Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Altar Candles

The use of candles in the church is almost never necessitated by utilitarian or pragmatic concerns, not in the age of electricity, and not considering that most of our liturgical worship takes place in broad daylight.  It seems that when it comes to the use of candles, we have a beautiful example of how traditional thinking remains the implicit reason for the practice, even among many of the most nontraditional churches.  These candles are symbols for the adornment and enrichment of our worship. 

It is good, however, to remind ourselves periodically of just what that symbolism entails.  In this way, our traditionalism will not be merely innate, but also quite thoughtful and intentional.  The liturgical candle in general represents the light of Christ in the world.  That light illumines our hearts and minds, it strengthens faith, and it lights our way.  This it does by means of Christ's holy Word, and by the ministry of His sacraments.  And as we are thus enlightened by Baptism and the Word, and by the ongoing ministry of the eucharist, these candles also represent the Christian life, as being the light of Christ in the life of the believer.  They remind us of Christ's own claim that we are the light of the world. Of course this is true of us only as we remain in Christ, Who also said that He is the light of the world.

If this is what church candles in general remind us of, then we must first learn to see that Christ as the divine light which has come into the world is first of all chiefly symbolized by the great Paschal candle, lit and blessed anew each year at the Paschal Vigil.  In a sense, all other lights in the church get their light from this light.  In fact, this is literally the case during the Paschal season.

Other candles take on, besides the above, more particular symbolism, depending upon their special usage.  For example, the sanctuary lamp symbolizes the real presence of the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the church, and serves also to be the symbolic vigil which the church always keeps in prayer and spirit before such wonderful and awesome presence.

Another example is that the altar is adorned by two candles, which fittingly accompany the celebration of the holy Eucharist, in which our Lord Jesus Christ makes Himself present for us according to both of His two natures, the human and the divine. 

But let us delve more deeply into the matter, for it is not merely the light that comes from the candle that gives us such symbolism.  There is more in the candle which merits our meditation.  The light of the flame reminds us of our Lord's divinity itself.  The cotton wick symbolizes the soul of Christ.  And the purity of the beeswax, provided by the bees which they extract from flowers, symbolizes the pure flesh of Christ, which He took from His pure and virgin Mother. 

When we remind ourselves of all this symbolism, we begin to recognize that to pick up on this, to make the symbolism effective, we need two things to take place.  One is the use of real wax candles, made from the wax of bees.  The more the beeswax content the better, even 100% when feasible.  But at least the majority of the wax ought to be from bees.  The second implication is that these real candles should be seen, and not covered with fake plastic candles.

Today, rather than letting real candles, made of real beeswax, provide beautiful spiritual symbolism for us, in many of our churches we have mere symbols of these symbols.  The best, most honest, and most effective way to have symbolism in Christ's Church is to let the symbol itself be real, and true to the symbolism, rather than using something with only the appearance, and the illusion, of the symbol. 

Therefore oil candles are inappropriate for liturgical usage.  Also we must conclude that all forms of fake candles, such as tubes made to look like candles, are less than ideal.  Surely one day we will look back on them, in fact, as an odd fashion, the phony nature of which is unbecoming in the Church.

None of this is to impugn the motives, or the sometimes complicated decision-making process that churches often go through.  It is to suggest, however, that these matters are worth examining afresh, especially in light of the fact that there, in the sanctuary, Our Lord is present in His Holy Supper, and our best and most genuine is what best befits His worship.

At our humble parish in Milwaukee, we are now in the process of transitioning from oil candles to 100% beeswax candles.  At the tenebrae a few weeks back we used unbleached beeswax candles, and my wife, out of the blue, later commented that she could smell the difference.  Sometimes it takes the sensitivity of the fairer sex to point out such things.  We are beginning the permanent transition with the two large candles on the altar.  After that, we will switch the six candles on the reredos.  Then, after the supply of oil is used up, we will switch the fourteen candles of the two candelabra.  Then, next Easter, if all goes according to plan, we will also acquire a real beeswax Paschal Candle. 

The difference in cost is worth it.  In the case of our parish, it will not be a congregational budgetary matter anyway, since a family of the parish has agreed to take on the cost.

We thank God for this development, and trust that it will enrich our worship.  And I encourage others to consider making such changes as well.

Dean Wenthe on the Ministry of the Deaconess, & Other Matters

In this informative youtube video, the Rev. Dean Wenthe, President of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and the Rev. Larry Harvala, Professor at the seminary and Dean of Placement, speak on the placement of this year's seminary graduates, both the men and the women, and also on the issue of the non-placement of some of them.

What I find most interesting about Dr. Wenthe's talk is that he seems to break new theological ground.  For according to Wenthe, Jesus Christ Himself has established the office of Deaconess.  Interesting.  The WELS can't find the Preaching Office per se in the New Testament, while the Missouri Synod has now advanced in its biblical and theological acumen to the point where it sees not only the Pastoral Ministry there, but has even found an office of deaconess in the Gospels.  Why didn't past generations see this?  I wonder if the seminary knew this before it had it's own deaconess program on campus, or if it took the existence of the program to make the theologians finally see that this is a valid ministry, and one given by Christ Himself to boot.  Of course the modern LCMS also recognizes several other "ministries," if commissioning ritual practice is any indication.  For example, the school teacher, provided the teacher graduate from one of the Concordia schools, and provided the school employing him be a Missouri Synod school, is a "minister" with a "call" and even a "proof text," if we are to read the fourth chapter of Ephesians crassly enough.  So this development ought not surprise us. 

Nevertheless, to be sure, this is tragically out of tune with the notion that we need to have both charity and clarity.  Doctrinal clarity was for a long time a hallmark of the Missouri Synod, and the seminaries in particular, including Fort Wayne.  Now the seminary not only has women in the same classes as the men, but now also claims that these women are there to prepare for an office established by Christ Himself.  This represents a sad slouch away from loving clarity, toward a feminist confusion of the Gospel, of vocation, and of the Church and her Ministry. 

Perhaps the decisive turning point in this direction was when the masculine character of the seminary was compromised by the deaconess studies program.  One would have thought that if diaconal ministry were important to the decision-makers in today's Missouri Synod, or at the seminary, they would have decided to start with that which has been truly neglected, and which is truly worthy of the name Ministry, namely, the ancient Diaconate itself.  By its own nomenclature, a 'seminary' claims to be the 'seedbed' of the Church's Ministers.  That is a most unladylike thing for a deaconess to even think of being a part of, but why let mere words and definitions get in the way of relevancy?

What I find most interesting about Professor Harvala's talk is that the lack of Calls for so many graduating seminarists is attributed to the economy.  I do not have the political knowledge or inclination to comment on the truth of this claim.  What strikes me, however, is what this says of the seminary's, and maybe the Synod's, view of the Church.  That is, even if it were true that some parishes are not issuing Calls which they would otherwise, because of the "downturn in the economy," that would mean that we do not see the parish pastor as an absolute necessity, as something vitally important to the life of the Church in a given place.  If we did, we would say to the graduate in need of placement:

There is a church, in such and such district, which really needs a priest.  But they can't afford to give you a regular paycheck.  We, the greater Church, in the form of the district, or synod, or a mission society, or whatever, are going to see how we can help support you.  And for your part, are you willing to supplement your income in some way, if need be, so that these people can have a pastor? 

Meanwhile, the full time bureaucrats are content with the role they are playing in a dysfunctional Church, and happy they are no longer in the parish ministry, where apparently the fluctuations of the economy could at any time mean the end of a man's Call.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Alanis Morissette

has a song about irony.  Being reminded of songs like this is one of the benefits of reading Lutheran blogs sometimes .

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Promoting A Culture of Prayer

Father William Weedon notes at his blog an interesting quirk in the Lutheran Service Book, namely, that it is out of tune with the normal Lutheran practice of singing a final hymn.

This got me thinking about typical modern American Lutheran practice at the end of the Mass, what is good about it, and what is less than ideal about it. Let me make clear at the outset that I do not intend to suggest or imply that having a hymn at the close of a worship service, whether it be the Mass or a prayer office, or whatever, is improper. However, thinking of how this tends to unfold in most Lutheran churches, within my experience anyway, leads me to certain thoughts of how we could do it in a way which encourages a better, more churchly atmosphere at the close of the Mass. So please hear me out.

The positive: Lutherans love to sing. On that count they are not unlike many Protestants. Unlike the situation in the Evangelical world, however, Lutherans have good hymns; in fact, we have a tradition of really good hymns. Modern Lutheran practice, unfortunately, is also peppered with the singing of many bad hymns. Do I really mean "bad" hymns? Yes, I do, though we also add in a lot of mediocre hymns, so that the blessing of the Lutheran love of singing hymns will be a mixed blessing in those places where the choice of hymns, even within our own books, has become less than Lutheran. In many sectors, whether in parishes or in school chapels, or even other types of ministries, the choice of hymns today has become far less discriminating than it should be.

(Let me add here in passing that another way in which the Lutheran love of hymn singing has been taken too far, or can be a mixed blessing, if you will, though it pertains not directly to my main topic here, is that the hymn-happy impulse in worship planning too often takes over other liturgical considerations, which leads to things like chapel services in high schools or universities that are hymn sandwiches, a reading here, then a hymn, a sermon here, then a hymn.  Too many pre-seminary students get their notions of liturgy from such experiences.  I suggest, in fact, that in the Sunday Mass as well, at times it seems that Lutheran churches have Divine Service designed around the need to fill a certain quota of hymns.  I would question, for example, the liturgical wisdom of singing a hymn between the Gospel and the Sermon.  But I digress.)

Singing a well chosen hymn at the end of the Sunday Mass, or really any sung Mass, is indeed a fine practice.  Let us consider, for a moment, how this tends to play out.  And if your experience is different, know that I do not intend to misrepresent the matter.  We can make your experience a part of the conversation. 

The Communion has ended, and everyone is back at his seat.  Let's stop right here.  For we should first say something of the immediate postcommunion practice in our churches.  Instead of the normal practice of sitting back down in one's pew, and settling in for more hymn singing, or gathering one's things and maybe even ducking out, since the service is pretty much downhill from there, it would be good to encourage the people to kneel down for a moment of prayer after their communion.  First, you have just eaten the Body and drunk the Blood of your Redeemer and Lord.  If you take a moment to ponder this great wonder, you will be filled with awe and thanksgiving.  Second, the Body and Blood of Our Lord is still within you.  We need not speculate about how long Christ's Body and Blood remain within us, but keep in mind that it only took you a few seconds to get back to your pew, and we have no reason at all to think that our Eucharistic Lord is not still within us for a few minutes.  Even when you arrive back at your pew, you are favored by God in a high and most special way, with the life-giving presence of the Creator of all things.  You are filled with Grace Itself, for the Lord is with you.  Third, all around you are people who likewise are blessed with the Lord of Hosts, Who has pitched His tent in you.  And what does He give you with His own life-giving presence?  He is there to bless you with a gift that lasts more than a few moments.  It is the gift for a whole lifetime and beyond, namely, the forgiveness of your sins, which means that, indeed, He gives you life itself; He gives you Life Himself.  Fourth, He is still on the altar, and on the paten, etc.  This is a most holy and solemn moment.  It is a moment filled with holy joy, the kind of heavenly joy which is best manifested by silent and thoughtful prayer. 

Personally, when I am visiting another church and am worshipping with the congregation there, I usually kneel after communion (and being relatively able-bodied, I see no reason to modify this practice where I find no kneelers) until it's time to stand for the final hymn.  This for two reasons, one is everything I summed up in the previous paragraph.  The other is that I find that in many churches today the traditional ablutions at the altar do not take place.  This means that the Blood of Christ remains in the chalice, and perhaps particles of the Body of Christ on the paten, until after the Mass.  Those trained to believe in the Real Presence and to take It seriously cannot but see this as a quirk in our present practice, which we do well to at least be mindful of during that part of the liturgy.  That is, if the pastor is not going to cleanse the chalice and paten at the altar, then we should at least conform our thoughts and behavior to the reality that Our Lord is still present on the altar through the rest of the service.

By the way, if a pastor performs the ablutions, in the traditional manner, at the epistle side of the altar with the aid of the acolyte, rather than holding up the service and wasting time, as some may be tempted to think, what this actually does is it offers the people the perfect moment, if they haven't done so yet, in which to pray.  I would suggest the following:

May Thy Body, O Lord, which I have received, and Thy Blood, which I have drunk, cleave to my inmost parts, and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me, whom these pure and holy mysteries have refreshed, Who livest and reignest world without end.  Amen.

After the Nunc Dimitis and postcommunion collect, in many churches announcements are given.  In some places this takes place just before the final blessing, in some places between the blessing and the final hymn.  For a variety of reasons many pastors have decided, for their own pastoral reasons, that this is the best and most expedient setting in which to make these announcements on Sunday morning, when everyone is gathered in church.  I do not dare to second guess them, or to enter into a dispute about how best to deal with their people.  Clearly, however, some do this because of the inertia of congregational custom, and because in a certain sense it is a very logical practice.  In another sense, just as clearly, this is a bit of an awkward thing to do, especially considering the nature of some of these announcements, and especially considering the fact that, as mentioned earlier, in many of these churches the reliquiae are still there on the altar.  Therefore I only suggest here that whatever must be done, it be done in such a way as preserves the sense that we are still in the church, indeed still in the liturgical assembly, even if your announcements happen to be right after the blessing.

After the blessing the organ kicks in, and the people stand for the hymn, if they were not already standing.  Here we do well to bear in mind, right in the forefront of the mind, that we are still worshipping our Lord before His holy altar.  Some would object if I were to say that we should remember that the Mass is still going on, since technically one could argue that the Mass has ended with the blessing.  There is some basic truth, nonetheless, in the idea that here, while the congregation is still praying and singing together, the Holy Mass is being celebrated by the believing community.  The logic that says that one can alter his behavior now, simply because it is after the benediction has taken place, would also lead to the conclusion that since the Mass technically doesn't begin until the Introit, then one may act a certain way, or not show up at all, during the Service of Confession.  The very manner in which the organ is played can also encourage some to think of this time as a free-for-all. 

The fact that our liturgical worship is generally oriented, ie., eastward, ought to be kept in mind also in the singing of this hymn.  To be clear, I see it as a praiseworthy custom for the people to turn to the processional cross as it passes by.  (It is interesting, however, that in most Roman Catholic churches I have visited, this is not done; during the procession the people remain facing forward.)  This is a fine Lutheran custom, and I will add that it is not only good to face the cross as it passes, but even to bow and make the sign of the cross at that point.  What I would argue, however, is that we should let this practice take place in a balanced way, and not let it lead us away from an important principle.  I refer to the fact that it is a good practice to keep from turning our back on the altar, even when the Sacrament is not there.  To be sure, since this idea will be new to some, I do not imply that turning one's back to the altar should be absolutely avoided, so that we should, for example, walk backward to our pew after communion, and out of the church after Mass.  Walking backwards is not part of Western custom or etiquette.  However, the altar is always kept in mind as we move about, so that, for example, when the procession passes, while it is appropriate to give reverence to the pastor as he walks by, since his office is that of Christ himself, and likewise to honor the sign of the Lord's Passion, ie., the crucifix, as it goes ahead of the pastor to lead his way, it is best to do so by simply turning ninety degrees to the center aisle, as the procession comes near you, and then when it has passed, turn back to the altar again instead of continuing to turn toward the procession.

Now the hymn has ended.  In some churches there is a mad rush out the door or doors.  In some churches the exodus out of the nave is much more refined, restrained, and controlled.  Many churches fall somewhere in between these two descriptions.  One reason the pastor likes the procession at the end of the Mass is that he likes to be there at the door, so that he can greet the people as they leave.  It is important, of course, for the pastor to make vital contacts with his people, and with visitors.  Even back at the doors, or in the narthex, however, it is good to avoid being unnecessarily loud and boisterous.  This for two reasons.  One is that we still want to honor the sacred nature of the church, and of evangelical gifts we have received there; the other is that there may still be people praying in the church.

This brings us, finally, to the other notable phenomenon right after the hymn.  In many, probably most, churches, especially as the postlude kicks in, this seems to be the cue for the fraternization to begin.  It happens right in the church as people are waiting in line to get out.  In fact, it even takes place right in the pew.  In some churches, this takes the form of loud, cacophonic chatter, laughter, and merriment.  All hell has broken lose.  In other places, it manifests itself in a much milder manner.  Either way, I suggest that this is contrary to the spirit of prayer we should be encouraging and promoting in the church.  We should encourage our people to stay right in their pew after the hymn, and pray for a moment.  There are several prayers which traditionally are used for this purpose, what we customarily call the Thanksgiving After Mass.  If one were to pray of of them, it would take a few minutes.  If one were not able, or inclined, to pray all of these traditional prayers, or any of them, he ought not feel guilty necessarily, certainly not merely by the fact that others may want to remain for another minute or two.  No one is holier than another, or more Christian, or more thankful, because he prays for ten minutes after Mass, and another prays for one minute, or not at all.  To pray, right there in the pew, even on bended knee if feasible, before leaving after Mass, is a notion to which most of our people have yet to be introduced.  We need not fear introducing it to them.  And those who do not, or cannot pray after Mass, ought to at least consider the needs of those who are praying. 

What should the pastor do during this time?  I suggest he wait in the narthex for a few minutes, to greet those who will straggle out in that time, and then tend to the prayerful doffing of his vestments in the sacristy, after which it might be good for him to take a couple minutes and pray before the altar, some of the same prayers he encourages his people to pray.  The time which has elapsed during all of this will not prove too much of a burden, but in fact will be an investment in the spiritual health of the congregation. 

The Lutheran Church, at its best, is a great living tradition of ecclesia cantans, the singing church.  My prayer is that we will move toward living this out in a way which more consistently and organically conforms to, and is informed by, the ancient Lutheran reality of ecclesia orans, the praying church. 

Footnote:   Some of you are now wondering what are these prayers I hinted at.  I will post them here at some point, and of course they will also be included in the Mass booklet, which is in the final preparations for publication.

Friday, April 23, 2010

a word or two on the Visitation from a beginner

I am awake, though I probably shouldn't be, but before I try to lay down again, I thought I'd look at some old files, and I saw some of my old sermons. As part of "field education" in seminary, I was asked to prepare and deliver sermons a few times. One instance was a Wednesday Vespers in Advent. I think this was my first time in a pulpit. Zion, Fort Wayne's pulpit is quite a place for one's first attempt at preaching, if you could call it that. You ascend a number of steps, then open a door onto the pulpit, which looks down over the assembled congregation. Fr. Punke asked each of us to make sure those evening Advent sermons were less than ten minutes, so I ended up editing a great deal out of it. My assigned pericope was Luke 1:39-56. 

I also recall that before the service on those evenings the congregation gathers in the new addition next to the church, for dinner.  While people around me were eating pizza and salad and bread sticks, I was looking at that sermon, knowing that I was not happy with it.  I ended up coming up with a much better final paragraph, though that was on my handwritten notes, which was lost in our fire, if not before then.  The sermon ended by comparing the Church to a motherly womb, a womb which by its watery atmosphere is like a baptismal paradise.  I'd like to recall exactly how I worded it, but I will content myself with simply recounting below, for your amusement and/or horror, the first public sermon of a seminarist as it was written.  (I have since become completely convinced of the wrongheadedness of having a man preach publicly before he has been at least ordained into the diaconate.  Only our confession of AC XIV is at stake, but what's an article or two among friends these days?)   

THE last time I checked, Mrs. Lawrence and Mrs. Standfest, wives of two of our seminarists, were each very much still great with child. There may be other such women in the congregation not prominent in my mind, all of whom benefit from the Church’s payer. We hear from St. Luke tonight the account of a visit between two such mothers. In this case, Mary, the Mother of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, visits with her cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of St. John, the great Forerunner of the Lord, the one that Jesus will later claim is the greatest of all men born of women. Already in the time before he is born of a woman, however, the holy Forerunner is demonstrating and fulfilling his holy vocation. He will one day grow up to preach before large crowds, and prepare the way for Christ. But often the best and most profound preaching takes place in small company, before congregations that will never impress bureaucrats and church growth consultants.

So here we see John, doing everything he can to proclaim to his mother the joyous presence of Christ among His people. He hears the holy greeting of Mary, and responds in faith with his unmistakable proclamation and joyful confession.

Note well the order of events here. First he is blessed by the presence of God, the One who is preferred to him even though coming after him. By the holy Word coming out of Mary’s mouth, John is blessed with the gift of faith. He then is compelled to respond with his own confession and preachment. First faith comes to us by means of the Word, then we respond with the confession of faith. As the Psalmist says, “I believed, therefore have I spoken; I was greatly afflicted.” This little sentence may sum up the entire life of the Forerunner, beginning with this holy Visitation.

And what does John recognize? What does he believe? He sees with the eyes of faith what the holy Evangelist Luke sees. For Luke, like a fine musician, weaves into this whole account a theme which serves to teach us just Whom this is in the womb of this holy visitor.

St. Mary, the pure Virgin Mother of God, goes on a journey to a town up in the hill country of Judah, just like the pure and sacred Ark of the Covenant, which in the Second Book of Samuel, is taken on a journey to a town up in the hill country of Judah. Upon arrival at their respective destinations, both the Ark, containing the presence of God, and Mary, containing the presence of God and the new covenant, are greeted with joyous salutations of a near liturgical character.

By means of this Ark, God enters the house of Obededom, and becomes a great blessing there. By means of Mary’s womb, God enters the house of Zacharias and his Elizabeth, in order to be a blessing there.

In reverent fear David asks, “How shall the Ark of the LORD come to me?” Likewise filled with reverent fear, Elizabeth asks “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

And just as the Ark of the LORD stayed in the house of Obededom for three months, so Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months.

St. Luke, in this and other ways, is teaching the Church much about how the patterns of the Old Testament point to and are fulfilled in, an even greater reality, the real, redemptive presence of God among His people in the Person of the man Jesus Christ. The coming of Jesus among His people is the advent of the new and everlasting covenant.

Tonight’s reading culminates with the most beloved of the Church’s song’s, the Magnificat of Mary. John is the Forerunner even in his leap of joy. For Mary then also responds to these events with her own joyful song of praise.

This account in the First chapter of Luke, dear friends, like the rest of Scripture, is not given to us merely so that we can have a historical record of events that took place once upon a time. It serves to bring us into the real, redemptive presence of Christ among His people in the Church even today. The preachers in the Church today are called upon to go ahead into the world, and bring the joyful proclamation of Christ’s presence to His people. You and I respond to this awesome presence first like Elizabeth does. “Who am I? And who are we? That the Lord should come to us? We don’t deserve this visitation. It’s like if one of my seminary professors were to knock on my door one night while I was in my usual physical and spiritual mess, instead of doing something holy like reading my Greek New Testament. You can think of a similar analogy with your own dear Pastor Punke. I would have done nothing to deserve a visit of that nature. Our actions, and in fact our very condition, deserve nothing but abandonment from God. But He comes to us anyway. He comes to us because of our condition, for He knows how much we need Him even more than we know it.

Our second reaction is that of Mary. She breaks out in song. If the Ark of the Covenant is a pattern for the pure and holy womb that will bear the Word of God in the flesh, then this Mary, in turn, is a pattern for something much greater than her, namely, the pure and holy Church, which bears the gracious and redemptive presence of God among us today. And if this is true of the Church, then it is true of each holy member of the Church. The Church knows this implicitly because She doesn’t just sing something like the Magnificat of Mary, but the Church in fact makes Mary’s song her song, and sings it throughout the world every night at Vespers.

Just before His holy death, Jesus will hold up a chalice and say of His precious Blood therein, “This is the New Testament.” Yes the Church had a New Testament before She had a canon of Scripture. For the Church had, and has, the new Covenant in Christ’s Blood, which we eucharistically partake of often in the Church. This continuing presence among us moves us all the more to sing Mary’s song with joy, as we pray for His continued presence among His people.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

sleep problems

This blog is not one in which you will see a lot of confessional writing. Yes, I am a Confessional Lutheran, and that, hopefully, is evident in my writing. What I mean, however, is that I do not write about myself very much; my writing is not "confessional" in that sense. I confess, however, that the reason you have seen writing of no kind here for I suppose over a week, and the reason that happens periodically, is that most days lately it is just too difficult for me to function outside of my job.

In my limited study of sleep, a REM cycle takes about 90 minutes, and adults need about four such cycles. Combine this with the fact that one needs time after falling asleep to get into this cycle, and then time to get out of it before waking, it would seem that on average adults need, for optimal health, at least six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. It will vary for each individual. I'm not sure what my own ideal number of hours would be. It seems I would do well with maybe seven hours of good, uninterrupted sleep. Unfortunately, I'm not getting it.

Here and here, by the way, are interesting articles on the topic of sleep and its relation to working the graveyard shift.

I took this job, knowing full well that it was for third shift, because it was overall a better situation than my last job. But I find myself once again in a position that is taking its toll on me physically. So until I figure a way out of my present dilemma you might not see much of me online.

Seal of Confession Still Enforced

The Lutheran tradition stands opposed to the breaking of the seal of Confession. That is to say, the priest is duty bound never to divulge anything confessed to him. Tragically, this is a dead tradition in many sectors of modern Lutheranism.

This is manifest in several ways. One is that the absolute seal of Confession isn't even taught by some seminary professors. Some, in fact, teach future pastors to break the seal of Confession. Another sign, or manifestation, is that the breaking of the Confessional seal is happening, and at an alarming rate; at least it is becoming more known. Almost everyone knows now that you simply don't go to any pastor, and confess any sin. In this regard, it is a sad, sad time for the spirituality of our people as a whole. A third, and crucial sign of how bad things are in terms of the vitality of this sacrament is that when the seal is broken, there is only a negative consequence for the one making the confession, never for the one hearing the confession.

If there has been a case in recent decades of real action being taken against a Missouri Synod pastor for breaking the seal of Confession, then it apparently takes an expert in LCMS history to ascertain such information. To borrow from the Psalmist, such knowledge is too lofty to be given out to just anyone, like me. It shouldn't be that way. I didn't realize at my Confirmation that I was signing up to be part of a church that sees itself as a secret society. For all the famous secrecy of the Roman Catholic Church, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had no problem getting information about the present and past cases of priests being investigated for breaking the seal of Confession.

See, for example, this article on the suspension of Father David Verhasselt, pastor at Saint Catherine of Alexandria parish out in Oconomowoc, a far west suburb. Archbishop Listecki has placed Fr. Verhasselt on suspension, as the matter is investigated. The case could potentially conclude in a diocesan or Vatican trial, and excommunication.

My own response to this story, then, is that while the breaking of the seal of Confession is a grave violation of a pastor's sacred office, this is an encouraging story. For it shows that the seal of Confession is still enforced in the modern world. We do not know for sure what happened in this case. Therefore, I have no comment on Fr. Verhasselt in particular. That is for the proper ecclesial authorities to determine. I do see this also as an opportunity for Lutherans to reevaluate the place of Confession in our own churches. Are we doing all we can to defend and protect the seal of Confession? Of course, to be sure, the answer is No, at least when it comes to our Church as a whole, including the teaching at our seminaries. Let's also face the fact that many today, perhaps some reading this blog, are unconvinced of the need for the absolute seal of Confessional confidentiality. I must leave a defence of the seal to another time, but let me just state at this point that when the seal is defended and protected, the Gospel itself, and thus the people, are protected.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lutheran Reverence Toward the Blessed Sacrament

Today it is only too common to hear Confessional Lutherans express suspicion of and downright disdain for behavior in church which seems to them to border on the excessively reverent. Yes, we believe that Our Lord's true Body and Blood are present in the Sacrament of the Altar, and it is certainly acceptable to express reverence toward that Presence, but only during the Service itself, and only through behavior which is commonly accepted in a given parish. Step over those lines, and you risk being called a legalist, a Romanist, or a pharisee. You will be called these things openly by some. And it will be whispered and implied by others. Some will throw accusations of this sort at you once, and then pretend it never happened. Calling them on it is like trying to nail down jello, and on top of that it is especially dangerous to confront some of them, since they are so well respected and admired in the church. It is like dealing with jello that is designed to explode in your face upon impact.

Having chosen for the most part to ignore people of this sort, the movement toward restoring and improving traditional reverent practice in our churches presses on, thanks be to God. And the Christians of our time (and the curious), as well as those who will come after us, are the ones who benefit.

Let us be clear about one thing, reverent treatment of the Blessed Sacrament is deeply rooted in our Lutheran tradition. This can be shown in manifold ways. On this occasion I would simply like to highlight an anecdote from late in the life of the Blessed Reformer, about four years before his death. The unpublished dissertation of Edward Peters, on the history of the axiom that nothing has the character of a sacrament outside of its use, is an excellent study. It is hardly the only source of good data on this, but it is very good. I consider it a must-read for seminarians. Father William Weedon includes the following passage in his recent blog entry:

A woman wanted to go to the Lord's Supper, and then as she was about to kneel on the bench before the altar and drink, she made a misstep and jostled the chalice of the Lord violently with her mouth, so that some of the Blood of Christ was spilled from it onto her lined jacket and coat and onto the rail of the bench on which she was kneeling. So then, when the reverend Doctor Luther, who was standing at a bench opposite, saw this, he quickly ran to the altar (as did also the reverend Doctor Bugenhagen), and together with the curate, with all reverence licked up [the Blood of Christ from the rail] and helped wipe off this spilled Blood of Christ from the woman's coat, and so on, as well as they could. And Doctor Luther took this catastrophe so seriously that he groaned over it, and said, "O, God, help!" and his eyes were full of water. (191)

First, note that this was from 1542. I think it is in most cases a mistake to qualify words or actions in Luther by claiming them as early Luther, or late Luther, etc. It is far wiser, I think, to instead gain a grasp on what it is he is reacting against at any given point. It is significant that we find such reverence on the part of Luther not only in the early stages of his life and priesthood, what some would call the still all too Catholic stage, but in every stage, even late in life.

Second, consider once again this account, and note that he does not merely assume that since the consecrated wine is spilled out onto the floor, that it must therefore be "outside of the use." Those who use this sort of logic have found a way to comfort their consciences about their own irreverent behavior. If Luther were here today he would not act any differently. For his love and respect for the Blessed Sacrament far outweighed his concern for how others would perceive him. God grant us the same faith and fearlessness today.

The Blessing of Frequent Eucharist

The Holy Mass, that is, the liturgical service of the Church in which we celebrate the Holy Supper of Our Lord, or what books like Lutheran Worship, and perhaps also Lutheran Service Book, call the "Divine Service," is not in fact the only example of the Divine Service of the Church. Divine Service embraces all of the public, that is, liturgical, worship of Christ's Church. Aside from the occasional rites of the Church, the other major example of Divine Service, which deserves more attention today, is the Divine Office, in its various 'Hours.' One supposes, and hopes, that the popular reference to the Mass today as "Divine Service" is done to make a theological point (and not, say, a way to avoid using that terrible, Catholic sounding name, Mass), that point being to emphasize that in the Mass God serves, indeed, lavishes us with His grace and His truth. Therefore my comments here are not aimed in criticism of the trendy use of the term Divine Service as a reference to the Mass. We should emphasize, however, that the Holy Mass is not merely Divine Service, but the Chief Divine Service. The Church has always known this to be the case, and so has the Lutheran tradition in particular.

The Church, at her best, cannot imagine living without her Eucharistic Lord. Is it possible to academically dispute the question of whether the Church can live without the Eucharist? Yes. More importantly, it is simply not a question that the Bride of Christ sees as relevant. From her perspective as Church, or likewise from the Christian's perspective as Christian, the bride longs to be with her Redeemer and Lord; her marital identity is hidden in Him, and He is her life itself.

Considering the Church from her other perspective in this world, the perspective of the fallen flesh of her members, she, or similarly the Christian member, is in constant need of the forgiveness of sins, and of renewed strength for a faltering faith. We receive from our Lord Jesus every good thing, which is to say that from Him we receive the forgiveness of our sins, and all that comes with it, that is, life, and salvation.

Therefore it is good, wise, immeasurably beneficial, and simply in keeping with its very nature, for the Church to celebrate the Holy Supper often. In their effort to test the boundaries, for whatever reasons, of how infrequent we can have the Eucharist and still be church, some churches truly do resemble something less than the church, something more like a merely social institution. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the danger of celebrating the Eucharist often yet for the wrongs reasons, or with less than the utmost reverence which it deserves. Of course these dangers accompany the infrequent celebration of the Supper as well. Having said all this, it is deeply valuable and praiseworthy for our pastors to actively (which means really, and not merely theoretically) increase the frequency of the celebration of the Mass at our altars, and to constantly work at improving the reverence and solemnity of our worship. (Such would be just one of the benefits of also promoting Private Confession more actively.) This is the work of genuine pastoral care.

My own work schedule does not always allow me to attend Mass on a daily basis at my church, but I very much appreciate that it is offered daily. At our church, the priest stands daily at the altar, at 9 A.M., inviting some to Communion, and keeping others away. I both encourage others to work toward doing likewise, and invite any who happen to ever find themselves in the area to join us.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Eucharist as Resurrection Appearance

One of the things I love about the Low Sunday Gospel is the manner of Christ's appearance to His disciples. I find the setting of this appearance, the time and place, to be most significant.

Where does He appear to His primitive Church? Does He appear in the midst of their bold action of preaching and evangelization out in the world, as manifestation of and reward for their witness of the Gospel? No. He appears in a locked room (fores essent clausae), where they were gathered (congregati), for fear of the Jews. This reminds me of a couple things. One is that we too hide, all too often, within ourselves, closed up by our self fear. We are so crippled with this fear that we are not even able to go to the door, to let Him in. But Christ comes in anyway, into our hearts and lives, and gives us His peace.

The other thing this scene brings to my mind is that soon after this the early Church would likewise congregate behind closed doors of brothers' homes, for fear of the Jews, and then for fear of the Romans. Even after the Church was able to construct special architecture for their gatherings, they worshipped behind closed doors, especially as they entered into the liturgy of the Eucharist. "The doors, the doors" the deacon would call out, for the mystery of the Eucharist is a most solemn moment in the Christian life. It is only for the faithful, and we must attend to it with the wisdom of faith, and the reverence of the barefoot Moses before the burning bush.

In very important ways, this appearance in the closed room was a eucharistic appearance. And since I have used the word "appearance" a few times already, I hasten to make a vitally important clarification at this point. We call this one of the post-resurrection appearances. But we do not in any way mean this the way, say, a Gnostic might use the term "appearance." Our Lord Jesus, uncreated Creator of the very real world, and also true man, made of flesh and blood, truly enters a room that was closed. How did He do this? I often hear even well intentioned, believing, Catholics and Lutherans and such, explain that Christ was able to do this because of His "glorified body." Our Lord's body, just as ours after our own resurrection, can be described as glorified. We do not fully know what this means. Nevertheless, we confess this. However, the text in this case (John 20) is teaching us something else, I suggest. It is teaching us that Our Lord Jesus Christ is able to do things with His very real body which defy what the same flesh of someone else could do. This is because of the hypostatic union of His divine and human natures, and the full communication of their attributes. A good clue to this effect is the fact that He performed similarly paradoxical operations before His resurrection. When He does so, it does not deny His humanity, but displays His divine majesty (Formula of Concord VIII). Perhaps the best example is the fact that He truly and physically descended His Mother's birth canal, yet without opening her womb. Her womb was a closed room (clauso, as in the John 20 text.) Martin Chemnitz is not the only one to confess this, nor is Luther. Saint Gregory the Great makes this very comparison in the Divine Office at Matins for this Sunday. He preaches thus in Homily 26 on the Gospels:

The first query which presents itself to the mind regarding the Gospel reading is this: how could the Lord have had a real body after the resurrection when He could come in to the disciples though the doors were closed? But we must not expect a complete explanation of this phenomenon; for we must realize that there would be nothing to wonder at in the divine operations if they could be grasped by reason; nor is there any merit in a faith for which human reason provides proof. As for these works of our Redeemer which can in nowise be grasped of themselves, they should be pondered in relation to His other activity. Thus we shall see that we already accept facts that are even more wonderful, and this consideration will strengthen our faith in the marvels now confronting us. For example, the body of the Lord which came in to the disciples through closed doors was that same one which had come forth to mankind's gaze from the enclosed womb of the Virgin at the time of the Nativity. Is it so surprising, then, that after the Resurrection the eternal Victor came in through closed doors when, on coming as death's Victim, He came forth from the unopened womb of the Virgin?

So He enters the closed room of the gathered disciples, just as they need Him, not gnostically, but incarnationally. Just as He left the closed temple of His mother's womb, and thus entered this sinful world. Likewise, whenever His followers are gathered today, in fulfillment of His command to remember and proclaim His death, He comes to us, no more or less miraculously, and makes Himself truly present, according to both His divine and human natures. He comes, and He blesses us. In the Mass it is His words we hear as we gaze upon the sacred species, and the called and ordained celebrant gives us our Lord's peace.

Finally, how about the time? Our Lord blessed His disciples with His presence on the first day of the week. This is the day of new life. It is the day on which God in the beginning created life by means of the eternal Word. He said, Fiat. Let there be. His Word brings about what it declares, like "This is My Body," and "I forgive Thee," and "It is finished." Every appearance of Christ our Immanuel is eucharistic, for by His presence we are given a most salutary gift, and are shown the meaning of thanksgiving.

Being a Character in an Epic Poem

Do you ever have times when you feel so weak, you just want to explode?
explode, and tear this whole town apart, take a knife, and cut this pain from your heart,
til you find somebody itching for something to start?

Me neither.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

George Rutler on True Happiness

What follows is a particularly juicy passage from Father George W. Rutler's latest column. Father Rutler, for those who might not know, is pastor of The Church of Our Savior, on Park Avenue, of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and author of several erudite and spiritually uplifting books.

The nineteenth-century Oxford philosopher, Richard Whately, said, "Happiness is no laughing matter." We might laugh at that, until we realize that he spoke of that blessed happiness toward which all human activity tends, but which needs knowledge of truth to become the "fullness of joy" that Jesus promised. When the risen Christ appeared, no one laughed. The witnesses were "afraid yet filled with joy." It was too joyful to be a laughing matter. This is why the Church's most joyful liturgies are "solemn" and to reduce worship of the risen Christ to a merely human party would be like turning the Heavenly City into a suburb.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lil Rev Show

I must take a moment to reflect on the recent Lil Rev show I had the pleasure of catching. Well, I caught most of it. On Maundy Thursday we had Mass at 7 P.M., and when that wrapped up, I dropped Ruth off at home, and headed down to Brady Street, where Lil Rev was playing at Rochambo. He was a half hour, or maybe an hour at most, into his set, but he still had a good couple more hours before he wrapped up. I met up with my friend Mike, and we found a good spot near the action.

It was a great show, as always. As I have said before, Lil Rev never, in my experience, plays the same show twice. He has a bountiful repertoire, spanning several musical styles, and so you never know quite what you are in for, except that it will be memorable and enjoyable. Perhaps the best way to sum up the type of music he plays is to use his own words from the notes on his CD Drop Baby Drop, viz., "...rare blues, lost ballads, Dust-bin theatre tunes, time worn country and back room bawdy numbers. The roots have always interested me more than the branches, so dig down deep and here you'll find me...this is where they buried the treasure so long ago!" Indeed the set he played on this particular night did not disappoint. Lately I find myself listening to songs like Deep Ellum Blues, St. Louis Blues, and a current favorite is Saint James Infirmary. He played all these, and much more. Of course he played them like only he can, truly honoring the forms that have gone before him, while adding his own touch.

There were a few children present, which is always fun. In fact, Rev gave them each a kazoo, and I must say that, until they got tired, they actually contributed to the show, in a very spirited way, with both their kazoo playing, and their dancing. It was beautiful to watch.

My late confessor, Fr. Stephen Wiest, was actually mentioned by Lil Rev two or three times during the show. Of course, that won't happen every time. I appreciate Lil Rev's music for everything that he brings to it, and only partly because it almost always reminds me of the musical stylings of Fr. Wiest. But it was very, very cool that on this night he did pay tribute to Fr. Wiest. At one point he introduced an all harmonica song by saying that this one was in memory of Rev. Wiest. And at another point he introduced a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace on the harp by saying that Fr. Wiest taught it to him. It all brought back beautiful memories.

Lil Rev is not only an entertainer, who can use his music and stage presence to give a crowd a good time, but also a man seemingly on a mission to educate people about the early roots of American folk, blues, and other forms of pure and raw music. I suppose part of what I love about him is that he is interested in, indeed animated by, what is most real and genuine. He is what I would call a true radical, in the best, and literal sense of that word. That is, he is deeply and firmly rooted (radix) in that which is the basis of so many modern forms of music. In being thus rooted, in other words, in taking such a radical approach to his field, his work does not stand opposed to modern forms, or "stuck in the past," as some might think. Rather, he recognizes that the roots are not foreign, but indeed organically related to what comes later, and are inherently valuable and enjoyable in themselves. And he does us a great service in driving these lessons home, by his stories, but more importantly by his skillful and passionate playing of the music itself. I hasten to add that Lil Rev also writes music of his own. One such song I really like he wrote for his young daughter.

Lil Rev is a true artist, and it is a real blessing to have him in Milwaukee. If you ever walk into a coffeehouse or bar, and as you pass by a bulletin board you see a sign advertising an upcoming show by a guy you never heard of or have never seen before, like Lil Rev, I recommend dropping in there that night. You might just discover something great. If it is a Lil Rev show, I guaranty you'll be in for a treat. And again, do check out his site, where you'll find his schedule, as well as information on his CDs and books.

P.S. If I correctly read the rules on Flickr, one is free to use a photo found there providing credit is given to the photographer. So I found the photo you see above on Flickr as I was searching for a good representative image of Lil Rev in action, and I thank Alex Gee, on whose photostream I found this excellent shot.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Raphael at MAM

Two days ago, 6 April, was not merely the day of my Confirmation in 1986. More importantly for the world, on that day, in 1520, the world lost the great Italian painter Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, the artist who is known and loved by us as simply Raphael. Interestingly, he may also have been born on that day, though the date of his birth is debatable. What we do know is that the year 1483 saw the birth of at least two great geniuses, Martin Luther and Raphael. Approximate as we find ourselves this holy Paschal Octave, then, to the important Raphael date of the 6th of April, it is all the more fitting to speak of the Milwaukee Art Museum's (MAM) latest exhibit. From 27 March until 6 June, one of Raphael's masterpieces, The Woman with the Veil (La Donna Velata), will be on exhibit at MAM, on loan from the Medici collection at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy.

It is a rare privilege for a museum to be afforded such an opportunity to exhibit a Raphael in its halls. And I hope to seize every chance I can get to see it. Once is not enough for me. On the day of the opening I went with my friend, Father Gary Schultz, to see it. And tomorrow morning after Mass I will take my lovely young niece, Alexandra, and we will meet another of my lovely young nieces, Vera. If everything is coordinated, and nothing unexpected happens, the three of us will meet under the wings of the Calatrava atrium at MAM, and pay a visit to The Woman with the Veil.

There is a great deal to be said in appreciation for the art produced by today's artists, yet no real and substantial appreciation for art today is possible without learning to experience and love the Renaissance masters, like Raphael. The painting compels silent admiration. The face, the eyes, the sleeve, the color. It is a brilliant depiction of womanly beauty. The sitter for this painting, incidentally, is the same one who sat for another of Raphael's masterworks, La Fornarina, namely, Margherita Luti, whom Raphael called simply the Baker's daughter. His love for her was intense, and these portraits were very personal to him.

In Raphael's work we have a lesson in harmony and the beauty of reason. For he accomplishes that rarest of qualities, ie., he gives us the truly human. His art includes not only these more personal projects, but also altarpieces, Madonnas, Bible scenes, and the famous portrait of Pope Julius II. He was also an architect, and for a time was the official architect of Saint Peter's in Rome.

Artists, students of art, and Christian pilgrims of every description do well to sit at this master's feet. We do so not solely but chiefly by letting great works of art, such as La Donna Velata, move us, and teach us about beauty.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Virtue of the Flaneur

The American work ethic, the pride we take in our work, is one of the geniuses of our culture. And especially in a blue collar city like Milwaukee, we tend to place a high value on both working hard, and playing hard. Nevertheless, I believe this can be taken too far. If one is not hurrying through life, and focused robot-like on the task at hand, especially the tasks and paths others have declared for him, then he is often seen by our culture as lazy, and in theological terms, even as unfaithful to his calling, etc. I do believe that there is great wisdom in striving for a certain balance in this regard. And to this end Parisian culture can perhaps be a good counterbalance.

In a little book about Paris life, The Flaneur: A stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, through which I confess to having enjoyed strolling more than once, there is a passage of Baudelaire, quoted on page 36 and following, which I'd like to share here. Baulelaire's topic is the flaneur, the man who takes his time to stroll through a scene, and absorb all it has to offer. He writes:

The crowd is his domain, as the air is that of the bird or the sea of the fish. His passion and creed is to wed the crowd. For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate observer, it's an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity, in whatever is seething, moving, evanescent and infinite: you're not at home, but you feel at home everywhere; you see everyone, you're at the center of everything yet you remain hidden from everybody-these are just a few of the minor pleasures of those independent, passionate, impartial minds whom language can only awkwardly define. The observer is a prince who, wearing a disguise, takes pleasure everywhere...The amateur of life enters into the crowd as into an immense reservoir of electricity.

Indeed, there is something also deeply American about the compulsion to wander, to go, search, explore, to seek for nothing in particular, just to know for certain that there is a frontier out there to which the human is drawn to discover. This is represented in American life and lore by the open road, and I would suggest that there is more than merely a literal open road. The open road is the poetry of the soul that knows that life is calling him to discover, and learn.

Milwaukee is not Paris. Nor, however, is it the caricature that most people get from the old situation comedies on TV. There is a lot to see and discover here, and it is at once amazing and somehow unsurprising that most people, perhaps even most Milwaukeans, fail to really get to know the city. How many people speak of Wolski's, yet wouldn't even know how to find it? (Okay, Wolski's might not be the height of culture, but my point in that example is how we often fall into the trap of convincing ourselves that we know something, while remaining content with but a superficial knowledge and experience of the thing in question.) How many people walk from point A to point B and never even notice the little art galleries hidden in plain sight? There is something almost Parisian about parts of the East Side. To some degree those in the suburbs would agree with this, though they would tend to see the whole of the East Side that way, and see it as a point of shame, rather than pride.

The weather is getting warmer, and we are approaching the summer festival season, when the city loves to party out in the open. And so I would simply like to urge the reader to take a portion of your hard earned time and just slowly explore the city. Spend time on the Lower East Side, East Town, West Town, and of course Third Ward. Walk through the antique shops in Fifth Ward. Put down your Miler Lite once in a while, and explore the rich taste of an East Side Dark. Sit down for a quality cup of coffee on Brady Street, and enjoy the scene. Walk into a church you've never been inside, and just look around. As you teach yourself to be the flaneur in the city, or to take the open road philosophy on the streets you always thought you knew, you will start to see things in yourself, and will discover new paths and hidden scenery in your own mind and spirit.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Evening With Family

After Mass today I was thankfully able to "lay me down in peace, and take my rest," as one of my favorite musicians once put it. Then, at about five, I rose, got myself ready, and my brother and I went over to my friend Mike's favorite hangout on Brady Street to pick him up. By about six we had our dinner party ready to break bread. In attendance tonight was a wonderfully crowded house of family and friends: my brother Daut, his wife Susan, and their son Cyrus; my sister Bedull, and her daughter Alexandra; my sister Fatime, her husband James, their sons Logan and Brett, and their daughter Kate; my sister Adile, and her daughter Vera; and of course Mike Carter, erstwhile Lutheran preacher and man about town.

Nothing unites a diverse group of Lutherans and Muslims like roasted lamb. Just joking there. There real uniting factor was not what came out of the oven, but family and friendship. I must work tonight, so I cannot go on at great length here, though mention ought to be made of the work that Ruth put into this for the past couple days, and all of Alexandra's (aka Ali) hard work this afternoon, as well as the wonderful contributions of all of the families, such as Fatime's fruit salad, several items from Daut & Susan, including some ham and roast beef (Daut's philosphy is that one can never have too many meat dishes), and Vera's wonderful beignets with cherry jam. Suffice to say it was a wonderful evening. Here are a few pictures of a Gaba Easter, 2010.

This is my niece Vera and a diaconal type. I am a bit younger than my niece. Yes, I was an uncle before I was out of the womb. But let's save that for another blog entry.

That's Mike to my right, and James to my left:
Here, to my right is my sister Adile, and to her right is my brother Daut. Adile survived the Communist regime in Albania, and now lives out on the west side of town with her husband, my dear brother in law, Gezim.

Well, I know there were other pictures, but they must have been taken on other family members' cameras. So this will do for now. I'm behind by about four or five blog topics, and a few other pressing matters. But an evening like this was a wonderful way to start off Easter week. Of course Easter began with the Vigil, and perhaps I will cover some of the liturgical happenings here soon as well. Cheers!