Today I was going to take a moment in class and clarify the issue, but I never got the chance.  I walked in a bit late, because of coffee clean up, and at no point during or at the end of class did I find the opportunity.  So I do so now.

There are heretical sects, most notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, which teach that Jesus Christ was merely the incarnation of the Archangel Michael.  That, of course, is a christological heresy, one which offers a novel twist on the ancient heresy that denies Christ's true divinity.

On the other hand, there are Christians who believe that Michael, the Archangel, is the Lord Himself, the uncreated Angel (messenger) Who is Himself the message, the eternal Logos, ie., the Lord Jesus Christ, in a pre- or extra- incarnational manifestation. 

To view Michael as Christ is not the same as viewing Christ as Michael, if "angel" not be read in a literalistic manner.  In this instance, I am not attempting to argue that Michael is Christ, for that would require a more thought out, better organized, and thorough argument than what I can give this afternoon.  Nevertheless, we must be clear that it is not heresy.  It has a long history among right-thinking Christians, and it has its advocates even today.  I confess that it is my own view, as well.

Christians are free to disagree with this interpretation of the scriptural witness to the Archangel,  but there is certainly nothing heretical about it.  There are sound exegetical and theological arguments behind it, and I would suggest that it fits well with the christus victor theme of the atonement, and can help us appreciate the fact that the battle which Christ fights for us is waged in several dimensions, including the cosmic and the historical, even within the individual soul of the Christian.

Selnecker & the Flesh of Christ

The practice of eucharistic adoration (expressing one's worship physically by kneeling in the presence of the Sacrament) is foreign to many Lutherans.  That is unfortunate, all the moreso because it is, in fact, a healthy part of Lutherans' own tradition.  Among many other things, it is good christology, which I would like to show now with the words of a sixteenth century divine.

One of the delights in rereading The Two Natures in Christ is that it provides the occasion also to read the preface that Nicolaus Selnecker wrote for it.  Of course, Chemnitz brilliantly expands upon the themes discussed in this preface, and should be read often, but I would like simply to highlight here a point Selnecker makes regarding the suitability of worshipping the flesh of Christ.  Read this and ponder anew that the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith, while endlessly rich from a theological point of view, is decidedly far more than mere theory, it is far from merely academic; rather, it manifests itself in the real world.  We live it.  Nothing could be more vital, lively, and relevant to our pilgrimage in this life. 
Indeed, He is, by His very essence, omnipotence itself.  He receives this divine and omnipotent power according to His human nature in, with, and through which He performs the work of our redemption and salvation and is present with us, guides, rules, protects, heals, and saves us.
In this brief summary the statements of Scripture can be understood: the Son of Man has received eternal power, has been anointed above all His brothers, has been given all authority, all power, and all strength, or all omnipotence and rule in heaven, on earth, or anywhere; has received the name which is above every name; His flesh is life-giving and worthy of adoration (for nothing is life-giving and worthy of adoration which does not have the praise, the name, and the substance of the eternal omnipotence); the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin; the Seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent; in the seed of Abraham the people are saved; Christ is made higher than the heavens and sits as Lord at the right hand of God in the council of the Trinity; and He has received all judgment and many other gifts.  Each one of these statements refers to the assumed and exalted human nature of Christ, to which are given and communicated these divine gifts and properties so that in, with, and through it they shine forth, reveal themselves, and accomplish their work, and they do so in no other way.  Those who deny or contradict these matters in the least degree do not have God...But since the flesh or human nature of Christ is not simply in one place according to its natural characteristics, but through the union is personally elevated in the Logos to the infinite, uncircumscribed, and eternal right hand of the omnipotent God, we believe, know, and confess that Christ, God and man, is everywhere and complete and...indissolubly so.  Furthermore, never and nowhere is He separated from either the divine or the human nature (although no creature understands how this takes place).  He is to be sought, found, or apprehended nowhere else than where He has promised in His Word that He wills to be, and for the reasons which He Himself has given, that is, in the church, in the Supper, and in our hearts.

As often as we eat Christ's flesh and drink His blood in the eucharist, we remember and proclaim His life-giving death.  And when we do, we have the joyous opportunity to worship and adore His flesh and blood, truly present on the altar.  We worship Him in song, in prayer, in the disposition of our hearts, and it is also our privilege do so quite literally, ie., on our knees.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Have a Dangerous New Year

When I hear people telling me to have a safe new year, I appreciate the sentiment, and I know what they mean.  Untold harm is caused to oneself, and to others, when one forgets his responsibility to take care of himself.  Whether in one's partying, or in terms of work habits, or whatever, placing ourselves into unnecessary danger is irresponsible, foolish, and bad stewardship of the gifts of this life. 

I would like to employ this good advise, however, also as a point of departure for a couple of thoughts which are worthy of consideration as we set course on a new year.

First, one of the dangers, to our souls, in the level of importance we in the modern West have given to the "Be safe" approach to life is that it sends the message that immoral behavior is okay, so long as we engage in them in a safe manner.  This is a mistake, and poses great danger, not only for the individual soul, but also for our culture generally.

Second, there is an important sense in which we should actually follow the opposite approach to life.  That is, within one's calling and vocation, out of love for our neighbor (which is really all mankind, especially those who directly relate to us according to our various callings), and out of respect for the great unknown potential that is life, we ought to be bold, take risks, and embrace danger.

And so one of my more general goals, and my wish for the reader, is to take more risks, and in that sense, have a dangerous new year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christ the first-born of His ever-virgin Mother

My pastor preached a fine homily this morning on the Luke 2 pericope about the purification of the Virgin Mary.  There is an aspect of the text, however, which is worth exploring.  Namely, what does the Gospel here tell us, and not tell us, about Mary's virginity, and about her motherhood?  Does the fact that Mary and her Divine Son submitted themselves to the laws of purification imply that He did, in fact, open His mother's womb, thus making her ritually impure and in need of purification? 

To these questions there are two sets of answers, on the one hand they could be answered according to modern, post-Enlightenment assumptions.  On the other hand, there stands the traditional Lutheran point of view, a view held by serious biblical scholars of every epoch of the Church's rich history, from the first centuries to the present day.  It was the view of the Church Fathers, the Doctors of the Church (including the Blessed Reformer himself), and all Lutherans through the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, and beyond.

As you might have already inferred, mine is the traditional view, and I am happy to give voice to it.  The present reflection will not give a full argument for that view, but it is worth, in the time & space afforded me in this instance, at least showing how the traditional Lutheran view is not incompatible with the Gospel.

The pure and holy Virgin (this is what we call Mary in the Smalcald Articles) submitted herself to the levitical laws of purification, or what in Jewish tradition are called the laws of Niddah, because, of course, Jesus was her first born son, but not because He opened her womb, for He did not.  That is, as the Fathers teach, as Luther preached, and as the Formula of Concord confesses, our Lord's birth did not open His mother's womb. In fact, her virginity was kept intact, and she remained a virgin. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ is Mary's first born.  This is absolutely true.  For it means that Mary had no child before Jesus, and it also means that Jesus was truly born.  He is not a phantom, nor did He exit Mary's belly some other way than through the normal way, ie., by passing through the birth canal.  The Creed is trustworthy and true when by it we confess that Christ was born, and that He was born of Mary.  (It says a bit more, in fact; namely, it says that He was born of the "Virgin" Mary, but more on that later.)  "First born," however, implies subsequent children no more than the "until" of Matthew 1 implies that Mary and her holy guardian Joseph had relations after the birth of the Christ Child.  I will be a Christian until the day I die, but that does not mean that after my death I will cease to be a Christian. 

Jesus truly and physically descended His mother's birth canal, ie., experienced a true birth, and yet He does so while preserving her womb from ever opening.  Not only does He not cause her the loss of her virginity, but in fact He preserves and strengthens her virginity.  Mary is the icon of purest virginity and most fruitful maternity, and thus shows herself reflective of something far greater than herself.  Namely, as St. Ambrose says, Mary is a type of the Church.  This perfect virgin-motherhood is a paradox, and one fully in keeping with other paradoxes, like the physical Christ's entrance into the closed room after His resurrection, and His whole communion (not partial) with each communicant until the end of the age.

I reiterate, this traditional way of viewing Mary is not to glorify Mary for her own sake, but serves, rather, to point us toward great spiritual truths, about her Son, about the Church, and therefore also about the Christian soul, which is, I would argue, a sort of microcosm of the Church.  In the case of Mary's purification, for example, I would suggest that because of her purity and holy virginity, Mary is the perfectly free lord (or lady) over the purification law, subject to it not at all, and yet out of love she is the perfectly dutiful servant of the law, and in complete subjection to it.  In this she is the icon of the Christian, as Christian, who is described similarly by Luther in his treatise The Freedom of a Christian

I would even suggest, in fact, that when St. Luke tells us earlier in the chapter that the shepherds joined company with the Holy Family, since the text would seem to place this before the purification, even before the circumcision, that we see in this social gathering a rather peculiar non-seclusion of this Jewish mother, who would normally be kept apart from all social intercourse during this time of impurity, thus perhaps sending us a message that she was not in fact, in need of purification, that she had, in fact, kept her virginity intact, and gave birth without the shedding of blood or the suffering of pain.  This, too, serves not to deify Mary, but to portray for us the purity of the Bride of Christ, and therefore also the purity of the members thereof.  Those who are baptized into the redemptive death of Christ are able to confess a holiness and purity which they may not necessarily recognize with their own eyes in this life, but which, nonetheless, enables them to stand in any company without fear.  In fact, in Christ they are a blessing to others.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Traditional Albanian Folk Music

The following is an example of an Albanian folk song, a style which has deep medieval roots.  This song, as you will see, is not exactly of a very happy theme. 

http://www.youtube.com/embed/shgUKMkt-60

Here is another clip, with a brief explanation of the style:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/G4V2cE-LmBU"

One of the most interesting things about the Albanian iso-polyphonic style is the degree to which it reminds me of certain types of chant used in the ancient church, such as Byzantine and Old Roman, especially with the prominent drone.  And it goes to show, in my view, the inextricable Christian aspects of traditional Albanian culture.  Consider, for example, the following Old Roman Kyrie:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/KDJtBh3LGJg"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

voting

On Friday, after I got off work, I went down to the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building to cast my early vote, happy to take advantage of this way of avoiding having to vote on election day, since my Tuesdays tend to be long enough at the brewery. 

The Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building, by the way, while it is not without a sleek modernist sort of beauty, does not compare well, in my view, with the majestic German Renaissance Revival architecture of City Hall across the street. 

And who could enter the Municipal Building and be so callous as not to think of the man after whom it is named, Milwaukee's last great Socialist mayor.  Yes, I mean Socialist with a capital S.  That is, Milwaukee has a history of electing actual Socialists to City Hall.  And to be sure, when I say that Zeidler was great, I am not, in this instance, commenting on whether or not I agree with his policies as mayor, but simply observing that he was one of the truly great men of Milwaukee history and of 20th century American civil government.  If you do not read any of his other books, at least read Zeidler's political memoir, A Liberal in City Government.

But I digress. 

The line in which I waited to vote was almost two blocks long.  On the one hand, it is good to see such community spirit and civic activity.  On the other hand, neither the manner of conversation I heard around me nor the process in place (which actually discourages one from showing his ID, and could conceivably encourage mischief) did much to inspire confidence in the quality of modern American civil elections.  I was much less bothered by the man who showed up wearing apparently nothing but a blanket than I was by these two factors.  Overall, however, it was decently organized, and the large crowds handled rather efficiently.

There is room in my household for precisely one politically active person, and so my wife was free to remain in the warmth of our home while I was out, facing the process and casting my vote.  (I could not agree less with the axiom that holds that it is an American citizen's right, even duty, to vote.)  

Tonight we watch, as spectators, and we pray for pious and faithful rulers, and good government.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

the Our Father & the pastor's priestly role at the altar

This morning in the pre-mass announcements, Dr. Wieting explained that when the pastor prays the Our Father alone at the altar, this serves to signify the reality that Christ Himself prays with us, and if I recall correctly, he said that moving forward he will be using this option in Lutheran Service Book's Divine Service III once a month.  I wish to voice here my strong support for this practice.

I do not recall the Our Father being chanted very often by the celebrant at Luther Memorial in the year and a half that we have been there.  And, in fact, I would infer from the catechetical nature of the announcement that the Church in this place is rather unaccustomed to the practice.  And so I applaud Dr. Wieting for the courage to introduce it.

To be sure, when the pastor sings or recites the Our Father alone at the altar, he is not really praying alone, but is giving voice to the prayer of the whole Church, which of course includes all of the baptized in attendance.  We are not talking about a return to pre-Reformation notions of the mass, which would have the people feel no particular need to participate in or even know what is happening at the altar.  And so I reiterate that the celebrant must give voice, not only theologically but also literally.  It is not sufficient to mumble the prayers of the mass quietly at the altar, like my last pastor likes to do.  No, whether recited or chanted, the Our Father must be vocalized clearly and distinctly. 

Traditionally, the people then unmistakably make this praying their own by joining in the Amen.  Modern American Lutherans, in fact, are in the habit of singing an expanded "Amen" by prefacing it with the doxological For Thine is the kingdom, etc.  (I do not discourage the use of this doxology, but would only warn that too many Lutherans, like the good Protestants they think they are, assume that whenever the Our Father is prayed, it must include this expanded conclusion).  And so, when one steps back and ponders what is happening, I would actually argue that the effect of the pastor solemnly chanting the Our Father with the people responding with their robust and heartfelt singing of the doxology & Amen is that the point is reinforced, not denied, that this is the prayer of the whole Church. 

But isn't it the case, nonetheless, that every Christian ought actively to pray this prayer?  Our Lord's teaching of the Our Father was an answer to a disciple's prayer that Jesus would "teach us to pray," after all.  Indeed, we should pray the Our Father fervently and often.  We should pray it privately and also as households.  We should pray it in class groups, in social groups, and when the Church is gathered for a prayer office.  We should pray it verbatim and also make it the model for our whole prayer life, and the subject of our meditation.  However, this does not imply that there are not circumstances wherein one might pray on behalf of others.  The celebration of the holy Eucharist is one such circumstance.  And the very office of the one, in that case, who is thus praying has, by his ordination, certain priestly facets. 

The Church itself is called to a certain priesthood, by means of which her members both speak God's Word when needed and pray on behalf of others.  The pastoral office, too, is priestly, and some of the most prominent aspects of the pastor's priestly ministry are when he is "standing at the altar" (as AC XXIV quotes St. John Chrysostom).  The "priest" word is scandalous to many Lutherans, at least in reference to the one man in the room who is ordained, for it evokes notions of one who makes propitiatory sacrifices for the rest of us.  Let us be clear.  There is precisely one priesthood, that of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the presbyteral office is the office of Christ in the Church.  This Lutherans confess.  That this office has certain priestly dimensions, then, ought not be too hard to swallow, though none of them involve making sacrifice for sins.  What our Lord accomplished in His all-availing sacrifice on the cross (in which He is both priest and victim) He graciously dispenses through the hands and mouths of his ordained servants.  Besides delivering to the people the good gifts of God, the priest also gives voice to the people's faithful prayers.  At the very same time, we might say that he serves a priestly role in another sense, namely, he shows, or manifests, the activity of Christ, in Whose priesthood his ministry is comprehended.  That is, the presbyter speaks and prays in the person of Christ, and thus pictures for us the fact that our prayer is not apart from Christ, but in and with Him.  In fact, He is here, praying with us.  In like manner, it is good for the pastor to be the first to receive Holy Communion, at his own hands, and thus show us that Christ Himself is here in our midst, eating and drinking with us.

So I encourage and support the practice of the celebrant chanting the Our Father, and the people responding with their faithful Amen.  And I pray that eventually it will be the weekly practice.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

the fascination of wickedness

In the fourth chapter of the Book of Wisdom, or what some call the Wisdom of Solomon, there is that wise and rather juicy line, For the bewitching of naughtiness doth obscure things that are honest; and the wandering of concupiscence doth undermine the simple mind.  And while the King James Version, because of its timeless and poetic beauty, really ought to be the version we hear publicly read in the Church's English language liturgical celebrations, this is one of those passages which is perhaps a bit too quaint to be appreciated without consulting a more literal translation as well, like the RSV: For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. 

The fascination of wickedness.  Such a rich phrase.  The sacred writer knew well the fallen nature of sinful men.  We are so easily fascinated.  Pascal's pensee on this passage is that, in order to keep worldly passions from harming us, we ought to proceed as though we had one week to live.  That's a good thought.  We should strive to live with the awareness that eternity is just around the corner, for whether one has decades or minutes left in this world, it is really, as the saying goes, just a matter of time.  Christians in the pre-modern world had a much healthier awareness than we tend to have of the fleeting nature of life in this world.  The morbid nature of what popularly passes for culture in our modern age should be reminder enough for the thoughtful Christian not to let himself get distracted by it.  Self-discipline, however, cannot and will not turn (convert) the Christian and keep him away from what is harmful to his soul.  The reason for this is that his very heart, according to his sinful nature, is the real source of harm in his life because it is the reason for his distractibility.  It is the very heart of man, the best and most essential part of him, the part that turns all the rest, that is bewitched, fascinated by all manner of evil-including one's own sense of self-righteousness, darkened, and obscured.

The outwardly disciplined (ascetic) life of the Christian monastic tradition (and there is a noble history of this tradition even among the churches of the Augsburg Confession) is a praiseworthy way of life.  But that very history, as many can attest, shows that such discipline, such a purposeful keeping away from worldly distractions, in no way ensures that sin and wickedness will not creep in.  It need not creep in, because as we have said, it comes from within. 

Saint Jerome's experience is instructive in this regard.  Every time he felt himself distracted by his passions, he moved further away from distractions.  Finally he came to realize that the world is not the only problem; there is also the self, and it will not do to think one can escape the self.

Of course I am not arguing that we ought to give up on self-discipline. We need more of it, not less. Nevertheless, it is worth constantly reminding ourselves and confessing that it is the heart itself that needs conversion, and that we cannot convert ourselves. It must come from outside of us. 

For discipline to be truly helpful, spiritually beneficial, and healthy, it must be Christian in its very character.  That is, it must flow straight out of the side of Christ, and be immersed in the fountain of mercy that flows from His pierced and broken heart.  If the Church in this world is always in need of reformation (ecclesia semper reformanda) -for it is made up of sinful men, likewise the Christian in this world is in constant need of being connected to God's mercy and grace in Christ, he is in constant need of the remedy for his constant life of sin, namely the sacramental gifts we have in the Church, which flow from the wounds of Christ Himself, in Whom alone we find all joy and comfort, indeed, our salvation.

I think another way, then, to view this passage in Wisdom chapter 4 is to turn it over and think of it the other way around.  Namely, on what ought we be focused?  We might say that Saint Paul restates this wisdom of Solomon thus in his letter to the Philippian Church:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report;
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things.

In a world of uncertainty we can be certain of this, Christ is truth itself. 
The one honest word is the eternal Logos Himself. 
As Paul tells the Corinthians, Christ is our righteousness. 
The only true purity is the pure life of God, revealed to us in Christ.
There is no loveliness in this life apart from the One Who is love itself.
There is no good report that compares to the evangel of the grace of God in Christ.
Who is virtuous but the one exemplary Man Himself?
Who is praiseworthy but Christ?

In counseling us to think on these things, Paul is first of all orienting us to the One worthy of our attention, Christ Jesus our Lord.  And if you want to view Christ most honestly, that is, in a way which clearly sets forth what He is all about, then view Him as St. Paul pictured Him in his preaching to the Galatians, according to His bloody and life giving death. 

We who, as Wisdom 4 reminds us, are so easily bewitched by the distractions of the flesh, are asked rhetorically by the Apostle, Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

Let us fix our gaze, and the gaze of our heart, on Him, and, indeed, seize every opportunity to make use of the sacramental gifts by which His Word and Spirit abide in us.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

you may not make the sign of the cross

Today I noticed a rather humorous inconsistency in Lutheran Service Book, the liturgical resource currently favored by LC-MS officialdom.  This takes a bit of set up, so let me explain.

All five of the Mass "settings" in LSB have a rather poorly worded rubric encouraging all to make the sign of the cross at the beginning of the liturgy when they hear the trinitarian invocation.  (The point of the present argument is not to hold forth on why I do not like the statement in question, but if you are interested, it reads as follows:  The sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism.)  The rite of baptism (p. 268) begins likewise with the invocation, but does not have this word reminding everyone that they are permitted to make the sign of the cross.  While I encourage, support, and promote the use of the sign of the cross by those who believe and are baptized, let me say again that I am not a fan of this lamely worded rubric.  Nevertheless, it is there, at the top of the preparatory rite of every eucharist.  In fact, we even had it printed out in the bulletin today, along with pretty much the whole liturgy (today and tomorrow "Setting Five" is the version of the week). 

Yet right above that rubric in the printed bulletin, in all-caps, is this: MONDAY ONLY.  That is because this morning we had a baptism instead of the preparatory rite.  So we go to page 268 for the baptism, where we have the invocation without any reference to whether or not the people may make the sign of the cross. 

Think about it.  This means that it would be rather easy for someone to infer that for the first of the two liturgies, the one with the baptism, he may not make the sign of the cross.  After all, the rubric The sign of the cross may be made by all etc, is prefaced in this case with the warning, MONDAY ONLY. 

I don't blame the poor pastor who has to make these things intelligible to the people week in and week out.  Rather, this problem is one of the results of producing a liturgical book by means of committees and subcommittees.  The democratization of liturgical planning is bad enough; what we now have is something worse, the synodocorporatization of the liturgy.  The life of such a creature means, among other things, the martyrdom of consistency of message.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

a word against careless use of the Sacrament

More from Thomas a Kempis:

But greatly must we mourn and lament over our lukewarmness and negligence, that we are not drawn by greater affection to become partakers of Christ, in whom all the hope and the merit of those that are to be saved consist. For He Himself is our sanctification and redemption. He is the consolation of pilgrims and the eternal fruition of the Saints. Therefore it is grievously to be lamented that many so little consider this health-giving mystery, which maketh heaven glad and preserveth the whole world. Alas for the blindness and hardness of man's heart, that he considereth not more this unspeakable gift, and even slippeth down through the daily use, into carelessness.


The Imitation of Christ, Book Four