Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An LSB Curiosity

Surely Lutherans would all agree that Christmas and Epiphany are important feasts of the Church Year, and that they are immovable. That is, they are on the same date each year, no matter on what day of the week they may fall. Therefore, I would expect to see them on the list of Feasts and Festivals on page xi of Lutheran Service Book. Yet they are not there. Of course it might be pointed out that most people already know that Christmas and Epiphany are on 25 December and 6 January respectively. Nevertheless, they ought to be included on that calendar, for at least two reasons. 1. Even though their popularity might make their dates well known, their importance also makes them at least as deserving, just by the nature of their solemnity, as feasts like Sts. Simon & Jude and Matthias. 2. If we want this book to actually be a teaching resource, for our children, for everyone, then it would be helpful to be as complete and accurate as possible in things like this. So why leave them out?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saint Thomas of Canterbury

On this, the 29th of December, the Fifth Day of Christmas, the Church commemorates Saint Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. St. Thomas was martyred on this day as he was beginning Vespers in the great cathedral, in 1170. Much has been written about the life and death of the great twelfth century bishop. I encourage you, in fact, to pick up a book about him this winter, and read, and enjoy it. You may have studied his life already, but it deserves to be studied and meditated upon again. The Divine Office commemorates St. Thomas with this antiphon and versicle.

He that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
V. The righteous shall flourish like a palm-tree.
R. And shall spread abroad like a cedar in Libanus.

Qui odit animam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam aeternam custodit eam.
V. Iustus ut palma florebit.
R. Sicut cedrus Libani multiplicabitur.

Below I share with you the entry for St. Thomas in the classic 1894 text of Butler’s Lives of the Saints.

ST. THOMAS, son of Gilbert Becket, was born in Southwark, England, in 1117. When a youth he was attached to the household of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent him to Paris and Bologna to study law. He became Archdeacon of Canterbury, then Lord High Chancellor of England; and in 1160, when Archbishop Theobald died, the king insisted on the consecration of St. Thomas in his stead. St. Thomas refused, warning the king that from that hour their friendship would be broken. In the end he yielded, and was consecrated. The conflict at once broke out; St. Thomas resisted the royal customs, which violated the liberties of the Church and the laws of the realm. After six years of contention, partly spent in. exile, St. Thomas, with full foresight of martyrdom before him, returned as a good shepherd to his Church. On the 29th of December, 1170, just as vespers were beginning, four knights broke into the cathedral, crying: "Where is the archbishop? where is the traitor?" The monks fled, and St. Thomas might easily have escaped. But he advanced, saying: "Here I am—no traitor, but archbishop. What seek you?" "Your life," they cried. "Gladly do I give it," was the reply; and bowing his head, the invincible martyr was hacked and hewn till his soul went to God. Six months later Henry II. submitted to be publicly scourged at the Saint's shrine, and restored to the Church her full rights.

Reflection.—"Learn from St. Thomas," says Father Faber, "to fight the good fight even to the shedding of blood, or, to what men find harder, the shedding of their good name by pouring it out to waste on the earth."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Luther on Mary's Virginity

At the blog of the Society of Saint Polycarp, please find a posting featuring a passage from Martin Luther's Church Postil, which includes a discussion of the holiness, purity, and virginity, in partu and post partum, of the Mother of God. I think it is a gem of evangelical preaching, and I invite your comments, questions, and discussion over there.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Liturgical Renewal at St Stephen's

There are remarkable developments taking place at St. Stephen's in Milwaukee. I report and comment on them here in order to show that there is a layman who is grateful and proud that his pastor is so concerned about being faithful to our Lutheran liturgical tradition, and also to give others, pastors and laymen, encouragement that these things can happen in today's Missouri Synod. I would call what I am witnessing lately a real liturgical renewal. And since that phrase has been used by some to mean something different from what I intend, let me put it another way. There is a conscious and active and ongoing restoration of traditional evangelical and catholic liturgical practice going on, and it is wonderful to be part of it.

For example, there has been a significant increase in Masses celebrated on holy days that come up, even when they happen during the week. So, eg., on the second day of Christmas we had St. Stephen's Day Mass, for what may have been the first time ever at this parish. Fr. May tells me that it was observed before, but only if it fell on a Sunday. So this year our St. Stephen's Day liturgy was a real milestone, one which I feel is particularly special since Stephen is the patron of our parish. Speaking of milestones, we had the Christmas Midnight Mass here for the first time in at least several decades, maybe ever. Then, Sat. morning we had Mass for the feast of St. John, the holy evangelist.

Another example: the Greek Kyrie has been restored. There are certain prayers in the liturgy which, I would argue, deserve to be kept enshrined in their own language. "Amen" is one such Hebrew word. So is "Alleluia," and "Hosanna." Likewise the Kyrie in Greek. (Certain ordinary portions of the liturgy ought also be restored to the Latin where and when this is feasible, but that is another discussion.) So now in the Mass after the Introit, we pray Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. (I don't think we've tried this yet at a sung Mass; I'm not sure how that would best work musically, but I'm sure it's a hurdle we can cross.)

Another example, if one attends Mass at our church, he will hear readings from the Apocrypha at certain feasts, such as St. John Evangelist, with the lesson from Sirach 15. (As an interesting liturgical note, a reading from this book is traditionally introduced with the words, "Lectio libri Sapientiae," which might lead some to think it is a reading from the book called Wisdom. This is, however, the liturgical way of introducing a lesson from Ecclesiasticus, also called Sirach.) What a great gift, to hear the beautiful, evangelical words of Ecclesiasticus from the lectern of one of our Lutheran churches.

There are other examples of elements of liturgical practice which I appreciate here at St. Stephen's, such as Fr. May's practice of saying Mass ad orientem, or his genuflections and elevations, which reflect a profound belief in and reverence for the real presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. These things, and others, were already in place, and he has built upon them in recent months. His practice has become more consistently traditional, and I look forward to even more milestones in our parish's tradition in the future.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

From the Divine Office for Ember Saturday

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

A Homily of Pope Saint Gregory

The names of the reigning sovereign of the Roman empire and of the kings of Judea serve to indicate the period when the Forerunner of our Redeemer took up his task of preaching. John had come to announce Him who would redeem some of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. Hence the span of his preaching is designated by mentioning who it was who ruled the Gentiles at that time and who they were who governed the Jews. The very manner of enumerating these earthly rulers suggests that the Gentiles would be gathered together, but the Jews scattered because of their sin of unbelief. For it is shown that in the Roman republic one man was in charge, while in the Judean kingdom the authority was split four ways.

Indeed, we have it from the mouth of our Redeemer that "every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation." It becomes clear, then, that a Judea split under so many rulers had reached its end as a kingdom. And not only the civil rulers are mentioned, but also the high priests who were in office when these things took place. And rightly so; for John the Baptist was announcing One Who was King and Priest at the same time. Hence the Evangelist Luke fixes the period of John's preaching by reference to both kingdom and priesthood.

"And he went into all the region about the Jordon, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." It is clear to any reader that John not only preached a baptism of repentance, but also administered it to some. Yet his baptism was not able to effect the remission of sins. It is only in Christ's baptism that our sins are remitted. We must pay attention to the wording, therefore: "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." John could not give a baptism which would remit sins, and so he preached that kind of baptism. Observe the parallel: just as John by the "word" of his preaching was the forerunner of the incarnate Word of the Father, so by his baptism, which could not remit sins, he was forerunner of the baptism of repentance by which sins are remitted.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Aspect of the Ember Days

Ember Days are fast days, as we have discussed. They are also special days of prayer and supplication, in which an emphasis on classic prayers such are the Litany and the penitential Psalms are appropriate. Now I would like to add a note about yet another dimension to the Ember Days.

In times past the Ember Days would include the Ordination of priests. This was not limited to the spring of the year, as we might expect today, with our modern notions of seminary training, heavily based as it is upon the academic year. In fact, the Ember Saturday in Advent was once a common and very important occasion for Ordinations. The Ordination was conducted at first late on Saturday, as a sort of vigil, almost as a parallel to the Baptisms that took place at the Paschal Vigil late on Holy Saturday. Like the Paschal Vigil, the Ember Saturday Ordinations gradually began to take place earlier in the day, until the Ordination was eventually recognized as an Ember Saturday Mass.

My aim is most definitely not, however, to make a merely historical observation. Rather, I suggest that the Ember Day, especially Ember Saturday, is an excellent occasion for us to pray, whether gathered in public worship, or in our private devotion, for the increase and edification of the Ministry of teaching the Gospel and of administering the Sacraments. Let us pray for our pastors and priests. Let us pray that they will be strengthened in the faith, in their life of prayer, in their handling of the Word of truth, and that even by their life they may show forth the truth of the Word, that is, Christ Himself. Let us pray, as we do in the Litany, that God would put an end to all schisms and causes of offence, as they often manifest themselves among the clergy. Let us pray that God would send faithful laborers into His harvest. Let us pray for the seminarians, that they may learn pure doctrine, and how to preach it, and that they may learn to pray, and to administer the medicine of the Gospel to those for whom they will care.

To these prayers I would also suggest another, related one. I suggest that we pray for an increase in our church of an appreciation and desire for the historic office of Deacon. Further, I suggest we pray for all rightful bishops throughout the world. Let such thoughts form part of your Ember Saturday prayer this year.

Ember Day Devotion

As discussed in a previous post, one dimension of the Ember days is fasting. Another is a special emphasis on prayer and supplication. So aside from attending celebrations of the Divine Office and Mass, if you can, I also suggest, for your devotion, that you pray the Litany, and perhaps a few psalms (especially for those who have not prayed the Divine Office). The Litany you can find on page 110 of The Lutheran Hymnal. An excellent choice of psalms to accompany the Litany would be the seven so called Penitential Psalms. They are, according to the common Hebrew numbering, Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143. You might end each of them with the Glory Be, to wit,

Glory be to the Father and to the Son * and to the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, * world without end. Amen.

For your convenience, I provide below these Psalms in the classic English form of the Coverdale translation.

O LORD, rebuke me not in thine indignation, * neither chasten me in thy displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am weak; * O LORD, heal me, for my bones are vexed.
My soul also is sore troubled: * but, LORD, how long wilt thou punish me?
Turn thee, O LORD, and deliver my soul; * O save me, for thy mercy’s sake.
For in death no man remembereth thee; * and who will give thee thanks in the pit?
I am weary of my groaning: every night wash I my bed, * and water my couch with my tears.
My beauty is gone for very trouble, * and worn away because of all mine enemies.
Away from me, all ye that work vanity; * for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The LORD hath heard my petition; * the LORD will receive my prayer.
All mine enemies shall be confounded, and sore vexed; * they shall be turned back, and put to shame suddenly.

Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven, * and whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth no sin, * and in whose spirit there is no guile.
For whilst I held my tongue, my bones consumed away * through my daily complaining.
For thy hand is heavy upon me day and night, * and my moisture is like the drought in summer.
I will acknowledge my sin unto thee; * and mine unrighteousness have I not hid.
I said, I will confess my sins unto the LORD; * and so thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin.
For this shall every one that is godly make his prayer unto thee, * in a time when thou mayest be found;
But in the great water-floods * they shall not come nigh him.
Thou art a place to hide me in; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; * thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.
I will inform thee, and teach thee in the way wherein thou shalt go; * and I will guide thee with mine eye.
Be ye not like to horse and mule, * which have no understanding;
Whose mouths must be held with bit and bridle, * lest they fall upon thee.
Great plagues remain for the ungodly; * but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD, mercy embraceth him on every side.
Be glad, O ye righteous, and rejoice in the LORD; * and be joyful, all ye that are true of heart.

Put me not to rebuke, O LORD, in thine anger; * neither chasten me in thy heavy displeasure.
For thine arrows stick fast in me, * and thy hand presseth me sore.
There is no health in my flesh, because of thy displeasure; * neither is there any rest in my bones, by reason of my sin.
For my wickednesses are gone over my head, * and are like a sore burden, too heavy for me to bear.
My wounds stink, and are corrupt, * through my foolishness.
I am brought into so great trouble and misery, * that I go mourning all the day long.
For my loins are filled with a sore disease, * and there is no whole part in my body.
I am feeble and sore smitten; * I have roared for the very disquietness of my heart.
Lord, thou knowest all my desire; * and my groaning is not hid from thee.
My heart panteth, my strength hath failed me, my strength hath failed me, * and the sight of mine eyes is gone from me.
My lovers and my neighbours * did stand looking upon my trouble,
And my kinsmen stood afar off: * they also that sought after my life laid snares for me.
And they that went about to do me evil talked of wickedness, * and imagined deceit all the day long.
As for me, I was like a deaf man, and heard not; * and as one that is dumb, who doth not open his mouth.
I became even as a man that heareth not, * and in whose mouth are no reproofs.
For in thee, O LORD, have I put my trust; * thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God.
I have required that they, even mine enemies, should not triumph over me: * for when my foot slipt, they rejoiced greatly against me.
And I truly am set in the plague, * and my heaviness is ever in my sight.
For I will confess my wickedness, * and be sorry for my sin.
But mine enemies live, and are mighty; * and they that hate me wrongfully are many in number.
They also that reward evil for good are against me; * because I follow the thing that good is.
Forsake me not, O LORD, my God; * be not thou far from me.
Haste thee to help me, * O Lord God of my salvation.

Have mercy upon me, O God, * after thy great goodness;
According to the multitude of thy mercies * do away mine offences.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness, * and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults, * and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight; * that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, * and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts, * and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; * thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness, * that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn thy face from my sins, * and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God, * and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence, * and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of thy help again, * and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked, * and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health; * and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord, * and my mouth shall show thy praise.
For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee; * but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: * a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion; * build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations; * then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.

Hear my prayer, O LORD, * and let my crying come unto thee.
Hide not thy face from me * in the time of my trouble;
Incline thine ear unto me when I call; * O hear me, and that right soon.
For my days are consumed away like smoke, * and my bones are burnt up as it were a firebrand.
My heart is smitten down, and withered like grass; * so that I forget to eat my bread.
For the voice of my groaning, * my bones will scarce cleave to my flesh.
I am become like a pelican in the wilderness, * and like an owl that is in the desert.
I have watched, * and am even as it were a sparrow, that sitteth alone upon the house-top.
Mine enemies revile me all the day long; * and they that are mad upon me are sworn together against me.
For I have eaten ashes as it were bread, * and mingled my drink with weeping;
And that, because of thine indignation and wrath; * for thou hast taken me up, and cast me down.
My days are gone like a shadow, * and I am withered like grass.
But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever, * and thy remembrance throughout all generations.
Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Sion; * for it is time that thou have mercy upon her, yea, the time is come.
And why? thy servants think upon her stones, * and it pitieth them to see her in the dust.
The heathen shall fear thy Name, O LORD; * and all the kings of the earth thy Majesty;
When the LORD shall build up Sion, * and when his glory shall appear;
When he turneth him unto the prayer of the poor destitute: * and despiseth not their desire.
This shall be written for those that come after, * and the people which shall be born shall praise the LORD.
For he hath looked down from his sanctuary; * out of the heaven did the LORD behold the earth;
That he might hear the mourning of such as are in captivity, * and deliver the children appointed unto death;
That they may declare the Name of the LORD in Sion, * and his worship at Jerusalem;
When the people are gathered together, * and the kingdoms also, to serve the LORD.
He brought down my strength in my journey, * and shortened my days.
But I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of mine age; * as for thy years, they endure throughout all generations.
Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, * and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: * they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed; * but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
The children of thy servants shall continue, * and their seed shall stand fast in thy sight.

Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O LORD; * Lord, hear my voice.
O let thine ears consider well * the voice of my complaint.
If thou, LORD, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, * O Lord, who may abide it?
For there is mercy with thee; * therefore shalt thou be feared.
I look for the LORD; my soul doth wait for him; in his word is my trust: * my soul fleeth unto the Lord;
Before the morning watch; I say, before the morning watch: * O Israel, trust in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is mercy, * and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel * from all his sins.

Hear my prayer, O LORD, and consider my desire; * hearken unto me for thy truth and righteousness’ sake.
And enter not into judgment with thy servant; * for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.
For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; * he hath smitten my life down to the ground;
He hath laid me in the darkness, as the men that have been long dead: * therefore is my spirit vexed within me, and my heart within me is desolate.
Yet do I remember the time past, I muse upon all thy works; * yea, I exercise myself in the works of thy hands.
I stretch forth my hands unto thee; * my soul gaspeth unto thee as a thirsty land.
Hear me, O LORD, and that soon; * for my spirit waxeth faint:
Hide not thy face from me, * lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
O let me hear thy loving-kindness betimes in the morning; * for in thee is my trust:
Show thou me the way that I should walk in; * for I lift up my soul unto thee.
Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies; for I flee unto thee to hide me: * teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee, for thou art my God;
Let thy loving Spirit lead me forth into the land of righteousness: * quicken me, O LORD, for thy Name’s sake;
And for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble: * and of thy goodness slay mine enemies,
And destroy all them that vex my soul; * for I am thy servant.

From the Divine Office for Ember Friday

On Ember Wednesday the Scripture for Matins was of the Annunciation. So today, fittingly, the Scripture assigned to the Divine Office at Matins on this Ember Friday in Advent is the following account of the Visitation of the Mother of God to her cousin Elizabeth, from the first chapter of Luke.

And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

A Homily of Saint Ambrose, Bishop
It is normal that anyone who wishes to be believed should establish his credibility, and so after announcing to the Virgin Mary something that could not be seen, the Angel cited an example to buttress her faith by showing that whatever is pleasing to God is possible to Him. He told Mary about her cousin's having conceived a child although she was an elderly woman, already sterile. As soon as the holy Virgin had heard the Angel's message, she arose and journeyed through the hill country to visit her cousin. She did not go out of a spirit of skepticism over the heavenly oracle, or because of any uncertainty regarding the messenger, or because she doubted her cousin's pregnancy. She went joyfully, as one goes to fulfill a vow, devoutly, as pious persons perform a duty, swiftly. For her heart was full of happiness. Where else should she hasten than to the hills and heights, now that she was full of God? The grace of the Holy Ghost does not undertake things sluggishly.

As pious women, you also should learn from the example of the Mother of God how to take tender care of a relative who is with child. Until that moment Mary had remained alone at home, but now her maidenly reserve does not keep her from the public roads. The rough mountain byways do not daunt her zealous purpose; nor the long and wearisome journey her charitable zeal. With her heart bent on loving service and giving no thought to any obstacle, our Virgin leaves her home and hastens through the hill country.

You, maidens, follow her example. Do not idle about from place to place, or loiter in the streets, or mix in public gossip. When in the public view Mary went in haste. But she tarried long, indeed for three whole months, when at the home of her cousin.

Maidens, if you imitate Mary's modesty, imitate her humility as well. Cousin goes to visit cousin, she who was young to the one advanced in years. And Mary, too, acted first and was the first to give greeting. For it is proper that the more chaste a virgin is, the humbler should she be. She should know how to be of service to her seniors. She who professes chastity should be a model of humility. Humility is the basis of devoted love, and also a norm of doctrine. For this example gives us something to ponder, how the greater comes to the lesser, and comes to aid the lesser. Mary comes to Elizabeth. Christ, to John.

Robert Preus on the Divine Call

I recommend to students, pastors, and laypeople an essay from the sainted Dr. Robert Preus' titled, "The Doctrine of the Call in the Confessions and Lutheran Orthodoxy." For it skillfully addresses many of the ways in which today's Missouri Synod diverges from the doctrine and practice of the Call and the Ministry confessed in AC V, XIV, & XXVIII. What follows this sentence is a couple of juicy passages from this essay.

The CTCR document on The Ministry, after broadening the term "ministry" to include also every kind of auxiliary office (19), redefines the term "called," at least as it is used in respect to the ministry of the Word in AC XIV. "A person is 'called' when he or she is summoned by the church (?) to the office of Word and Sacrament or to an office auxiliary to it on a full-time permanent basis and by education, by certification, and by solemn and public act (eg., ordination or commissioning) is brought into a unique relationship with the church from which he or she has unique authority and through which he or she has been ordained or commissioned, at a specific post for the length of time which is ordinarily continuing and indefinite, but which in certain cases and under certain specific circumstances may be a specified period of time, which is evidenced by the individual's name being placed on and retained on one of the official rosters of the Synod" (p. 29). This is all one sentence! But who, really, knows what it means? Certainly the term "call" is given a new meaning, a meaning quite different from that in AC XIV. Perhaps the reason for the statement of the CTCR was simply to justify what was already happening in the use of nomenclature in the Lutheran Annual. We can understand no other reason for this new, confusing definition of the term.

Prior to the turn of the century men were called to only two positions (status) as ministers: pastors and professors (teachers of theology). These two positions were both thought to embrace the Predigtamt, and in fact the two positions were combined. Then in the 1890s a controversy on the office of parochial school teachers broke out between the Wisconsin Synod and the Missouri Synod. J.P.Koehler led the Wisconsin camp in advocating the "call" being extended to teachers. The Predigtamt which belonged to the universal priesthood and sprang from the universal priesthood was exercized publically by a school teacher as well as by a pastor of a local congregation, Koehler maintained. The Predigtamt was not the pastoral office (Pfarramt), but embraced all sorts of other offices and possible multiplication of them (Hoefling). School teachers were called, but, for some reason, not ordained. Missouri resisted that change in practice for half a century. For in Missouri's theology, as clearly taught in the Confessions, especially the Treatise, the public ministry of the Word was an exercize of Christ's ministry through the apostolate and was a unique office. Only to this specific office could suitable persons be called, and only to this office could one be ordained.

Then, long after the controversy with the Wisconsin Synod, changes came in the LCMS. Day school teachers were called, various district and synod staff workers, often occupied in affairs not directly related to the ministry of the Word, DCEs and others. Throughout her history district presidents were always in the ministry of the Word, having a call to a local congregation. Now since the 1950s almost all of them have no call to a congregation. Many of them perhaps perceive that they have a temporary call by virtue of their election; but do they? This was not the case in Luther's or Chemnitz' day when all Superintendents were also pastors. Nor did visitors, who always had parishes, receive calls. And I suspect that they do not now. Perhaps a call is given only to those, men and women, who work full time in the congregation or synod and whose work is tangental to the one ministry of Word and Sacrament? But one thing seems certain: the proliferation of "calls" and "ministries" in the Missouri Synod has caused great confusion and degraded the one office of the ministry, to say nothing of our understanding of AC XIV and doctrine of the call.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Flectamus Genua

The Ember Days give us clues, I think, to dimensions of the Church's liturgy which go back to ancient Church usage. They are a little like the liturgy of Holy Week in that way. So, for example, we have this week, on Ember Wednesday, Ember Friday, and Ember Saturday, some of the very few occasions in the Church Year when Old Testament lessons are called for at Mass.

Another unusual phenomenon is the following rubrical rarity. Before the collect, the celebrant says, "Oremus." The Deacon then says, "Flectamus genua." Then the subdeacon says, "Levate." (When the priest celebrates low Mass, he makes all three announcements.) Fr. Petersen poses the question at his blog as to why this does not take place in the Ember Friday Mass. It's a good question. I'd like to research it myself when I am able. And if any reader of this blog has the answer, please share it.

A couple of comments are worth making on this rubric. It is designed to give the people a distinct, prolonged moment in which to silently pray, before the "Levate" (which is perhaps best translated "Arise") is announced. Therefore the flectamus genua is a call to kneel, that is, to lower to both knees. Even though we often, and understandably, translate flectamus genua as "genuflect," in this case I would argue we should translate it as "Let us kneel." For a genuflection is a lowering the right knee to the floor, and for just a moment, then returning right away to standing position.

The concept behind this rubric, I think, is that we are called upon to silently bring before God our petitions, and then for the Church's yearnings and prayers to be "collected" in the collect.

A Word on Fasting

While December is a time of much preparations for Christmas, and staff Christmas parties, and increasing Christmas joy and celebration as we gather with family and friends, all of which is hard to avoid, and in fact perfectly fine in themselves, it is also the season of Advent. Therefore we do well to remind each other that spiritual preparation for Christmas, and a part of the Church's gift of Advent, includes the discipline of fasting.

There are several manifestations of Christian fasting, in various Christian traditions, and in various times of the Church Year. So let me just say a brief word on some of the fasts that are relevant to our Western tradition, and to this time of year.

Note Well
While the discipline of fasting is generally encouraged, I would discourage fasting for those who are very young, very old, sick, weak, or pregnant. I encourage it for anyone who can handle it, and who will use it to further his devotion.

Advent Fast
As I say, it is understandable that we will be engaged in many "Christmasy" activities during December, but we do well to watch ourselves, that we do not utterly lose all traces of the true penitential nature of Advent. To borrow a phrase from author Stephen Tomkins, I recommend that we get back to the spirit of Advent by, as much as possible, "giving up Christmas for Advent." A traditional form of the Advent fast would be to fast on the weekdays, which means to limit oneself to one reasonable sized meal and up to two smaller meals, and to abstain from meat on Fridays. The meat abstinence does allow for fish, to be clear. There are Oriental forms of the Advent fast which are stricter than this, and indeed, the modern Roman Rite does not even require this fast, except for the Friday abstention. I recommend it, however, as a worthy discipline to consider making part of your Advent devotion.

Ember Days
Along with the spring, summer, and autumn, the winter brings us the series of Ember Days. The Ember Days of Advent, to be clear, are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday which follow in that order after St. Lucy's Day, which this year means that yesterday, tomorrow, and Saturday are the Ember Days. One aspect of the Ember Days is fasting. There are other aspects, on which I may reflect a bit in another post. The Ember Days fast traditionally means to fast and abstain. That is, to keep to no more than one normal sized meal, and no more than two smaller meals, and to keep from eating any meat.

Vigil of Christmas
The Vigil of Christmas is also a traditional fast day. First, let's be clear on what we mean by the Vigil of Christmas, or as it is also called, Christmas Eve. It is not merely the evening before Christmas. Rather, it is the full day of the 24th of December. On that day the tradition of the Church asks us to both fast, as defined above, and to abstain, as already defined. It is, therefore, like Fridays, a day in which fish is traditionally served at supper, as we make our final preparations for the Christmas feast, and prepare to go to the midnight Mass.

Eucharistic Fast
I would say a word on the eucharistic fast because there seems to be an increase, thank God, of interest in the Lord's Supper than there was a generation ago, and even, as we have observed lately here, more weekday Masses offered in our parishes than in the past. So with increased frequency of communion, which is certainly to be encouraged for anyone who feels himself in need of the medicine of immortality, even on a daily basis, I strongly encourage such communicants to remember to not let this increased frequency of communion lead to a diminished devotion. Of course increased devotion is one of the aims and benefits of frequent communion, but since we are human, our flesh tends at times, out of its laziness, to pervert such gifts into mere religious routine. So the Church in her wisdom has given us certain disciplines which can be a great help in our preparation for Mass. One of them is fasting. Traditionally one fasts for twelve hours before mass by abstaining from all food except water and medicine. One might at least fast from midnight until after Mass. Ideally the Holy Supper is the first meal of the Christian's day, after which we break the fast by having, you guessed it, breakfast.

In fasting we give our bodies a rest from its normal indulgence, and instead focus our mind and heart on our prayer and devotion. As Saint Leo said, "Fasting has ever been the nourishment of virtue. Abstinence is the source of chaste thoughts, of wise resolutions, and of salutary counsel."

Reverence & the Liturgy

This past summer I was faced with open and explicit accusations of legalism and pharisaism from a couple of churchmen for mentioning that we could learn something from the traditional rubric which has the celebrant hold his thumb and forefinger together after the consecration, and from the traditional practice of receiving the Body of Christ on the tongue instead of touching it with the hand. Perhaps even more disturbing than these accusations of legalism leveled at me is the way in which these men ridiculed, made fun of, and belittled such traditional rubrics of reverent conduct vis a vis the true presence of our Lord’s sacred Body and Blood in the Sacrament. One of them ridiculed them as “such contortions.” The other ridiculed the idea of holding one’s fingers “just so,” and called it “hyper-ritualization” and “absurd.” While being intolerant of my advocacy of traditional conduct toward the sacred species, this churchman allowed someone else to advocate in a comment at his blog the disposing of dropped consecrated particles by means of the “dust-buster.” I would not bring up such scandalous talk on their part if in the months since then there would have been any word acknowledging that they were mistaken on my position, or that there was a change of heart. Nor do I do so in order to continue a fight, though I won’t shy away from it.

I bring it up because as I was reading about the development of the liturgy lately, I was brought to reflect on perhaps the most revealing of the silly claims thrown about in the “argument” of a few months ago. (If these interlocutors would make a reasoned argument, I would leave the quotes out of this word.) The claim I have in mind is that the careful handling of the Body of Christ is a rubricism which comes out of the 13th century, and results from a theology of transubstantiation. It is purely of the Thomistic tradition, in other words.

In fact, the practice of the priest placing the Body of Christ in the mouth of the communicant dates to the ninth century in Gaul, and it dates to the sixth century in Rome. It was a reform that was necessary to curb a growing irreverence toward the Sacrament. Apparently there was a problem in some churches, where the people were led to think it was acceptable to go right up to the altar, and take the Eucharist for themselves.

Such anecdotes of irreverence are not mere historical curiosity, however. It is ironic that some of the moderns of our Church today think themselves so clever, so gloriously divergent from the past as they try to forge an emerging church. For it turns out that what goes around will come around again, especially when the Church grows sleepy and falls from its vocation of vigilance.

There are churches today in the Missouri Synod where the people gather in a circle in the chancel, and the paten is passed around, one person taking from it, and then handing it to the next, and so on. Then the same with the chalice, as one communicant hands it to the one next to him, and he to the next, until it comes all the way around.

While some preachers make fun of the idea of the priest with his pinky finger sticking out as he holds his thumb & forefinger together, the communicant is practically required to stick the pinky out when taking hold of the tiny “individual communion cup” in so many Lutheran churches today. How irreverent (intended or not) that many take a sip of the little cup, and set the rest down, leaving so much of the precious Blood of Christ to go to waste.

A few short years ago there was a meeting of seminary professors and ecclesiastical bureaucrats, where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated, in a conference room, with the bread & wine set out in the middle of each of several large round tables where the participants were seated. The Words of Christ were spoken by someone in the front of the room, the idea being that these elements were now to be thought of as consecrated. How many other instances of this sort go on I do not know.

There are endless accounts of the irreverence of the Holy Mass at Synodical Youth Gatherings (which ironically is often the only large event at the gathering specifically not called a “mass event,” according to witnesses from whom I have heard).

There are pastors who barely pause at all when reciting the words of consecration over the bread and wine. The one thing that must be avoided, in the view of many, is what President Barry, of blessed memory, often referred to as the extreme practices of “transubstantiationism,” such as the elevations of the Sacrament, genuflections, and reciting or chanting the consecratory Words slowly and distinctly over the elements.

There is a real crisis in today’s Church, viz., that of the drastic loss of reverence for the true and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Some Lutherans think that it would be far worse if there were a loss of reverence for the Gospel itself. So let me put it into terms that will resonate with them. The Sacrament of the Altar, as Luther pointed out, is the Gospel. So the loss of reverence for the Sacrament is a diminished reverence for the Gospel. Some call this a catechetical crisis, or an aspect of today’s catechetical crisis. I do not disagree with that. I would urge, however, that we not see it only as a catechetical matter, at least not in a narrow sense of catechesis. For the people, whether the little children, or the occasional visitor, or the long time parishioner, or the thirteen year old who is engaged in intense catechetical study, learn just as much, I would argue, if not more, from seeing what happens in church and at the altar, than they do from their catechism drills and catechetical lectures, however brilliant those catecheses may be. The people pick up, learn from, and are spiritually affected, positively or negatively, by the example they see when they go to Mass. In other words, this is most directly a liturgical crisis.

Could it really be true, then, that there is something we could learn from the traditional rubrics of the Mass? Are we going to learn to become Pharisees and legalists? Are we going to "turn people away" from the church? Are we going to learn to confuse the rubrics with the “essence of the Lutheran Confession?” Despite the fact that there probably always have been those who do just that, we have absolutely no reason for letting such fear paralyze us from liturgical renewal. One thing is for sure. The Church of our time will learn, by a renewed attention to traditional rubrics, to have an increased reverence for the mystery of the Mass, in which our Lord, for us men and for our salvation, gives us the gift of Himself.

Divine Office

Let me share what St. Ambrose has to say in the Ember Wednesday Office at Matins, based upon the Annunciation pericope of Luke 1.

"The Divine Mysteries are indeed hidden; according to the prophet's dictum, no man can readily know God's planning. But still, from certain deeds and precepts of our Lord and Savior we can understand that there were very weighty reasons why she who was specially chosen to give birth to the Lord should be betrothed to a man. And why was her time not fulfilled before she was betrothed? Perhaps to keep anyone from claiming that she had conceived as a result of adultery.

'And when the Angel had come to her...' Recognize the virgin by her conduct; recognize the virgin by her modesty; learn from her words; learn from the mystery. It is natural for virgins to be troubled and hesitant at every approach of a man, to be fearful, feel anxious whenever addressed by men. Let women study to imitate this example of modesty. Mary was alone inside, unseen by any man. Alone there, with no companion, no witness, only the Angel found her, lest any trivial talking disturb the angelic salutation.

The mystery behind this mandate was so great that it was not given forth from the mouth of men, but was spoken by an Angel. This is the first time that any ear has heard the words 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon you.' They are heard, and they are believed. Then she speaks, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.' Look at her humility, her readiness to serve! Forming no high opinion of herself despite the unexpected promise, she who is chosen to be the Lord's mother proclaims herself His handmaid."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

O Antiphons

A reminder that tomorrow, the 17th, begins the seven days which lead up to the Vigil of the Nativity; it is a seven day period in which the famous O Antiphons flank the Magnificat at Vespers. You can find these traditional antiphons in English after hymn 357 in Lutheran Service Book. You can find them below in their home language. All other antiphons that may seem appropriate on any of these days for the Magnificat always give way to these. Some of you churchmen, seminarians, and students, have learned many of the ordinary prayers of the liturgy in Latin; an excellent next step would be to move on to the O Antiphons.

17 December

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: * veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

18 December

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in
Sina legem dedisti: * veni ad redimendum nos in bracchio extento.

19 December

O Radix Iesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem gentes deprecabuntur: * veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.

20 December

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo
aperit: * veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

21 December

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: * veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

22 December

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: * veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

23 December

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: * veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Saint Lucy's Day & Low Mass

Saturday was so busy for me that I had not the chance to reflect here upon the feast of St. Lucy. The day started with Mass at St. Stephen's, but then moved from one thing to the next, until the day, then weekend, got away. So I wanted to say just a word on this important virgin martyr.

But first, although I have expressed my gratitude in the past for my pastor's willingness to say Mass for so many feasts outside of the normal Sunday Mass, let me express it again. Fr. May takes seriously our Confession's claim that the Mass is offered not only on Sundays, but also on holy days, and other days when there are communicants who desire it. We do not presently have Mass every day, though I am sure that Fr. May would do it if a member were to express real interest in it. I have not pushed him for daily Mass yet. (If I lived in the immediate neighborhood of the church, I would do so.) As soon as the Daily Mass becomes a feasibility, however, we will have it at St. Stephen's.

I know that Redeemer in Fort Wayne has Mass daily in Advent, Christmas, Lent, and I think Paschaltide, and I always appreciated attending when my work schedule and transportational abilities permitted. Zion in Detroit also had Daily Mass, as I recall, before its recent pastoral vacancy. I pray that Fr. Braden will be able to restore the daily Mass there. Other than these few places, daily Mass is virtually unknown in the Missouri Synod, even at the seminaries and universities. I pray this will change. If it is to change, it will be one altar at a time.

As I say, however, at St. Stephen's we do presently have Mass on many of the traditional feasts. The low Mass on such occasions is a real blessing. Fr. Petersen has commented on this at his blog, and he makes good points. There is no need to fear you will need to write dozens more sermons each year if you go to weekday Masses. In fact, a long homily at low Mass would even be, in my view, inappropriate. It is an immeasurable blessing to begin the day with the Holy Mass, an affair of less than half an hour in which the child of God feeds upon the Word of God, not only in the lessons and propers, but also in the Sacrament, in which the sacred Body of Christ is truly present. He is present both lectionally and sacramentally.

Saint Lucy is one of those feasts of a virgin martyr that ought never be missed. Dom Gueranger calls her one of the four wise virgin martyrs, with Saints Agatha, Agnes, and Cecily. The modern Lutheran Church, certainly in the Missouri Synod, affected as it is simultaneously by Pietistic low-churchism, neoevangelical Ablazism, and certain trends of the post Vatican II reforms, has not a lot of patience for traditional feasts of virgin martyrs. We ought, then, to seize such opportunities whenever they present themselves. Set in the midst of Advent, Saint Lucy's feast points us, as with a shining light, onward in our liturgical journey toward the celebration of the Nativity of Christ our Savior. As Gueranger writes, St. Lucy's very name "reminds us (for Lucy signifies light) that He who consoles the Church, by enlightening her children, is soon to be with us."

I must close this brief reflection with a traditional prayer of Lucy before her martyrdom, for it is the sort of Christian confession that might be heard from the lips of Christians of any age, whether a martyr in the narrow sense who is tormented with actual fire, or the "white martyrs" who witness to the deathly culture that surrounds us with the word of their testimony and with their life.

"I bless Thee, the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, because by Thy Son the fire around me was quenched."

(Benedicto te, Pater Domini mei Iesu Christi, quia per Filium tuum ignis extinctus est a latere meo.)

Milwaukee Images

I have the solution to your need for more images of Milwaukee in your life. It is a blog called MKEimages.com, and you will always find something different there, sometimes spectacular, sometimes very ordinary, but always very Milwaukee. I have added it to my Blog List to the right. Cheers!

The Staff of Aaron

I recently became aware of a new blog, The Staff of Aaron, at which Father Aaron Koch, pastor of Mount Zion Lutheran Church in Greenfield, Wisconsin (on Milwaukee's south side), holds forth. Fr. Koch is an excellent preacher, a faithful churchman, a very Lutheran thinker, and a good man. Please visit his blog as often as he writes.

I am still awaiting men like Frs. Karl Fabrizius and Peter Bender to enter the blog world. Thankfully, I heard the other day that Dr. Fabrizius might do just that. (If I recall, Fr. Bender is involved in one of those multi-author blogs, wherein he will have his say once in a while, but in my experience, his reflections, in which he usually manages to not only reflect worthily upon what it is to teach & preach the Gospel, but also to actually preach & teach the Gospel, are worthy of a wide blog audience.)

Society of Saint Polycarp Blog

The Society of Saint Polycarp keeps a blog, which I recommend to your reading. We have just added a new post, in which you will find the Rule of the SSP. I encourage you to read and consider what the Society of Saint Polycarp has to offer the Church.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gottesdienst Online

You are familiar with Gottesdienst, the journal on the liturgy. (If not, please go here and subscribe.) You are familiar with Father Eckardt's blog, Gottesblog, and if not, you must check it out. Now I ask you to familiarize yourself with Gottesdienst Online, which will be updated by at least three distinguished churchmen, Father Heath Curtis, Father Larry Beane, and Father Richard Stuckwisch. My google blog does not seem to read it as a "blog," so it won't do me much good to put it in on my "Blog List." I will, however, put it in my list of Links on the right. It looks to be an excellent resource, which you will want to check back with often.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Notes on the Week

The bookshop was robbed twice in the past week, Saturday evening, and then Tuesday afternoon. No one was hurt. In fact, I just missed being there when it happened both times. I had just left for the day on Saturday, when someone came in and robbed the drawer. And on Tuesday, when I came in I was given the day off. I was grateful because I took it as an opportunity to make it to my nephew Cyrus' basketball game that afternoon, and to get some errands done. I then learned, however, that Cyrus' game was cancelled because of the snow, proving that you never quite know what life is going to bring. Anyway, not long after I left the bookshop a man came in with a gun, and robbed the store.

I suppose that in one sense these incidents might seem alarming. On the other hand, I think they show that in the midst of trouble, Christ, our God and Lord, is keeping me safe. He is the Angel of the Lord Who goes before me, prepares the way, and fights for me. He does so in bigger, much more important, and real, ways than these little incidents. He tramples Satan under foot, by His Passion and death, procuring for me the forgiveness of my sins. And He, the God of peace, bruises Satan under my feet, for His life of suffering, sacrificial death, and resurrection, is my wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, and life. But indeed He also protects and defends me in these crass moments that seem at the time like they are so important.

The men who committed these crimes this week are in need of our prayer, that they will be given repentance, forgiveness, healing, and new life. The reason I know God can accomplish such things for them is that He has done all these things for me. So let us never give up hope for the world around us.

Here's a story you might find amusing. On Sunday evening I went over to Pizza Shuttle on Farwell Avenue for some carry out. I parked in the parking structure, in a narrow space, with a car to my right, and a metal pole just inches to my left. But with the Ford Focus I got in there just fine. Well, after I got my pie, I headed out to the car, got in, started the engine, thinking of that tasty pizza. I turn my head to the right, to see out the back as I back out, totally forgetting that there is a pole right next to me on the left. I start to back out, and I hear a crash. I look and see that I just destroyed my driver side mirror. I'm not sure if it was more a Cosmo Kramer moment or a Chris Farley moment, or maybe just a Latif moment. The new mirror came in today, and it took the Ford guys about an hour to install it.

Wednesday evening after Advent Vespers we had our first session of our new Spiritual Book Club at church. We are kicking things off with some Athanasius. I will have more to say about this exciting endeavor later.

All in all, it has been an interesting week. Tomorrow it's Mass, then work, then preparations for my brother's birthday party.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This is the third day in a row in which I was blessed to receive the Lord Jesus Christ truly present in the Holy Supper, for the remission of my sins. The Father of mercies made for His Son a worthy habitation in the womb of the Virgin Mary (a phrase I borrowed from the traditional collect for today's feast), and three times in three days He has done so in me as well, as I have had the blessing of going to Mass on Saturday (St. Nicholas' Feast), Sunday (Second Sunday of Advent), and today (Conception of the BVM).

Of course I am not a worthy habitation naturally, in myself. Luther in his catechism taught me to confess that "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him." Rather, I am drawn to the Eucharist, despite my unworthiness, by His infinite grace and Spirit, or as Luther teaches, "but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith." Saint Ambrose has taught me the same thing, for as we pray in Ambrose's prayer in preparation for Mass, "O loving Lord Jesus Christ, I a sinner, presuming not on my own merits, but trusting in Thy mercy and goodness, with fear and trembling approach the table of Thy most sacred banquet."

When I say that Luther taught me, and that Ambrose taught me, it is also to say that the Church, my holy Mother, has taught me, by the catechetical and devotional tradition of her saints. This holy and pure mother, the Christian Church, is typified by the holy, pure, and always Virgin Mary. And just as my worthiness to have Christ in my body is not a worthiness of my doing, or of which I can boast, so too with Mary. Her worthiness is the grace and work of God. This, God's work in her, is what she pondered in her earthly pilgrimage, and contemplates eternally before the face of God. Having said all of this, just as we can, and should, confess the holiness of those Baptized into Christ, so it is at least as fitting for us to speak of Mary's holiness.

Today is the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, nine months as it is before the Feast of Mary's Nativity. One of the unusual blessings of today's Mass, the sort of thing one doesn't often get at Mass, is to hear from the book of Judith. The liturgy takes the words addressed to Judith (by Ozias and by Joacim the priest and the ancients of Israel) and applies them to the Mother of God, "Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, of the most high God above all the women upon the earth. Thou art the exaltation of Jerusalem, thou art the great glory of Israel, thou art the great rejoicing of our nation" (KJV).

The Gospel of the day is the angelic salutation in the first chapter of Luke. These evangelical words of the Evangelist are so rich in the Gospel, it is a wonder that Lutheran preachers, trained as they are in preaching Christ, too often shy from preaching, teaching, and praying them.

The Divine Office at Matins today gives us a meditation from Saint Jerome upon the angelic salutation that is magnificent in its sheer Christology. He says, for example,

"She has encompassed a man in her womb, as holy Jeremiah testifies, and received Him from no one else. 'The Lord,' he says, 'will bring about a new thing upon the earth: a woman will encompass a man.' Indeed this was a new thing, a work of power of a supereminent newness, when God (whom the world cannot contain, whom no man can see and live) so entered the guesthouse of her womb as not to know confinement in her body, and when He was so carried that the whole God was in her womb, and He so came forth from it that (as Ezekiel prophesied) it was a door never opened. This is why the Canticle sings of her, 'A garden enclosed, a fountain sealed, your streams are those of paradise.' Truly she is a garden of delights, planted with all kinds of flowers and the perfumes of all virtues; she is enclosed in that she has known no violation nor corruption by any wiles or deceits. She is a fountain sealed with the seal of the whole Trinity."

Saint Jerome was not a Calvinist. And Luther was not a Nestorian, nor is traditionalist Lutheran worship.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

East Side Dark

East Side Dark is probably my favorite beer. It is a dark lager made by Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee.

If you ever find yourself in Milwaukee with a couple hours to spare, or if you are a Milwaukean and haven't been down to Lakefront Brewery lately, I encourage you to go, take the tour, meet the brewers there, and pick up some beer & merchandise. I hear Lakefront brewery even has a nice Fish Fry on Fridays. One of these weeks I'm going to have enough money in my pocket to try it out.

Lakefront makes several good beers, but tonight I enjoy a bottle of East Side Dark. I cannot begin to tell you how many different foods and situations go well with East Side dark. Tonight I can tell you one thing for sure, East Side Dark goes very well with a good book (in this case, an Umberto Eco novel).

Riverwest & East Side Might Print Local Money

Riverwest is a very liberal, progressive part of Milwaukee. In some ways, such a culture suites me fine. In some ways, it is simply humorous. In yet other ways, it needs the prayer & witness of the Church.

An example of the second of these three categories can be found in the article I link here, which reports a plan for Riverwest, and the East Side, to pint its own money. My wallet is bereft of regular American greenbacks, now it will be lacking in two kinds of money. This development will be amusing to watch.

Saint Nicholas, Holy Bishop & Confessor

Today, of course, is the feast of Saint Nicholas. I thank God that my pastor is so committed to the tradition of the Church that he is willing to say Mass on feasts such as this, feasts which the modern Lutheran Church in our country has largely forgotten.

(Today's feast is better known in the secular culture than in the Church. The new service book, Lutheran Service Book, thankfully includes it in its list of saints' days, though, in keeping with modern Roman Catholic liturgical norms, doesn't even call it a feast, but merely a "commemoration"-Rome calls it an "optional memorial"-the effect is the same; perhaps there are propers in one of the LSB companion volumes, but for some reason LSB doesn't even give the color of the day for these "commemorations.")

I haven't the time this year to compose a meditation for the occasion. Nor will I even pull out one of my scribblings from years past. The reader deserves better. Suffice at this point to say that in Saint Nicholas I see a bishop who is a beautiful image of Christ and the grace He showers on His children with the sacramental treasures of the Church. I will, however, share something from the Divine Office. What follows is the traditional liturgical summary of the Saint's life:

"Nicholas was born in the famous city of Patara in Lycia. From his childhood he fasted every Wednesday and Friday, and maintained this custom throughout his life. Deprived of his parents in early youth, he distributed his possessions to the poor. One example of his marvellous charity was this: he came to the aid of three girls whose virtue was endangered, by providing a sum of money sufficient for their dowries. While on a pilgrimage to Palestine he went at God's command to Myra, the metropolitan see of Lycia, where the Bishop had died. Here, contrary to all expectations, he was elected to the see by a marvellous consensus of all the assembled bishops of the province. In the work of his episcopate, he stood out as an example of all virtues. But when he defied the edict of Diocletian and Maximian by continuing to preach the truth of the Christian faith, he was thrown into prison, where he remained until Constantine became emperor. He took part in the Council of Nicea, at which the Arian heresy was condemned. Returning to his own country, he died a very holy death in Myra. His body was transferred to Bari in Apulia, and is there venerated as a most famous relic."

Downtown Books in the Shepherd Express

I work at my favorite used bookshop in Milwaukee, Downtown Books. You walk in the door, an unassuming entrance you could easily pass by if you didn't know what you were looking for, and you suddenly find that there are worlds of books waiting to be discovered and explored. Over two floors in an old downtown brick building, with books of every sort, music, comics, art & photography. I have been working there a few weeks now, and I still do not know the place as I ought.

By the way, besides all the books in the store, there are also many other books available online. Check it out here, and if you are ever in town, please stop in.

Anyway, I noticed that in this week's issue of The Shepherd Express, a weekly Milwaukee newspaper, there is a featured photo of an interior view down one aisle of the shop. You can find it on page 16 of the December 4 issue, or online here. The caption reads, "Three musty stories of crooked shelves, back rooms and creaky floors. Downtown Books is one of those special bookstores that Milwaukee is lucky to have."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bona Mors

This morning as I got off the 10 bus at Water & Wisconsin I saw police and emergency vehicles on Water Street between Wisconsin & Mason, and the whole block closed off. I soon heard via rumors on the street, which were verified later, that a woman fell from a building to her death. She fell twenty floors from the top of the Associated Bank building on Water Street. One recoils from just the thought of a life ending in such a way. The police kept the block closed for about three hours, for the sake of their necessary work and investigation, yet the thought occurs to me that perhaps closing the area to the public is appropriate if only because it seems somehow inappropriate to tread on such a scene so soon after a tragedy of this sort. Of course the city goes on, but along with everything else I did today at the bookshop, I thought of this woman who is most likely unknown to me.

The Christian prays for a happy death, bona mors, that is, a death for which he is spiritually prepared. How is one thus prepared? I think that one way to put this into Lutheran perspective is to approach the question of how to meet our Maker upon death the same way we approach the question of how to meet Him in the Holy Supper. In the Catechism, Luther teaches that "Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, Given and shed for you for the remission of sins." Likewise, in preparation for the eternal feast of the Lamb of God in heaven, fasting and bodily preparation in our brief stay in this world are very helpful and praiseworthy. Such things ought to be encouraged. Yet to what precisely do we credit our being prepared for the day of judgment and the life to come? Faith. Faith in general? No. Faith and trust in what the Gospel teaches us of Christ, the God-man, namely, that in His Passion and sacred death, His bona mors, He shed His precious blood for you, pro vobis, for the forgiveness of your sins.

Christ's death is the sacrifice for the sin of the world. At the same time, I would urge the reader to consider, it is the supreme example for us. He walked to His death knowingly, prepared, and unflinching, like a lamb to the slaughter. His is the good, noble, and happy death, in the best sense.

I said that the Christian prays for a happy death, but is this really in our normal thinking today? One way to make it a more explicit part of our life of prayer would be to pray the classic Litany often. In the Litany we pray, "A subitanea et improvisa morte: Libera nos Domine." Okay, more often it looks more like this, "From sudden and unexpected death: Deliver us, O Lord."

When we hear of a suicide, our reaction ought not be dismissive self-righteous judgment or anger. First, we ought to remind ourselves that not all suicides are of the same type. There are suicides in which a person walks to his death quite soberly, willingly, and seemingly prepared. He is actually the one who is definitely not prepared. For he lacks faith in Christ the Savior, and has preferred to take his life into his own hands, which in this case includes taking his life. His life was just as tragic as his end. And our compassion for those who do not know what it is to trust in Christ should move us at any and every stage of the life of such people we come across, to get involved with them, to give our life over to their eternal benefit.

There is, I believe, a second type of suicide. Namely, the man who is driven to his foolish deed by the devil and or the old Adam in him. Among this second group there have been Christians. They in no way died in a way which can be called worthy, or well prepared. There is nothing defensible or praiseworthy in such deaths. Yet we ought not hastily conclude that they denounced their Lord, and were without His grace and mercy.

I know nothing about the woman who fell from a building downtown today. Reports say that the police are viewing it at this point as a suicide, and not a homicide. Let it serve, however, to wake us from our spiritual sleepiness, that we may live our lives immersed in the grace of our Baptism, that is, that the old Adam in us may by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and a New Man daily come forth and arise. I capitalized New Man, for Saint Paul sums up the Baptismal life in his epistle to the Galatians thus:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

a gas price update

My sister, Fatime, found gas on the North Side of Milwaukee Saturday for $1.79 a gallon. Let's see if we can beat $1.79.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Christmas Decorations

Earlier this evening, when I stepped out of the bookshop where I work, and onto the street, I noticed that many of the Christmas decorations that the city had been putting up were now lit up for the first time. It's quite a striking image, looking down Wisconsin Avenue at night and seeing all the lights, the wreaths, and the stars above the intersections.

Is it liturgically appropriate a week and a half before Advent begins? Of course not. I do believe I would make an issue of such decorations taking place now if we were talking about the inside of a church. And while you and I know that we are about to enter into the season of Advent, which, among other things, is a time of penitence, prayer, and of preparing for the Christmas feast with repentance and fasting, we can also simultaneously admit that we are now, culturally speaking, in what we might call the Christmas Shopping Season.

Okay, it is a bit silly that Milwaukee's Christmas parade is taking place tomorrow morning, that is, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The culture around us does not quite get it. It is off kilter. To all of those who love to complain about this every year, I say, I get it. The point I want to emphasize, however, is that the modern secular culture, in which we must subsist, does know the Church's song, they just no longer know its meaning. It sings the same tune, though on the wrong accents. I am not saying that is enough. In missing the point of Christmas traditions and trappings, the culture goes off track in ultimately disastrous ways. It, the world around us, needs the loving witness of the Church. And one way we can make that witness is by seizing the opportunity afforded by the traditions which are still built into our culture, like the way even some of the most secular minded in our country, and even public institutions, such as local governments, love to out do each other in the trappings of Christmas. (Christopher Hitchens, who can speak from the perspective of having lived in both the English and the American worlds, observes in one of his essays that Americans have an odd love and nostalgia for the classic Christmas, so that we end up embracing a style that is far more Dickensian than one will find in England itself.)

What I find harder to swallow are the complaints of some Christians about how early the secular culture is celebrating Christmas, when these same Christians are often guilty of ending their celebration too early. If we insist that there is a four week preparation for Christmas, then let us keep the festival (once it does officially begin) for a full twelve days, through Twelfth Night, and lead it right into the Epiphany season. (We can do this with various home devotions and traditions, and we can do this by going to Mass, and if our pastor doesn't have daily Mass at Christmas, we can ask him for it.)

But until then, I love seeing the Christmas lights decorating the Avenue. They give me something warm and cheerful to look at as I wait for the bus.

gas at $1.89

Lately I have been going through a season that has not exactly been the most prosperous time of my life. In and with these challenges, however, there has been blessing, even material blessing. For example, I found gas here in Milwaukee yesterday for $1.89 a gallon. I love it. We filled up for under $20.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Note on Starke's Hymns

Over at the blog of Seminarist Josh Osbun, who is presently in his year of vicarage, he has begun a survey of the hymns of Stephen Starke. I offered a comment there, and I'd like to share it here as well, for what it is worth. I recommend his blog to you, and along with his post on the Starke hymn, "All the Earth with Joy is Sounding," I offer for your reasoned consideration my word of criticism of this hymn.

I appreciate the discussion you are having here on hymnody. You suggested a Starke Appreciation Month. The Synod could almost have a Starke Year of Appreciation, with all the hymns that made the cut in the LSB.

As you suspect, there are some who fail to be fans of the hymns of Stephen Starke. As one such Lutheran, allow me to say a respectful word from that particular perspective. A few quick points:

1. You state of those critical of Starke, “I'm not convinced that these people have actually taken the time to read through all of them.” While in my opinion there is an inordinate quantity of Starke hymns in the new hymnal, nevertheless, I must say it does not take very long to read them. When the LSB fell into my hands, as with every other serious minded theological thinker of our synod, I took it upon myself to acquaint myself with it. It is not as enjoyable as reading a Tolstoy novel, but on the bright side, it doesn’t take as long either. And so, indeed, I can testify that it is possible to have read these hymns, and yet remain unconvinced of their genius, and that they ought, for example, to outnumber the hymns of the Blessed Reformer in the hymnal.

2. Those of us who are not fans of Starke’s hymns are not personal in our criticism. There is nothing personal going on here. I am sure that the Reverend Stephen Starke is a good man, a great guy, a fine pastor, and indeed probably even a man worthy to whom to introduce your mother.

3. Not only is my criticism not personal, it is also not very bitter. In other words, I do not hate, or utterly condemn these hymns. I merely think they are inferior to the classic hymns of our Lutheran tradition, and unworthy of the public worship of the Church.

4. A true appreciation of how badly these hymns tend to compare with the great hymns of the Church can only happen when you not merely read them, but in fact hear them sung. A discussion on music is really best set aside for another time, though.

5. You highlight in this post the Starke hymn 462 in LSB, “All the Earth with Joy is Sounding.” I would draw your attention to a concern I have about the third stanza. Jesus, this stanza teaches, “shared in our humanity.” Theologically it would be far better to say that Jesus “shares in our humanity.” Praise be to Christ forever, that He never stopped being a man, and never will. I fear that Starke has inadvertently slipped into a confusion, in this stanza, between Christ’s humiliation and his humanity, for he implies, or at least it can be all too easily inferred, that the incarnation is essentially part of the humiliation when he in the next part of the stanza contrasts it with the line “Crowned with radiant exaltation.” As I say, it is no doubt inadvertent, but he ought to have thought through this stanza much more thoroughly. Nor did anyone along the line catch it, for it seems you don’t stop a Starke hymn from getting ahead in today’s Missouri Synod.

So indeed, I find your last comment, “It is impossible to sing this hymn quietly, unless you just don't believe the words and the message,” to be a bit incredulous. I look forward to any thoughts on how I might be out of line.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Of God, Continued

One of the key points of doctrine in the first article of the Augsburg Confession is that of the Unity of the Divine Essence. Namely, that there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God. He is eternal, He has no body, He does not have parts. He is infinitely powerful, which seems closely reminiscent of the creedal claim that He is almighty (compare immensa potentia with omnipotentem), wise, and good. He is the maker and preserver of all things. That is, He is the Creator.

There is a Calvinist tradition of devoting a great deal of theological emphasis on treating the attributes of God to compensate for an uneasiness with the dirty business of the Incarnation. Let us be clear, this is not what is going on in the Augsburg Confession. In this article we confess the unity of the God who is the Creator. This is vitally important, for too often modern Lutherans see talk of God as Maker of all things, visible and invisible, and conclude that it is the Father that is being discussed. We confess, however, a God who is One. When we look upon Christ, who is shown for us as having been crucified, we see the Creator of the world. We have, in so many words, a confession of the triune God, and of Christ, which takes a firm stand against gnostic notions of God, and of the world. This was just as relevant in the 16th century as it was in the 2nd and 3rd. And it remains relevant today.

More to follow.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Augustana: Of God

A couple of posts back I began a discussion on the Lutheran Confession with the first article of the Augsburg Confession. So before I go on to the second article, let us make a comment or two on Article 1.

When we say, "Our Churches," we are making claims, not merely about individual isolated parishes, but for a whole jurisdiction. These "Churches" are dioceses, whole cities or areas, which work together for the sake of the Gospel. One of the benefits of this way of thinking of "churches" is that while they do comprehend the "congregation," they also potentially include much more. For example, schools, universities, seminaries, other non-parish ministries, such as prison or military, or even missionary church planters, etc. Though Lutherans in the Missouri Synod tend not to think of monastic communities as legitimate part of the church, I would suggest that they too are included. It is significant and instructive that the early Lutheran divine, Martin Chemnitz, addressed some of his writings to both the heads of parishes (pastors), and the heads of monasteries (abbots).

Another thought: there is a wonderfully Lutheran mode of confession that takes place in this article, and you will see it quite often in the Book of Concord, not everywhere, but quite often, for example in many of the articles of the Augsburg Confession, and it is developed most explicitly in the Formula of Concord. Namely, there is a confession of the truth, and a corresponding condemnation of false teaching, thesis and antithesis. The first paragraph is governed by the "docent," the second by the "damnant." Preaching the truth of the Gospel in the midst of today's spirit of acceptance and ecumenicity gone awry requires that we make clear not only what the Gospel is, but also what it isn't. So, for example, Luther shows us in his Small Catechism that it is vital to learn of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives by first seeing that we cannot, by our own reason or strength believe in Christ, etc. (In that case, we see a beautiful example of Luther's brilliantly unsystematic way of writing, so that he can accomplish both positive and negative teaching within the same sentence.)

A couple other lines of thought are merited by Article 1, which we will explore a bit tomorrow, the Second Last Sunday of the Church Year (and commemoration of Saint Gertrude.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Lutheran Bishop Hospitalized in Jordan

Thanks to a note posted at Father Kent Schaaf's blog I just learned troubling news about Bishop Andrew Elisa, bishop of the Lutheran Church of Sudan. Bishop Elisa has been having trouble with his balance, and now with speech, due, evidently, to a swelling in his brain. I encourage all to go to the web site of Lutheran Heritage Foundation, not only because the Reverend Robert Rahn's summary of Elisa's situation will be found there, but for a couple other reasons as well. 1. You can log in, and sign up to get email updates. I just did so myself, and I can tell you that the initial sign up is easy, but you will have to wait a day or two apparently to be able to "manage e-communications," in other words, to sign up for the updates on Elisa. 2. Note well: The LHF is taking donations which are earmarked specifically for Bishop Elisa's medical expenses. It is very easy to do this.

In his report at the Lutheran Heritage Foundation web site, the Reverend Robert Rahn, being the type of Lutheran he is, bless his heart, repeatedly refers to Elisa as "Rev. Elisa." Therefore let me clearly state, so that all who may read this may understand, that the Most Reverend Andrew Elisa is not only a priest, but is in fact the Bishop of his Church.

Let me share with you an experience in which Bishop Elisa made an impact not only upon me, but several others as well. Not long ago, during one of his trips to Fort Wayne for his course work at the seminary, I saw Bishop Elisa show up at Mass at Zion Church, and so after Mass, I walked up to him, and invited him to come to my house for dinner. I am not completely sure how feasible, or desirable, it would be for a politically unconnected man like me to get a Missouri Synod president or district president to come to my house for dinner. Bishop Elisa, however, sees himself more as a churchman than as upper management. Nevertheless, I was not sure he would have the time to spend with someone like me. To my delight he did not say no. Instead, he gave me his number, and asked me to call him later that day, so we could set up a night that would work for both of us. Of course, after we made our dinner date, I then got, I suppose, ten or a dozen of my local friends to agree to join us. About a week later, Bishop Elisa enjoyed my wife's cooking, and we all enjoyed learning from the Bishop's experience in Sudan and his spiritual wisdom.

He later told me that, while often church leaders will take him out to a restaurant, and there is nothing inherently wrong with this, he found it refreshing and somehow ideal, to gather in a home with a group of Christians such as we had that night. My wife learned early in our marriage how to make a nice pan of baklava in the Albanian way. It is sine qua non for the Albanian diet, not daily, mind you, but on special occasions. So we had baklava and coffee for dessert, and the Bishop was pleased with this almost more than anything else. He asked me if my wife made the baklava because we found out he loves it so much. It turns out that Sudanese and Albanians share, with other peoples in that part of the world, a love of baklava.

Aside from my personalization of this story, which I wanted to do to demonstrate something of the character of this man, please know that Bishop Elisa is a bishop who is fighting for the Gospel as it is purely taught in the Lutheran Confessions, in the midst of a hostile environment. By 'hostile environment' I mean not only the Muslim government in Khartoum, but other, more subtle enemies as well, such as modern Lutheranism, the modern ecumenical zeitgeist of the LWF and the WWC. He is a man spiritually wise enough to also see the dangers of Western materialism. His concern is for the spiritual care of his people, the ongoing need for catechesis, the training of seminarians, the availability of the Sacraments in the country (if there ever were a place in which a church could rationalize a need for violating the Confessions by establishing a "Specific Ministry Pastor" program, it would be the Church in Sudan, but in Bishop Elisa we have a man who will have none of this), and in these simple, non worldly, yet not so easy goals he faces great challenges. By God's grace he has accomplished much. By God's grace Bishop Elisa's church will continue to grow, and to continue the struggle in this world. I find him and his church to be a great example for us in the U.S.

Please pray for Bishop Andrew Elisa, pray for his church, and consider doing what you can for his medical expenses, and for the ongoing work of his church, whether personally, or as a group within your school or parish, or indeed as a parish.

Now that Fr. Schaaf's post has forced me out of my writing funk, I will attempt to get back into my other material this weekend, which is on deck.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Early Vintage Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is, in my view, one of the finest writers of modern literature. With her art Oates has delved masterfully into the experience of Modern America, not shying away from its more dark, cruel, even violent dimensions. She has been criticized for the violence in her writings; I have even read criticism which claimed that the violence of her stories makes for an ultimately distorted picture of America. I disagree. One of the geniuses of Oates is her ability to place the reader inside a character, so that as we read we are seeing life from the perspective of the protagonist, however tormented he or she may be. And so we are caught up in the manifold facets of modern life in a fragmented world. This involves misery, violence, redemption, love, and contentment, not necessarily in this order. In other words, it is indeed realistic.

Odd as it might seem to make this claim, at times Oates reminds me of Fyodor Dostoevsky. His setting was nineteenth century Russia, much different from mid to late 20th century America, yet he, likewise, artfully takes the reader into the mind of the protagonist, as troubled, and violent, as that journey can prove. I can’t recall where he said this, but Dostoevsky once wrote, “They call me a psychologist. That is not true. I’m only a realist in the higher sense. That is, I portray all the depths of the human soul.” Thus he “portrays” the odyssey of a character, not as a one or two dimensional stick figure, but as the struggle of a real life, with all its dimensions. I think that what Dostoevsky says here of himself can also be said of Joyce Carol Oates.

In her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, Oates describes the doomed relationship between Karen and Shar, two troubled people, drawn to each other in a swirl of love and violence. If my comparison between Oates and Dostoevsky in the previous paragraph seems a bit unusual to some, my next comparison may seem even more out of place. I want to propose it nonetheless. Oates likely had no such thing in mind; I am just making an observation about what I am reminded of when I read this novel. Namely, With Shuddering Fall reminds me in some ways of The Idiot. Karen, the protagonist, is like Prince Myshkin. Both are physically weak, spiritually sensitive people, who get drawn into and caught up in the violence of what seems to be love in their lives. Myshkin does not merely witness the violence of Rogozhin, but suffers greatly on account of it. Likewise, the violent storm of Shar’s life ruins Karen. She ends up going mad, having to stay for a time in a hospital for the insane, just as Myshkin ends up with nothing left to give to others, and goes mad.

From one perspective both of these may seem like tragedies. In the case of The Idiot, however, I think we have a beautiful picture of the self sacrifice of a Christ figure. And in the case of With Shuddering Fall, Karen finally goes back home, finding a peace and contentment in the embrace of the communion of the Church. It is a beautiful, almost musical, resolution to the theme of communion introduced elsewhere in the story. For Karen has been seeking, all along, a sense of communion, and meaning, in her life. And ultimately, the contrast is drawn between the communion she finds in the world, a communion of violence and death, and the communion to which she comes back home.

The descriptive final chapter, along with all that leads up to it, is the reason that With Shuddering Fall is my fiction recommendation of the week. Please be aware, though, that there is language, and certain violent scenes, which the young should avoid, and which others may want to avoid as well.

What Karen experiences in the Holy Mass, after she is released from the insane asylum and moves back home, is described so beautifully and sensitively by Oates, that I simply must share it. In, through, and despite all of the irreverence and distractions going on in the church, note how the whole interplay of the human and the divine affects Karen, and how reconciliation and communion is received and perceived. Note the interplay of what is happening at the altar with her wandering thoughts; Karen’s experience is so imperfect, so real, and ultimately beautiful.

We should note also that what Oates portrays liturgically is the traditional Mass, which has a transcendent quality that is almost completely lost to the modern Church. The novel was published in, if I recall, 1964, so at the time she did not even know the modern horrors in which the Novus Ordo often manifests the Church’s liturgy. Therefore she evidently was not trying to make some sort of ecclesial-political statement, but merely describing the liturgy as she knew it.

Perhaps most of us do not appreciate what is going on in church the way Karen does because we have not come out of the tragic and scandalous circumstances she has. Yet I think that Karen’s violent odyssey is in some way iconic of the rebelliousness of which we are all guilty. And so her return to sanity and communion also has something to say to every child of the Church. Note also how the communion Karen experiences in the liturgy, even though she does not go to Communion yet, since she has not yet been to Confession, is mirrored afterward in her father’s words of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Joyce Carol Oates has kindly granted me permission to post the concluding portion of the novel here, and I thank her very much for this. All of what follows this sentence is from With Shuddering Fall, namely, from chapter 23:

Sunday morning in church: Karen knelt on the hard kneeling bench, hands clasped up before her mouth, eyes lowered. When the Herzes had come into church-some of Karen’s brothers and sisters had come to late Mass just to be with them-Karen had felt eyes turning discreetly upon them as they marched up the aisle to the Herz pew. There were gangling men and red-faced, smiling women, a dozen children of all sizes, Celine walked proudly with Albert (who was not catholic but hinted at becoming one), old Herz himself with a new winter overcoat on top of which his thin neck and head were balanced precariously, turning to nod at acquaintances. Most interesting of all this clan was Karen, who walked beside her father without looking at either side. She wore her black coat with the high, proud black fur, and the same black hat she had worn for several years-a familiar sight that disappointed many women who watched. Once seated, taking up a whole pew, they scrambled to kneel with a flurry of rosaries and prayer books and children’s mittens. One of the smallest boys stood immediately on the kneeling bench and had to be forced to sit down. There was a sudden scuffle; a furious look; children were urged to change places and adults or older children placed between them. Then they fell to prayer.

Because it was nearing Christmas there were greens at the front of the church, decorating the little side altars. The scent of fir branches and the heavy, luxurious odor of incense mixed, a pleasant smell, faintly hypnotic. The church was a little cold. Somewhere a baby began to gasp, preparing to cry. People hurried in out of the snow, stamping their feet. A murmur of voices came from the vestibule. Children sniffed hard; people coughed expectantly. The priest-an old man with shocked white hair-appeared at the side entrance to the altar, craning his head around to look for something. He made a signal: a boy on the other side of the church got up, scrambled out of the pew, genuflected, and with hands tightly clasped and eyes lowered, hurried up to the altar. Karen remembered when her brothers had helped serve Mass. It seemed a long time ago. She remembered the pained apprehension with which she had stared at them, as if by the strength of her hope alone they could be protected from error…How strange it was, Karen thought, that her brother Ed had once been before the congregation, when now he sat so comfortably back in the pew, his heavy fingers holding a prayer book at which he would not glance-a grown man, a man with children, to whom the transformation from a white-surpliced altar boy to a grumbling, big-stomached farmer was no surprise. Beside Karen her father sat, fumbling with a rosary. The black beads were worn smooth and looked like flat, oval seeds. His nose had started to run because of the sharp cold and he wiped it, sometimes with a crumpled handkerchief, sometimes with the back of his hand. Clearing his throat, he made the loud, important, gargling sound Karen had heard other old men make in church.

Upstairs in the choir loft the organ suffered a fast, tentative run. Notes fled past one another up the scale and disappeared. There was a scuffling sound of people arranging themselves, then silence. Karen sat back and with her empty hands folded on her lap watched the backs of heads before her, a small sea of nodding, alert heads, bescarfed and behatted and bare, all the way up to the white gleaming altar banked by fir branches. The church began to fill.

From above, music. From behind, the sudden scrambling to feet that meant the beginning of Mass. The priest and the altar boys walked up the aisle, blessing the people. They stood, and as the priest passed, solemnly murmuring, his white hair vivid as if with rage, they crossed themselves and genuflected with humility. As if from heaven, the straining voices of the choir penetrated the rich, chilly air, and beneath them the old organ trembled with a dignity so profound it threatened to lose control of itself. Somewhere downstairs, a lone elderly woman began to sing along with the choir in a high, sharp, discordant voice, as if she were with malice parodying the music. As the priest and the boys passed to the front of the church there were final coughs, a hurrying to seats. Everyone was standing.

Karen was submerged in the thin splendor of the ceremony as if in a dream. The priest sang the Mass, though he had nearly no voice, and the sound of the persistent, cracked Latin somehow reassured Karen. Now I am home, she thought. Now I recognize what I have come back to.

The church grew steadily warmer. As the altar light shone richly upon the priest’s vestments the purple turned lighter, deeper, commanding all eyes to it. Karen stared at the priest’s back as he bowed his head. Purple: the color of penance and expiation. Humility before oncoming mysteries. There was no fear there, nor was there hesitation or doubt: the priest’s words, as smooth as an eye in a socket, would never stop. The Latin pressed through the old man’s wavering voice, as if it were an unleashing of sound stored up for centuries. Before its brittle splendor everyone must bow, kneel, forget himself. Impossible to remember an individual past when the Mass, with a blast of music and a whining, wrestling interplay of voices and the merciless Latin itself, cut through all pasts, erased all pasts. Karen awaited, trembling, the moment at which her individuality would die. She saw the long tortuous nights and the days filled with self-pity and guilt sucked away, absolved of their reality-just as Ed was absolved of his childhood and need no longer think of it. The voices swelled with grandeur and love and pride in themselves. The organ, operated by an old woman, pedaled skimpily after them. Karen touched her father’s sleeve and he turned to glance at her, surprised. She saw that his face was sallow and flecked with small black dots of dirt, but that streaks of tan still remained from the summer and from his past. His eyes were shrewd and calculating and oddly kind, for they smiled at her first, and then his lips allowed themselves to smile. Then he looked away and rubbed the beads of his rosary between his fingers. That rosary is as old as he is, Karen thought clearly.

The congregation limped through prayers, murmuring the unfamiliar Latin in waves of clarity and incoherence, like breathing. The priest’s voice rose sharper, signaling his anger. On Karen’s left her pregnant sister-in-law, squinting in her prayer book, tried to follow the Mass with moving lips, sometimes running her forefinger slowly under the lines. She held struggling secretly on her lap her youngest boy, who reached up to the shadowy ceiling of the old church with clenched white fists. Beyond her the other relatives knelt, heads turned this way and that, eyes scanning the pews before them or fixed stonily on the priest and his hands. Karen saw them with a peculiar flash of warmth. Their feelings toward her had at first puzzled Karen, but now she saw-suddenly-that their polite, easy discretion, their hints of reproach, expressed only through looks or finger tapping or impatient scoldings of nearby innocent children, simply disguised their love for her. That was it: they felt love for her. Not for Karen herself, she knew, for they had never had much patience with Herz’s youngest, spoiled daughter, but for the Karen who had suffered to prove to them the justice of their universe. They could not but love her, who had strengthened their faith in the vague beliefs they mouthed and heard mouthed to them in the ceremony of the Mass: the sacrifice of the Mass was a distant, calculated ritual, and the perfunctory humility of the priest was for their eyes alone, but Karen’s sin and penance and expiation had been real enough, and showed, probably in her eyes or somewhere in her face, the crushing justice of a moral universe. For this they loved her, though their love was nothing personal; for this her father would begin-if he had not begun already-to cherish her as before. Karen saw it with excitement. That was true! That was true! She understood them, she was with them and at the same time a little apart from them, and had not lost herself in the experience. About her the music kept on in its appointed path, straining upward. The priest cried, Kyrie eleison!

Karen put her hands to her face and begged silently for mercy. She knew she was in danger of losing control of herself, of crying-for did not glimpses of Shar’s face flick on and off in the corners of her mind?-did not glimpses of her father’s bloody face, jaws grinding with delicious hatred, rush at her, call her to herself? “What have they done to me!” she thought. But then, as the congregation kneeled and was swept along to new prayers, Karen knelt slowly with them and forced her mind to stay clear. She would not lose control of herself. Wasn’t her family, and perhaps even a sick, perverse part of herself, waiting for this?

She stared at the short old priest and thought, as if she were talking to him, whispering in his ear: “I will not give in to it. I know who I am. I have always known who I am.” As if she were already at confession, already whispering to the strange old man-she had discovered that she hardly remembered him, though he had been in the parish for years-she tensed herself, felt her lips curl upward in the usual disdain and half-mockery with which she listened to her own confessions. “You must remember me, Father. Karen Herz. The youngest girl. I have done enough to end my life at eighteen, or spend the rest of it thinking; nothing in the future will mean as much to me as what is behind. Or I can go on with what they have taught me-they have initiated me into the communion of killers, murderers, who are staring right now at your back.” Here she hesitated; was there not betrayal here? Did the skill of murder have to be learned?

“I can continue with it, with what I have become,” she thought, staring at the old man angrily, “and begin this afternoon, when the dishes are cleared away, with the closest man-that will be Albert. I can wear twenty pounds off him and make his eyes swim behind his glasses and I can make him and Celine tear each other apart if I want. And after Albert, one of the hired men. There are men enough for me to feed on until I lose my youth.” As if he heard her, the priest turned suddenly and raised his hands to heaven. A bell sounded. The priest had heavy white eyebrows, like brushes. Watching his face, Karen went on, “And I can hurry my father to death, who richly deserves it, for I see now that he is a cruel, ignorant old man who has always disguised himself with strength; and now that his strength is gone, all his failings rush out, expose themselves with pleasure! Somewhat like a shell you find by a swamp, turned over on its back and wriggling in the mud, trying by the ferocious charm of its eyes to avoid the stroke of death-which no one cares enough to give it. Father! I can accuse him of my own crime and guilt and with enough hysteria I can convince myself that I had no part in what I did-that the filthy way that strange man made love to me the first time did not have anything to do with that man’s death….”

The altar boys prepared the communion rail. Uneven white cloth, oddly clean; it looked starched. The boys did not have the stately dignity of the priest or the gravity of his old bones, and so hurried with mincing steps, genuflecting hastily, crossing themselves as if chasing away invisible flies. Karen’s sister-in-law hid a big yawn and her dull eyes brushed past Karen’s face. But most of the congregation, including Karen and her father, waited very seriously. They bowed their heads at the ringing of the bell, they knelt, they touched their breasts with their fingers. Again Karen’s mind begged mercy. She felt herself drawn along with the people, teased away from herself-even from the tiny germ of nausea that had accompanied her, secret in her stomach, for months. The past is done, her father might be trying to whisper, and what is the past at such a time? What is the past when we are approaching the transformation of Christ before our eyes? “My Lord and my God!” No one could help exclaiming this, even silently. Here is a real sacrifice, her father might say, pointing up to the altar. You think you have given yourself, you think you have been fed upon-and so in a way you have-but still you are alive, you have health and youth and beauty. Be as bitter as you like, mind your dead lover every night in detail and wrap yourself around him in sleep, and later, when you are married-of course you will be married-deceive your husband each time you give yourself to him! But still you are alive and that is a miracle. You were not crucified and changed into flat pieces of bread-and if Christ were not God, but only Christ, only a man, is His suffering any less? It is more, certainly more; we men do not have resurrections. But you are still alive. Consume yourself with bitterness, destroy your life-but remember that all that you have done is your own doing.

Karen touched her feverish skin. Her father, his beads dangling forgotten, his eyes transfixed upon the altar, did not glance at her. “But he is an ignorant old man!” Karen thought. “Never even finished school! He is ignorant and brutal, a killer, he has no right to my life, and no right to judge it….But he is my father,” she thought, “and I love him.” As the others passed out to communion she remained kneeling in the pew. Everyone in the row but the youngest children shuffled up, following the wavering lines to the communion rail. Karen watched them jealously and fondly. Were these her people? With what did they commune? When she went to communion next week, she would be giving herself to them; she would commune with them, share with them whatever experience they shared-whatever mystery it was. She recognized her home, her place. She knew where she was. “I can accept them but they will never accept me,” she thought. “They know that something is wrong with me, that my mind is wrong, put together wrong. Am I to blame for that? Can I help my mind? It is insane to look for meaning in life, and it is insane not to; what am I to do?”

After Mass there was benediction, and after benediction, while the church emptied, Karen and her father remained kneeling. The old man muttered his rosary, moving his lips: he felt guilty because he had not finished it. His mind, like Karen’s, must have wandered. Karen knelt silently beside him. At the altar the boys put out the back row of high, white, gold-tipped candles. The magic of the Mass had left, quite suddenly, but its odor still remained; incense weighed heavily on the air. In the sharp smell of the incense, in the low muffle of voices and footsteps at the back of the church, and in the vision of her father’s unbowed aged profile, Karen saw her future.

Her father put away the beads with a last contrite rattle; they stood. Karen found a child’s grimy mitten left on the bench and picked it up.

They were the last to leave the church. Out in the vestibule several old women awaited cars, their necks thick and clumsy with wool scarves. Karen took her father’s arm. He looked at her with gratitude-he was old, he did not walk so surely as he had once. And he said suddenly, embarrassed and impatient, “Karen, you are my girl, my good girl! In spite of what they say about you-You are my girl, my only girl, I forgive you anything you did, I love you.”

His words stopped. He was breathing hard, his heart must have been racing. A slow angry flush came over his face, beginning at his ears. Karen stared at the swirling snow as they stepped outside: it turned, white and cold and innocent, like the disorder of her brain. “I love you too, Father,” she whispered. He might have heard. He pulled at her arm. “Over there-there-“ he grunted, pointing at a crowded car. “There they are.” As they approached, a familiar face-one of Karen’s brothers-opened the door to receive them.