Monday, May 25, 2009

An Argument for the Blessing of the Baptismal Font

We are in the midst of the Ascension Octave, which means that among other things, liturgists can be found thinking about the Pentecost Vigil, or Whitsun-Eve, as it is variously called. So, for example, the question has been raised at both Gottesblog and at the Gottesdienst Online blog whether it is appropriate to practice the blessing of the Baptismal Font, which includes the dipping of the Paschal candle into the waters of the font (It unnecessarily prejudices the issue, I think, to refer to this as "baptizing" the candle, at least within our present setting). Lovers of the traditional liturgy of the Western Church are not, and need not always be, as Fr. Larry Beane put it recently, "in lock step." So I am bold to respectfully and cordially differ from Frs. Eckardt, Stuckwisch, and others, by offering a defense of this ceremony, for it is a traditional element of the Western liturgy which is replete with rich Christian images and symbols, and I think that the best way to defend it is just to shed a bit of light on it.

In discussing this ceremony, by the way, I will be making reference to its traditional form, which failed to completely survive Pope Pius XII's liturgical revisions of 1951 and 1955. It can be found in Latin texts, of course, and also in several editions of the first half of the twentieth century which included English translations; perhaps my overall favorite is the so called New Roman Missal of 1945, prepared under the leadership of Father F. X. Lasance. I hasten to add, however, that if I quote from the Psalms in English, it will be the Coverdale, and if other scripture in English, it will be the King James.

When we look at this ancient ceremony, which has been practiced in Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches, even some of our own Missouri Synod Churches (I have seen it done at various points of my life in Lutheran parishes, for example, since I was a child), one of the first things to note is that it is given to us in the liturgy not once, but twice each year. It is part of the Paschal Vigil, and then, fifty days later, we see it in the Vigil of Pentecost, which seems to be celebrated these days much less often than the Paschal Vigil, but is there nonetheless. Why would the Baptismal waters be blessed twice, just a few weeks from each other? (By the way, this is called the Blessing of the Baptismal Font in some books, but it is really a blessing of the waters of the Font.) I find it almost reminiscent of the fact that the traditional Baptismal rite contains not one, but two exorcisms. Good and important things are worth repeating. Repetition is a way of emphasizing, driving home important truths. It draws attention to what the Church considers to be of greatest importance. The Church takes the reality of the devil very seriously. In Christ, the Church has power over the devil and his forces in this world, and this she takes seriously as well. It is good for this blessing to take place twice each year, for not only is it a rich, multisensory lesson in the Gospel, but indeed it is the Gospel in action.

The ceremony begins as a tract from Psalm 42 is sung while the priest and his ministers make their way to the baptistry, or if there is no baptistry, wherever the font is located. On Holy Saturday the Paschal candle will be carried with them; on the Pentecost Vigil the candle will already be there.

Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God. When shall I come to appear before the presence of God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?

This beautiful text sets the tone for a ceremony that will be focused on highlighting the great blessings, and indeed the essential importance in our life, of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. It has inspired churches of earlier ages to paint or sculpt on the sides of baptismal fonts images of deer drinking from a stream of water.

At the entrance to the baptistry, the officiating priest gives the salutation, and then prays the following collect.

O almighty, eternal God, favorably regard the devotion of Thy people, who are to be born again in Thee, and who, even as the hart, seeketh after the fountain of Thy waters, grant propitiously that the thirst of faith itself may, by the mystery of baptism, sanctify soul and body. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

Then as they enter into the baptistry (or approach the font), the priest says the salutation again, and then prays the following over the font.

Almighty, eternal God, be Thou present in the mysteries of Thy great goodness; be Thou present in the sacraments; and send forth the Spirit of adoption to create anew the new peoples which the font of Baptism beareth unto Thee; that what is to be done by the ministry of our lowliness may be fulfilled by the effect of Thy power. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

The next part resembles, and indeed uses the chant tones of, the preface of the eucharist.

The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord.

Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God. It is meet and right so to do.

It is truly meet and just, right and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, Who by a power unseen by man dost wonderfully work the effect of Thy sacraments. And although we be unworthy of the performance of such great mysteries, nevertheless, not deserting the gifts of Thy grace, Thou dost incline the ear of Thy pity, even to our prayers. O God, Whose Spirit was borne upon the waters in the very first beginning of the world, that even then the nature of the waters might be impregnated with sanctifying power; O God, Who, washing out with Thy waters the guilt of an offending world, didst exhibit the form of regeneration in the very pouring forth of the flood, that by the mystery of one and the same element there might be both an end to sin and a beginning of righteousness; look, O Lord, upon the face of Thy Church, and multiply Thy regenerations in her, Thou Who dost gladden Thy city with the tide of Thine affluent grace, and dost open the fountain of Baptism for the renewal of the nations throughout all the world, that, by the command of Thy majesty, she may receive from the Holy Ghost the grace of Thine only-begotten Son.

With this prayer, we begin to really see the pneumatic (and hence Pentecost-appropriate) elements of Baptism. Holy Baptism is the ongoing triumph of the resurrected Christ, and so it is very relevant to the Paschal celebration. Yet Baptism is a multifaceted mystery, and another facet is that it is the work of the Spirit of God, and so the night before the great and joyous Pentecost feast is a most relevant time for the people of God to be ritually and ceremonially taught again the great truths of the essence, gift, and significance of Baptism.

We also see in this prayer, I suggest, hints of the marital relationship between Christ and his beloved bride the Church. For the Church, the womb of which, so to speak, is the baptismal font, bears children to her Lord, Who in fact is the one Who impregnates her by the power of His Word.

Moreover, we have here strong Mosaic themes, of creation, and of the flood. Luther also famously made use of the diluvial motif, and in doing so, he showed himself not only a sacramentally astute Old Testament exegete, but also a great follower of churchly tradition. Moses is rich in sacramental and christological doctrine, even in his opening creation narrative, doctrine which comes to life in a ceremony such as this.

By the way, in the fruitful maternity, yet simultaneously immaculate and holy virginity, of the womb of the font, we also have deeply Marian themes, which will come closer to the surface later.

At this point, the priest puts his hand into the water, and divides the water in the form of a cross, as he continues:

And may that same Holy Ghost, by the hidden virtue of His Godhead, make fruitful this water prepared for the regeneration of men, that a heavenly offspring, conceived in sanctification, may emerge from the immaculate womb of this divine font, reborn to newness of life, and that grace as a mother may bring forth every one, how different so ever in age or sex, into a like spiritual infancy. At Thy bidding, therefore, O Lord, may every unclean spirit depart from hence; far be removed all malice of diabolical deceit. Here let no admixture of the enemy's power have any place; let it not hover in ambush; let it not creep in unperceived; let it not corrupt with infection.

He touches the water with his hand, and continues:

May this holy and innocent creature be free from every assault of the adversary and purged of every flaw of wickedness. May it be a living fountain, a regenerating water, a purifying tide, that all who shall be washed in these waters of salvation may, by the working of the Holy Ghost in them, obtain the favor of perfect cleansing.

At this point I think some not accustomed to this ceremony will feel as though the water is being treated too much as though it were a person in need of salvation. The sentiment is understandable. I suggest, however, that something as important and valuable to the life of the church as the baptismal water we do well to bless and consecrate in a special way. Let us also bear in mind that the danger of satanic assault on the church and her members, and even on the very sacramental acts of the church, is real, and by the Word of God and prayer we do well to ritually and reverently take on such danger.

The priest at this point makes the sign of the cross over the water three times, as he says:

Wherefore, I bless thee, o creature of water, in the name of the living + God, of the true + God, of the holy + God, of the God Who, in the beginning, by His Word divided thee from the dry land; Whose Spirit was borne upon thee.

The priest casts the water with his hand to the north, south, east, and west, and then says:

He it was Who bade thee to flow from the fountain of paradise and commanded thee to water all the earth in four rivers; Who, when thou wast bitter in the desert, put sweetness into thee, made thee good to drink, and drew thee from the rock for the thirsty people. I bless + thee also in the name of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who, by a wonderful miracle in Cana of Galilee, converted thee into wine, Who with His feet walked upon thee, and was baptized in thee by John in Jordan; Who gave thee forth together with blood from His side, and ordered His disciples that those who believed should be baptized in thee, saying: Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Do Thou, O almighty God, of Thy clemency be with us while we keep these precepts; do thou benignly inspire us.

At this point the priest breathes on the water three times in the form of a cross, and then continues:

These pure waters Thou wilt bless with Thy mouth, that besides the natural cleansing which they can perform in the washing of bodies, they may also be efficacious for the purifying of souls.

Here let us note that right after a section in which the second Person of the Trinity is invoked for blessing, the priest himself breathes on the water, reminiscent of how the priest breathes the Words of Christ over the bread and wine at the altar. Of course it also reminds us of the breathing over the baptismal candidate. For here the Christological character of the Office of the ordained Ministry is portrayed clearly and unmistakably. It is Christ who blesses, and when He does, He always does so, so to speak, in the form of the cross.

The priest now takes the Paschal candle, and dips it into the water three times, each time a bit more deeply, as he says:

May the virtue of the Holy Ghost descend upon all the contents of this font.

Let us now pause to reflect upon this action. The priest, Who stands in the office of Christ, takes the Paschal candle, which is one of the most profound symbols of Christ in the Church, and sinks it into the water. This tells us that, again, it is Christ who is blessing this font of baptismal water and making it a holy water, that is, water set aside for Christic and Spiritual use. I really hesitate to go into my next thought, because I try to be a gentleman and we must be careful when we treat such matter, so bear with me. The Paschal candle, strong symbol of Christ that it is, is manfully held by the priest, who then plants it into the waters of this ecclesial womb of the font. When seen in this way, we see, I think, that it is not the candle that is being baptized, but that the water is being blessed in so many ways in this rich and symbol ridden ceremony.

The priest then breathes on the water, making the form of the Greek letter Psi, signifying the word for Spirit (psykhe), which begins with that letter in Greek. It might be worth noting that while we tend to think, in the theological realm, of pneuma when we think of "spirit," and associate psykhe more so with "soul," which distinction I do not condemn, we need to bear in mind that such a hard and fast distinction is a later development, not necessarily meaningful in the ancient world. "Anima" in Latin, I would argue, is similarly capable of a double meaning.

After taking the candle out of the water, he says:

Here may the stains of all sins be washed away; here may nature, created to Thine image, and reformed to the honorable estate of its origin, be cleansed of all the foulness of the past, that every human being, by entering into this sacrament of regeneration, may be born again into a new infancy of true innocence. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who shall come to judge the quick and the dead, and the world, by fire. Amen.

Another thought. Very often in the Church we hear of the importance of maturing in the faith, and of learning to move past the milk of infancy and immaturity, that we may take on more meaningfully the meat of God's Word. There is truth in this; St. Paul uses the theme of the word as meat. Yet we must never forget the fundamentally important truth that the Christian in another sense remains always an infant, happily feeding upon the pure milk of the Word. When we speak of "returning to our Baptism," we are really talking about being restored to spiritual infancy, not in the sense of immaturity, but rather in the sense of a pure filial relationship with our mother the Church, and the pure food she feeds us in Christ. This theme is found in this ceremony more than once, and reminds us also of the Paschaltide introit, Quasi Modo Geniti Infantes: "As newborn babes, alleluia, desire the sincere milk of the Word," etc.

In the final part of this ceremony, the priest pours a little of the oil of catechumens into the font, as he says,

May this font be sanctified and made fruitful of the oil of salvation to those who are born again from it unto everlasting life. Amen.

He then pours some of the chrism oil, saying,

May the infusion of the chrism of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, be made in the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen.

He then pours some of both oils, simultaneously into the water, and says,

May the mixture of the chrism of sanctification, and the oil of unction, and the water of Baptism, be made in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

This is the traditional ceremony of the Blessing of the Baptismal Font. I find it deeply rich and evangelical, and I have seen how much parishioners of all walks of life love and appreciate it. It engenders respect for the Font and its water, and therefore it engenders added and renewed respect for Baptism itself.

Whether, and to what extent, a parish, school, or seminary uses this ceremony must be left to the judgement of the local pastor. Is right now the right time for this ceremony? Yes, though not in every place and context.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Countercultural Way of Looking at Womanhood

Strength, independence, ambition, these are the traits in women which are constantly promoted by our feminist culture. To the overwhelmingly dominant culture of such constant promotion and insistence I tend to take issue. This is not, however, because I do not see strength and independence in the wonderful creature known as woman. In the best and holiest of the Church's long history of great women no one can fail to see such attributes, whether we are thinking of Saint Rita or Saint Monica or Katherine Luther or Joan of Arc or Saint Lucy or the Blessed Virgin Mary, traits of strength and independence are in plain view and are indeed virtues. Yet I do take issue with our modern culture at precisely the point of its insistence on these traits in women. Let me explain.

Strength and independence in women are promoted in such a way as to unmistakably imply, and many times it is more than merely implied, that weakness and dependence are wrong, shameful, unwomanly, and to be avoided at all costs. This is so strong and pervasive in the modern Western mindset that even those who consider themselves not to be feminists have taken to just this type of thinking. In fact, the Christian woman should be taught to embrace and take healthy pride in her unique feminine weakness and sense of dependence. In so doing, she will not only find the liberating freedom to more fully become who she is, what she was made to be, but she will also show herself to be a beautiful type for both the Christian soul itself and the Church.

The Christian is made strong and victorious in Christ. Even as powerful an enemy as the devil himself is trampled under our feet. We must never forget the key factor in such strength and victory, however. Namely, that it is God in Christ Who is trampling Satan under our feet. We defeat the devil, yet in doing so, we are merely participating in Christ's defeat of him. I myself do not even object to images of the Blessed Virgin Mary as standing victorious over the serpent, for while this is based upon an alternate reading of the prophesy of Genesis 3, it is a great spiritual truth, not only in Mary's life, but also in her role as type of the Church. As St. Paul teaches, the God of peace shall bruise Satan under our feet (Romans 16). We cannot help notice the striking contrasts, and even seeming paradox in such a statement, where we are told that God is bruising Satan, but yet it is done under our feet, or that God is bruising, trampling, and defeating Satan, and yet He is the God of peace. The Church takes this confession so seriously, by the way, that she prays it in the Litany, to wit:

Ut Satanam sub pedibus nostris conterere digneris: Te rogamus, audi nos.

That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to trample Satan under our feet: We beseech Thee to hear us.

Such victory and strength is ours precisely because we are hidden in the sufferings of Christ. We boast, so to speak, of our weakness, for His grace is sufficient for us. It is highly significant that Mel Gibson in his Passion film shows Christ standing up and stomping upon the serpent precisely in the context of a moment when He was most weak, most drained, in the agony of the Garden, as He looked ahead to His great self sacrifice on the via crucis and on the cross itself. For it is in the cross, that is, in the passive and humble giving of His life on the cross that He defeats the powerful and wily foe; that is where Michael and His strong angelic army defeats the devil and his angels in the cosmic battle which intersects the Church of all time.

Now, while you, dear reader, are starting to think that I have gotten way off topic, let me hasten to point out that this, the suffering service of the Lord of the Church, by which He defeats the enemy and becomes more than a conqueror, is the lens through which we see the whole of our own existence. This is well evident and deeply embedded in many aspects of the Church's devotional and sacramental life. Even Christian children are taught to repeat the great Pauline theme that boasts "I am weak but He is strong." What I suggest and urge is that we look once again at such a basic part of our confession, and learn to employ it in our assessment of the influence that the dominant culture would exert over us, which in this case involves a most dangerous attack on our women and Christian femininity.

In other words, while women are strong, to emphasize such strength is both unbecoming and ultimately misleading. For the real strength and real freedom is bound up in our weakness, in our need for relationships, in other words, our dependence. Instead of all the constant talk of the independence of women, I long to see more Christian women boasting of their dependence, and of their weakness. Much needed themes today include these: how much a woman needs the multifaceted protection of her husband; how genuinely attractive (in a sense, therefore, powerful) a woman can be precisely in her weakness, in her reserve, in her quiet, in her gentleness, in her service, and in her need.

To be clear, none of this is to say that a woman ought never think of herself as strong, or that it is wrong to ever assert herself in the right way and right context. It is not to say that women should all be of the exact same sort of personality and disposition. It is merely to say that the weakness of the weaker vessel is both real and is not a point of shame, but something that is in great need of renewed emphasis in the face of today's ironically termed feminist culture.

My thoughts on this subject are occasioned or brought to the surface lately by a book on Pope Benedict XVI. For within this book, namely, Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait, by Peter Seewald, which contains much worthy material for other discussions as well, there is a brief but noteworthy treatment of Joseph Ratzinger's sister, Maria. Her life was most insignificant from a feminist perspective, shamefully void of ambition and independence. Hers was, however, a truly model Christian life.

Maria Ratzinger was an educated and many skilled woman, yet her foremost desire was to serve the domestic needs of her brother, and to keep a home for him. She was his housekeeper, assistant, and sometimes also his secretary, through several moves and stages of his life, for over three decades. I quote at length here, from chapter 16 of Seewald's book, a discussion of Maria Ratzinger and her relationship with her brother Joseph:

"As early as Ratzinger's time in Freising, his sister, Maria, who was then thirty-five years old, gave up her job as a secretary to look after her parents and her brother. In Bonn, she at first filled in as a secretary for the faculty, and later she also took over running the young professor's household. 'It's just turned out like that,' she was to say later. She saw it as her task to make a home for her brother, she said, to type his manuscripts and to maintain the family bond. She did not define service as renunciation, but as 'shaping your life in a meaningful way,' just the way she inherited it from her 'sensitive and, in questions of education, almost clairvoyant mother.'

"With the passing years, Maria became a quiet and graceful woman. Reserved and unassuming. 'And although in her own almost shy reserve, she would rather have remained invisible in daily life,' one reporter wrote, describing her, 'she tackles any problems facing her with deliberate energy.' Fate had taken the decision out of her hands. After the war it was too late to take up teacher training. She turned down the opportunity to marry that was once offered her-perhaps from consideration for her parents, who were living alone in Hufschlag at that time.

"His sister accepted her lot. It is part of the basic attitude of the Ratzingers that you do not moan or grumble, do not complain about things that may possibly be a part of God's plan. Life is to be understood as service, not as self-fulfillment. This was not the modern man of our own days, divided by doubt, but a generation shaped by the Bible, who had the courage to set out into the adventure of a Christian life without 'ifs' or 'buts.' In doing this, she felt like that other Maria. 'My soul magnifies the Lord,' said Maria Ratzinger, reciting the Magnificat, the prayer of the Mother of God, each evening, 'and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.'

"The relationship between brother and sister was not always untroubled. It was not unusual for there to be a heavy atmosphere in the household they shared. For Joseph, she was a help, on the one hand, but, on the other also a burden. A dowry from his parents. And the woman at his side did not look especially impressive now. Certainly not-with her provincial appearance, her retiring manner, which not everyone found attractive-in the circles in which professors moved. Yet it can sometimes be an advantage if the prophet counts for nothing in his own home country. It was impossible, by the side of that sister, to take flight into the realms of pride and arrogance. One glance was enough, and one was once more the person one had to be.

"In pilgrim fellowship with Maria, apparently trivial things were selected as essential. What people were saying at the baker's. What was in the hometown paper. Whether the carpet needed cleaning and who among their relations had got married. There was no point in debating sublime theological knowledge. Why do that? Maria knew her God. The way her parents had known God. She would not love that God more if she read clever books about The Structural Development of the Principle of Tradition, or The Causa Efficiens as an Inadequate Category for Grasping the Reality of God in Action. Love of one's neighbor was not a 'project' here. but the often difficult practice of everyday life. And theology had to prove true, not in the lecture hall, at congresses, or in the uncomplaining pages of a book, but face to face with a person who listened to the troubles of a neighbor at the grocer's and who at the table in the evening, serving raisin pancakes, was immune to the singsong of academic phrases.

"Neither as a seminarian nor as a student had Joseph Ratzinger had an intimate relationship with a girl. Not that he had formed his picture of women along the lines of his sister. He knew her peculiarities only too well to elevate her way of being into an absolute. She was, however, an eternal reminder to protect the faith of simple people, the favorites of the biblical God, against the cold religion of professors who take refuge in know-it-all hypotheses that dematerialize the crucifixion and the Resurrection, and dare neither to confess nor to love. Maria remained the door to a world that might otherwise very easily have been closed to him. And we may suspect that this very 'handmaid' who preferred to wear an apron ultimately had more influence on the theology, the attitude, and the personality of the rising professor than any other person.

"Maria Ratzinger, a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis, died on a feast day, on All Souls' Day, November 2, 1991. She died of a heart attack and a subsequent brain hemorrhage while she was on a visit from Rome to her parents' grave in Pentling. It was a shock for her brothers. Georg had in the meantime become cathedral choirmaster and conductor of the Domspatzen (cathedral sparrows) at Regensburg, and the Cardinal, a prefect in the Citta del Vaticano. In the obituary, it says that she had 'served' her brother Joseph for thirty-four years, 'through all the stages of his life, with unwearied self-sacrifice and great kindness and humility. She was always a great sisterly help and grounding to both her brothers.' And there had probably never been so many nuncios, cardinals, archbishops, and politicians at a secretary's funeral as there were for that of Maria Ratzinger."

A woman who spends her life taking care of the needs of someone else? Indeed, this I suggest is a great example for us today. This does not mean, I say again, that the model Christian woman will take on one form, one look, one type of personality. Maria Ratzinger in the course of her full life made a complex set of decisions, which will not and cannot be the same for others. The strong life of a Christian woman who, like John the Baptist, desires only to decrease as she promotes Christ in her life by serving the needs of others, this is the strength, that is, the wholesome weakness, that we ought to teach and promote for our women today. I know women like this, and so do you, women like my wife. The trouble is that it is a sort of woman that is not positively portrayed in our culture, a culture so influential, even no doubt in the thinking of these very women that we should be protecting. When I see outstanding examples of Christian womanhood, therefore, I pray that more light shines upon them, for the good of women, the Church, and our culture.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Lutheran Deacon: What a Deacon Is Not

There is a growing interest in the office of deacon in today's Lutheran Church. Much of the interest is terribly misguided, however, and in need of correction. It is misguided into more than one wrong direction. With some correction, and with renewed emphasis and study, I am confident that a wholesome and lively interest in the office of deacon will grow among us, and bear much good fruit. To that end, I will be exploring in some depth the office of deacon, as it could and should be conceived and employed in Christ's holy Church in the modern age. Just what exactly is a deacon? This is the basic question, the exploration of which can open up great vistas of discussion.

It will help, however, to first establish what a deacon is not. That is what I would like to discuss today. There are two basic ways of looking at the deacon which need to be critiqued and condemned in Christian faith and love. And unfortunately both are more common in today's Missouri Synod than are the proper ways of seeing the deacon. So let us jump right into some controversy, why don't we.

First, the deacon is not merely a layman who fills a role of helping like unto that of the so called deaconess. Such a statement might bring the inference by some that I do not view the deacon as one who helps and serves. Trust me, I will treat at length the diaconal role of the deacon, so to speak. It must be established first, however, especially in today's milieu, that the deacon is not basically a male version of the deaconess. One of the problems with the modern Missouri Synod deaconess situation is that, in being so much more prominent and trendy than even the talk of a deacon program, it has led many to view the deaconess as the prototype, the paradigm, through which the deacon is viewed. Perhaps this is partly caused by nomenclature, that is, by the very use of the term deaconess, which is not wrong in itself, but might, I wonder, contribute to confusion in an age wherein the vocations of priest, deacon, hearer, and various helpers, are far less properly understood and distinguished than in the age of the venerable Wilhelm Loehe, who gave modern Lutheranism the deaconess. (Nothing like a quasi-Proustian sentence to wake a reader up.)

My intent is not to condemn the deaconess program, though it is not without need of critique. I aim here merely to point out that it is improper and dangerous to think of the deaconess as more needed than the deacon, which the synod obviously does today, and that it is improper and dangerous to view the deacon as merely an analogue to the deaconess. The Missouri Synod seminary, an inherently masculine institution, whose very name signifies a seedbed of the Church's sacred ministry, has become just as co-ed as the seminaries of the mainline churches, where women who will have "calls" and "ministries" are sitting in some of the very same classes as men studying for the holy priesthood. Indeed, they cohabit in a certain but very real sense. That is, they sleep, eat, study, and live together in the insular world of a seminary campus. Whereas the seminarian in a previous age had to get official permission to get betrothed, today even dating goes on among these students. Such things are open secrets and in some cases openly encouraged. There have been deaconess students who have argued that since they are students at the seminary, they are "seminary students," and even "seminarians." As I say, this is not a rant on the deaconess program, though I have included a minor rant of a few aspects of the seminary versions of this program. I reiterate that I do not condemn the synod deaconess program per se, but that it is in real need of critique, which will merit a separate discussion. I make these observations in order to make the point that there is great confusion in today's deaconess "ministry," which does harm not only to a healthy view of deaconesses, but also to all other roles in the Church, including that of the traditional and venerable office of deacon.

Second, the deacon is not equal to the presbyteral office. He is not a pastor or priest. This is a very common problem in the practice, even officially endorsed practice, of today's Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It seems to have started at least as far back as the 1980s, and then in 1989 the Synod itself began to officially promote the improper and scandalous intrusion of "deacons" into the priestly functions of the Church. Right here in Milwaukee there is at least one parish staffed by a deacon who is playing pastor, right in the open and with the approval of the system. He is playing pastor, and he is playing church.

A layman celebrating the Sacrament of the Altar is an inherent impossibility. Today, however, the Missouri Synod pretends that it has the power to make such a thing happen just by granting official approval for it. Furthermore, such "Word and Sacrament ministries" are rationalized by the claim that they are needed, and that they are unusual and rare. Of course a wrongful and illicit thing can never really be needful. Nor can a practice be justified by being unusual. Nor, I would add, is it as unusual or rare as some think. It is happening in a city near you, and it is being increasingly celebrated at all levels of ecclesial bureaucracy.

What is the need, by the way, for additional pastors in a church that has many good, qualified men languishing on CRM (or whatever they call it these days), that is, ordained men qualified for placement but denied it? Some of these men would do better in other areas of ministry than as head pastor of a parish, but there are many possibilities which can be explored, other than merely abandoning these men, and refusing to even show any interest in taking care of them. And in light of such ranks of ordained men suffering for a living without a Call, the "ministry" of these "Word and Sacrament" deacons is all the more scandalous.

The deacon, then, ought in no way be seen as someone who can take care of a parish, with its vital and weighty sacramental needs. Only a priest can say Mass. Only a priest can hear Confession. Lutherans love to speak of the possibility of lay Baptism, yet we must make a couple of qualifications for this. One is that it ought never be done if a priest can be found. Another is that it is for truly emergency situations. Another is that it must be done by a Christian. Another is that the Church must be notified as soon as possible to the circumstances, and given opportunity to approve, and then publicly affirm such Baptism. Such considerations are out the window with many of today's deacon situations. Regarding preaching, I would argue that there are a couple of circumstances where preaching would be appropriate for a deacon, but they are truly irregular, unlike today's "Word and Sacrament ministries" where preaching is the centerpiece and indeed expected. Those circumstances are the following: 1. a transitional deacon, who is being formed for the priesthood; such would be ideally the last stage of seminary study, and 2. a situation where there is a deacon who is well trained and qualified for preaching, and who once in a while is needed by his bishop for this task. Neither of these situations are the same as the play pastor "deacons" out there today, some of whom are given added "legitimacy" by being enrolled in DELTO or SMP courses, thereby bringing the seminaries themselves into complicity and culpability with these open violations of the Confessions (CA XIV).

The deacon is not a male deaconess. The deacon is not a pastor, and ought in no way be allowed to operate as such. Such negatives are very important to establish in a discussion on the diaconate. Such ideas are like brush and bramble in a field that is not only annoying, but dangerous fire hazards. It must be cleared away, so that a proper foundation can be built for a wholesome and evangelical diaconate in the tradition of the Church.