Friday, June 26, 2009

The Sanctuary Lamp

There is a longstanding custom in Lutheran Churches, to keep a candle always lit in the east end of the church, near the altar. It is called the sanctuary lamp, or the eternal light, or perhaps other similar terms. I would offer, as food for thought, a criticism of the way in which this is practiced in many Lutheran churches. What I have in mind is the practice of having an eternal light in the sanctuary of churches that do not reserve the Blessed Sacrament.

Please note that at the top of this discussion I refer to this as a custom, and not as tradition. It does not deserve to be classed as part of the tradition of the church, and any defense of it as a respect for tradition is misguided, wrongheaded, and quite mistaken.

The Sanctuary Lamp has essentially one purpose, namely, to signify that one is in the presence of our Lord, Who is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in the tabernacle. Such a signifying has the twin purpose of 1. honoring Christ, a sort of keeping vigil with the sacred Body of Christ, and 2. giving the faithful the opportunity and occasion to adore their Lord. In churches where the Sacrament is not reserved, it is appropriate to bow deeply upon reaching one's pew, or when crossing the center, as a way of showing reverence to the altar, the great symbol of Christ, our Sacrifice for sin. And where the Sacrament is present, it is appropriate and traditional to worship the truly present Christ by bended knee. Indeed, between the consecration and the ablutions in the Mass, this is done by kneeling. And in churches where the Sacrament is always present, traditional practice is to adore our Lord by genuflecting upon reaching one's pew, kneeling at one's place in the pew for a few minutes in prayer, genuflecting when leaving the pew to go to Communion, also when returning to the pew after Communion, upon departing, and whenever crossing the center of the church. The traditional tell tale when entering a church, as to whether the Sacrament is present, is the Sanctuary Lamp, or its absence.

In the effort of so many Lutheran churches to take a thing with which they disagreed (reservation of the Sacrament), but the external form associated with it which they apparently liked (the burning of the eternal light), and give it a new meaning, such as the presence of the Spirit of God, or the omnipresence of God, or God's eternal love, or any number of other arguments I have heard, what is really being done, surely unwittingly, is a deception. The sanctuary lamp tells those who enter its line of sight that in that space, very near that light, is the consecrated Bread of the Blessed Sacrament, which is the very Body of Christ.

The Lutheran Church, let us be clear, teaches clearly and boldly, with the Church Catholic of all its classic denominations, that the consecrated bread and wine is the very Body and Blood of Christ. By "very" I mean true, real, substantial. By it I mean exactly what it sounds like. By it I mean what the Calvinists and Evangelicals do not mean when such terms have at times been used by them in reference to their doctrine. Christ is really and personally present in the Blessed Sacrament. The Sacrament exists for basically one purpose, namely, that the faithful may be united with their Lord in the consumption of the same, for the forgiveness of their sins, and indeed, for the innumerable and immeasurable blessings of which union with Christ consist, such as strengthened faith, and comfort. That is, it is instituted for us Christians to eat and to drink. And when we do so, when we consume the Sacrament, we do not take a part of Christ away from Him, as we are crassly accused by deniers of the Sacrament, but in fact, it is consumed without ever being consumed. Thus, the fire that Moses encountered is a fitting picture in this regard. The presence of Christ is beyond all mathematics, as the Blessed Reformer stated in his debate with Zwingli. And, as he urged in his Brief Confession almost two decades later, the poetry of St. Thomas Aquinas is also helpful and clear, in that Christ, all of Him, is given to one, and to the next. Christ's presence, then, is reliable and true, before we approach the altar, and also as long as it is reserved in the tabernacle, for such reservation is practiced in many churches, even some of our own, for pastoral reasons, ie., for its consumption by the faithful.

With this doctrine of the true presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist in mind, Lutheran churches place themselves in an awkward position when they keep the eternal light, while assigning to this eucharistic symbol a Calvinist definition or significance. Many of our churches have a eucharistic practice that is irreverent, shameful, and in short, quite fitting for a Calvinist or a Zwinglian theology. So in that regard, perhaps the empty practice of lighting the eternal light without the accompanying presence of the Sacrament is fitting after all in some of our churches.

Yet in all seriousness, Christian respect, and friendliness, I do call upon the reader to consider, or reconsider, these matters. My recommendation for those parishes and chapels that do not reserve the sacrament is twofold.

1. Consider doing so. And when you do, I encourage all the traditional expressions of reverence that have been such a healthy part of the liturgical tradition of the West. We can discuss all of those matters in due time.

2. Until you do institute the reservation of the Sacrament, extinguish the sanctuary lamp. At this point in your church, it is a practice which truly signifies nothing, that is, the absence of Christ. This is a perversity of matters. And I do not say this to insult, or be disrespectful. And if it helps your decision making process, think of all the money you will save in the mean time. And know that this discussion is not condemnation, but suggestion, and food for thought. When you keep doing things the way you've been doing it, I'll love you like a brother anyway.

Facebook username

I am not in the habit of getting on Facebook very often. But this morning I thought I may as well make an appearance. And it seems that Facebook users may now make use of user names. I didn't like any of the ones suggested for me, so I picked latifhakigaba. So for what it's worth, myFacebook page is now

Thursday, June 25, 2009

bowling balls as jewels

At, today's image of the day is a picture of one of the giant rings, a modern art sculpture on the Riverwalk, along the Milwaukee River, downtown Milwaukee.

Modern art is hardly my favorite art form, yet at times I find a piece to have a certain charm. This ring, for example, is to me a bold, larger than life, self-deprecating autobiographical statement of the city itself, so stereotypically known for pastimes like bowling. For the jewels in this ring are bowling balls. Milwaukee, like Middle Earth, has rings of mysterious power, for it seems that even visitors from New Orleans are drawn to it.

An Evening on Brady Street

How do East Side Milwaukee folks spend a leisurely summer evening? Among other things, they can be found on Brady Street. That is what Ruth and I did tonight. There's a lot of good places to eat on Brady Street; I had some Brady Street fellowship with the Beanes last week, for example, at the Apollo Cafe. Tonight Ruth and I picked up Jimmy John's sandwiches, and found a nice sidewalk table where we got to eat our dinner while enjoying the company of all the others doing the same.

Incidentally, a typical Latif moment was when we got to Brady Street, and started walking west; we get about a block past Jimmy John's when Ruth says, "So where are we going to eat?" and I say, "Jimmy John's, remember?" Ruth says, "But it's back that way." I'm like, "I know; we'll get there."

Anyway, after dinner, we stroll down the street, just enjoying the scene. I wanted to check out some of the vintage clothing and antique shops, and maybe a coffee house, like Rochambo, or Brewed. At one vintage shop, Yellow Jacket, I found a hat I just knew was destined to be mine, a yellow, furry hat, reminiscent of the one Cosmo Kramer once found on the street; unfortunately, it didn't quite fit me. On the next block, however, at Dragonfly, I found vintage neck ties on sale for $1 each, so three of them adopted me, and came home with me:

Finally, we decided to cross the street, and start heading back up the other side. I must say, one of my favorite things about life on the East Side is that I'm always encountering dogs I can pet. Sure enough, we soon found a dog, sitting next to his owners at a sidewalk bar or cafe, I don't remember which. I reached down to pet Bruno, the Basset Hound, a dog which looked much like this one:

Bruno not only let us pet him, which is not unusual, but also rolled over and encouraged us to pet his belly, which his owners said he never does.

Brady Street has an almost Parisian quality, a hard to define atmosphere which invites one to take some time out of the work week, and play the flaneur, if you will "pardon my French." So I always enjoy walking Brady Street with my wife, just as I love sharing the experience with friends whenever I can.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tell Us What You Really Think

I am behind the front desk at the hotel, running some reports, etc., and I overhear an old couple (they look to be in their 70s or so). They are on the other side of the lobby, sitting at a couch, and watching what seems to be either a replay of Conan Obrien, or maybe a snippet of Conan on one of the news networks. (I'm sorry, Fr. Weedon, but, indeed, even the lobby of my hotel has a big TV screen.) Anyway, the woman says to her husband, referring to Conan Obrien, "I can't stand that guy!" And the man says to his wife, "I can't stand to look at him!" Sometimes old folks make me laugh.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hosting the Beanes

It was a pure joy hosting the Beane Family for a couple days last week. In a sense, having them as house guests is like hosting family. Master Leo even calls me Uncle Latif. Ruth regrets having to miss their visit because of her librarians' conference in Saint Louis, though she was able, thankfully, to see the Beanes at Holy Hill on Monday, along with the others whom we were blessed to see from out of town.

All in all, last week went by much too quickly. I was blessed to get four days in a row off work (which I'm kind of making up for now), so that I got to enjoy most of the week undisturbed by thoughts of the hotel. The first half of the week was devoted to the Third Annual Retreat of the Society of Saint Polycarp, which took place out at Holy Hill, a monastery north of the city. (Incidentally, I am reminded of the opinion Lutheran bureaucrats hold of me, that I would be "more at home in a Benedictine monastery than in a Lutheran seminary;" to be sure, Holy Hill is a Discalced Carmelite community, not Benedictine, yet I did feel at home there.) After the retreat wrapped up on Wednesday, I had the honor of hosting Father Larry, Madame Beane (or Miss Grace, as some say), and young Leo for two and a half days at my place in Riverwest. For any not familiar with Milwaukee, Riverwest is one of those far west suburbs. Just joking; it is about as "East Side" as you can get, except that it is the neighborhood on the west bank of the Milwaukee River. If anything, it is more diverse than even the UWM environs. So with the little time we had together, I gave the Beanes a tiny taste of Milwaukee culture, as much as time, and a night auditor's salary, could afford. One of the real spiritual blessings of the week was to celebrate Mass together five days in a row, Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday at Holy Hill, and Thursday & Friday at Saint Stephen's. Much more to say, surely, but this will suffice for now (my brain is not exactly in top performance condition at this point in the graveyard shift).

Thank you, Fr. Beane, for blessing my week in so many ways, not least being that you allowed me the honor and pleasure of hosting you and your dear family in my home.

By the way, there was a plentitude of pictures taken, many of which are worth viewing. Only, they were not taken by me, so I must direct you elsewhere. In fact, they seem to be already up at the Beane's Flickr site. So do check them out. The good looking guy in the beret is my friend Leo.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First Mass of the SSP Retreat

Monday was the first day of the third annual retreat of the Society of Saint Polycarp. The retreat is taking place this year at Holy Hill, a beautiful and scenic Carmelite monastery, just north of Milwaukee, and home of the renowned Basilica of Holy Hill & National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. Many thanks to the Discalced Carmelite community of Holy Hill, for welcoming us to their home this week. Tuesday and Wednesday will both begin with the Holy Mass, of course, yet the opening Mass Monday evening was special, for within the context of this eucharistic celebration, I was consecrated & made a Deacon. My service to Christ's Church as a Deacon will take the form of the traditional diaconal role in the Mass on Sundays at my home parish, St. Stephen's, where I will serve under the authority of the pastor, Fr. Timothy May, and will also no doubt take other forms, which we will work out in due time. These various forms of diaconal service will depend upon the needs of the people of the parish, my abilities, always a proper consideration for the rightful authority of the pastor, and the limitations of my time and resources. In the course of time, though, I will explicate my diaconal service here more fully. Father Larry Beane, Dean of the Society of Saint Polycarp, administered the rite, and he has my undying gratitude for his support and part in all of this.

Check out these photos, already uploaded by my digitally competent wife.

The Godfather with Godson, young Master Joshua Pollock. Note also the picture on the right, of the Carmelite saint, Therese of Lisieux, an image that is probably a bit unusual for a Lutheran Mass.

With my wife, Ruth.

With my brother, Daut, and my sister, Bedull.

With Daut and my nephew Cyrus.

With Fr. May, my pastor, and the celebrant of the Mass. Please note the image of Saint Stephen, patron saint of our parish, pictured in the stole of diaconal ministry.

I include this one because it does feature, though not as clearly or prominently as I would like, Fr. Beane. I'm sure one of the other photographers captured better pictures of Fr. Beane, and in due time, when I get my hands of them, I will post one of them here as well.

From left: my good friend Fr. Michael Carter, who served as subdeacon and lector in the Mass (if I would have thought the other guys were going to bring their stoles we would have dug up one for Michael, but he is there, in proper choir dress); Fr. Larry Beane , fresh from an all night ride on The City of New Orleans; Fr. David Juhl , pastor, preacher, and ham; Fr. Timothy May , our token representative of Hispanic Ministry; the new deacon; Fr. Benjamin Pollock, husband, father, and triple duty pastor on the edge of the world-I mean the edge of Minnesota; the inimitable Fr. Shane Cota; and last but not least, Fr. Matthew Uttenreither, Tigerton's best preacher.

With a picture of Saint Therese of Lisieux. I couldn't resist.

A couple other notes for now. 1. I would have done a better job of keeping local friends informed of the time and place of this special consecration, but the details were late in getting nailed down, plus you know that my daily life lately, with my new job, has been at times almost incompatible with keeping properly connected socially. But you have my apologies. Please come to St. Stephen's this Sunday, though, for a special pot-luck after Spanish Mass (and bring a dish).

2. Fellow Polycarpian, Father James A. Roemke was in attendance this afternoon, but had to leave because his wife had a sudden medical emergency. She is in our prayers.

3. Fr. Beane preached an excellent homily for the occasion. It was a sermon so refreshingly evangelical, so unabashedly catholic, so powerful and unflinching, and so literarily astute, I will have to share it, surely at the blog of the Society of Saint Polycarp, and perhaps here as well. Thank you, Fr. Beane. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your gift.

4. I would like to see if someone got a picture of the rite as it took place; if so, we will post it here as well. Stay tuned.

4. A final thought for tonight. This week also the annual symposium of the Concordia Catechetical Academy, of Peace Lutheran Church, convenes in Waukesha. Some of our brethren will be there. I doubt I will be there, because my time and resources this year won't really allow it. But it is always a gathering worth while for those interested in teaching the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. The CCA symposium, which begins, I think, on Wednesday, is in my prayers, and would be worth checking out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Athanasian Creed in the Liturgy

The Athanasian Creed is one of the great symbols of the Church. Has it become mere empty 'symbolism,' however? In some ways, unfortunately so. For creeds, the truly great ones anyway, are meant to be part of the life of the Church; they are meant to be taught, rehearsed, and prayed. They are meditated upon in the quietest moments of the Christian's prayer life, which implies also that they are prayed aloud by Christians gathered together. When one of the classic creeds is not treated in these ways, one can in a certain sense claim, with sadness, that it has become no longer a true, but an empty symbol and creed. This, then, has the danger of leading to a second way in which it can be an empty symbol, namely, that the faith itself expressed in the creed begins to erode amidst a church that no longer prays the faithful sayings of old. There is both a positive promise, and a negative warning, embedded in the classic dictum Lex orandi, lex credendi. Why is the faith in the Triune God so frail and endangered today? Why is the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ, and the personal union of His two natures, so weak, and in many churchly quarters openly contradicted? There indeed are many devilish reasons which has contributed to this state of affairs; one of them, in my view, is that one of the most brilliant and classic statements of the Faith, the Athanasian Creed, does not play much of a role in the life of the Church today.

We Lutherans at times lament how infrequent the Athanasian Creed is heard in the Church, anyway I am one of them. Yet before we develop that line of thought, it is good to make sure we have the broad perspective, not only historically, but also in terms of how we compare with others. For example, it is a sad fact that the Athanasian Creed has not survived the liturgical "reforms" of the modern Roman Rite at all. I do not say this out of any triumphalism; nonetheless, it is important for us to appreciate and be thankful for the fact that despite having slavishly followed the liturgical trends of the Roman Church of the last couple generations in such a myriad of ways, American Lutheranism has managed, probably quite despite itself, to hang onto the practice of confessing the Athanasian Creed in the liturgy every year. I will argue below that there are problems with this practice, liturgically speaking, yet the answer to or reform of the situation must never involve trashing the people's exposure to the Creed. That has happened, and I fraternally urge that it is a rash, and pastorally poor avenue to take.

As I say, the Athanasian Creed has fallen from its formerly lofty status in the Roman Rite. This change has happened in stages over the past century. In the liturgical reforms of Pope Pius X of 1911, the Creed was reduced to once a year, down from almost weekly. Before 1911, it was part of the regular Sunday Divine Office at the 'hour' of Prime, on all of the Sundays after Pentecost, and after Epiphany, ie. the green Sundays plus Trinity Sunday. It was also part of the traditional rite of exorcism. Its place in the Divine Office of the Roman Breviary was eliminated in the modern era, as any glance at the so called Liturgy of the Hours bears out, for the Office of Prime itself was suppressed after Vatican II (a nice term for abolished). In fact, the Creed does not even survive in the new rite of exorcism, which gives the option of using the Apostles' or Nicene Creed. We must happily add, however, that the door to the Athanasian Creed is now once again open in the Roman Rite, in light of Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, of 7 July, 2007, which allows priests the free use of the older rite (or the older 'use' of the Roman rite).

Among the Lutherans the Athanasian Creed is confessed usually in the Mass on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. As I say, it is very good that we have kept the confession of this Creed to this extent at least. My concern regarding this practice, however, is twofold. One is that it is much too infrequent. The other is that its place is not, properly speaking, in the liturgy of the Mass. It belongs, rather, in the Divine Office.

I have heard of cases where a pastor, having become convinced of the second point above, decides simply to end his parish's practice of confessing the Athanasian Creed in the Mass once a year, and thereby takes this Creed away from his people. This is thinking the issue through too well by half (is that how the saying goes?). It is poor foresight. It is poor catechetically, liturgically, and indeed, spiritually & pastorally.

There are other answers. For example, if I understand rightly, from the little notice I saw at Fr. Eckardt's blog, what he did this year at St. Paul's parish in Kewanee, IL, was to have the Creed confessed before the Mass. As another example, my own pastor, Fr. May, at St. Stephen's, had us go through it together during the Bible study hour between Masses this year. I would personally argue that the best approach is to use this situation, this need, as an occasion and opportunity to introduce a healthy parish practice of the Sunday morning Divine Office.

(I must devote another entry to the virtues of the Divine Office. But any thoughtful priest, pastor, and theologian, can immediately think of some of the major benefits to such a practice in the parish. The Psalms, to which we pay such lovely lip service, and which are indeed prayed in some of our parishes on midweek evening services, can actually have a chance to gain real ground, for example.)

The true home of the Creed is the Office at Prime, which is actually a beautiful form of prayer. It can be employed without a lot of difficulty. If, however, one finds it for a variety of possible reasons, that it is preferable to simply use one of the orders of prayer contained in the pew service book which is currently in vogue, Lutheran Service Book, or some other Lutheran service book and or hymnal, and thereby use the order of Matins found there, that is certainly an option.

Allow me to reiterate, or make explicit, a point I think is worthy noting here. The Athanasian Creed is not only proper on Trinity Sunday, but also on all other Sundays in the green part of the year, as it were. This means that it is not too late to take these thoughts into consideration. The holy Creed, despite what some think after making their way through its articulations, is not an overly cerebral take on the faith, or overly intellectual. Rather, it is inherently and profoundly liturgical, which is to say that it is meant to be prayed and upon it the Christian will be inspired to meditate day and night.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

a Lutheran logomaniac worth your attention

I would like to take a moment to recommend to your reading the blog of Father Todd Peperkorn, Lutheran Logomaniac. Fr. Peperkorn is a faithful pastor and preacher, as well as a strong supporter of the traditional yearly based series of Mass readings. He is pastor at Messiah parish in Kenosha, Wisconsin, south of Milwaukee, and a newly elected member of the district board of directors (there's a real churchly sounding entity). By the way, Fr. Peperkorn is so into the politics of things that instead of participating in the closing convention Mass in which the new officers were installed, he lunched with friends down the road. His blog is now one of my must-reads. Make it yours too.

lil somethin from LilRev

I'm actually glad that my Tuesday was so long (went from my third shift job to Mass, and then to Mequon for the last day of the district LCMS convention), because when I fell asleep, which Ruth tells me was somewhere around 7 hours after the meridien, I pretty much stayed asleep until 8 this morning! I can't believe it. But it's true. I think it was more than just Tuesday that did it to me; evidently, I needed the rest. So I started the day with the odd temporary weariness that a body has when it's been in the same place for so long, coupled with the thought that I was going to miss Mass today. But then I began to realize that this could be an unusually good and productive day off. I might, just might, get a few things done that have been put off. (If those tasks & projects had a mind of their own, they'd surely say they're a bit "put off" by my having put them off so long. Don't you love phrases that take on such idiomatic lives of their own?) So I'm thankful to have a day in the study.

Just in case you were wondering, Frederick I, Barbarosa (ie., Red Beard), Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, died on this day in 1190.

After you take a moment to ponder the High Middle Ages, I would like to call your attention to one of my favorite living musicians, and definitely my favorite local Milwaukee musician, Lil Rev. Living with the Wiests for a few years at ULC meant, among other things, that I was introduced to men like Lil Rev. Fr. Wiest even invited him to play at our basement "coffeehouse" at ULC, which Lil Rev himself recalled when I met up with him recently. After the regular daily Mass one day a few weeks back my friend, Fr. Mike Carter, my pastor, Fr. May, and I were enjoying a post missam cup of coffee in a coffee house in Third Ward (Bella's), talking theology, reading the Onion-you know, the usual- when we noticed an ad in the Onion for a show that Lil Rev was going to do a few days thence at a Linneman's, a fine little drinking establishment just a few blocks from my house in Riverwest. So I took a mental note of the date of the gig, and in the words of John Lee Hooker, "I decided I drop in there that night." But first, since I knew that Mike would enjoy a nice evening of American folk & blues, I went over to the coffee house on Brady Street where I knew he'd be likely to be found, and from there we headed to Linneman's.

With that unnecessary background, let me say that though there was a small crowd that night, it was one of the most enjoyable sets I've heard in many years. Lil Rev plays many different stringed instruments, along with the harmonica and even the kazoo. He teaches music at UWM, has written a couple of books on the ukelele, and is known and respected around the country for his commitment to American folk and blues music, especially that of the early twentieth century. Please visit his website, buy his music, and see him when you get the opportunity. Here is a little taste of Lil Rev from the You Tube world.

Cheers, and don't forget tomorrow is Corpus Christi.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

thoughts on third shift

It's 4:30 a.m. A number which of course reminds one of the life of Saint Augustine.

Now it's 4:31. A number which of course stirs thoughts of Mary as Mother of God.