Friday, February 19, 2010

Stupid Rubrics

For the sake of unity, Christians should do things that are in themselves stupid.

That is not my view. It is the view of a prominent Missouri Synod Minister of Religion-Ordained.

His thesis, which I wish to combat, is two-fold. 1. Not saying the Alleluia during Lent is stupid. 2. We should follow this rubric anyway, for we should submit to the rubrics for the sake of unity.

Where to begin? First, while some believe me to have an axe to grind with someone who openly lies about me, my critique is really not personal. It is good to emphasize this. I am not here to answer name calling with name calling. Rather, I am here to combat the abuse of power that is perpetrated by means of the abuse of language. Great violence is done in Christ's Church without violence, non vi, sed verbo. What could be more dangerous?

Now, to some of the substance of the argument. To be clear, both parts of the thesis are wrongheaded. Regarding the first part, the rubrics of the Church are not stupid. They are there for time honored reasons. Even those which are diametrically opposite the practice in another rite of the Church cannot be dismissed, condemned really, as stupid. Furthermore, the particular rationale given is badly mistaken. I will get to that in a moment. Regarding the second part, humbly submitting to a rubric for the sake of unity is not really done by calling it stupid. It is a contradiction. That is submission only in a childish sense. And if something is truly stupid, it ought not be practiced in the holy Catholic Church of the Augsburg Confession.

A part of the argument against omitting the Alleluia is the misuse of a quotation of Martin Luther. I have patiently corrected people on Catholic Answers Forum, who have misused Luther quotes. It is infinitely more tragic to see sophomoric treatment of Luther by Lutherans themselves. A case can be made that Luther was not in favor of omitting the Alleluia in Lent (though he wouldn't say it is stupid). However, it is reaching too far to use this passage to make that point:

The general duties and works of love need no new command; they are already laid down and ordered in the Ten Commandments. We are all enjoined of God to hear His Word, to love Him, to pray to Him, to be obedient to our parents, to love our neighbor, to shun all lasciviousness, and to hold matrimony in high esteem. All this is God's will and institution; therefore no especial call of the Holy Spirit to enter matrimony, to become father or mother, is needed. Such matters have all been arranged and commanded of God. But we nowhere find a command of God or word of God, which would demand of us to run into cloisters for the purpose of serving God, or to avoid eating meat, eggs or butter during the Lenten season, or to sing no Hallelujah in that time; and therefore all such observances are no true service of God.

A fair and intellectually honest reading of this passage results not in the notion that Luther condemns the omission of Alleluia, anymore than he condemns fasting, which he elsewhere calls a "fine" discipline (you know, like in the Catechism). Rather, it leads one to an important theological point, viz., that we ought not run after such things as though they were specially asked for by God; conversely, what were once considered holier activities or vocations ought not take our eyes away from the essential holiness of the various callings and stations of life ordained by God, as we see them, eg., in the Catechism's Table of Duties.

Another part of the argument goes like this: "Praise the Lord" is really all that "Alleluia" means, and how could the Church ever be without her praise of her Lord? This line of thought is deeply flawed, for it fails to recognize that the Church in fact isn't ever without her praise of her Lord. The Church is always, always praising her dear Lord and Redeemer. She does this by her life, her witness, her prayer and worship, her Eucharist, the constant use of the Psalms and the classic hymns. She does this by means of her life and witness in the world in the lives of her members. Theology itself is doxological, when it is true to its name anyway. And yes, she even praises the Lord by saying "Praise the Lord," even in Lent. Think, eg., of the Lauds Psalms (148-150). However, it is false to oversimplify the word "Alleluia" by saying that "Praise the Lord is really all that it means." That is all that it means if one is being literalistic. But we ought to do neither Biblical exegesis nor rubrical studies by means of word studies and etymology.

And if one wants to take that approach, then it would be fitting to say that there is really no need for such an archaic word in 21st century Lutheranism. Let us simply say "Praise the Lord," since that is all it really means. Rather, it is a profoundly beautiful Hebrew liturgical term of praise, which the Church has always known to be too rich to translate in her liturgy. Liturgically, we know the same to be the case for other terms as well, such as Hosanna, Amen, and Kyrie eleison. In the Western tradition of the Church's liturgy, the custom arose of ordering the public use of this special term, Alleluia, in a special way. This has nothing to do with denying the Church's essential doxological impulse.

I must also point out that part of the argument in support of the second part of the thesis above (ie., that even though the omission is stupid, we should follow it anyway, for the sake of unity), pertains to the use of the saying, "Say the black, do the red." The true home for this slogan is among Roman Catholics of a more traditional persuasion, who are striving to fight the modern chaos that is all too rampant among priests who ad-lib, improvise, entertain, and in other ways, infect the liturgy with their personality. Yet it is being disingenuously employed among us as an argument against the very ones who want to respect the rubrics. This even when it is shown that the traditional practices despised and ridiculed by the abuser of this slogan are often right in the rubrics of even the newest manifestations of the Synod's "accepted worship resources."

Respect for the rubrics, I hasten to reiterate, does not include calling them stupid. When I see something that is clearly stupid, I refuse to say it, or do it. For the worship of Christ our Immanuel deserves more than the merely stupid. Conversely, the traditional rubrics of the Church I receive with gratitude, not judgement and superiority. Before some of them I stand stupid, stupefied by my own lack of understanding. That, however is the fault of the one who does not understand, not the thing misunderstood.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Milestone at St. Stephen's


Two days ago we hit a milestone at Saint Stephen's Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, one that merits some mention. Quinquagesima Sunday marked the first anniversary (according to the ecclesiastical year) of the ongoing practice of the Daily Mass in our parish. There have been days now and again when we have not been able to have the Mass, the pastor being unavailable for this or that reason. Yet, on the whole, the pattern begun here about a year ago now seems firmly in place, and frankly, it is a very unusual blessing in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
If anyone, in our parish, or in Milwaukee, or anyone who has the occasion to visit Milwaukee, is interested in attending a traditional Lutheran Mass during the week, please know that you are invited and welcome to join us, pretty much any day at 9 A.M. If you are a Lutheran communicant, do present yourself to the pastor before Mass. If you are not a communicant, we'd like to know you too. So come, and introduce yourself.

I anticipate and look forward to real renewal and revitalization in our parish, and it will take place chiefly by means of the Spirit's life-giving (vivificantem) work in the sacramental gifts of the Church. The Mass is central to this enterprise.

Thank you, Fr. May, for making the Holy Mass available to us on a daily basis. In this regard you are manifesting our Confession, in which the role of the pastor is illustrated by the words of Saint John Chrysostom, thus: Sacerdotem quotidie stare ad altare et alios ad communionem accersere, alios arcere. The priest stands daily at the altar, inviting some to the Communion and keeping back others.

And I call upon all schools, especially the universities and seminaries, of the Missouri Synod, and indeed any parish where there are interested communicants, to follow our example. If you want Christ to be central in the lives of your students or parishioners, then give them the Eucharist often.

Finally, if anyone wishes to express their gratitude for the Confessional Lutheran witness that this poor, struggling parish is making in the community, city, synod, and world, consider sending a gift to help us. You may send gifts to the church office at

420 W. Scott St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53204.

Laundering Altar Linens

Sunday after Mass I took the corporals, purificators, and lavabo towels home, and spent the afternoon hand-laundering them. In my view there is no substitute for hand washing these linens that are set aside for such a holy purpose as the administration of the Holy Supper. Especially when considering the purificators and corporals, which come in contact with the Sacred Species, it is important to take great care in their cleaning, ironing, handling, and storage.
In fact, it is worth making the preliminary point that, before these linens get washed, or handled, by the hands of laymen, the priest should perform what we might call the first washing. That is, he should first wash them himself in water which will then be poured down the sacrarium. If a church lacks a sacrarium, he ought to use a secluded spot of earth for this purpose.

Ruth got curious about what I was doing at one point, so I recruited her to help. After washing the linens in water and gentle soap, then rinsing, and hand drying them, the next step was to iron them flat, and finally to iron the proper folds into each. The way the system evolved was that Ruth's two stations in the process were the drying, and the initial ironing. My specialty became the washing, rinsing, and ironing the proper folds. I then packed them securely, and took them back to the sacristy yesterday.

What about the folds? (There's a topic for a "What About" pamphlet.) For the purificator, lay it upside down (ie., with the seams facing up, and the front of the cross facing down) and fold it into thirds lengthwise, so that the face of the cross ends up exposed. Then, fold it in half, so that the cross still ends up exposed. Finally, give it a "cup fold" by folding it back a couple inches from the center on each side, so that it may rest nicely atop the chalice, and drape evenly (the red cross facing down toward the Blood of Christ in the chalice. The exact radius of the "cup fold" will depend on the diameter of your chalice.

For the corporal, the intent is to fold it into nine equal squares, in such a way that the front gets enclosed, so that any particles of the sacred Host will be folded into the linen at the end of the Communion. Lay it right side up (seams down and cross up). Fold it into thirds lengthwise, folding in the side close to you first, and then bringing the opposite side over it. Then fold in the right, and finally the left.

Let our cleaning and handling of the altar linens be undertaken with care and attention, so that the practical aspects of the administration of the Sacrament may be served, and our reverence and thanksgiving for our Lord's awesome gift of Himself may be manifest.

Disposing Your Blessed Palms

Just a quick reminder. If you took home from church last Palm Sunday some palms, or palm fronds, these are the days to bring them back to church. Sunday would have been a good day as well. But you could bring them today, or tomorrow. If your pastor has scheduled a time to burn them for the ashes to be used on Ash Wednesday, then try to bring them in time for that burning. If he hasn't, as far as you know, let him know that you would encourage it.

Bear in mind that there are two reasons to burn your blessed palms. One is so that the ashes made from them may be used on Ash Wednesday. The other is simply that it is fitting that sacramentals, such as blessed palms, be disposed of in a reverent manner. The best way to reverently dispose of a sacramental (a holy item or device used for Christian devotion, including bibles) when it has completed it's usefulness or its natural life, is to burn what can be burned, and bury what remains, and to do all this in a space of ground that is reserved for that use only. This can be done in your own back yard. But many people cannot do this conveniently or efficiently themselves. Therefore, even if your pastor won't be using these palms for ashes, I still recommend giving them over to him as a good way of disposing of them. He will take time in his day to handle them properly. Indeed, the deacon can do it too. I know, however, that there are not a lot of deacons out there presently, at least not in my church.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Art Bar

The latest featured image of the day at the Milwaukee Images blog may not seem like a very iconic view of Milwaukee, but I like it for a couple reasons. One is that it is rather typical of the bulletin boards you will find in many bars and coffeehouses on the East Side and in Riverwest. The other is that this particular place, The Art Bar, is right here in Riverwest; in fact it is right around the corner from our apartment. Next time you're in the area, drop into The Art Bar for a drink, and a view of what's on display on the walls.

I must say, while I'm at it, that the artistic atmosphere of The Art Bar is not the only art-friendly place in Milwaukee. Rather, it is reflective of what you will find in a number of eating and drinking establishments in this part of town. Just today, in fact, on our way back from a trip to the Central Library downtown, Ruth and I stopped at one of my favorite coffeehouses, Brewed Cafe, on Brady Street. You simply must see the diverse art that fills the walls, and even the ceiling of one of the rooms, at Brewed. It's a great place to get fueled up, have a snack, get a little reading or writing in, or converse with friends.

We all live busy lives, but sometimes one must stop and smell the coffee.

Arlene Oost-Zinner on the New Translation of Mass

I would highlight for your attention this piece by Arlene Oost-Zinner over at the New Liturgical Movement site. She's basically right on the money. The changes are not going to be radical at all. And so the 'preparations' for it, while well intentioned I'm sure, nonetheless seem a bit much. Maybe it's a subconscious, or even conscious attempt to compensate for the miserable job that was done four decades ago to prepare people for the Modern Rite.

Another thought. I am not saying this is completely analogous, but in a sense all these preparations which the USCCB as well as publishers and Catholic radio are providing remind me of what happened in the Missouri Synod before and after the implementation of the Lutheran Service Book liturgical materials. For when I think of all the field testing on the one hand, and then all the workshops and conferences on the other, I am led to this thought: how much of that is necessary in a situation where you are confident that what you have put together is truly an organic development of our liturgical tradition?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Did Luther Throw Out Books of the Bible?

It seems to be the overwhelming accepted version of history among most Catholics, Lutherans, and Protestants alike these days that Catholic Bibles are bigger than the Lutheran Bibles because Martin Luther threw out a number of the books of the Bible. This notion requires not merely a No, but more like a double or triple No. When I see laymen make this mistake, I often take the time to correct them in a friendly and respectful way. But when I see priests, theologians, apologists, writers, and other types of public teachers teaching this nonsense, such occasions call for a respectful yet firm and resounding answer. For 1. such people have less of an excuse for their intellectual transgression, and 2. when lies of this sort come out of their mouth, or from their pen, it is more dangerous. To be clear, when I use the term "lies" here, I know that many who are guilty of these lies do not mean them as such. Some, on the other hand, promote them with such clear animosity toward the Reformer that it makes me wonder. Either way, though, that Luther threw books out of the Bible is a lie, and I would like to help correct it.

I heard this nonsense again a few days ago, this time on Milwaukee's Catholic radio station, on a program called "Go Ask Your Father," hosted on that occasion by Father Richard Simon. According to Simon, Luther "threw out" Ecclesiasticus, along with the other deuterocanonical books.

There are at least a couple problems with the notion that "Catholic Bibles are bigger than Lutheran Bibles because Martin Luther threw out parts of the Bible." First, Catholic Bibles are not, truth be told, bigger. They are bigger than modern Protestant Bibles, yes. They are not, however, bigger than the Lutheran Bible. In fact, the Catholic Bible is even a tiny bit smaller than the Luther Bible. The Anglican Bible, ie, the King James, in fact, is even bigger than either the Luther Bible or the Catholic Bible. I will elaborate below. Second, we must emphatically answer and correct the lie that Martin Luther threw things out of the Bible.

The chief difference between the Bible in official use in Luther's time on the one hand, and Luther's German translation on the other, is the way in which the writings are arranged. Let me take this opportunity, however, to say a word regarding the Vulgate, the Bible of Luther's time, before I proceed. As meaningful as Luther's translation was for the church of his time, as inspiring as it was for translators in other lands, perhaps most notably England, and as important a place as it holds in our Lutheran tradition, none of this means that in translating the Bible into German that Luther rejected or had disdain for the Latin Bible, the Vulgate. Before, during, and after Luther's translating work, the Bible that he lived on, memorized, prayed, and often quoted in the classroom, to the end of his life, was the Vulgate. When Luther spoke of the importance of learning the Biblical languages, and compared the languages to the sheath of the sword of the Word of God, he had in mind not only the Hebrew and Greek, but also the Latin. The Latin scriptures are a part of our Biblical heritage, and they are part of our Lutheran heritage. In some ways the literary achievement of Luther's German Bible is analogous to that of Jerome's Latin Bible. And we do a disservice to our students today, especially our future priests and theologians, when we do not include the Latin in their training.

What we call the Old Testament Apocrypha, writings which in the Roman Catholic scheme are incorporated among the rest of the Old Testament, Luther placed together, at the end of the Old Testament. Where are these writings in the Catholic Bible? Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus, which is also called Sirach, come after the Song of Songs in Catholic Bibles. Baruch comes after Lamentations. Tobit, and Judith, come after Nehemiah. 1 and 2 Maccabees come after Malachi. What we call The Rest of Esther is included with Esther. The Song of the Three Holy Children is found in the third chapter of Daniel. The History of Susana is found at the beginning of Daniel, and Bel and the Dragon at the end of Daniel. These are all included by Luther, together, at the end of the Old Testament.

Some readers may have been surprised when I mentioned above that Luther's Bible even has a bit more than the Catholic one. What I mean by that is that he includes The Prayer of Manasses, with the OT Apocrypha, a writing which you will not generally find in Catholic Bibles. Before concluding, however, that Luther here is guilty of the opposite of what he is usually accused of, and that he innovated by adding a book to the Bible, bear in mind that The Prayer of Manasses has a real history in Biblical tradition, and that even Rome includes it in the back of the Sixto-Clementine edition of the Vulgate. The English Church, with the publication of the so-called King James Version, in 1611, went a bit further than Luther or Rome, in that you will see in the Apocrypha the inclusion of 1 and 2 Esdras, which are also, I hasten to add here, like The Prayer of Manasses, included in the appendix of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, though left out of most modern Catholic Bibles.

It might be helpful here to add that there are other examples of seeming differences between a Lutheran Bible which includes the Apocrypha on the one hand, and the classic Roman Catholic Bible, such as, say, the Douay-Rheims, on the other, differences which are really more matters of terminology. For example, what Douay-Rheims calls 1 and 2 Esdras are what we call Ezra and Nehemiah. (What we call 1 and 2 Esdras, the Vulgate calls 3 and 4 Esdras.) What we call 1 and 2 Chronicles Douay calls 1 and 2 Paralipomenon. What we call 1 and 2 Samuel Douay calls 1 and 2 Kings, while what we call 1 and 2 Kings Douay calls 3 and 4 Kings. Such are really merely differences of nomenclature, and of numbering.

In many ways I appreciate Gary Michuta's book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, despite its clear bias. Let me quote Michuta from page 245 and following:

Catholic apologists sometimes claim that Martin Luther removed the Deuterocanonical books from Scripture. This assertion is not entirely true. Luther's German translation of the Scriptures included all of the Deuterocanon.

Here Michuta, a good scholar, is guilty of gross understatement. He comes clean later, when he says that, "It is, therefore, incorrect to say that Luther removed the Deuterocanon." (246)

Significant in this discussion too, I suggest, is not only what is on the shelf in a Luther Bible, but what role these texts play in our liturgical tradition. And here an honest appraisal of Lutheran liturgical tradition will reveal that texts from the Old Testament Apocrypha are read as the lessons on many saints' days, that they are the basis for hymns, and that they show up elsewhere in the propers, especially in introits and graduals. Traditional Lutheran practice also has several canticles which derive from places like Tobit, The Song of the Three Holy Children, and Judith, among others.

Are there Lutheran catechetical curricula that teach that there are precisely 66 books in the Bible? Yes. And as innocent as the intentions of their creators may be, I must respectfully say that they are wrong. They are doing our children a disservice, whose minds are being implanted with these notions that will be near dogma to them. As they go through the later grades and mature physically, intellectually, and mentally, their spiritual maturity will not be all it could be, for they will have yet one more anti-Catholic bias as part of their implicit thinking, since after all, "of course" the Catholics must be wrong for having those extra books. They are also spiritually cheated simply because they are being denied all the rich content in the Apocryphal writings of the Old Testament. A few years back Fr. Burnell Eckardt, at the Concordia Catechetical Symposium, held forth beautifully on the catechetical value of The History of Susana. That is just one example. Luther, Chemnitz, and many other theologians and preachers in our tradition drew deeply from the treasures to be found in Wisdom or Sirach, or Tobit, and the rest.

True, when Lutherans teach that there are 66 books in the Bible, they are in a sense simply being true to the reality of printed bibles that are published, promoted, and used in the world of modern American Lutheranism. This trend is a Protestantism, which needs to change. And printing the Apocrypha in a separate volume is not the answer.

The books of the Bible, and the way they are divided, can be conceived in a variety of ways. Martin Chemnitz can be a good example in this regard, if we study his Ministry, Word and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. I recommend to Lutheran parents and catechists that you teach your children and students something like what I used to teach my Sunday School kids. I required them to learn, and then each recite in front of the class, the books of the Bible, as you find them in the list below. They will complain and not believe they can do it at first. After they learn it, they will tell you with excitement, and after they recite it, they will have a great sense of pride and achievement. To be clear, I did not require my Sunday School kids to learn how many chapters are in each book, which you see in parentheses below. I do think that this can and should be done in the later grades.

To my friends who are of the Anglican tradition, though I enjoy 1 and 2 Esdras, the reason they are not in the list I composed is simply that they are not in the Luther Bible and are not part of Lutheran tradition. When I publish the diglot Bible, however, I am thinking of including them as an appendix.

The Books of the Holy Bible

OLD TESTAMENT
1. Genesis (50 chapters)
2. Exodus (40 chapters)
3. Leviticus (27 chapters)
4. Numbers (36 chapters)
5. Deuteronomy (34 chapters)
6. Joshua (24 chapters)
7. Judges (21 chapters)
8. Ruth (4 chapters)
9. First Samuel (31 chapters)
10. Second Samuel (24 chapters)
11. First Kings (22 chapters)
12. Second Kings (25 chapters)
13. First Chronicles (29 chapters)
14. Second Chronicles (36 chapters)
15. Ezra (10 chapters)
16. Nehemiah (13 chapters)
17. Esther (10 chapters)
18. Job (42 chapters)
19. Psalms (150 psalms)
20. Proverbs (31 chapters)
21. Ecclesiastes (12 chapters)
22. Song of Songs (8 chapters)
23. Isaiah (66 chapters)
24. Jeremiah (52 chapters)
25. Lamentations (5 chapters)
26. Ezekiel (48 chapters)
27. Daniel (12 chapters)
28. Hosea (14 chapters)
29. Joel (3 chapters)
30. Amos (9 chapters)
31. Obadiah (1 chapter)
32. Jonah (4 chapters)
33. Micah (7 chapters)
34. Nahum (3 chapters)
35. Habakkuk (3 chapters)
36. Zephaniah (3 chapters)
37. Haggai (2 chapters)
38. Zechariah (14 chapters)
39. Malachi (4 chapters)

APOCRYPHA
40. Tobit (14 chapters)
41. Judith (16 chapters)
42. Additions to Esther (7 chapters)
43. Wisdom (19 chapters)
44. Sirach (51 chapters)
45. Baruch (6 chapters)
46. Song of the Three Holy Children (1 chapter)
47. History of Susanna (1 chapter)
48. Bel and the Dragon (1 chapter)
49. Prayer of Manasses (1 chapter)
50. First Maccabees (16 chapters)
51. Second Maccabees (15 chapters)

NEW TESTAMENT
52. Matthew (28 chapters)
53. Mark (16 chapters)
54. Luke (24 chapters)
55. John (21 chapters)
56. Acts (28 chapters)
57. Romans (16 chapters)
58. First Corinthians (16 chapters)
59. Second Corinthians (13 chapters)
60. Galatians (6 chapters)
61. Ephesians (6 chapters)
62. Philippians (4 chapters)
63. Colossians (4 chapters)
64. First Thessalonians (5 chapters)
65. Second Thessalonians (3 chapters)
66. First Timothy (6 chapters)
67. Second Timothy (4 chapters)
68. Titus (3 chapters)
69. Philemon (1 chapter)
70. Hebrews (13 chapters)
71. James (5 chapters)
72. First Peter (5 chapters)
73. Second Peter (3 chapters)
74. First John (5 chapters)
75. Second John (1 chapter)
76. Third John (1 chapter)
77. Jude (1 chapter)
78. Revelation (22 chapters)

A Return To Modesty

One of the challenges that comes with any serious effort to sort through a problem in modern America is that everything is so polarized, and politicized. The sides of almost any debate get boxed into prefabricated categories of liberal vs. conservative. These categories quite simply do not do justice to many issues that get forced into them today. Issues such as feminism, the problems it tries to address, and conversely, the problems it causes, is just such an example. When liberals denounce the patriarchy, they are misguided. Yet they are right in trying to address real problems, like harassment against women, etc. When conservatives dismiss even the underlying concerns of the feminists, they show themselves to be incapable of providing the answers that are truly needed.

This is why I tend to appreciate thinkers who cut through the modern American political and cultural categories set up for us. I appreciate such thinkers and take notice of them, even when I don't agree with them. One that I do agree with, however, and who has a lot to say on the topic of female modesty, is Wendy Shalit. She wrote A Return To Modesty a good decade ago. I read it a few years ago, and lately have been reading it to my wife, to give her some intellectual stimulation as she makes blankets and such. And I am impressed all over again by this writer's thoughtfulness, her historical and literary skills, and her ability to see to the essence of this matter. She writes not from the perspective of a Christian, but from the Jewish perspective. This, then, is not theologically comprehensive treatise on modesty. Yet it represents a significant step forward in the public conversation on the issue.

Oh, and do not be mistaken by the fact that this book came out in 1999. It is still as relevant as it was then. For though you will see in the book a lot of citations for and quotes from publications around the time of the writing of her book, the issues and her analysis are still right on. I highly recommend this book to you. In the past year or so she came out with another book, The Good Girl Revolution, which I have not yet read. You may find her books on Amazon here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reservation of the Sacrament in the Lutheran Church

Recently I made the claim that the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament has always been practiced among the churches committed to the Lutheran Symbols. But do we really know this to be the case? And isn't the Book of Concord, along with other theological pronouncements, such as Chemnitz' Examination of the Council of Trent, against the practice? Such questions were posed to me on Facebook by a friend from seminary. So I thought I would attempt to make an unscholarly yet relatively reasoned case here.

First, I will directly address those two basic questions. And then, I will try to provide some data, and in that regard I am indebted in large measure to a few sources which conveniently collate much of the known evidence, such as the 1993 doctoral dissertation of Edward F. Peters, The Origin and Meaning of the Axiom: "Nothing Has the Character of A Sacrament Outside of the Use," In Sixteenth-Century and Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Theology.

The first question pertains to the claim that reservation of the Sacrament has a real and documentable history in the Church of the Augsburg Confession. In answer to this I first admit that, indeed, in view of the big picture of Lutheran history, the reservation of the Sacrament seems to be a minority practice. It also seems fair to say that the practice was stronger early on, and declined as time went on, and might even have practically disappeared in many places, especially after the age of Pietism took its hold on the Church in the eighteenth century. However, granting both of those two points, I would nevertheless maintain that it is unfair to claim that it was never practiced among our churches, or that it completely died off soon after the Reformation. In fact, that is the sort of claim that is unreasonable and prejudiced.

The second question has to do with whether reservation, per se, is inherently opposed to Lutheran theology. Does not the argument of Martin Chemnitz, eg., in his Examination of the Council of Trent, preclude the practice? Likewise, is not the Formula of Concord opposed to reservation of the Sacrament? My answer is that the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament is not absolutely condemned, either by the Confessions, or by the Examen, or by Lutheran doctrine. The Formula of Concord does not in fact address the question of the reservation of the Sacrament where it fulfills the institution of Christ, that is, where it is reserved for consumption by the faithful. It does condemn, on the other hand, the reservation of the Sacrament as practiced by the Roman opponents, who argued that the reservation is necessary (eg., Bellarmine). More to the point, the Formula, and the orthodox Lutheran theologians, are opposed to the reservation for the sake of adoration. This is the key qualification, which we see again and again. It must be emphasized and kept in mind as a crucial factor in virtually all instances of orthodox Lutheran condemnation of reservation.

I hasten to add at this point that this proviso does not mean that adoring the Sacrament in the tabernacle is to be condemned per se. Adoration is not the purpose of the reservation, but when one becomes aware, by virtue of, say, the sanctuary lamp (the traditional sign of the reserved Sacrament), that he is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and then spots the tabernacle behind the altar or in the chancel, it is not inappropriate to make an act of adoration by bended knee. The very purpose of the sanctuary lamp is to alert people to the presence of the Blessed Sacrament so that they will have the opportunity to adore our Lord's presence, and I fail to see why it would be preferable to just disregard the Sacrament and pretend It isn't there.

What we see, when we look at the record, is that from the earliest stages of the Lutheran Reformation to the seventeenth century and forward, the reservation of the Sacrament was opposed in some places, retained and embraced in some, and in some cases the attitude to this practice is best described as indifferent. Certainly in all places where Lutherans practiced reservation in the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, it was done with the qualification I mention above, viz., that it be practiced for the sake of giving the Sacrament later to the sick, and not for the sake of adoration per se.

Sixteenth Century
First, what was Luther's position? The Blessed Reformer does not say a lot about the reservation of the Sacrament. In one case he calls for its elimination; in another passage he is in favor of its continuation, as a statement against "several heretics." He says:

Here they are also disputing in the churches, whether or not one should carry the consecrated Sacrament to another altar. I for my part let it happen for the sake of several heretics, to whom one must give an answer. (WATR, V, 55, Nr. 5314)

Peters says that this is a reference to the practice of taking the Sacrament to the sick, as provided in the Brandenburg Church Order of Joachim II, 1540. I anticipate that some will hasten to reply here that this was a case not so much of reservation, but of taking the Sacrament to the sick, perhaps immediately after Mass. I think, however, that it is nonetheless noteworthy, for even taking the Sacrament to the sick right after the Mass involves a sort of reservation of the Sacrament. When we consider that whether the Sacrament is reserved in a tabernacle for six days, or two days, or in a pix for a twenty five minute trip to a man's sick bed, It is still being reserved outside of the Mass, which some therefore mistakenly consider outside the actio of the Sacrament. Further, this taking the Sacrament to the sick or shut-in directly after Mass, though it involve a much shorter reservation than we usually think of, actually involves the priest in something that would seem at first glance to be even more problematic, namely what amounts to a sort of eucharistic procession. In those days the Sacrament was transported with great reverence and solemnity.

Let me now turn for a moment from Peters' dissertation, to Jurgen Diestelemann's book, Usus und Actio. On this count I am indebted to Fr. John Stephenson's review essay, which you may read here. Diestelmann writes:

While polemics against the sacrificial and private mass occupy much space in Luther, nowhere in his writings do we find a demand to do away with tabernacles.

Stephenson relates what amounts to very revealing data in Diestelmann's work. He writes:

He argues that the Reformer's counsel, given in 1522, that hosts not distributed in a given celebration be reserved in a monstrance (!) until they could be administered to sick communicants (20, n. 46, according to which, more than two decades later, George of Anhalt related how he heard the older Luther give similar advice), is to be understood in light of the important distinction between the age-old custom of reserving the consecrated species for this pastoral purpose and the late medieval practice of permanent reservation for the sake of extra-eucharistic adoration...Diestelmann locates directions for such temporary reservation in Sehling's Kirchenordnungen (20, n. 47) and supplies evidence of beautifully decorated pyxes (capsulae) used in 16th century Lutheran churches for the reservation of consecrated hosts (in Augsburg, after 1537, on the altar); one such was made in Coburg in 1607 (23, n. 58; see also 103f.). In the closing pages of his work, Diestelmann underscores how the historic Church of Sweden allowed for reverent reservation for the purpose of communion alongside the practice of consuming the remaining sacrament (305).

Luther's take on the matter is summed up thus by Dr. Peters:

Except for those few instances, Luther does not specifically mention the reservation of the Sacrament. He is evidently not much concerned about the question. In one instance he says it should be abolished, in another he is not concerned whether or not it is abolished, and in a third instance, he reportedly says that it should be retained against certain "heretics." At any rate, Luther nowhere infers that the reservation of the Sacrament is per se or necessarily outside of the use, and therefore not the Body of Christ. (183)

Luther was of course far from the only Lutheran of his time who allowed for the reverent reservation of the Sacrament. From the diet of Ansbach in 1526 we have this:

And if at times something of the Sacrament were left over when the communicants receive the holy and venerable Sacrament, this shall not be contemptuously disposed of, but with the proper reverence shall be kept in the Sacrament houses, to be reserved for those who might accidentally fall sick from day to day or for other communicants. (311)

In the examination prepared for Lutheran priests in Nuremberg in 1528, reservation is treated as an adiaphoron which must be approached as a pastoral question. To the question, "Should one enclose the sacrament?" it teaches that this "is a free matter," though admittedly it expresses a preference for not reserving the Sacrament.

While it is true that consecrating the bread and wine on location for the sick became the general norm in Lutheran churches, there are certainly exceptions to this. Guy Dietrich, of Nuremberg, for example, give a balanced endorsement of taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sick. Peters quotes him thus:

This too is certain from [the writings of] many Fathers, that, just as among us today, the people went to the Sacrament together every Sunday, and the Supper was held publicly. Then what remained was reserved, partly for the sick who would desire the Sacrament during the week, and partly because one could not distribute everything at once, when the number of communicants was too small...Then the remaining Hosts and also the chalice were reserved, and during the week the sick were communed with it, and what was left was used again during the next Communion or Supper. Here we do not dispute whether such reserved Hosts and chalice were the Body and Blood of Christ. And the reason is that it stayed in its use and was distributed to the Church, and those to whom it was distributed received the Body of Christ in the bread and drank His Blood in the chalice. Here there is no doubt at all, for the institution of Christ remained in its entirety and inviolate. (Peters, 404)

Peters then comments that with these words Dietrich:

...approves not only of carrying the Sacrament to the sick but also of reserving it for the communion of the sick during the week, or for distribution on the following Sunday. This he considers an acceptable practice, in keeping with the practice of the early Church, along with the more recent custom of celebrating at the bedside. He specifically says that such reservation is still "in the use" of the Sacrament, and that such a practice does not violate the institution of Christ. (404-405)

In the Examenation of the Council of Trent, Chemnitz deals at length with the question, too much length to be worth including here. I must say, however, that Chemnitz cannot be used to condemn reservation per se. Admittedly, he prefers not to even reserve It for the sick, yet nowhere does he condemn it. He only says that it is unnecessary. Dr. Peters sums up the evidence from the sixteenth century thus:

Most of the Lutheran theologians of the sixteenth century do not bother to distinguish between reservation for adoration and for the sick. But it is important to note that no sixteenth century Lutheran theologian, in those sources which are available, makes the explicit statement that reservation for the sick or carrying the Sacrament to the sick is wrong or "outside of the use." Guy Dietrich approves the reservation for the sick, and Chemnitz defends the practice as it was done in the ancient Church. It is not until later that Lutheran theologians consider this practice as such "outside of the use of the Sacrament." (413)

Clearly, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was both practiced and defended by Lutherans in Luther's own day, as well as later in the century, and in at least one instance it was at Luther's own urging.

Excursus
While we're still in the sixteenth century I would like to briefly discuss a couple of incidents which veer off the particular question of reservation of the Sacrament. These incidents pertain to what happens after an accident takes place in the administration of the Sacrament, whether innocently, or by carelessness, and thereby shed light on the reverence for the Sacrament evident in the Lutheran Church of that age.

The first incident I would like to share took place on the Third Sunday in Advent, in 1567. A priest by the name of John Musculus, according to the testimony of the church officials whose job it was to hold the houseling cloth, report that Musculus spilled the Blood of Christ onto the houseling cloth, and though there were some conflicting reports in the ensuing investigation, it seems that he also spilled the Blood onto the floor, and may have carelessly stepped on It. Peters writes:

On April 3, 1568, the Electoral Prince Joachim II sent a letter to the University of Frankfurt, as well as to the city council, stating that he had been informed that John Musculus, in celebrating the Sacrament in Clistow, had spilled some of the contents of the chalice onto the floor and then had stepped on what had been spilled. He demanded an immediate investigation of the matter.

The investigation that followed was quite involved; conflicting testimony had to be sorted out; the full truth may have been impossible to ascertain; in the end, however, it was unthinkable for the church of that time to be unresponsive to such a scandal. At one point, the Elector "suggested that as punishment for the 'abominable crime' John Musculus should have 'two or three fingers cut off'." His final decision, however, was in some ways even more severe. After the inquiry was complete, and all testimonies and opinions were considered, the verdict was decided; the decree issued by the Elector was as follows:

Since Master John Musculus, pastor in the suburb of Lebus, near Frankfurt on the Oder and in the village of Clistow, shortly before last Christmas, in distributing the holy and venerable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Savior and Sanctifier Jesus Christ, with vicious and criminal carelessness, swung the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the action itself, and in the distribution, in such a way that a large part of it flowed not only on the communicant's clothing and on the silk houseling cloth which the church officers held, but also on the floor; and since he did not remove it with Christian and fitting reverence, thereby causing it to be stepped on not only by himself but by the communicants who followed...therefore, from now on he shall no longer be tolerated as a minister of the church in our lands; he shall also leave our land immediately and without privilege, shall be completely banned, and and shall not enter this land again without our special permission, shall not be found in it, if he would like to avoid a greater and corporal punishment. (Peters 363-364)

The second incident involved Dr. Luther himself, and is from late in his life. He was on the road on business, and in the town of Halle was asked to say Mass at the Church of Our Lady. The Reformer was not altogether well, though it is too easy for us now, who were not there, from the distance of several centuries, to ask why he didn't have help with the distribution, say, from another priest or a deacon. In the end, we must simply accept the fact that this was a small group, who sought the ministry of the Eucharist at the hands of the Reformer, and that he must not have felt so ill at the start of Mass as to conclude that he could not do it without incident. In the course of the administration of the Precious Blood of Christ, his hands were shaking, and he spilled some of the Blood onto the floor. A witness' account reports that "Luther put the chalice down on the altar, fell to his knees, and sucked up the wine with his mouth so that it should not be trodden under foot, whereupon the whole congregation broke out in sobbing and weeping."

Other similar incidents could be brought forth from that period, but we will let these suffice here. They are relevant to the overall discussion for this reason: they show the great seriousness and reverence with which Luther and the Lutherans of that century took the Personal Presence of our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament. They took it so seriously that when an accident befell the administration of the Eucharist, they had no hesitation or second thought about the belief that It is still the Body and Blood of Christ, and must be treated as such. In the more famous case of Adam Besserer, who mixed unconsumed consecrated Hosts with unconsecrated, Luther said that he was a despiser of both God and man, and the same as a Zwinglian!

The reason I bring these stories up is that they are such a stark contrast to the behavior in most of our churches today, and so they bring this thought to my mind: in an environment in which the conduct toward the Sacred Species even during the Divine Service tends to be so blase, even irreverent (some even say that a dropped particle is not the Body of Christ, and that if what is in the chalice spills on the altar or floor it is not the Blood of Christ, thereby effectively redefining the Real Presence even more narrowly than within the Mass itself), then such people really intellectually forfeit the right to tell others how to handle or not handle the Sacrament outside the Mass. Let me simply add here that, sadly, the seminaries themselves do a poor job of inculcating reverent treatment of the Sacred Species, and perhaps until that changes, no large scale improvement can be expected in our churches...But I digress.

Seventeenth Century
The general opposition to reservation of the Sacrament among the Lutheran theologians in the sixteenth century intensified in the following century. So much so that the prevailing bias against reservation, itself, seems to have influenced the thinking (became the presupposition, in other words) of the theologians of that age. Nevertheless, the arguments are not completely uniform. Many condemn reservation outright, and call it "outside of the use" of the Sacrament. In this, they clearly are defining the Usus differently, more narrowly, than do the Lutheran teachers from the age of Luther and the Confessions. Some admit that the reserved Sacrament is the Body of Christ, yet nevertheless argue against the practice, and these on a number of grounds. Some practical (eg, difficulty in transporting the Blood of Christ), some because it might send the wrong message, and suggest that Lutherans endorse the practices that do fall outside of the use, such as processions, etc.

Nevertheless, the minority opinion persisted, as does the practice of at least taking the Blessed Sacrament directly to the sick, if not also a longer reservation. These persist through the seventeenth century, and indeed, into the eighteenth. I highlight here the account Peters gives of Casper Calvor.

The Lutheran liturgiologist, Casper Calvor, discusses the communion of the sick at some length in his Ecclesiastical Ritual. He, too, admits that the ancient Church carried the Sacrament to those who were ill, but he points out that this was very rarely mentioned before the seventh century. Nevertheless, there is a difference between reserving for the sick and carrying it to them immediately after the celebration. Then he adds:

"I imagine that it is from this [latter practice] that the rite of our churches has come, namely, in which we are accustomed to communicate the sick by carrying bread and wine to them from the churches themselves, after the public celebration of the Eucharist."

Since this book was first published in 1704, this statement serves as evidence for the fact that this method of communicating was still known at the beginning of the eighteenth century. (503)

A Concluding Word
The definitions by Lutheran theologians of eucharistic terms like Usus and Actio have, the record would seem to suggest, evolved gradually but surely over the course of the centuries since the classic formulations of our doctrine were set down and articulated by Luther and the Symbols of 1580 and 1584. Practice corresponding to these narrowing definitions has evolved with them. I should rather say that our practice, over all, has devolved. It has devolved to the point where even within the Divine Service itself there are examples everywhere of gross irreverence toward the Most Holy Sacrament (this while we sing in our hymns about how reverent we are, eg., "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence"). To be clear, consecrating the bread and wine at the bedside is not in itself offensive, nor the product necessarily of the later definitions to which I refer. The insistence on the part of some, however, that reservation and carrying the Sacrament to the sick are "outside of the use" has led to a real and unfortunate bias against a tradition that has always had a place in our Church. And it has clouded the thinking of many of our teachers and theologians to some of the potential arguments in favor of the practice. On this count, let us hear once more from Edward Peters:

One aspect of the Sacrament which most Lutheran theologians ignore almost completely is the fact that the Sacrament is one of the highest expressions of Christian fellowship that has been given to the Church. The Sacrament is not merely an individual's participating in a gift of God, but it is just as much the participation of Christians in Christ Himself with one another in the Body of Christ. Lutheran theologians condemn the Roman Catholics who forget this principle when they allow priests to celebrate Mass by themselves without the participation of the congregation. However, one might ask if Lutherans are not ignoring the same principle when they express their preference for a clinical celebration at which one person receives the Sacrament by himself. When the Sacrament is carried from a congregation's celebration to the bedside of the sick, this is a laudable expression of the individual's common participation in the Church's celebration, even though he is not able to be present physically in the church building itself. Most Lutheran theologians, however, all but forget this emphasis, which is an important part of the sacramental celebration. (558)

Indeed there are good reasons, I suggest, to keep room for both practices alive, that of carrying the Sacrament to the sick, and of consecrating the elements at the communicant's room, side by side in our Church. And whatever approach is taken by a priest, I pray for a renewed sense of reverence, at the altar, in the sacristy, in the nave, as well as wherever the sacrament might be taken.