Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blessed Childermas

I wish you a blessed Childermas, and hope you have a chance to attend Mass, or at least to take a moment and remember the witness of the Holy Innocents in your prayer and meditation.  Above is the slaughter as interpreted by Peter Paul Rubens.

Monday, December 26, 2011

the octave drenched in blood

The most important feasts of the Church Year are celebrated for a full octave of days, each day of which is treated as though it were a sort of replay of the first.  Or to put it another way, each day of the octave is a celebrating of the same feast.  Much as a wedding feast in the ancient middle east could last several days, so also the Church on certain occasions celebrates the life of her Lord and Redeemer, and the marital life she shares with Him, as a full eight day feast, the number of the fulfillment of the new creation, the resurrection life which we have in our Baptism (which assumes and is never separated from the Paschal mystery of the death of our Lord, into which we are baptized). 

Yet the feast of the Nativity of Christ is unusual in that it does not take an unmitigated tone of joy, but is significantly filled with death, mortality, even violent martyrdom.  It is called the bloody octave, for in its course we celebrate the victory of many holy martyrs, as we begin to see even today on the second day of Christmas.  There is Stephen, whose holy diaconal witness to Christ, even at the cost of his life, is described by the Evangelist in downright Christic terms.  Then we have the feast of the beloved disciple, who may or may not have died in bloody martyrdom, but whose whole life and episcopal ministry was a martyrdom for his beloved Lord.  Then we have Childermas, on which we remember the heavenly reward of the children who suffered at the hands of a self-absorbed despot.  After that, we get to celebrate the twelfth century witness of the holy bishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket, a man whose life, at once human and holy, and whose violent murder at the hands of men who despised both the Work of God (the Liturgy-in this case, Vespers) and the workers of God (in this case, the bishop) cannot help but move the Christian even eight centuries later.  Two days after that we get the feast of St. Sylvester, who did not die a martyr in the classic sense, but much of whose life saw great persecutions of the Church in the days before its toleration with the Edict of Milan.  And the Octave culminates in the observance of the first blood spilled for our redemption (for Mary shed none herself at the birth of her Son) namely, that of our Lord Himself at His circumcision.

It is a hard road that Jesus came to earth to travel, a hard and lonely way.  For ultimately it is the way of the Cross.  And His life, death. and resurrection (these things are really a singular Paschal mystery) is lived out in the lives of His members, even today.  Our way, too, is the way of the cross, and ours is His victory.  We are walking examples of the reality that Christ makes all things new, whether or not we feel it.  For our lives are now patterned after Him, the New Man Who daily comes forth and rises in our life and confession and witness, no matter what end we might meet.  The life of Christ is also the story of the life of His mystical Body, and each member thereof.  Let this ocvate serve in part to help you meditate upon this truth in Christ.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

the Christmas Eve Service

Last night we had a Christmas Eve Service at Luther Memorial.  It was very nice.  There were hymns, readings, more hymns, more readings, and some good preaching.  I was a bit disappointed when I sat down and then looked up at the altar, and didn't see a chalice veil there.  I was sort of expecting the Mass.  But it's really no one's fault but mine for this surprise, and disappointment.  Nowhere in the church literature did it claim Christmas Eve would be a Eucharist.  What it said in the schedule, looking back, was "Christmas Eve Service" and I let it get into my head that it would be the Mass.  When you think about it, that phrase Christmas Eve Service is really just shy of one word that would have signified, in modern LC-MS parlance, that there would be the Eucharist, namely, Christmas Divine Service.  You see where I'm driving?  My mind probably saw "Christmas Eve Service" and read into it "Christmas Eve Divine Service." 

Again, I don't blame anyone at Luther Memorial.  However, this all points to a couple of notions.  One is that it would have been more clear and explicit if the schedule would have said something like, "Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols."  But another thought regards the ambiguity of the term Divine Service. The phrase Divine Service, as I say, has come to mean in modern LC-MS parlance the Holy Mass. I suppose this started with Lutheran Worship's use of the term for its Mass orders back in the 1980s. In fact, however, it is worth pointing out that Divine Service does not imply the Mass. It implies public worship. It would be more accurate to say something like Chief Divine Service if you wanted to signify the use of the Holy Mass, which of course begins to beg the question of why we think we must always add more words to make something clearer.

There is another solution.  Namely, there is a certain practical genius in the practice of using the word "Mass."  For in that case there would have been no mistake.  That is, one look at the church's schedule would tell you that one any given occasion you will either have the Mass, or you won't. 

On another note, if modern Roman Catholic practice undervalues and under-utilizes noneucharistic aspects of the Church's liturgical tradition, like the Divine Office, modern Lutheran practice undervalues the Mass, and under-utilizes the Church Year's opportunities for celebrating the Mass.  This is just the way it is.  Many of my friends prefer to look at the glass being half full, and speak of how things have improved, etc.  I don't deny that, but I also see it getting worse.  How can both be true?  I don't know, but it should alarm us.  I think modern Missouri has become a "big tent" and you can see in it whatever you want to see.  It's like a Rorschach test.  But the test doesn't determine whether one is an optimist or a pessimist, like some claim.  Rather, it determines what it is on which you are choosing to focus, and maybe whether you are being a realist or a positivist.

None of this is to deny, mind you, that I'm better off now than I was with the incompetence and false teaching at a former church.  However, I can't go through life merely contenting myself with the thought that, at least this isn't as bad as that over there.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

merry christmas

Milad Majid

Joyeux Noël

Gëzuar Krishtlindjet

Feliz Navidad

Gaudete! Christus natus est.

Christmas Tree with Dorian

This is our Christmas tree.  In years past we used artificial trees, since a real one would not have coexisted very well with our cats.  Oddly, they had a habit of attacking the tree anyway.  This year I decided to try a real one.  I felt I knew Dorian well enough by now to know that he wouldn't be too freaked out by a real tree.  So a few days ago I went to a Christmas tree lot downtown with my friend Mike.  We went to the lot on Van Buren & Kilbourn, across from the cathedral.  The guy didn't have many trees left; I told him I was interested in a small one, one that would fit a small apartment.  He showed me the smallest one he had left, and it too was bigger than what I wanted.  So he offered to cut off a portion and give me a deal on the price.  I said, cool, and he pulled out a chainsaw, and cut off a whole section from the bottom, and even tied the tree to the top of the car for me.  Very helpful and friendly man. 

I am really loving this tree.  I love the scent it gives the place, and I love the way it looks, with all of Ruth's decorations (some of which are her own origami ornaments).  Ruth has been feeding it water every day or so, and Dorian loves to lay right behind it.  I suppose he thinks he is in his own forest, or perhaps just a garden.  I think we'll do the same next year.

a Christmas Song from the Holy Land

An Arabic-Syriac Christmas song.

Bruce Springsteen 'Merry Christmas Baby'

Eucharistic Implications of the O Antiphons

The liturgy is filled with implications that we too often fail fully to appreciate.  So it is worth meditating upon the liturgy of the Church, and praying that we may gain a fuller view of what it is teaching us.  Through the Church's liturgical tradition, there is always more that God would show us of His wondrous love for us in Christ.  Let us recall that while the liturgy as such is not divinely inspired, it is filled with God's creative Word.  And so Saint Benedict calls it the Work of God.  It is fitting to pray, in other words, that God would open our eyes, that we may see the wondrous things in the liturgy (Ps 119).

And so one thought that strikes me lately is in regard to the increased popularity in recent years of the O Antiphons, that is, the proper Magnificat antiphons for the seven days that lead up to the holy Vigil of Christmas.  It is a fine custom to celebrate the Divine Office of Vespers, and to use these venerable antiphons; yet it is valuable to consider what the Divine Office, and in this case particularly the O Antiphons, might be assuming about our liturgical life.  What is assumed in the Divine Office, including the O Antiphons, and indeed is an essential key to fully appreciating the Office, and the Antiphons, is the regular celebration of the Holy Eucharist. 

In the final week before Christmas Eve, the Church focuses more intently on preparing for the coming celebration of the birth of the Theanthropos, the God-man, and does so, for example, by praying for His advent among us in the Magnificat antiphons, each one calling Him by a different name, and crying out for His presence.  Veni, Come.  Christ's coming in the world is always an intersecting of this world and the cosmic reality wherein Christ holds all of creation, and all of history, in His hand.  Interestingly, we have come to view the final coming of Christ as a parousia, which connotes for many a glorious coming of Christ on the last day, but really it would be better to convert our thinking around, and see that in fact every coming of Christ is a parousia, a making Himself personally present in this world, which is a gracious and comforting presence for those buried by baptism into His death, and fearfully damning to those not ready for it.  He comes to judge, but for the Christian covered by the blood of the Lamb that judgement is a gracious sentence.  He came into the world about two millennia ago, assuming our human nature, and became man.  He will also come again in glory at the close of this world.  However, there is another coming of Christ.  Namely, His coming, in the flesh, in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in which the Christian is united with Him sacramentally.  This also is Christ's Parousia among us.  This, the celebration of the venerable Eucharist, is the fulfillment among us, in real time, of the prophecy that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us.  Indeed, the seventh of the O Antiphons calls upon Christ as Emmanuel. 

It is well worth meditating upon the O Antiphons in detail, but it is also worth stepping back, and gaining an appreciation for what we are confessing in them when viewed together.  This comes out more clearly when they are read in the Latin.  For there we see that the O Antiphons are designed in such a way so that the first letter (after the O) of each antiphon is part of an acrostic, read backwards, which spells Ero Cras, Tomorrow I shall come.  Admittedly, for those who follow the English medieval custom of adding an eighth antiphon in honor of the Virgin Mary, the acrostic will spell Vero Cras, Truly tomorrow, which is only slightly different.  What is this but a confession that on Christmas, which is fast upon us, the Church celebrates the solemn and joyful mystery of the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ among us.  All that we ask for in the O Antiphons comes about in the celebration of the Christmas Mass.  Christ, our Wisdom incarnate, comes to teach us what we need to know of Him.  Christ, the Adonai, comes to us, that is, our Redemption draws near, the One Who saves us by stretching out His arms on the cross and bringing the fruit of His suffering to us.  Christ, the Root of Jesse, Who has become for us the tree of life, comes to deliver us.  Christ, the Key of David, comes in apocalyptic authority, and opens the kingdom of heaven to us right here and now.  Christ, the Dayspring, comes and enlightens the darkness of our hearts with His good gifts.  Christ, the King, comes to bring salvation to us.  And indeed, Christ, our Emmanuel, proves Himself to be God Who is there for us.  He is with us.  All of this is fulfilled in the Holy Mass, where we hear our Shepherd's voice, and are united with Him personally in the most venerable Eucharist. 

There are Lutheran churches that confess these things, with the revival of the O Antiphons, and yet will not have the Sacrament on Christmas because it falls on a non-communion Sunday.  The praying of the O Antiphons, like the praying of the Divine Office in general, assumes and can only be fully appreciated in light of the regular and frequent celebration of the Holy Mass.  We implore Christ to come to us.  And this is not a hopeless cry, but a cry of faith, for all the while we are also confessing that He will come to us.  And then He does.  Let us not make of the liturgy a lie, but a confession of the true vitality of the sacramental life of our church.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lulu coupon for Dec 21st

If you buy a book today at, you can get a second one at 50% off by using this code at checkout:


Shortning Bread on three harmonicas

The other night I saw Lil Rev, Steve Cohen, and Jim Liban down the block at Linnemans.  A great show, as one might imagine.  Here is a little taste.  (This particular video is from the show they did a few months ago, which was also a great show.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

santa cycle rampage

If you were out and about in the city on Saturday, you too may have seen the army of Santas on their bicycles.  It's at the same time one of the many expressions of Milwaukee's bicyle culture and one of the many signs that you are in Milwaukee at Christmas time.  Admittedly, the Santa Cycle Rampage can be found in other cities as well.  But this one is surely the best, and I say that for two reasons. 1. The people involved are the Milwaukeeest people of all the Santa Cycle Rampages.  And 2. the Santa riders are riding through Milwaukee, which, let's face it, is hands down the Milwaukeeest place of all.  So there's just no comparison.  Convinced yet?
Check this link for one writer's take on the event, along with some great pictures.  And while you're at it, take note of the picture of the beer hall at my brewery.

And here is a video of the santa cycle ride from a couple of years ago:

God is born

A now famous video by an imam, in which he decries Christmas as the observance of God being born on December 25th, has been well attacked and picked apart in the Christian blog world.  I'd like to respond to what one person said over at bureaucrat Paul McCain's blog.  (McCain and I have similar policies about allowing each other to participate in our blogs; nevertheless, sometimes I see something there that is worthy of discussion here.)  The comment first proclaimed that the Imam is wrong, and at that point I thought, okay, he's going to point out that Christmas does not imply that Christ was born on this very date.  But no, his point, it turns out, was that what was so fundamentally wrong with the Imam's diatribe is the view that Christians believe that God was born.  This is an apt occasion, therefore, to make the point that indeed, there is nothing wrong with saying that God was born.  On this point the Imam got the Christian message right.  It is right and Christian to say that God was born. 

Now of course we must add that such phraseology can be misunderstood.  In a similar way, I know that the repulsion to the practice of referring to the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God can be divided between those who are true believing Nestorians on the one hand and those who misunderstand the intent of the phrase on the other. 

It is vitally important, from a christological perspective, to be able to say that the One Who was born of the Virgin, the One Who allowed Himself to be held, first in a womb, and then in the arms of humans, and ultimately, to be carried and lifted up by the cruel nails and harsh wood of the cross, and finally held again in the arms of His holy mother, this man Who has assumed our flesh, is also the One Who made the world, and holds the universe; He, the man Jesus, is Himself God, the Pantocrator, the Uncreated Angel of Great Counsel Who goes ahead of us and fights His own battles and announces His own Message of victory.  For He is the Message, and He is our Victory.  God became man, and dwelt among us.  Indeed, He still dwells among us in the Holy Eucharist.  The liturgy is Good News, but not merely in some informational way; it is the holy ground of God's personal advent among His beloved people.   What if all Christians were to behave in church as reverently as Muslims are reputed to conduct themselves at prayer?  The reality of the Christian mystery might sink in and be taken more seriously by those within and without. 

I think this particular Imam (I have not figured out his name) gets it, at least to some degree, and one of the lessons to be drawn from the fact that an Imam recognizes one of our major points of doctrine is that seeing it or "getting it" does not guarantee faith, but can be a great place in which to begin to really talk, unlike the foggy, vacuous dialogue promoted by the Christian theologians whose jello-like doctrine gets less real the more they talk.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

when does Christmas begin and end?

Lulu, the company that is facilitating my self-publishing efforts, is doing a series of promotional coupons which employs the theme of the twelve days of Christmas.  That is, a different coupon is being offered each day for twelve days.  I am glad to take advantage of this, and promote these coupons at my blog, etc. But the problem is that these twelve days of coupons for the twelve days of Christmas began a few days ago, and will end on Christmas Day.  This confusion is found not only at Lulu, but really all over our American culture.  I recall one year seeing Jimmy Falon's late night show, where the same thing happened; he did a comedy bit in which a different ugly Christmas sweater was highlighted for each of the twelve days of Christmas, and sure enough, those twelve days were the days leading up to Christmas.  As I say, this seems to be the common view in secular American culture.

It just goes to show that the world's view or take on matters, even when it intersects in superficial ways with the Church's perspective, is skewed; it is off the mark.  The accent is wrong, just by a little, but enough to show that it is incapable of truly appreciating the spiritual significance of these observances. 

So let us be clear.  We are in the season of Advent.  It is a fasting season, a penitential season, though at the same time a season in which we look towards and prepare for the Christmas festivities.  The two seasons, Advent and Christmas, are interrelated, interdependent, and interlocking; and yet each is distinct. 

Advent culminates in a special way with its final eight days.  That is, the 17th through the 23rd of December are days in which we cry out for the coming of our Lord among us, and look forward to the celebration of His holy birth.  We do so, eg., with a special set of antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers called the O Antiphons.  In a sense this week of prayerful anticipation of the coming solemnity is like the novena of days in which the Church anticipates the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.  Then, the final day of Advent is the 24th, ie., the Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord.  That is traditionally one of the so-called fish days, ie., it is a day in which Christians traditionally abstain from the meat of all land animals and fowl, making final preparations for the festive Christmas celebration in prayerful penitence. 

Then, at midnight, as though we cannot wait any longer for the festivities to officially begin, and to mark the traditional nocturnal timing of the holy event, the Church begins her season of Christmas with the Holy Mass, the first of three proper masses that day.  Christmas continues with a full octave, and since the next season doesn't begin until the 6th of January, there are really twelve full days of the holy and festive season of Christmas, from the 25th of December through the Twelfth Night, which is on the 5th of January.

Many things could be said of those twelve days, and how some take on their own liturgical character, etc.  And I do not know if I will be able to get to any of that here this year, due to the fact that so much of my energy during the week is taken up with my job.  But I did want to clarify and remind the general readership that Christmas does not culminate on the 25th.  It only begins on that day.  Let us celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, with devotions and festivities in our families, and with liturgy and prayer in the church, and thus once again be a positive example for the culture around us.

communion hymns

I suggest that for the "communion hymns," ie., the hymns sung by the congregation during the Holy Communion at Mass, that it would be appropriate and make the most sense to sing hymns that are actually communion hymns, ie., hymns about and in praise of the Blessed Sacrament.  Seems logical enough.  And it's not as though we suffer from a lack of such hymns in our language.  There is even a whole section of hymns in Lutheran Service Book devoted specifically to this subject.  Several of them are actually worthy of being used in the Church.

And yet, in my experience in Lutheran churches it is virtually never the case that the hymns during Communion are reserved for singing about the venerable Eucharist.  It seems far more common for the communion time to be peppered with hymns directed or loosely about the sermon theme of the day, or hymns of praise, or hymns on the doctrine of justification, or a combination of the above.  Pastors who are slightly more eucharistically conscious will throw in maybe one eucharistic hymn, maybe two, usually just one.  At my own parish it seems to be usually the second hymn at communion.  I attended Mass recently at another church where there was not one eucharistic hymn; all the hymns during Communion dealt with the theme of the day.  This is not to pick on any one congregation or pastor, for it seems to be a matter, rather, of the current culture of our church. 

I challenge the reader, both lay and clergy, to take this as an opportunity to think on this issue.  And then think some more.  I know it is longstanding custom to sing a very limited number of eucharistic hymns, if any, during the celebration of the Eucharist.  But ponder what is going on.  Meditate upon the holy mystery that is taking place during that time.  The tradition of the Church has given us some great hymns for this purpose.  If we end up singing them more often than we have been accustomed to singing them, the awful consequence will be that we will actually get to know them better.  They will come to occupy a deeper place in our hearts.  And they will prove to be a great aid to our devotion and worship.  They would help make of that moment more than the utilitarian "distribution" time, for we might actually, as a church, come to see that time as a Holy Communion with Christ our Immanuel, our Eucharistic Lord.

Lulu coupon for dec 18th

If you purchase a book today at, enter this code at checkout:


and you will get 15% off today's order.

Consider these titles:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lulu coupon for Dec 17th

If you make a purchase today at Lulu, use this code at checkout:


and you will get free ground shipping.

Among the many things you can find at, let me highlight a few books which I recommend for your consideration.

Lord, Teach Us To Pray.
This is a Lutheran prayer book, with several essential prayers and devotions for the young, for the family, and really for anyone.  You can get it three ways. (Click below for links.)
digital download

The Essential Lutheran Prayer Book
This is like the one above, but also have a lot of prayer in Latin as well as English.  Excellent for students, and all who want to learn many of our prayers in Latin.  This book comes in three designs:
1. Black

digital download

2. White

digital download

3. with a photo of the sunrise (taken at Milwaukee's lakefront in November of last year)

digital download

Arabic Christmas hymn

Sunday, December 4, 2011

a thought on the page shuffling church

It is to engage in a silly euphemism to refer to the guitar, amp, and drum-set led worship of some churches as "diverse worship."  The present reflection, however, is not about those churches.  Rather, I suggest that where the term "diverse worship" might just as well fit is in the many churches, school chapels, etc., where the prevailing practice is to make use of the diversity of mass forms within the same book, and in today's LC-MS that tends to mean the much hyped Lutheran Service Book.
But it is always worth assessing the wisdom of what one is doing; it is always good for a church to ask itself not merely whether it is achieving its own goals, but whether it is being blind to what it is missing by going with this diverse approach to worship.  Is there a wisdom to the ways of our church's liturgical past, which we fail even to consider?  Maybe we failed fully to appreciate the wisdom of nondiverse worship even when it was our prevailing practice (which was not all that long ago).  Nevertheless, as I say, it is always worth asking these questions. 

One consideration I would suggest is that when a church uses two or more of the mass forms in LSB, and it seems increasingly the case that churches are using three to five of these masses, the church is driving further down the road away from realizing its own heritage of being the praying Church (ecclesia orans).  Now why would I say such a thing?  Let me clarify that I don't mean that when a congregation uses the Common Service alongside the inventions of Hillert, and Starke, et alia, in some cases spread out throughout the year and in other cases all within the same month or several weeks, that the people are not in some way praying the liturgy, just that the degree to which the liturgy is truly prayed is necessarily lessened, and our growth in the way of being the praying Church is necessarily retarded.  This is because the people are much less likely to know, deep down, the words of the liturgy on any given Sunday.  They are less likely to know it, and they are ipso facto less likely to love it, deep down in their heart.  Sure, they enjoy it.  They have been told it is a good thing; and besides, some of the tunes in these newer masses are rather catchy, at least to women.  Yet enjoyment is not the same as the place the liturgy could have in the hearts of the faithful if it were known the way it once was.  You may think your people do know and love it just fine.  After all, you have been at this since 2006.  As I say, it is always worth reconsidering things you have come to assume. 

No, instead of embracing our heritage and nature as ecclesia orans, we have become ecclesia legens, the reading Church.  Just look around in church next time you are at Mass, and think about what is happening.  Let's say you have been using Divine Service "Setting" 2 for a few weeks, and today all of a sudden you turn to the first page of the worship handout and learn that today you are going to use Divine Service "setting" 4.  How many people will be dependant on keeping the book in their hands?  In fact, it is my contention that this is not even a matter of people being a bit confused the first Sunday that such a switch happens, but that it has simply become the unthinking custom among us, pretty much year round, to keep the book in our hands, and to be a page flipping church.  We look down at the book in our hands, replete with sloppily worded footnotes reminding us that the Church once got to use the word "Catholic," and we look down at the handout, and notice its quirky font patterns and occasional typos, or maybe its erudite commentary on the liturgy we are supposed to be busy celebrating and praying.  We don't get to look up anymore. 

There is, it is worth noting, rich diversity inherent in the Church's liturgical tradition, and I mean even within a single rite, or ritual use, such as, say, the Lutheran Common Service tradition.  This happens, first of all, with the change in propers each Sunday and feast, and it also happens with variations of musical usage.  But the modern Lutheran Church has given in to the diversity even of the texts and order of the ordinary parts of the Mass.  And a full appreciation of the diversity built into the Church's liturgy is one of the casualties of the confused sort of diversity we have come to embrace. 

Despite all of the complaints I have against the modern Roman Rite (and I have virtually nothing positive to say of it), one thing, specially relative to the present topic, is worthy of comment.  And it has especially come to light in the past week or so, as the new English translation of the Mass is being set in place throughout the English speaking parts of the Roman Catholic world.  Namely, one type of diversity you will not see in the Roman Rite (except by priests who are openly defying their own ecclesial authorities) is that of the texts of the mass itself.  After the revision of the English translation had been worked on, argued over, and finally implemented, it is simply understood that this is now the text of the prayers.  That doesn't mean it will be equally liked by everyone; in fact, it is kind of funny to read some of the reactions.  Consider one woman's reaction after experiencing the new translation for all of one week (as reported in this AP story) :

Maribeth Lynch, 51, a publisher from the Milwaukee suburb of Elm Grove, said she was "distraught" over the changes and would refuse to "learn the damn prayers."  "It's ridiculous. I've been a Catholic for 50 years, and why would they make such stupid changes? They're word changes. They're semantics," she said.  "It's confusion. All it's doing is causing confusion," she said. "You want to go to church and be confused?"
Don't get me wrong.  The new translation is, in my view, a marked improvement, and I am happy to see it in place.  Hopefully Mrs. Lynch and others like her will acclimate to it.  The reason I highlight the negative reaction to it is that it shows that one thing Catholics instinctively expect is consistency of the texts of the prayers of the Mass (It also goes to show that people -even modern Americans- are by nature traditionalist, though not always in a well informed way).  Throughout the English speaking world, a Catholic can expect to hear Mass celebrated using the same prayers, verbatim, as back in his own home parish.  On this count, the Roman Catholic Church has managed to preserve something that was once instinctively understood by Lutherans as well.  Disunity of prayers within the same church is so foolish as to be unthinkable. 

How much better would the spirit of worship be in our churches if we could pray the prayers, chants, canticles, responses, and hymns by heart.  We would be able to set the book and the printouts down.  We would be free, if we wish, to fold our hands in the classic manner, palm to palm, in the spirit of prayer and reverence.  We would be free to stop reading as though we were at a symposium or in a lecture hall, and to lift our eyes off the literature in front of us, and look up.  Hopefully, what most Lutherans would then see, and maybe rediscover, are the sacred mysteries being reverently celebrated in sacred space, around sacred furniture, and amidst sacred art.  We might actually notice the christological symbolism on the back of the celebrant's chasuble (like the Y shaped cross).  We might even see the crucifix, reminding us that it is Christ's redemption that is being lavished on us.  We would see the altar, the great symbol of Christ our Sacrifice, and ponder that right here and now, in the Holy Mass, we are blessed to look up, for Christ our Redemption is drawing near.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

why & how I respect the altar rail

The altar rail is used by many good Lutherans as a place on which to rest their hands and arms, a crutch to help them as they kneel down, a stable surface on which to lean, and in the case of children it is sometimes used as a device on which to hang their arms like a monkey. Every case is different; it does no good to stereotype or judge. The way you choose to conduct yourself, and allow your children to conduct themselves, at the altar is your decision. Seriously. It's no skin off my nose. What I would like to do, however, is share with you my own thinking on the altar rail, and why it is that I behave the way I do around it.

The altar rail is not really meant to be a handy surface for our hands or elbows.  Rather, it is a sacred object meant for sacred use.  It is an extension of the altar itself. Tradition would have us treat it as we would the altar because liturgically speaking, it is, in fact, an extension of it.  In this sense one may say that he has received communion at the altar.  When we learn to view the altar rail as an extension of the altar we begin to understand why, in former ages, the altar rail would be dressed, or we might say vested, with a special linen reserved for this purpose.  It is worth reminding ourselves also that the altar, and therefore also the altar rail, is a symbol of Christ Himself, our Sacrifice for sin.  Seeing the altar rail this way is reason enough to approach it with reverence, and refrain from touching it as much as possible.

But there is another reason, and it is related to the other reason why the altar rail was traditionally covered with a linen.  It was a way of helping to catch any particle of the Host or drop of the Precious Blood of Christ which may happen to fall in the course of the Communion. This linen is called the communion cloth, or the houseling cloth, and there is a rich history of its careful and reverent use in Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Episcopal churches. Whether your church still uses this cloth, or gave it up decades ago, or the practice was never known in your parts, this tradition points us toward another reason for the traditional reverence with which the Christian approaches and behaves around the altar rail, namely, so as not to get in the way of its function of catching and holding particles of the Blessed Sacrament until the ministers of the Eucharist can tend to them.  Perhaps you are thinking: surely it is quite rare that a particle of the sacred Host would fall onto the altar rail.  Perhaps you are even a pastor and are thinking: I have never seen this happen.  I am not here to dream up far fetched scenarios, and draw out theologies around them.  My point is that if a particle of the Host were to fall, or if a drop of the Precious Blood were to fall, it would be better for it to fall unto the altar rail than onto your sleeve, or your little nephew's neck. 

Both reverence for the altar rail as an extension of the altar and the sense of awe and care with which the Christian conducts himself around the Sacred Species impel me to behave a certain way at the altar rail.  In particular, I have trained myself to kneel down at the rail without using the rail as an aid.  I make sure that I kneel with good posture, with my hands held before me, palm to palm, fingers extended, not touching the rail.  And after I have received Holy Communion and have been dismissed, I rise, again, without touching the rail, turn, and return to my place.  I am not sure I have touched an altar rail in years, except in caring for the church as deacon at my former congregation.

Now clearly the aged and those with weak knees, etc., will have much more difficulty doing likewise.  I do think that it would be good if we fostered this sort of reverence once again for the altar rail, and assisted those who might want to kneel but may need help in doing so.

I tend to act as though that rail were not even there.  Now it is worth noting, however, that the rail also serves a very visual purpose.  Namely, it helps remind us that there is a holy and sacred space at the altar.  This is why we call it the sanctuary.  The rail sort of marks this space.  Not just anyone may approach the altar, and manhandle the Sacrament, all in the name of Christian freedom.  That's not how the holy things, the mysteries of God are given good stewardship.  Frankly, the rail also reminds us that the Holy Communion is closed to those outside of Christ's fellowship.  There is, in other words, a boundary around the altar, so to speak.  And those of us who are called to this Most Holy Sacrament are in holy communion with the sacramental Body of Christ, yet also with the ecclesial, or mystical Body of Christ (not merely with the number of those we see there on Sunday morning).  And in some churches the rail is actually curved, which helps to remind us that the fellowship of the altar extends all the way around that altar, so to speak; that is, it encompasses the goodly fellowship of the saints whom we see only with the eyes of faith.

Let all these considerations be for you food for thought as you approach the altar next Lord's Day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

why I kneel before the eucharist

Whether at my own new home congregation, or really any other church I might visit, I would not be surprised if some people see that strange guy in the next pew and wonder at his unusual practice.  They might even ask themselves questions like these, Why is he kneeling on the floor?  or, Is he Catholic?  or, Does he think he is more pious than everyone else?  or, Is he trying to draw attention to himself? or maybe, Is he worshipping bread?  These are good questions, and so I'd like to address the general concern behind them by reflecting briefly on exactly why it is that I kneel in church.

According to Lutheran doctrine, doctrine that is rock solid and stands firm against all opposition because it derives from the Word of Christ Himself, the bread of the Lord's Supper is the very Body of Christ, and the wine of the Supper is the very Blood of Christ.  To be clear, when I say "of the Lord's Supper," what I mean is the valid celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, not the documented cases of liturgical fraud perpetrated by so-called deacons and so-called vicars who think it is their place to play pastor.  Let me also clarify that the reason Lutherans traditionally add the word "very" to such a statement is to signify that when we say "body" we actually mean Christ's own real body, His true flesh and blood.  This doctrine cannot be emphasized enough in today's religious milieu, wherein Protestants, Roman Catholics, and even many Lutherans fail to appreciate what it is that Lutheran theology holds regarding the presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist. 

When, for example, Lutheran theology speaks of the consecrated bread as bread, neither is it a denial of the presence of Christ's holy Body in the Sacrament nor does it imply a so-called consubstantiation.  It is, rather, an insistence on taking every part of the Words of Christ's Testament seriously, and an understanding that there is no need to infer an annihilation of the physical elements that were placed upon the altar.  I do fear, however, that too many Lutherans have been cheated out of being trained properly, by catechesis as well as by liturgical example, in the wonderful, awesome, and comforting reality of the presence of Christ's very body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, and so in many cases are actually harmed by hearing the Lutheran teachers in their life who tend only to speak of the consecrated bread, to the exclusion of it being the real Body of Christ in our midst.

Consider for a moment the genius of Luther's Little Catechism on the what of the Eucharist:
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.
Every part of that statement is important and meaningful, yet the very core statement by which it begins, before all the commas, is true in and of itself.  It is true that the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament are sub pane et vino (as it says in the Catechism), yet if one cannot bring himself simply to say of what is in the hand of the celebrant, after the Words of Consecration have been spoken, that it is the very Body of Christ, then he has yet to appreciate the eucharistic realism of Lutheran doctrine.  That is, he has yet to appreciate the reality of what is going on in his midst.  Nor does Luther in this brief definition feel the need to resort to any of the handy formulae to which we have become so accustomed, like the ubiquitous prepositionally plentiful formula in, with, and under, though some feel it to be sine qua non to the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament.

In fact, while I don't absolutely condemn them, it is worth noting here that conceptions such as the spatial prepositions in, with, and under are understood by Luther (eg., the Great Confession of 1528) and the Lutheran Confessions (Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration VII) to be inferior to the plain identification language of Christ's own testament.  Consider, eg., this riff in the Great Confession:

Even if nothing but bread and wine were present in the Supper, and yet I tried, simply for my own satisfaction, to express the thought that Christ's body is in the bread, I still could not say anything in a more certain, simpler, and clearer way than, "Take, eat, this is my body."  For if the text read, "Take, eat, in the bread is my body," or, "With the bread is my body," or "Under the bread is my body," it would immediately begin to rain, hail, and snow a storm of fanatics crying, "You see! do you hear that?  Christ does not say, 'This bread is my body,' but, 'In the bread, or with the bread, or under the bread is my body!'"  And they would cry, "Oh, how gladly we would believe if he had said, 'This is my body;' this would have been distinct and clear.  But he actually says, 'In the bread, with the bread, under the bread, so it does not follow that his body is present."  Thus a thousand evasions and glosses would have been devised over the words "in, with, and under," no doubt with greater plausibility and less chance of stopping it than now.  (306)

Luther would have us recognize with the eyes of faith, first of all, the radical and wonderful reality that in the Blessed Sacrament the real Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are present.  His Body and Blood are present not merely when we have engaged in all of the requisite action of the sacrament, but by His Word spoken by His called and ordained Minister over the bread and wine in the eucharistic celebration.  The Words which bring about that which they declare are Christ's.  The priest and celebrant of the Sacrament is Christ.  So no, it is not the celebrant's act of speaking the words that makes the Sacrament, nor his faith, nor our faith, but Christ's own testament and Word, which He declares in our midst through the mouth of His servant, and by that Word and testament (made effective like all testaments must be, ie., by the death of the one who gave it), His real flesh and blood are present, right there on the altar.

Now before proceeding, let me emphasize that the stark terms by which I describe the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament are intentional and chosen with due consideration.  But does this not mean that the Lutherans believe in a sort of cannibalism?  No.  For that notion implies a mode of Christ's presence by which He is present in a circumscribed manner, and is gradually eaten up, part after part (as though one person takes this part of Christ's arm, and the next takes His little finger, etc.).  Yet we have always taught, with Thomas Aquinas and all of churchly tradition, that Christ's holy Body is given out, in each particle, to the first as to the millionth.  He gives His all to each one.  While He is consumed by the communicant, yet His presence, like the burning bush of old, is never consumed.  As Luther said to Zwingli at Marburg in 1529, "God is above all mathematics."  Or as we confess in the great seventeenth century hymn by Johann Franck:
Human reason, though it ponder,
Cannot fathom this great wonder
That Christ's Body e'er remaineth
Though it countless souls sustaineth
And yet we need not shy away from realistic terminology in order to protect ourselves from the accusations of a capernaitic or cannibalistic eating.  These charges are baseless, and we need not buy into their premise.  So Luther, for example, in his Great Confession of 1528, is bold to assert that the communicant tears Christ's Body with teeth and tongue:
Therefore, it is entirely correct to say, if one points to the bread, “This is Christ’s body,” and whoever sees the bread sees Christ’s body, as John says that he saw the Holy Spirit when he saw the dove, as we have heard. Thus also it is correct to say, “He who takes hold of this bread, takes hold of Christ’s body; and he who eats this bread, eats Christ’s body; he who crushes this bread with teeth or tongue, crushes with teeth or tongue the body of Christ.” And yet it remains absolutely true that no one sees or grasps or eats or chews Christ’s body in the way he visibly sees and chews any other flesh. What one does to the bread is rightly and properly attributed to the body of Christ by virtue of the sacramental union.
Luther did not invent this realism; we see great precedent for it.  First, of course, I would argue that we have Christ's own preaching, given to us by the beloved disciple, in his sixth chapter, where Jesus is bold to use an earthy, realistic verb like trogein, which gives the picture of chewing and masticating.  I bring this up, knowing that John six, and its place in a theology of the eucharist, is much controverted among Lutherans, and will be dismissed out of hand by many.  We also have a long tradition of theological and devotional testimony, stretching from the early church through the medieval age.  Take, for example, Berengar's often forgotten first confession of 1059, which speaks of the body of Christ being chewed by the teeth of the faithful.  Or take these words of St. John Chrysostom from the fourth century:

Wherefore this also Christ hath done, to lead us to a closer friendship, and to show his love for us; he hath given to those who desire him not only to see him, but even to touch, and eat him, and fix their teeth in his flesh, and to embrace him, and satisfy all their love.  (quoted in Alvin F. Kimel's article, "Eating Christ", Pro Ecclesia Vol. XIII, no.1)

Or take this prayer to the eucharistic Lord, ie, the Sacred Species after the consecration:

Hail forever, most holy flesh of Christ, before all else and above all else the highest sweetness!  Hail forever, heavenly drink, before all else and above all else the highest sweetness!  (a medieval prayer, from the Sarum Missal, quoted in Kimel's article as above)

And despite how some mistakenly use a passage in the Formula of Concord as a statement against the stark realism of Luther's Great Confession as being dangerously capernaitic, we must make clear that the Formula of Concord actually perpetuates this realism by its full endorsement of the Great Confession:
Now, as regards the various imaginary reasons and futile counter-arguments of the Sacramentarians concerning the essential and natural attributes of a human body, concerning the ascension of Christ, concerning His departure from this world, and such like, inasmuch as these have one and all been refuted thoroughly and in detail, from God's Word, by Dr. Luther in his controversial writings: Against the Heavenly Prophets, That These Words "This Is My Body" Still Stand Firm, likewise in his Large and Small Confession Concerning the Holy Supper, and in other of his writings, and inasmuch as since his death nothing new has been advanced by the factious spirits, we would for the sake of brevity have the Christian reader directed to them and have referred to them. etc.
Many Lutherans, unfortunately, give in to the notion that Luther was guilty of a crass capernaitic understanding, and so they come up with ways to soften his eucharistic realism, claiming, for example, that we may speak of Christ's body in the Sacrament but not His flesh, or that it is in no way accurate to speak of Christ being physically present, but rather that He is substantially present.  While a term like physical can be misleading, if it is not qualified by pointing out that Christ's presence in the Supper is not of the same local, or circumscribed mode as is my body in this room right now, nevertheless, using such a term as physical not only cannot be ruled out per se, but can actually be helpful, especially over against the protestant gnostic worldview that is all around us today.  Further, while one can certainly argue that the term substance is accurate and even preferable, if properly understood, it too can be misleading, for it can actually lead to a softening of the reality of Christ's presence in the minds of our people. 

As Dr. John Stephenson puts it in his article, "Reflections on the Appropriate Vessels for Consecrating and Distributing the Precious Blood of Christ" (LOGIA, January 1995),

Luther's consistent testimony that not the mere idea or substance of Christ's body but rather the "true, natural Body" itself is present in the Eucharist prompts one to deem it appropriate to label the real presence a "physical" presence, while making the qualification that the body naturally present is present in the definitive and not in the circumscriptive mode.
I find it unfortunate that popular LC-MS publications give in to just the sort of softened language which sets up, intentionally or not, a distancing from the realism of Luther's language.  Take, for example, the 2010 CPH book, Lutheranism 101, which out of an admirable desire to clarify matters, ends up awkwardly distancing its position from language used by the Blessed Reformer, and taken over into the Confessions.  On page 150 we read:

Yikes! Are Lutherans Cannibals?

Because Lutherans teach that Jesus is really present with his body and blood, they have been accused of cannibalism.  Rest easy; it isn't true.  A cannibal eats physical flesh with his teeth.  While we teach that Jesus is bodily present, we do not teach that He is physically present.  Things are physical when they take up space; we believe that Jesus is really present with His body and blood but in a mode that doesn't take up space.  Can He do that? Yes!
It is all very admirable what the writer is here trying to do, but he ends up twisting himself in a knot to stay clear of the capernaitic position.  Luther's realism is not capernaitic, and his contemporary opponents knew this. So all this twisting, in which, mind you, the writer unfortunately does a lot of relying on the spatial preposition "with" (an over-use of which is suspiciously Philippist) ends up unnecessarily leading us away from good earthy realist terms like flesh

Even Pope Paul VI, a bona fide Thomist, in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei, says that in the Sacrament:

Christ, whole and entire, in His physical 'reality' is bodily present, although not in the same way that bodies are present in a given place.
The reality, then, is that in the Holy Mass, ie., in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are present on the altar, on the paten, in the chalice, and in the pastor's hand.  And as you approach the altar, He is there waiting to be joined with you in this great and mysterious way.  Already, while you wait for the usher to get to your pew, there are people, your brothers and sisters in Christ, who are going back to their pew, bearing in their bodies the Eucharistic Lord.  And then you get to the altar, and kneel down.  The pastor walks toward you.  His thoughts might be on what is doing.  They might momentarily stray to things he sees around him, or what he said in the pulpit, or what he will do later.  Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Himself, in His sacred Body, is in the pastor's hand, and is being placed on your tongue.  The real and precious Blood of Jesus is then given to you.  Even as you get up, and walk back to your pew, He abides with you.  In those moments you, and those around you, are veritable tabernacles of the presence of Christ in the venerable Eucharist.  What could this be but holy ground?

Let us also note why it is that Christ makes Himself present in the Holy Supper.  He does so not to be worshipped.  In fact, He knows full well that in the Sacrament of the Altar He will be disregarded, even abused, by many in this world.  He makes Himself present precisely for us.  He became a man for us men and for our salvation.  The same incarnational reality obtains in the Holy Supper.  He comes to us in the Eucharist to bring to us that salvation which He earned in His bitter passion.  He wants to deliver and serve it to us personally.  In uniting Himself to the communicant in the Holy Supper, the baptized Christian finds the high point of his life in this world, and realizes his true identity as one whose soul is espoused to Christ.  In that gift, that self-giving, Christ promises the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of utter forgiveness leaves us with pure and true life itself, life in its fullness, and thus salvation.  The unbeliever who receives this awesome and holy Presence, on the other hand, is confirmed in his unbelief; he is totally unprepared for such a gift, and can only be harmed by it.

Christ nowhere demands to be adored and worshipped in the Eucharist.  It is not as though He has said, "At what time ye hear the sound of the sanctus bells, ye fall down and worship My presence the Blessed Sacrament."  Those who make this point are quite right.  He doesn't make such a demand.  Our Christian brethren of past ages, and even today in other lands, however, faced with the awesome reality of the salvific gift of Christ's holy Body and precious Blood in the Sacrament, have preferred to approach the matter of their posture or comportment from a different perspective, namely, by the simple thought, Why would I not fall to my knees and adore Him here, where He has promised to be present?

And so, in traditional fashion, some of us will, even in twenty first century America, kneel down during the consecration, and for the entirety of the Communion.  It is a good way to prepare oneself in prayer.  It is a good way to remind oneself of what is happening.  It is a good way to thank Him afterward.  And it is a good witness. 

In case anyone is tempted to think of this as an aping after Roman Catholic practice, let us set the record straight.  Matters are not nearly so clear cut and easy to divide into the neat categories too many of us were taught by our teachers.  On the one hand, Eucharistic adoration, though you may not see it much among your friends or in your own congregation, is truly at home in the Lutheran tradition.  And on the other hand, the common Lutheran notions of the ritualism and reverence to a fault that will be found in Roman Catholic churches are really cute, but sadly naive.  There are many Roman Catholic parishes today, and in some places virtually whole dioceses, where Roman Catholics are ridiculed by other Roman Catholics for daring to genuflect or kneel before the eucharist.  They are mocked as "cookie worshippers."  In terms of actual Catholicism on the ground (instead of, say, rumors, folklore, or centuries' old texts) what we see is that in many places Catholics (including some pastors and bishops) are repulsed and embarrased by traditionalist Catholics in a way reminiscent of the attitude of the Philippists of old, for whom adoration of the eucharist was artolatreia - bread worship.  It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.  So no, I am not copying the Roman Catholics when I kneel; rather, too many Roman catholics have become Philippist in the brave new post-conciliar age.  I am daring not to go with them.

What is the Christian thing to do with the weaker brethren in your midst?  We all know the answer to this.  We are patient with them.  We make allowances for them.  Faced with the true presence of the Creator of all things, Who comes to me in the holy Eucharist, my heart and knees fail me.  They are too weak to stand before Him.  I am bold to approach, for He invites me.  But I do so with awe and wonder.  I cannot not kneel.  And so now you know, dear friends, my reasons.  Bear with me, even as we bear one another's burdens.

Friday, November 4, 2011

looking for help

In my spare time, and with my presently limited resources, I have been searching for some texts, with no luck so far.  So I thought I would throw this out there in case anyone might have an answer, or a good lead. 

The Small Catechism of Martin Luther, as it has come down to us, includes a couple of sections which for various reasons are not included in the Small Catechism as it was published in the Book of Concord, and therefore I have found it very difficult to find the Latin texts of those parts.  They are the following:

1. The three questions on The Office of the Keys:
What is the Office of the Keys?
Where is this written?
What do you believe according to these words?
2. The Christian Questions With Their Answers (for those who intend to go to the Sacrament)

Obviously, these texts in English come down to our use in the Missouri Synod most directly from their German antecedents.  My hypothesis is that both of them also were in Latin use in the 16th and 17th centuries.  And I want to find them.  If anyone can help, I would be grateful.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mad Men Picnic

I've been watching Mad Men via NetFlix, and I had to laugh at what happens at the end of this scene.  Notice with what care they handle their trash.  No wonder America in those days had to trot out the Indian with the tear in his eye.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

message from another world

Perhaps this weekend I'll be able to get back to a bit of blog writing.  But for now I thought I'd share something I found at work.  Lakefront Brewery's new warehouse and distribution facility is "new" to us, but had a former life.  It used to be the Wilke Dairy Company.  We are rehabbing it for our purposes.  I still have memories of drinking Wilke milk as a child.  Anyway, among the relics of the past is the Wilke packaging for butter by the pound.  And when you open up one of the ends, on the inside flap you find the following:

This butter is doubly protected, by parchment and by a paraffined carton, to insure its reaching your table with all the original flavor and quality.  BE  SURE  TO  KEEP  IT  IN  BOTH  UNTIL  SERVED

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lakefront 88: Bridge Burner

The Traditional Lutheran View of Mary's Virginity

For the past few weeks Dr. Kenneth Wieting at Luther Memorial Chapel, in Shorewood, Wisconsin, has been teaching a class on the Epistle of St. James. It has been a wonderfully insightful study, and I have appreciated it very much. He very insistently teaches, however, that the James who penned this epistle is a brother of Jesus in the literal, narrow, modern, Western sense of brother, ie., that he and Jesus both issued from Mary's womb. The notion that Mary had only one Child, and remained a virgin all her life is, to Dr. Wieting, an unbiblical mariology that arises only several centuries later. I respectfully disagree, and would offer an alternative view.

In differing from the commonly accepted notion that Jesus had maternal siblings, I am not merely diverging from this or that eminent theologian, like David Scaer, but also from virtually all of modern Biblical scholarship. And I think that is actually a good note on which to begin this discussion. That is, despite the fact that the advocates of the view that Mary had other children base their argument upon a conviction that the New Testament and the earliest centuries of Christianity are on their side (a notion which is debatable), the first point which needs to be made is that their view is the modern one, and goes against millennia of churchly tradition.

My conviction is that the Blessed Virgin Mary was mother to precisely One, and that He displayed His divine nature even in the fetal stage of His earthly sojourn by preserving His mother's virginity. I did not come to this conviction first by exegetical study, nor by ante-nicene historical findings, nor by the theological value of such ideas (though something could be said in all three of these areas), but by the overwhelming weight of the Church's tradition. In view of the thoughtful and rigorously theological tradition of churchly devotion, confession, preaching, and discourse, and of the respect given to such tradition by the Lutheran Confessions, the modern denial of Mary's perpetual virginity would certainly strike both those who penned and those who signed the Lutheran Confessions as a "new" doctrine, ie, that against which the Lutheran Symbols firmly take their stand. 

To those who insist, out of an admirable desire to rest on scripture alone, that they will believe it only when they see it, ie, that they will accept the perpetual virginity of Mary only when shown explicit references to it in sacred scripture, I would introduce an idea that will seem at first ridiculous.  Namely, the true value of approaching the life of Mary in a way in keeping with the evangelical tradition of the Church is that one finds the opposite to the be the case, ie, the traditionalist Lutheran begins to see it in scripture (the absence of explicit proof texts notwithstanding) when he approaches the scripture with this belief.  You will, in fact, to turn a phrase on its head, see it when you believe it.  And on this count I do not merely have in mind a few isolated verses, which I choose to read in a traditional manner, though of course such texts are worth pondering (such as Ezekiel 44), but an extended pattern, stretching from the Old Testament into the New; a pattern, moreover, with deeply christological and ecclesial dimensions.

Let us establish first, for the record, that the perpetual virginity of Mary is not merely the view of a few bishops of the fourth century, nor merely the prevailing view of the Medieval Church, nor merely a characteristic aspect of Roman Catholic mariology, but is undeniably the traditional and universal view of the Lutheran fathers, beginning with Luther and the sixteenth century divines and continuing through every succeeding epoch into the twentieth century.  In the Latin edition of the Lutheran Book of Concord, published in 1584, we have the following Catholic confession of the Evangelical Church:
That the Son became man in this manner, that He was conceived, without the cooperation of man, by the Holy Ghost, and was born of the pure, holy and always Virgin Mary.
That term "always" is not in the German text of this confession, as the deniers of Mary's perpetual virginity are quick to point out.  Nevertheless, it is clearly part of the official Latin edition of the Book of Concord, and it received no objection when it was published, no objection in the sixteenth century, no objection until pretty much our own times.  Moreover, it is in no way unfair to Luther's view.  We need not belabor this blog post with many quotations, for Luther's firm stand on Mary's virginity before, during, and after the birth of the Christ is well established.  We may consult his comments in the Personal Prayer Book, for example, or his Christmas preaching, for good material on this topic.

Also in the Book of Concord, I hasten to add, and in the indisputably authoritative German text, is a christological passage in the Formula of Concord which in one fell swoop confesses both Christ's birth in clauso utero and Mary's perpetual virginity.  I refer to the following:
On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed Virgin, bore not a mere man, but, as the angel testifies, such a man as is truly the Son of the most high God, who showed His divine majesty even in His mother's womb, inasmuch as He was born of a virgin, with her virginity inviolate.  Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin.
First, this clearly confesses the rather amazing paradox that, though Christ had a true physical birth, He nevertheless does not open His mother's womb.  He passes through the birth canal much the way He would enter the closed room years later after His resurrection.  This, in itself, I would argue, has implications for the lifelong virginity of His mother.  Second, this passage also testifies to the perpetual virginity, by means of the grammar which does not come across well in translation, which however has proven to be obvious to native German speaking theologians, even some who had no bias toward the perpetual virginity, like Herman Sasse. 

My point in making these references to the Lutheran Confessions, let me make clear, is not to impugn the Confessional loyalty of those today who do not hold to the perpetual virginity of Mary, only to establish the point that may be surprising to some, and may need to be reemphasized to others, that Mary's perpetual virginity is not a notion held by a few Lutherans here and there in the sixteenth century, but had and has a firm part in Lutheran tradition.  When did it become such a minority view?  Not until very recent times.  I would suggest that in the Missouri Synod world, it may have been the switch to seminary theological study taking place in English (which may vindicate Loehe's warning against moving away from teaching theology in German).

What the Lutherans of the theologically rigorous age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, and the arguably even purer theology of Luther, held regarding Mary, was a tradition preserved for them by the ages which came before.  While we could show ample evidence of the Church's stand on Mary's perpetual virginity for the thousand years which preceded Luther (and I have done so at this blog in the past), suffice to say that this is not in dispute.  What is claimed by many of the deniers of Mary's lifelong virginity, rather, is that it was introduced only after Mary's life, indeed several centuries later, for that is when we begin to see open and explicit reference to it.

When we examine those early explicit references to Mary's perpetual virginity (third and fourth century), however, a couple of things are worth noting.  One is the deafening lack of objection to them.  They seem to cause no scandal at all.  There are a few scattered voices in the Early Church opposed Mary's perpetual virginity; we see names like Tertullian and Helvidius, but no one of unblemished orthodoxy.  The other noteworthy thing about the first plain references to Mary's perpetual virginity is that they actually seem to imply that they are merely upholding already established Church teaching.  Take, for example, the case of Origen in the third century (and let us emphasize that means the 200s-he died in 253).  Origin writes in his Commnetary on John:
There is no child of Mary except Jesus, according to the opinion of those who think correctly about her.
Origen here is making reference not only to Mary's perpetual virginity, but also to the fact that this was the commonly accepted view of his day.  That in turn strongly implies that it predates his age, that it was handed to his generation by the ones that went before.  In fact, Origen's phrase "think correctly" likely signifies the doctrine of the Church.

Also noteworthy is the second century claims of the Protoevangelium of James.  This work, of course, was not brought into the canon of scripture.  That is not surprising, since it does not major in what is vital to salvation, and since, frankly, it is pseudepigraphal.  Nevertheless, it is an important witness for two reasons, 1. its antiquity, and 2. the fact that what it tells us on this topic was not controverted or condemned.  In other words, it is representative of the belief of the early second century (it was written as early as A.D. 120), and therefore also implies a connection with the immediately preceding age, which takes us to the first century, and the lifetime of the Beloved Disciple, who was entrusted by Christ with the care of His mother, and who tradition tells us took her to live out the remainder of her life in Ephesus.  While the Protoevangelium of James does not explicitly speak of Mary remaining a virgin till the end of her life, it does imply it by its interpretation of the "brothers of the Lord" as sons of Joseph before his marriage to Mary.  In fact, Johannes Quasten in his Patrology claims of this document:
The principal aim of the whole writing is to prove the perpetual and inviolate virginity of Mary before, in, and after the birth of Christ.
So what is a "brother" in the ancient Greek world?  The word for "brother" in Greek, adelphos, is a term which often means much more than just a literal son of the same mother.  Knowledge of classical Greek literature, or even just reference to Liddell & Scott, shows us that adelphos can easily be a reference to a "near kinsman."  Unfortunately, seminarians and theologians too often rely on the biased definitions and word studies of theological lexicons. 

Of course there is more to say on this topic, but I must get up for work in the morning, so I will have to continue this in the next day or two.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It's going in my chart.

I have the habit of making little notes to myself when I hear or see something about which I might want to read or write or think more later.   This morning after Mass Ruth admitted to me that she gets curious about what I write in my little notes.  And so of course that reminded me of the episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer plays a doctor, and gets the idea to take a sample of a man's skin with his new meat slicer.  So of course I must share a clip of it here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bridge Burner

It is wonderful to be working for a local Milwaukee company whose products I have long enjoyed and loved.  And one of the perks, my discount on beer, has enabled me to try some of the beers I have not had before now.  My favorite beer for many years has been Lakefront's East Side Dark, and it is still my regular choice.  The beer I would like to highlight for you here today, however, is so good there might now be a tie for my favorite beer.  I'm referring to Bridge Burner.  Billed as a "special reserve ale," it is essentially a barley wine. 

I recommend using a large brandy snifter for this brew.  It comes in a 22 oz. bottle, and merits being appreciated slowly, perhaps with a good theological or literary text in hand.  And when you pour it into that glass, you will see a dark red opaque beer, with a strong head.  It's earthy nose is complex, and will offer something different each time you inhale.  It has both a prominent hop flavor, and a good maltiness.  It is a strong beer, at 8% alcohol, and it is worth all 8%.

Why is it called Bridge Burner?  The name is a reference to the Milwaukee Bridge War of 1845, an important, if no longer very well known, moment in Milwaukee history.  For those of you unfamiliar, before Milwaukee officially became a city, it was three distinct settlements, and two of them, Kilbourntown and Juneautown, named after their founders Solomon Juneau and Byron Kilbourn, were rivals.  They were divided from each other by the Milwaukee River, and the rivalry culminated in the disputes over whether and how to build the bridges over the river, thus connecting the towns.  This dispute came to a heated head with the bridge burning.  The aftermath, however, was real man to man talk, and the creation of the great city of Milwaukee.  The name is an homage to the heritage of the city of which Lakefront is proud to be a part, and also a reminder that this beer makes a strong statement, just like the bridge burners were willing to make in the civic travail which culminated in the birth of the city.

There is a good variety of Bridge Burner reviewers on Youtube.  I will share some of them here, beginning with this one:

Traditional Lutheran Prayer

There is a general failure in modern American Confessional Lutheranism to use Martin Luther's Small Catechism nearly as fully or thoroughly or consistently, in teaching and in life, as it should be used. The good news about the state of Lutheran catechesis and spirituality today, conventional wisdom against rote forms notwithstanding, is that Luther's Small Catechism remains the staple, the core and foundation, for the catechization of youth. This good news means that there is hope for the richness of the catechism to be rediscovered and exploited in each generation. So it is well worth examining the ways in which we might be missing out on appreciating the Catechism more fully.

One such area of neglect is the prayer life the Catechism would have us know and live. The Catechism amounts to a couple dozen pages, and yet latter day Lutheranism has torn faith from life, doctrine from practice, to such a degree that many catechumens are made to spend more time with the modern explanations of the catechism than with the prayers that are contained in the catechism text itself. We shall set aside for now the fact that the "explanations" of the Catechism bring with them additional problems, such as the fact that they teach Lutherans the unfortunate practice of turning the sacred scriptures into atomized, versified, prooftexts. More relevant to the present discussion is that one can find many a parish where children are required to regurgitate answers from the explanation, and then everyone goes downstairs where they gather around the pot luck dinner, and instead of the prayers of the Catechism, all join in with a table prayer that comes from Moravian Pietism, a prayer which in no way merits the place it has been given in Lutheran homes. I can only conclude that if this prayer were introduced today, the average Confessional Lutheran with his head screwed on properly would immediately reject its rhymey cuteness as unfit for regular use in the Lutheran home.

Here is what Luther instructs in the Catechism:
How the Head of the Family Should Teach His Household To Ask a Blessing and Return Thanks

Asking a Blessing

The children and members of the household shall go to the table reverently, fold their hands, and say:

The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord, and Thou givest them their meat in due season; Thou openest Thine hand and fillest all things living with plenteousness.

Note: To fill all things living with plenteousness means that all living things receive so much to eat that they are on this account joyful and of good cheer, for care and avarice hinder such satisfaction.

Then shall be said the Lord’s Prayer and the following:

Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these Thy gifts which we receive from Thy bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Returning Thanks

Also, after eating, they shall, in like manner, reverently and with folded hands say:

Oh, give thanks unto the LORD, For he is gracious, and his mercy endureth forever, who giveth food to all flesh; who giveth fodder unto the cattle, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon him. He hath no pleasure in the strength of an horse. Neither delighteth he in any man’s legs. But the LORD’s delight is in them that fear him, and put their trust in his mercy.

Then shall be said the Lord’s Prayer, and the following:

We thank Thee, Lord God, Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, for all Thy benefits, Who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.
Let us note, first, that much of the Catechism is spent explaining the Our Father in its nine parts (the introductory address, the seven petitions, and the concluding Amen). This Luther does so that we may fruitfully use this prayer in our daily lives. Then, in the section on daily prayers, he actually gives us examples of the Our Father being used in various contexts. So we must note well, first of all, that the Catechism would have us pray the Lord's Prayer, both before and after the meal. For this, the model Christian prayer, is so rich that it can be employed in virtually every circumstance in life.

Second, though many Lutherans are unfortunately taught to look down upon the very concept and appropriateness of monastic life, we should recognize that one of its geniuses is that it has given us this very pattern of prayer. In monastic communities of many different orders, even today, the practice is to pray the Our Father along with a prayer very much like the "Lord God, Heavenly Father" above, and the "We thank Thee," etc. after the meal. These prayers would be preceded by what is most properly called an antiphon. We may call it an antiphon even though we do not necessarily repeat it after the prayer. The antiphon is usually a portion from the Psalms, and monastic practice has many of these antiphons, each appropriate for a different time of year. In traditional monastic practice these antiphons are followed by the Gloria Patri.

There would be nothing wrong , in principle, with a Lutheran family from time to time making use of a variety of seasonal antiphons. While at first such an idea may seem like it would cause confusion or a jarring unpredictability at the table, this need not be if the antiphon is given by the head of the house.

The antiphon "The eyes of all,"etc., is from Psalm 145. And the antiphon "Oh, give thanks unto the Lord,"etc., is from Psalm 136 and Psalm 147.  Both are wonderfully fitting, of course, for year round use.

It is also worth noting that it is often the case that this whole pattern, in practice, is traditionally prayed only after the Sign of the Holy Cross is made with the Trinitarian Invocation. Even though this is not explicitly called for in the Catechism, it might very well be presumed as a near universal Catholic practice in traditional Christian homes.

My own recommendation is to pray the Invocation, with the Sign of the Cross, and then the whole pattern of prayer as above, and then, again, the Invocation. And when time is pressing, or for some other reason a shorter form is desired, I suggest saying the Invocation, followed by the prayer, "Lord God, Heavenly Father."

The other circumstance for which the Catechism gives us certain prayers, or rather a certain pattern of prayer, is at the very beginning of the day, and then the very ending of the day. As Luther, the Blessed Reformer of the Church, instructs us:
How the Head of the Family Should Teach His Household To Bless Themselves in the Morning and in the Evening

Morning Prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

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

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

If you choose, you may also say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee that Thou wouldst keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Then go joyfully to your work, singing a hymn, like that of the Ten Commandments, or whatever your devotion may suggest.

Evening Prayer

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

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

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day; and I pray Thee that Thou wouldst forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.
The pattern we are given for beginning and ending the day is, like the table prayers, inspired by Luther's own monastic training. What he did in this case was not so much take exactly what was done in the monastery, but, rather, the spirit or essence of the canonical hours, and made of it what might be loosely called a "short breviary" for the common Christian.

As we look more closely, we see, first, the Sign of the Holy Cross. This brings the Christian back to the promises of Holy Baptism. It reminds him, in good days and bad, that he belongs to Jesus, by Whose death we have life. It reminds him that the whole of his life is patterned after the cross of Christ, in which the love of the Triune God is revealed.

Second, we see that we are instructed to say the Creed, that is, the Apostles' Creed, and the Our Father. Luther has no need to spell out these prayers here because they are so fundamental, they enjoy such an assumed part of the Christian life, that the Christian family, including the small children, will have no trouble learning them by heart if only they pray them regularly.

After this, Luther suggests a prayer which is very similar to one which comes right out of monastic usage. Luther only slightly modified it. And the corresponding prayer at the end of the day Luther composed, as a beautiful parallel to the one in the morning. As Dorothea Wendebourg writes in the Summer 2005 issue of Lutheran Quarterly ("Luther on Monasticism" 149),
The original prayer came from a Latin collection of late medieval texts and spiritual instructions by the Dutchman Johannes Mauburnus (d. 1501/02). Here, too, it was to be combined with other liturgical elements, of which Luther kept only the first, an invocation of the Trinity together with the sign of the cross (in Mauburnus the invocation was christological, followed by the above mentioned prayer, a petition to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her blessing, a psalm of praise and a hymn to the Virgin which referred to her as the source of our salvation and our praise). In Luther's version the prayer is in German, therefore shorter and stylistically more simple than the original, but in other respects more specific. E.g., Luther gives thanks for "protection during the night from all perils and dangers" (where Mauburnus has only a general thanksgiving for protection at night), he asks for protection from "all sin and evil, that my entire life and work may please thee" (where Mauburnus asks that "my service [servitus] may be pleasing to thee"). Luther also added a formula of commitment which entrusts one's whole life to God, and a plea for protection by God's guardian angel.
Finally, Luther recommends a hymn in the morning. And at night (a time which calls for the most simple and regular prayer) he simply calls upon the baptized Christian to take his rest with a cheered heart, a theme reminiscent of the office of Compline. Thus we see, to reiterate, a pattern which suggests itself as being a sort of "short breviary" for the Christian.

Based upon all of the above, I would conclude with two thoughts.

1. On the one hand, with such a rich tradition of prayer, given to us in the Catechism itself, we cheat ourselves and our children if we leave it behind us and embrace instead prayers which come to us from lesser traditions, or the mere improvised prayers from the heart.

2. On the other hand, with the genius of such a beautiful and profound richness in simplicity, which we have in these prayer forms, which, again, we might call a brilliantly distilled "short breviary," it is unnecessary and unwise, I suggest, to give people the impression (as I have seen happen, e.g., through the well intentioned enthusiasm for modern compilations like Treasury of Daily Prayer) that what they need for a healthy prayer life is to buy new books, even books with all sorts of wonderful traditional material. I say this as someone who has books of his own, and who is happy to sell them. But we ought never teach prayer in such a way as to give people the impression, either directly or indirectly, that to have a rich prayer life they need to buy more books. We truly have everything needful in those simple yet endlessly rich forms that we were taught as children, or should have been taught. The rest, for the common Christian layman, is icing on the cake.

I hasten to add that school children ought to be taught the Latin forms of all of these prayers as well. They are not germane to the present discussion, but you will find them here when you least expect it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Celebrate Octoberfest by Buying a Book

Get 15% off anything at, from now through 23 September. Enter this code: OCTOBERFEST305

Tell your friends.