Saturday, April 30, 2011

theology quote of the day

The novel Christian reality is this: Christ's Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice.  All history until Christ has been a fruitless search for this joy.  That is why the Christian liturgy-Eucharist-is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection, Mysterium Paschae.  As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection.  To speak of the Eucharist as the community meal is to cheapen it, for its price was the death of Christ.  And as for the joy it heralds, it presupposes that we have entered into this mystery of death.  Eucharist is ordered to eschatology, and hence it is at the heart of the theology of the Cross.
-Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, p. 65-

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Latinist Quote of the Day

     It may be worth looking at how the English language developed, once the Romans left Britain to be conquered by the Angles and Saxons.
     The language they brought with them, Anglo-Saxon, itself borrowed lots of words from Latin, either directly or via French.  And then, when the Normans came, their brand of French imported even more Latinate words.  Indeed over the centuries English was mutilated and diluted by so many different languages that its incorporation of Latin was random and chaotic.
     So, to say you need to understand Latin to understand English, as some people do say, is as crazy as suggesting that you need to understand Anglo-Saxon, German, and Norman French to understand English.  Knowing all those languages would certainly be helpful, but it's a bit much to ask.
     The really useful thing about Latin is not so much that it will help you understand English as that it will help you understand Latin, in which some of the most stirring prose and poetry ever was written.  Know Latin, and you will know world literature from the third century BC, when writers got going in Rome, through the so-called Golden Age of Latin: Lucretius, Catullus, Sallust, Cicero, and Caesar; the Augustan Age: Ovid, Horace, Virgil, and Livy; down to the end of the Silver Age in AD 120: Martial, Juvenal, Lucan, Seneca, Pliny, and Tacitus.
-Harry Mount, Carpe Diem 21-

Saturday, April 23, 2011

the woody woodpecker mass

The practice of rotating to a different liturgy each time the season changes might be a bit less objectionable, and slightly easier to swallow, if it were only the musical setting of the mass that is changed, instead of also the very text and order of the liturgy.  I could see a liturgical use in which the music of the mass differs, from season to season, or from early to late service, or whatever, but that would presume that the music being employed is worthy of the public worship of the Church.  I was spoiled with a fairly constant liturgy for a couple of years, and had almost forgot that many churches still do the rotation thing.  So a couple of weeks ago it was with some amusement, and trepidation, that I realized that the church I am attending had switched from the third mass in LSB, which it had been using for several weeks, to the first mass in that book, the so called Divine Service Setting One (pp 151-166).  I have come to term this liturgy "The Woody Woodpecker Mass."  The reason is the tune used for the Sanctus.

The blame for the text of the Sanctus in that order goes to the International Consultation on English Texts.  For the tune, however, we have a name, Richard W. Hillert.  To Mr. Hillert goes the distinction of giving the Church this music.  Worthy of some consideration is the vintage of both the tune and music, viz., 1978.  It was the bold age of brave experimentation and creativity.  In Divine Service Setting One what is being prayed is neither old nor new.  It is neither classic nor now.  It is pure 1970s LBW Lutheranism.  The Baby Boomers should be proud of the extent to which they have shaped the Church in their own image. 

What Mr. Hillert, RIP, failed to recognize, I fear, is that his tune may have been the result of watching too much TV as a child.  The next time you sing that version of the Sanctus (LSB, p. 161), especially when you get to the triple Hosanna, compare it in your mind with the signature hook in this little song:

I just can't take such a piece seriously, much less deem it worthy of the worship of our Lord.


Dorian, our cat, for some reason, loves to sit on things, whether it be a wrinkle on the bed, or laundry waiting to be put away, or whatever.  In this case, my wife was using this dust cloth (the green thing you see under Dorian), and when she set it down Dorian decided it would make a nice place on which to rest.  I submit this as further evidence of the strangeness of our cat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why Go to Mass

The problem with Roman Catholic theology is that along with all of the good, wonderful, rich teaching, there is too often mixed with it a deeply flawed element, a strain of thinking which compromises the good that is taught, and which, in fact, is deeply harmful to the soul.  Sometimes, this comes right up to the surface, and dominates the conversation in an unmistakable way, so that the issue really must be addressed. 

For example, yesterday, as I was driving, I was listening to Relevant Radio, which was broadcasting the show "Go Ask Your Father."  The host on this occasion was Father Richard Simon, whose podcasts can be accessed at this link

In one segment he was discussing the purpose of the Mass.  And he summed it up with this statement,

"You don't go to mass to get something; you go to mass to give something."

This line of thought is partly derived from viewing sacramentum as a sacred oath.  It also is fundamental to the theology of the mass as propitiatory sacrifice.  With all due respect, it also happens to be absolutely backwards.  To be clear and fair, I must say that many Catholic writers, theologians, and teachers, do indeed give great emphasis on what we receive in the Eucharist.  As I say, the problem is that there is this mix, and that though in some cases the good is given more emphasis, still this other side seems never far from the surface, and on occasion bubbles right up to the top. 

I go to Mass for one fundamental reason.  Before I state what the reason is, let me also say that I go to Mass to do many things.  I praise God there.  I offer the sacrifice of eucharist there, ie., thanksgiving.  I pray for my needs, and the needs of the Church and the world there.  There, before the awesome reality of the Blessed Sacrament, I submit my life to the will and hand of God.  I do all these things and more.  Yet there is really one essential reason I go to Mass.  And that is to get something.  A very big something.  I am poor and empty, and I need the treasures that God in Christ lavishes on me in His Holy Word and Sacrament.  I am lost and condemned, and I need to get home, and to receive the reconciliation that Christ gives me in the Mass.  I am broken and crushed, and I need Jesus to give me new life and wholeness.  I am full of sin and filth, and I need the forgiveness and cleansing that only comes from the one whose death has paid for the sin of the world. 

Now lest someone think that this post is anti-Roman Catholic, and therefore essentially Protestant, I must say that getting such things (the truly needful things for an utter sinner like me) is not really feasible in a Protestant church.  It is not possible to receive anything from a Christ who is absent.  For the very way in which Christ, the God-man, gives to us true reconciliation, forgiveness, new life, and salvation is by personally delivering to us the merits of His all availing sacrifice on the cross.  In the Mass Christ gives us a real and personal delivery of these gifts, for in the Mass He Himself is personally and truly present.  He comes to us, bodily, in the Mass, precisely for us; we might even say for us men and for our salvation, for there is an incarnational reality to the liturgy, which one just doesn't get with the Protestants. It is in Christ, in what He gives us today in Word and Sacrament, that the Spirit gives us life.  Apart from Christ, there can be no life giving Spirit.

For these reasons, the awful, tremendous presence of Christ, His real, true, substantial and personal presence in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, is absolutely crucial in my life.  It is the crux of all my spirituality, literally, for it is where the blessings of the cross actually meet my own life here and now.  What Flannery O'Connor said of the Eucharist in one of her letters is my own sentiment as well, namely, "it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable."

The idea that the reason one goes to Mass is to give something to God, therefore, turns the truth of the Gospel on its head, and defeats the real purpose of the liturgy.  In fact, it must be said that this doctrine contradicts genuine Catholic tradition.  That tradition gives us men like St. Benedict, the great sixth century abbot who gives us the beautiful concept of seeing the church's prayer as the Work of God.  It gives us men like St. Ambrose, the fourth century bishop in whose "prayer before Mass" we have such a wonderfully humble and evangelical focus on what really happens in the Sacrament that it is worth publishing here:

O loving Lord Jesus Christ, I a sinner, presuming not on my own merits, but trusting in Thy mercy and goodness, with fear and trembling approach the table of Thy most sacred banquet. For I have defiled both my heart and body with many sins, and have not kept a strict guard over my mind and my tongue. Wherefore, O gracious God, O awful Majesty, I a wretched creature, entangled in difficulties, have recourse to Thee the fount of mercy; To Thee do I fly that I may be healed, and take refuge under Thy protection, and I ardently desire to have Him as my Savior, Whom I am unable to withstand as my Judge. To Thee, O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. I know that my sins are many and great, on account of which I am filled with fear. But I trust in Thy mercy, of which there is no end. Look down upon me, therefore, with the eyes of Thy mercy, O Lord Jesus Christ, eternal King, God and man, crucified for men. Hearken unto me, for my hope is in Thee; have mercy on me who am full of misery and sin, Thou Who wilt never cease to let flow the fountain of mercy. Hail, Victim of salvation, offered for me and for all mankind on the tree of the cross. Hail, noble and precious Blood, flowing from the wounds of my crucified Lord Jesus Christ and washing away the sins of the whole world. Remember, O Lord, Thy creature, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Blood. I am grieved because I have sinned, I desire to make amends for what I have done. Take away from me, therefore, O most merciful Father, all my iniquities and sins. That I may be purified both in soul and body, let me partake of the holy of holies; And grant that this holy gift of Thy Body and Blood, of which though unworthy I propose to receive, may be to me the remission of my sins, the perfect cleansing of my offenses, the means of driving away all evil thoughts and of renewing all holy desires, the accomplishment of works pleasing to Thee, as well as the strongest defense for soul and body against the snares of my enemies. Amen.

Let me cap off this reflection by pointing to a traditional way of viewing the liturgy which can be very helpful in terms of what is happening in the Mass.  Namely, in the Holy Mass, the Church, as a Bride, receives the life of her Holy Spouse.  That is, in the liturgy in general, especially as it culminates in the Holy Supper, there is a holy intercourse in which the Church, and the Christian soul, is united with our Redeemer and Lord.  This helps us see that the position of the Christian, then, is chiefly that of receptivity, while our Lord Jesus unites Himself with us, and thereby gives us Himself, which is life itself, and all good things.  It is a most fruitful union, for as a result of it, our lives are renewed, and indeed Christ's very life is lived out in and through us.  This imagery may seem unseemly to some, but is built into the Church's traditional view of itself.  We even sing it in communion hymns, like Johann Franck's "Soul Adorn Thyself with Gladness."  And so I end with this hymn.  Let it serve to draw you soon to the blessings we receive in the Holy Eucharist.

Soul, adorn thyself with gladness,
Leave behind all gloom and sadness;
Come into the daylight's splendor,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto Him Whose grace unbounded
Hath this woundrous supper founded.
High o'er all the heavens He reigneth,
Yet to dwell with thee He deigneth.

Hasten as a bride to meet Him
And with loving reverence greet Him;
For with words of life immortal
Now He knocketh at thy portal.
Haste to ope the gates before Him,
Saying, while thou dost adore Him,
Suffer, Lord, that I receive Thee,
And I nevermore will leave Thee.

He who craves a precious treasure
Neither cost nor pain will measure;
But the priceless gifts of heaven
God to us hath freely given.
Though the wealth of earth were proffered,
Naught would buy the gifts here offered:
Christ's true body, for thee riven,
And His blood, for thee once given.

Ah, how hungers all my spirit
For the love I do not merit!
Oft have I, with sighs fast thronging,
Thought upon this food with longing,
In the battle well-nigh worsted,
For this cup of life have thirsted,
For the Friend who here invites us
And to God Himself unites us.

In my heart I find ascending
Holy awe, with rapture blending,
As this mystery I ponder,
Filling all my soul with wonder,
Bearing witness at this hour
Of the greatness of Thy power;
Far beyond all human telling
Is the power within Him dwelling.

Human reason, though it ponder,
Cannot fathom this great wonder
That Christ's body e'er remaineth
Though it countless souls sustaineth,
And that He His blood is giving
With the wine we are receiving.
These great mysteries unsounded
Are by God alone expounded.

Jesus, Sun of Life, my Splendor,
Jesus, Thou my Friend most tender,
Jesus, Joy of my desiring,
Fount of life, my soul inspiring, --
At Thy feet I cry, my Maker,
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessed food from heaven,
For our good, Thy glory, given.

Lord, by love and mercy driven
Thou hast left Thy throne in heaven
On the cross for us to languish
And to die in bitter anguish,
To forego all joy and gladness
And to shed Thy blood in sadness.
By this blood, redeemed and living,
Lord, I praise Thee with thanksgiving.

Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray Thee,
Let me gladly here obey Thee.
By Thy love I am invited,
Be Thy love with love requited;
From this Supper let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep love's treasure.
Though the gifts Thou here dost give me
As Thy guest in heaven receive me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Where are the saints in LSB?

When singing a hymn at Mass, one's eyes sooner or later are drawn to the bottom of the page out of the natural tendency to want to learn about the origin of the hymn.  At least that's the case if the one we're talking about is me.  Who wrote it?  When did he live?  Et cetera.  Even if you already know the hymn well, you might want to glance to that data, to remind yourself of exactly what was the year of the author's birth, or death, etc.  Or maybe just to find out what is this horrid nineteenth century tune that has been inflicted upon this venerable hymn.  Anyway, this habit of mine has led me to discover something about the latest Missouri Synod service book, Lutheran Service Book, which makes for a minor, yet real, annoyance.

I refer to the fact that the saints are not listed as saints.  The Lutheran Hymnal unabashedly tells us that St. Ambrose wrote "Splendor Paternae Gloriae."  Service Book and Hymnal boldly ascribes "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" to St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  In Lutheran Worship, "Father We Praise You" is ascribed to St. Gregory I.  The hopelessly low church Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal is a mixed bag in this regard.  It tells its readers that Ambrose is fit to be described as Saint Ambrose, but for some reason cannot bring itself to cite Bernard or John of Damascus as saints.  Lutheran Service Book, however, goes further than any of these in its refusal to put a simple "St." before the names of men who have been universally venerated as saints for centuries upon centuries.  Hymn 874, for example, lists "Ambrose of Milan" as the hymn writer, and "Gregory I" on the next page.  Needless to say, saints like John of Damascus (478, 487), Bernard of Clairvaux (449, 554), and Thomas Aquinas (630, 640) do not get saintly recognition either.  I could be wrong, but I don't see any hymn in LSB where it is admitted that an author is a saint. 

Is this some effort to make the hymn citations appear more scholarly? I do not know, but I will say that it succeeds in making for a style that appears decidedly less churchly, whatever the intention was.  Was it an effort to be more consistent, and thereby avoid having to deal with complicated questions like whether to refer to saints like Luther, Hus, and Nicolai as saints, since they are not universally recognized as such?  The Church is filled with inconsistencies and hard questions.  It is the duty of churchmen to face them.

If consistency, however, were the goal, that would beg the question of why the strange bifurcated approach to the sanctoral cycle on pages xi-xiii.  First there is a list of those who made the cut for "feasts and festivals."  These are "saints."  It is comprised of New Testament saints, and the Archangel.  Then, on the next two pages, there are those whose observance is now called "commemorations."  There the reader is encouraged to suppose that Valentine is not a saint, Justin is not a saint, Monica is not a saint, neither is Chrysostom, or Ignatius of Antioch, or Polycarp, or Lucy.  If this is the new approach, then it becomes superfluous to use the term "sanctoral cycle" for that aspect of the liturgical year. 

The saints ought to be honored and venerated among us, their brethren in Christ, and one of the little ways we do that is to be willing to give them the title "saint" within our own churchly books.

Put Your Hands Together and Give it Up for Lent

(Here is a little something which I meant to post here a few weeks ago, for what it's worth.)

The Church is always about the business of celebrating her Lord and His gifts.  That is to say that receiving the good gifts of Christ our Redeemer is the Church's life and delight.  However, this celebration is not always of the same tone.  Sometimes it is more restrained, more disciplined.  Such restraint is no less celebratory, and no less joyful; in fact, in some ways it is an even more focused and intense celebration precisely because of this restraint.  Consider how water that is channelled through a narrowed passage becomes all the more intensely focused on its object.  So it is with Lent; we celebrate the joys of the season in a particularly restrained manner, and also in a particularly focused manner, and that focus, to be sure, is the cross. 

The character of this restrained joy in Lent, we might say, has a couple of components, the liturgical, and the devotional, and in some ways they intersect with each other.  These reflections, however, pertain to the latter, which can be boiled down to the three disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  As I was pondering these things, it occurred to me that the colloquialism which forms the first several words of the title of this post actually sums up nicely the traditional spiritual disciplines of Lent, and the Christian's attitude toward the special joy of this season.  Put your hands together and give it up for Lent.  Allow me to elaborate.

Put your hands together
ie, Prayer

Prayer is part of the essence of the life of the Church, no matter what season is in question.  Prayer is such an important part of the life of the Church that in his 1539 book On the Councils and the Church Martin Luther wrote that it is one of the seven chief ways by which the Church is known. Such a high view of prayer was not invented in 1539, but is the teaching of the whole tradition of the Church, which we receive first of all from Holy Writ. Saint Paul writes that we should “pray without ceasing.” With David the Christian confesses, “Seven times a day do I praise thee, because of thy righteous judgements,” a saying which not only provides the pattern for the noble discipline of the Divine Office, but also reflects the Christian attitude that the whole of life is one of prayer. Indeed, the entire Psalter commences by teaching of the blessed man: “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law will he exercise himself day and night.”

But what is prayer?  Though it has been given many definitions, at its most essential we might say that Christian prayer is engaging God’s holy Word in such a way both as to hear His Word and to learn from it how to respond to Him in faith. Thus prayer is a holy intercourse between the Christian soul and our Redeemer and Lord. It might be helpful to set the record straight on what prayer is not. On the one hand, as implied above, prayer is not the mere word of man. If all one ever does when he prays is share his thoughts with God, and ask God for favors, then he hasn’t yet learned true prayer. On the other hand, all the way on the other end of the spectrum of ways to misunderstand prayer, is the notion that holds prayer to be a veritable sacrament. The term sacrament is rich enough to be applied in a number of ways, so let us be clear. Prayer is not the end of the Christisan’s spiritual life. Rather, in prayer the Christian celebrates the promises of his baptism, and by it is led continually back to the sacramental treasures of Holy Absolution and the Holy Eucharist. A healthy prayer life accomplishes these things by first reminding us of our sin, and then by reminding us of the comforting gospel of the forgiveness of sins which Christ won for us by the Paschal mystery of His holy passion, death, and resurrection. To drive home the point that meditating upon the Word in faith can be a strong vehicle for the Gospel, consider what Luther writes in his treatise, A Simple Way to Pray, namely, “The Holy Spirit Himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers. Many times I have learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.” Let us emphasize, however, that these evangelical results of prayer are in no way brought about by man’s action, but by the Word upon which the Christian meditates in faith. We are considering here prayer most widely viewed. Furthermore, rather than seeking out grace by means of prayer, the discipline of prayer impels us to run to the gifts given out by means of the Church’s Ministry.

While prayer is the way of the Christian in general, it is a discipline in which he engages with renewed vigor during the Lenten journey.  There are many ways by which one may increase his efforts at prayer during Lent.  One is to pray the Divine Office.  This requires time and resources which are not readily available to many people who have worldly callings to which they must attend.  To the extent that one is able to participate in the Daily Office, however, it is a most commendable and rewarding form of prayer.  It immerses the Christian in the Psalter, of which Luther says that it "is so very dear to me" (A Simple Way to Pray), and it also facilitates the hearing of much more of the rest of scripture than one would get by only attending the Mass.  Seminarians, deacons, presbyters, as well as others who commit their lives to special service in the Church, certainly ought to make time for the Daily Office.  I also recommend that parishes, and university chapels, strive to institute the public celebration of the Divine Office once or twice each week, so that the people may join if they desire.  A Saturday vespers, for example (which is really the First Vespers of Sunday) or perhaps a morning office before Sunday Mass.
Beside the Divine Office, the Church has given us many traditional forms of prayer which are wonderfully suited for Lenten devotion.    One might pray the seven penitential psalms, along with the classic Litany, especially on Fridays.  One might walk the Way of the Cross, and if your church does not have one, then you can certainly pray this devotion on your own.  I also suggest praying through the Small Catechism of Luther, especially if you have not done so in a while.  You can pray it in a day, or spread it out to a month or more.  Each phrase will have enough nourishment for you to chew it repeatedly, just like a good sheep would chew its food.
Lent is also a good time simply to renew your efforts to engage in the basic prayers upon waking and retiring, and before and after meals, which Luther gives us in the Catechism.  Such a routine is healthy for the soul, and a very good example for the whole family.

And give it up for Lent
ie, Fasting

Fasting is prized by the whole tradition of the Church, which of course includes the witness of the scriptures themselves.  Like prayer, it is capable of being abused, and being done unthinkingly, and for all the wrong reasons.  Nevertheless, when it is done in humility, and in a spirit of prayer, it is a wonderful means for the growth and vitality of the spirit.  This is perhaps counterintuitive, but it is very much the case.  For when one dies to himself, even a little, and mortifies the flesh, as it were, with its desires and urges, one begins to become more attuned to his sins, to the needs of others, and to the areas in his life that need the true nutrition of the spirit.  I would not urge fasting upon the old, the young, the pregnant, the ill, or the weak.  Those who are able, and fit for this discipline, however, I encourage in the strongest terms.  As you fast, be sure to feast all the more upon the Word in prayer and meditation, and on the sustenance of the Holy Eucharist.

I would add just an additional thought or two on the current culture of fasting in our church.  People love to jump on those who are deemed to be talking too much about fasting, and claim that this is the sin of immodesty or boastfulness.  That fasting can too easily cross the line between humility and boastfulness we admitted above, but in many cases the best judge of when that happens is the individual himself, for others do not know the reason or intent of the one who might be speaking of his own fasting.  In general it is indeed wise to refrain from speaking very much about it, for the sake of modesty.  Yet this ought in no way prevent the Christian community, whether in terms of friends, or family, or groups in the parish, or whatever, from discussing the ins and outs of the Lenten fast.  For there is a churchly culture, and even if only a small percentage of the people actually choose to fast, it is good, needful, and loving for the others to ask them what we, the church, can do to help facilitate their efforts, etc.  Another thought, I have seen some of the same people who boast of their not fasting also engage in boasting of what they will eat on the day before Lent begins, or how they will feast on Easter.  And I do not say this to impugn their motives.  The motives of many such are quite innocent.  Yet I urge all to consider that the very reason for much of what traditionally is eaten on Fat Tuesday is to clear the kitchen of what will not be consumed for Lent.  Likewise, the reason, traditionally, behind many of the things we enjoy on Easter, and in the Easter season, is that these are the very things that were left out of the diet in Lent.  The sweets, the eggs, the meat, etc.  My point, then, is not to call for a harsh, Carthusian fast during Lent so as to justify the feasting that takes place before and after Lent; rather, my point is simply to urge that we return to something more resembling a healthy balance.  We modern Americans have got the feasting part down.  And there is not necessarily anything wrong with that part.  But it cannot be fully appreciated when the other part, the fasting, falls into disuse.  There is a healthy balance, a rhythm, in the traditional culture of the Church, and fasting is part of it.

Give it up, part ii
ie, Almsgiving

Almsgiving, like the other two disciplines, can be abused.  It can be practiced immodestly, and for all the wrong reasons.  I suggest, however, that where this has happened, that instead of giving up the discipline, we instead reform the spirit behind it.  For there are people in real need, both close and far, and they honestly need your help no matter what your motive is.  Having said that, let your spirit of love rule your giving and all of the ways you might find to be of help and service to others.  If you have faith, let it show in your love in this world.  Ask if your church has a special collection for the poor in the community, and if it does not, maybe you can help institute one.  Seek out ways to help feed the hungry.  And just learn to become more aware of the needs of those around you.

There is indeed a special joy of Lent.  As Saint Augustine puts it, the precepts of Matthew 6 (on fasting, prayer, etc.) "aim to make us focus our intentions wholly on the interior joys."  When practiced in a spirit of Christian love, these disciplines serve to plunge us into the life of our Sacred Head, the One, and only one, Whose life of prayer, fasting, and giving of His own treasures for the good of others is perfect, and perfectly salutary.

As a postscript to this reflection, let me add that though this may seem like an untimely posting, let it serve as an encouragement even for this the last and most holy week of Lent.  I think that too often Christians think of the Lenten fast, or for that matter any of the Lenten disciplines, much the same way they might think of, say, a New Year's resolution.  That is, when it doesn't seem to work out quite the way it was intended way back on Ash Wednesday, one all too easily decides to give up.  But each day of Lent is a new day worthy of the discipline of Lent.  And it is never too late to die to yourself, and live anew in faith toward our Redeemer and in love toward our neighbor.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pink Slime

A very good friend of mine, a guy one of whose special areas of interest is food literature, some time back turned me on to the writings and work of Jamie Oliver (he also claims there is a bit of a resemblance between Jamie and me).  So last night I was interested in watching a TV show in which Oliver attempts to get access to the Los Angeles Unified School District's schools, and get them to enact reforms in the kitchen.  (A minor disappointment came at the end of the hour, when I realized that the viewer would not be given the full story that night, but that it was in fact the first episode of a series; I will be working on the night of the subsequent episodes.  Oh well, that's life.) 

I am glad I watched that show, because it opened my eyes to the phenomenon of the nasty "pink slime" now used in American hamburger in many places.  This has been known for a couple years; in fact, it became legal in, I think, 2002.  It was new to me, so the show led me to search for more information online. 

What is this "pink slime" to which I refer?  After the real cuts of meat have been removed from the bovine, what remains are all the leftover, in between parts.  It is filled with pathogens such as Escherichia coli (aka E. coli) and salmonella, and has traditionally been considered unfit for human consumption, and relegated to use in pet food, and animal feed (the stomach of such creatures are made to handle these things).  This slaughterhouse garbage (and I don't mean "garbage" as an invective or a metaphor, but as a realistic assessment of what this is) is put into a centrifuge, which separates the fat.  Then it is processed in another machine, which makes of what remains a sort of paste, and mixes it with ammonia (yes, ammonia) to kill the pathogens (but which has not in fact prevented many cases of such contaminants from showing up in beef containing this product). 

Interestingly, it was not termed "pink slime" by some obscure hippie blogger, but by U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein, who described it thus in an internal email in 2002.  All things considered, it might even be fitting to use the term without quotes, and in capital letters.

Fast food chains now use this in their hamburgers (I do not yet have a list of which do and which do not).  School districts use it.  I am sure it also shows up in some restaurants, institutions, and potentially any business that might chose for economic reasons to buy beef from a supplier that carries this stuff.  I hasten to add that it is in beef behind the counter at grocery stores, as well.  It is worth asking the meat department at your favorite store if the "pink slime" is included in its hamburger.  Keep in mind that you can also ask the butcher to grind your meat right on the spot.

I am not an extreme food snob (I don't think).  Nevertheless, my first problem with this sort of thing is that it betrays and blurs the very notion of "food."  That is, even if this were utterly safe, I would not insult anyone's intelligence by terming this "food."  Beyond that, it is not safe.  Beyond that, it is disgusting (and I don't mean "disgusting" in the sense in which some would think of the butchering of a cow per se).  Prudence calls for a man to be reasoned and balanced in a matter of this sort.  Hamburger is a good thing.  But it is okay, even good, to ask what is in your hamburger, and whence it came.

I am going to make myself aware of this danger wherever I buy beef and hamburger, and will steer clear of the Pink Slime in my steer. 

By the way, here is a link or two you might want to check, for your own information:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

for teeming women

When the Christian hears news of a pregnancy, he instinctively rejoices, for God has brought life into the world.  He has brought another child into the world.  This is true even for those children who will never see the world.  The mother's womb is his home in this world.  Hence even the earliest moments of gestation are miraculous gifts of life.  Pregnancy does not mean, in other words, that a woman "is going to be a mother," but is itself motherhood, ie., maternity. 

The other response of the Christian to the pregnant woman, let me now add, is prayer, and care.  We care for the pregnant in our community in whatever way is needful and appropriate, according to our station.  One of the those ways, indeed, is to pray.

President of the LC-MS Matthew Harrison has wisely and astutely recommended the regular, even daily, use of the classic litany this Lent.  I urge the reader to turn to this form of prayer, and when praying it, think of all pregnant women, and indeed all married women.  For we know not when a woman might be pregnant, and we know not God's plan for a woman.

At the risk of sounding out of step with the present age, I confess that I use a more traditional form of the litany than that which is presently in vogue.  The pertinent petition is as follows:

That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to grant a safe delivery to pregnant mothers and healthy babies to those who nurse them:
We beseech Thee to hear us.

For the student and others who wish to use the Latin, here it is:
Ut praegnantibus et lactentibus felicem partum et incrementum largiri digneris:
Te rogamus, audi nos.