Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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.


Father Robert Lyons said...

Deacon Latif,

I would love to have people at the altar daily, but sadly many shirk at the offer. I have one very faithful Roman Catholic woman who comes to the hospital Chapel daily at noon (except on days when a Roman priest is offering Eucharist at the hospital across the street) in the hopes that someone will join us for the Eucharist. Since she cannot recieve per Roman regulations, we usually wind up celebrating the office of Diurnum instead of the Eucharistic Liturgy (our BCP requires at least one person to commune with the priest).

Sad. Very sad. People don't come (at least in my setting) unless something is being smeared on them (Ash Wednesday) or given to them (Palm Sunday).


Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

It is not a lot different here at this point, Fr. Rob. To some extent this is a modern, cross denominational issue. Though I do know of RC parishes that have a fairly strong tradition of good daily attendance at Mass. Indeed, some parishes downtown have early morning mass as well as lunch hour mass. At my church, I don't blame anyone. I think that many still are not as aware of our daily mass as I would hope. In time, I want to help reach out to them. In some cases that means using Spanish (my Spanish is too rusty at this point). And when interest in daily mass grows, we may have to consider down the road changing the time of mass to better suit the parishioners' work schedules. I'm thinking that will mean making it earlier. But there is hope.

Getting back to your case, I applaud you because at least you make yourself available for this great gift. Too many in my communion do not. Some don't even offer the Sacrament every Sunday, when the people are right there in front of them. If they would, some of the people might not approach the altar every time, but that's better than refusing it to those who would approach.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Br. Latif:

You write:

"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."

This made me think of our Lutheran Siberian brethren. After the Communist revolution, all of the pastors were executed and all of the church buildings were confiscated. Many of the faithful were sent to Siberia.

They literally went decades with no Eucharist. They had no bishop, no priests, no deacons. At best, they had emergency baptisms and perhaps a few smuggled Bibles. Some were able to pass the faith on to their children in secret.

The Church survived even the gates of hell in that time and place of torment, and today, Siberian Lutherans once more have a bishop, priests, deacons, buildings, baptism, proclamation, and the Holy Mass.

One of our brethren in Siberia tells about an elderly lady who met him, the first Lutheran pastor she had ever met. She told him she had waited all her life for this moment. She truly hungered and thirsted for the Sacrament.

Our Siberian brethren, the Bride of Christ from our Lutheran tradition in that place, were like POWs in a very real sense (we are at war with the forces of darkness). Just as POWs can remain married for years on end, even separated from their wives, so too can the Church survive decades of persecution, even denied pastors and the Eucharist, even denied Bibles and sermons.

But how sad when in America, with a Lutheran pastor is pretty much available everywhere - at least within an 8-hour drive, and more likely within an hour - we have people who, by choice, absent themselves week after week, or even year after year - often deluding themselves that they are still Christians.

After all, I'm told, it's about what we believe, it's about doctrine, it's about having been "baptized Lutheran," it's about having "made my communion" and being confirmed. The Bible doesn't say you have to go to church to be a Christian. It's what's in your heart that matters. You can read the Bible at home. You can pray at home.

I've heard all of these excuses.

We can no more voluntarily absent ourselves from Mass over a long period of time and remain in the Church than we can separate ourselves voluntarily from our spouses and still consider ourselves married. The Christian life is a eucharistic life.

And if Satan and persecution deprive us from the body of our Bridegroom, we can still be faithful as prisoners of war. But what a delusion to believe that indifference toward our Lord amid plenty is anything less than sin (despising preaching and His Word), and if this sin becomes hardened, it can even become irreversible blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Let us all, like St. Thomas, kneel reverently and humbly, knowing we are unworthy, and worship our Lord in His flesh, confessing "My Lord and My God!" Let us seize every opportunity to do so, not knowing when we will not be able to do so for whatever reason. And let us see this as a privilege and joy rather than a burden.

Thanks for making me think and meditate, Br. Latif. You are good at that!

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Father Hollywood:

I hope I did not come across as belittling those who have indeed had to go without the Eucharist, due to no fault of their own.

Thank you very much for bringing up the important experience of the sufferings of the Church in Russia, and Siberia. The remnant is there and is struggling, though in ways different from the struggles of the past century. And they are a great witness to us. They and we all can and should support each other, in every way. Every member of the Body of Christ (and by 'member' I mean not only Christians, but also whole churches and other entities) has something to share with the rest of the body. Too often churches think of the church in an isolated, sectarian, adamistic way. That needs to stop.

I will write more directly on this soon, but for now, I just want to affirm what Fr. Beane says here, and encourage everyone to learn more about the Church in Siberia. Go, for example, to http://www.tslms.org/index.htm

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Note: In the previous comment I meant to use the word atomistic, though it is also true that we too often think like Old Adan did.