Sunday, May 15, 2011

reflecting on prayer

Today after Mass, at the "Bible Study" hour, a new study on prayer was begun.  It might go several weeks, today was just a sort of intro.  It's a great topic, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the class (though I might have to miss next week in favor of a nephew's Confirmation at another parish).  The class is being taught by the seminarian who is assigned for the year to serve in the field at this particular church (the LCMS Lutherans confusingly use the term "vicar" for the one experiencing this special year of training, a term which in other parts of the world is a reference to one who is already a parish priest).  Anyway, the gentleman leading this class, Rev. Seminarist Christopher Stout, is doing a fine job, and didn't need me raising my hand every time I had a thought.  Therefore, I thought I might share one or two of those thoughts here instead. 

We began by walking through some of what Luther says in the Large Catechism in the section on the Lord's Prayer.  One of the first points raised was the fact that there is a certain order to the Catechism, and that this order has meaning.  It is deliberate.  It reflects the shape of the Christian life.  Of course I agree with this observation.  But it is worth dwelling on the genius of this order for a moment.  I recall that there is, or was some time back, an edition of the Catechism put out by the WELS, the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, in which the order was rearranged.  I don't have it in front of me, but my memory is suggesting to me that it may have been for a curriculum of some sort.  Anyway, I think in that arrangement the section on Baptism came first, the logic being that it is reflective of the life of the Christian.  And there is an interesting argument one could make for such an order.  It does have its own natural shape and logic.  The truth remains, however, that the order handed down to us in the Catechism is true to the shape of the Christian life.  The difference is determined by whether one insists on focusing on the chronological shape of life.  For there is another way, the truer and more essential way, to reflect the shape of Christian life, namely, to focus on the theological shape.  Thus we see that the Law must first show us the standard, and show us our sin.  Then we are ready for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so clearly articulated in the Apostles' Creed, and are thereby led into faithful prayer, and so on. 

I must say, too, that this traditional order (Decalogue-Creed-Our Father-Baptism-Confession-Eucharist) is also a most ingenious reflection of the liturgical order of things, or shall we say, the liturgical shape of the Christian life is reflective and patterned by the theological shape.  First, I think it is helpful to consider the first three parts apart from the second set of three parts. The Decalogue is there in part to help us prepare for Confession. That is one of the chief liturgical purposes of that first part of the Catechism. For we are told in the fifth part to consider the Ten Commandments. They help us make a good confession. The Creed helps train us in what it means to confess the faith. And the Our Father is our school of prayer. It teaches us how to pray. All three of these are liturgical aspects of the Christian life in general, and at the same time they are aspects of the liturgy in particular, and they tend to follow in that order. After the Catechism has given us this type of training, it has thus prepared us for the sacraments themselves-the second set of three parts. (We might even say that in a sense, dividing the Catechism into these two parts is sort of like the dividing it between the Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament.)  The first of those sacraments, of course, is the mystery of Baptism. And the Baptized Christian goes to Confession (as Luther said, "When I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian"), for he longs to return to the grace of Baptism, and hear ever anew the promise of Baptism, the gospel of Baptism, the absolution of Baptism. Going to Confession often is living one's life immersed in the promises of Baptism.  And then, the other way to look at Confession (and the genius of its placement in the Catechism) is that it prepares us for, and drives us to, the holy Eucharist.

The point also came up, from Luther's text, that one of the reasons we should pray is the command to do so.  And the reason for this command is that God knows that we need it.  It is a loving command.  For we have much trouble in this life, and prayer is a great aid.  As Mr. Stout reminded us, already under the second commandment, Luther tells us that one of the reasons to call upon God, or His name, is "in every trouble."  This reminds me of something in the Christian Questions with Their Answers, appended to some editions of the Small Catechism, which whether or not they were composed by Luther, are certainly reflective of arguments he makes in the Large Catechism.  The Christian Questions tell us that one of the reasons to go to the Sacrament of the Altar often is that we are, after all, still in the world, in which there will be no lack of sin and trouble.  Now I am not attempting to imply that the blessings of prayer are equal to the Blessed Sacrament.  One of the purposes of our life of prayer, in fact, is to drive us to the Eucharist.  I am only saying that it is interesting that one of the considerations that should impel us to both is the trouble with which we are surrounded in this world, not to mention the attacks from our own flesh, and the multifaceted assaults of the devil. 

Prayer is commanded.  So is the Sacrament of the Altar.  Yet these are not matters of the law, so to speak.  In the case of the former, we are urged to see our relationship with God the Father in heaven the way He sees it, namely, as the relationship between a loving and gracious father and his beloved and trusting children.  And in the case of the latter, Christ our dear Lord would have us united with Him in a mystical and sacramental communion, as a bride is united with her loving spouse.  He thereby shares with us Himself, and all that this means to the Baptized Christian, namely, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.


Josh Schroeder said...

If the Liturgy starts with the Invocation, would that not fall best under Holy Baptism? I wonder if Baptism would indeed come first using a liturgical ordering of the Chief Parts.

I'm just thinking out loud.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

You're right, Dcn Josh, that the Invocation brings us back to our Baptism. In fact, so does the entire preparatory service of confession. Yet it is in another sense (than the literally chronological) that I meant that the Catechism follows liturgical pattern or shape. I am driving at the liturgical purpose of the Catechism. I think I might elaborate this point in the post itself. Thanks for your comment. This is what a good theological conversation of for.