Monday, May 28, 2007

Saint Augustine of Canterbury

This year Memorial Day happens to fall on the Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop and Confessor. This St. Augustine was a monk whom St. Gregory sent to spread the gospel to England. St. Augustine, with about forty brothers, set out in 597, and began the work of preaching Christ to the people of England. His missionary work was filled with difficulties, yet he persisted, and eventually converted the people, including the king, Ethelbert. Eventually, Gregory made Augustine the first bishop of Canterbury.

Too often I hear the complaint of monasticism that it is a way of life that serves no good, and is of no value to the world, or the Church. There are at least two problems with this Protestant way of thinking. One is that it completely fails to appreciate just what a service to the Church a man can be who devotes his life to prayer and meditation. Just knowing that there is a monastery where monks or nuns pray for the Church is good for us. The other problem is that it fails to appreciate all the active service that is done by monks, including outright missionary work. I dare say that more missionary work has been accomplished by monks than by all of the evangelism programs the Church has even conceived. The first thing that would be Lutheran evangelizers should do is to learn to pray the Divine Office.

St. Augustine is just one example. Indeed, he is a great, shining example. And so today I thank God for fathers in the faith like Augustine of Canterbury, and I pray for the rebirth of monastic vocations among men and women, yes even in the Church of the Augsburg Confession.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saint Bede the Venerable

The Feast of Pentecost rightly gets the attention this day in the Church. For it is one of the three greatest feasts of the year. At the moment, though, I’d like to say a word about the saint that is commemorated today because it is his day on the sanctoral cycle, namely, Saint Bede the Venerable, Confessor and Doctor of the Church.

When I say that Saint Bede is commemorated today, what I mean is that, since his feast (27 May on the calendar) is this year obscured by the more important Feast of the Pentecost, the collect for his feast is said after the Collect for Pentecost in the Mass. Commemoration involves a couple of other things as well in the Divine Office, but more on that some other time.

Another question that might come up at this point involves the dating of this feast. Lutheran Service Book has followed the modern Roman Catholic Church in moving the Feast of Saint Bede from 27 May to 25 May. Why? That would have to be answered by those responsible for LSB. I would simply offer a few thoughts on the question.

1. If the rationale was to move the feast to a more historically sensible place, my response would be that, in fact, neither 27 nor 25 May is Bede’s birthday. He was actually born to eternal life on 26 May.

2. Such historical arguments, even when they are accurate (as I say, this time it is not accurate) are not weighty enough, in my view, to make for a compelling case to move the date of a feast that has been in place for so long.

3. A final thought on the question of the date of the feast: I cannot help noticing that LSB gives two options for the feast of the Visitation of the BVM. Those who keep to the old calendar are given the date of 2 July, and those who keep the modern, post-Vatican II calendar, are given the date of 31 May. Whether or not it makes any sense to give two options for such a thing (I don’t think it makes any sense, but this is not the occasion to develop that topic), the question this brings up is why give the option for that feast, but not for other feasts they have changed on us?

As I say, this day, 27 May, is traditionally the day of Saint Bede, Confessor and Doctor of the Church. I do find it interesting that his feast does fall this year on Pentecost, the feast of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples. Invoking the Holy Ghost turned out to be the last prayer of Bede’s life in this world, as you will see in the following account from Dom Gueranger:

“On the Tuesday before the Ascension he grew worse, and it was evident that the end was near. He was full of joy and spent the day in dictating and the night in prayers of thanksgiving. The dawn of Wednesday morning found him urging his disciples to hurry on their work. At the hour of Terce they left him to take part in the procession made on that day with the relics of the saints. One of them, a child, who stayed with him, said: ‘Dear master, there is but one chapter left; hast thou strength for it?’ ‘It is easy,’ he answered with a smile; ‘Take thy pen, cut it and write-but make haste.’ At the hour of None, he sent for the priests of the monastery and gave them little presents, begging them to remember him at the altar. All wept. But he was full of joy, saying: ‘It is time for me, if it so please my Creator, to return to him who made me out of nothing, when as yet I was not. My sweet Judge has well ordered my life, and now the time of dissolution is at hand. I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ. Yea, my soul longs to see Christ my king in his beauty.’

“So did he pass this last day. Then came the touching dialogue with Wibert, the child mentioned above. ‘Dear master, there is yet one sentence more.’ ‘Write quickly.’ After a moment: ‘It is finished,’ said the child. ‘Thou sayest well,’ replied the blessed man. ‘It is finished. Take my head in thy hands and support me over against the Oratory, for it is a great joy to me to see myself over against that holy place where I have so often prayed.’ They had laid him on the flood or the cell. He said: ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,’ and when he had named the Holy Ghost, he yielded up his soul.” (vol. 8: 614-615)

Some know Bede from his history of the English Church up to his time (he fell asleep in 735). Some know him from his sermons and commentaries. Some know him by way of his legacy as a Benedictine contemplative, who had many brothers under his tutelage. I’d like to end this tribute by quoting Father Lasance, “Historians relate of him that he passed no time in idleness and never ceased to study; he always read, always wrote, always thought, and always prayed.”

Deacon David Muehlenbruch

I am gradually getting to know the features and capabilities of this blog, and one such feature is the links space you see off to the side. I thought I'd devote a word to those links. Please note that they are listed alphabetically. Other than alphabetical, do not infer any other sort of favoritism within the list.

David Muehlenbruch's blog is devoted pretty much exclusively to the rubrics of the liturgy. He does have plans to start blogging there again, and when he does, hopefully he will be encouraged to keep it up. Likewise I highly recommend his web site,, as an excellent liturgical resource.

David Muehlenbruch is an ordained deacon of the Church. Admittedly, that means nothing to most in our church today. I pray that the subject of the ordained diaconate (both permanant and transitional) will be seriously considered among us in the coming years as a potentially valuable part of the renewal of traditional Lutheranism. Deacon Muehlenbruch studied under the great Arthur Carl Piepkorn in St. Louis, and earned a Master of Divinity. He has studied the Latin Rite extensively, and I highly recommend his web resources, for they are a true service to the Church.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

my old yahoo blog

My older blog, , contains some material that might be of interest to some. Therefore I wanted to make sure you were aware of it. I rather like this new blog, so I think I will be focussing my blogging here. Just wanted to take the opportunity, though, to post something about the old blog.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Is it more correct to say that the Church is built up by the Word of God and the Sacraments, or that the Church is built by the blood of the martyrs?

It becomes clear to the student of Holy Writ that both statements are true, ie., that on the one hand Christ’s Church is built and sustained by the Spirit’s work of bringing the life of Christ to man, by means of the Word and the holy Sacraments (therefore we call the Spirit the Giver of Life – vivificantem), and that on the other hand, the Church is built upon, and nourished by, the blood of the martyrs. Both truths are scriptural. What does this mean? To the literalist, the answer is to focus on one and deny the other. The true answer is to ponder how the two truths relate to each other. For they do relate to each other intimately, rather than contradict.

The Scriptures teach us a great deal about the value of Christian suffering, and what God can accomplish through it, though sometimes they do so by other means than the blood metaphor. Take, for instance, our Lord’s words in John 12, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Now consider, in light of such words, what St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote on the road to his martyrdom, “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread.”

Far from being in competition with each other, the two truths of what builds the Church are related in deep and mysterious ways. I call the reader’s attention to the fact that the same Ignatius I just quoted also wrote, "I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ; and for drink I desire his blood.” To interpret our present sufferings in light of the Passion of our Lord Jesus, upon whom we feed in the Blessed Sacrament, is natural. For we are members of His holy Body. Hence the life of Christ is to be found today in His body the Church. Even at the microcosmic level, each member of that Body can say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2). And this is one reason, by the way, that I am not opposed necessarily to those who say that Mary crushes the serpent under foot. For Mary is the type par excellence of the Church. It is our Lord who does this crushing, which itself implies that the Church also crushes the serpent under foot, for in marriage what is one party’s is now the other’s as well, so Christ’s victory is made ours. Paul teaches as much in Romans 16, where he writes, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet.” And for this we pray in the classic litany, for the Lord “to beat down Satan under our feet.” The Lord does the fighting. Indeed, the fighting is already accomplished in His work on the cross. Yet the cosmic battle rages here in time, where His fighting is done in and through the Christian’s life of faith.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP