Monday, June 27, 2011

Pater Noster - Our Father in Latin

This YouTube video is an excellent aid to anyone who wishes to learn to pray the Lord's Prayer in Latin, as well as for teaching others to do so.  It gives you the words clearly pictured, and clearly articulated (according to the traditional version of the prayer).  This video will also help cure some of you guys of the awful harshness of classical pronunciation.  On top of that, you get to learn it to music.  Not only is music an excellent way to learn, but in this case that music is the classic chant for this venerable prayer.  When we sing, we pray twice, as Saint Augustine put it.  So use this for your practice of the Pater; it will help with your pronunciation, and your chanting.  Indeed, it will help you pray. 

Let me add that there is something missing in this video, which is very important for Lutherans, and that is the Amen.  Just chant that in a simple monotone.  Oh, and let me just say one more thing about this tune.  It can be used with the English version as well.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Credo in Latin

Strangely, it wasn't religious study, or even language study, that finally convinced me to learn the Nicene Creed in Latin.  It was literature.  In my pre-seminary years I was reading many of the great writers, which led me inevitably to Thomas Hardy.  I certainly expect or hope that this literary road that I was travelling would have led me to the same places with or without external influences, but that is partly the pride of the flesh speaking.  What I know for sure is that it was in large part the influence of Fr. Stephen Wiest which brought me to certain books at certain moments.  One day he and I were talking over coffee after Matins, and he brought up Jude the Obscure.  So I decided to read it.  (One of the reasons I usually hesitate to bring up some of these priceless episodes from my past is the embarrassment for the fact that my reading before university was so poor; I ought to have been better acquainted with Hardy's beautiful work in high school.)  Anyway, there is that strange bar room scene where Jude Fawley decides to stand up and recite the Credo.  At one point he loses his place, no doubt from the effect of his drink, but having drunk another shot he suddenly finds the ability to continue through to the end.  I would not recommend practicing the Nicene Creed in quite the same manner.  My profound undergraduate thinking probably went something like this: if Jude can do it, then so can I.  Strange, the motivations we contrive sometimes. 

Besides, I kept hearing stories of how Dr. Scaer requires one to memorize it, so I figured I would get it out of the way early.  (Come to find out that he doesn't really "require" one to memorize it as much as he "teaches" it in probably the best possible way, ie., by rote repetition.  We would say it out loud together, before each class.)   Most of my classmates saw no use for it whatsoever.  How are we ever going to use this in the Church?  How is this relevant to the Ministry?  That is the general attitude, and it is a shame.  Let us say that your life in the Ministry never takes you to a setting in which you could ever see yourself actually using the Latin Nicene Creed liturgically.  It is still a vital part of your own theological training, and will be a vital part of your own spiritual life.  And a vital prayer life makes you a better pastor to God's people, a better preacher of His Word, a better teacher of the Gospel.

Moreover, I reject the claim that this Creed cannot be introduced to the people.  The young especially can and ought to be given the opportunity to see, hear, learn, and experience this wonderful creed and prayer.  And this video might help you to do just that.  The Credo tells us everything we need to know of Christ, our Lord and Savior from sin and death, and it does so with great beauty and eloquence.  Recite it, sing it, love it.

The Luther Academy's Work in India

This morning, after the Holy Mass and before the church's annual picnic, we heard an excellent presentation by the Reverend Daniel Preus, who spoke on behalf of the evangelical work of the Luther Academy among Lutheran pastors in India.  In various places in the world today, especially in third world lands, the holy Christian Church exists on the ground, thanks be to God, and yet many of the pastors and preachers in those churches are very poorly trained theologically.  The good people at Luther Academy recognize this, and because LA has been blessed with resources, it is going into these places, and offering valuable theological seminars, on an annual basis. 

India is one of these countries, and Rev. Preus spent most of his time this morning giving us a taste of what he and his colleagues are doing and accomplishing there.  One of the interesting anecdotes that came out of his presentation is that although the seminars are designed for men who are already Lutheran pastors in India, they have attracted others as well, especially Pentecostals, as well as a Roman Catholic.  They keep coming back even though the teaching is unabashedly Lutheran.  In one part of the curriculum, for example, explicit use of the Augsburg Confession is made. 

This is holy work, and I pray it continues.  Luther Academy would certainly make good use of your mission gifts.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

Part of the ordinary of the Mass is a hymn called the Gloria in Excelsis Deo.  "Ordinary" in this context means that it is called for in the Mass year round.  The only qualification is that the Gloria is one of those parts of the liturgy which is left out in the penitential seasons (Advent and Septuagesima through Lent).  Nevertheless, we call it ordinary because, except for that one proviso, you can count on hearing it at Mass, whether it be a Sunday or a weekday, whether it be July, October, Epiphany, Easter, or whatever.  It is not, in other words, a part of the Mass for which the text changes each week, as with the propers.  It is part of the fabric of the Mass.  All of that presupposes, admittedly, that one has the traditional liturgy in mind.  The Gloria, as you can tell by the fact that we still refer to it by a Latin title, comes to us from the Church's Latin tradition.  The Latin Gloria is a Latinization of the Greek hymn which was used even earlier.  Saint Hilary of Poitiers, the great fourth century bishop who became known as "the Athanasius of the West" and who was instrumental in the life of Saint Martin of Tours, is surely the man who gave us the Latin version.  It is a beautiful hymn, and it is one of several surviving examples of parts of our liturgy which bears evidence of pre-Vulgate Latin.  The use of the term "excelsis" instead of Jerome's "altissimis" in Luke 2 is a clear indication of this. 

Anyway, this hymn merits being sung in our Church today on a regular basis, in either the Latin (where and when a given community or congregation is ready for it) or in a classic vernacular version.  In the English speaking world, the version which is surely most deserving of that distinction is the traditional text of the Common Service (pages 17-19 in The Lutheran Hymnal). 

One of the results of the modern LCMS trend of rotating Mass "settings" every season in a church is that the Gloria in Excelsis is kept away from our people even longer than we sometimes realize.  Think about this.  Your congregation is using Divine Service III before Lent, and then when Lent arrives, whether you are still using that order or not, you won't get the Gloria for a while, because it is not used in Lent. Then, when Easter comes, the decision is made to do "something special" since it is now the festive season of Easter, so instead of restoring to the Church's liturgical diet the use of this festive hymn, it is deemed better to use something else, maybe a Hillert hymn, maybe a Starke hymn, maybe something else.  In fact, in some places, Divine Service III is reserved for Lent and maybe one or two other seasons, which means that when you finally do get around to the Common Service service, you won't hear that hymn.  This is another reason I would urge the rethinking of the conventional wisdom of this liturgical rotation approach to worship.  Liturgical diversity is afforded by tradition in many ways which do not impede on the use of the venerable Ordinary, such as using a variety of musical settings, the healthy use of propers, etc.

I share with you here a singing of the Latin Gloria.  This video shows that it is possible for a congregation to learn to sing it.  (Just to add a rubrical opinion, I do not agree with the priest and his assistants in this video sitting down during the Gloria; I know why they do it in that rite, but it is not something which I would see as needful, as a traditionalist Lutheran.)

This next video shows how it sounds when sung by a good choir:

Here is an Episcopal church doing the Healey Willan setting:

Finally, I found a YouTube video which does a nice job of capturing clearly the singing of the Common Service version (from LSB's third Mass order).  And since I put in my respectful two cents' worth about a rubrical matter in one of the videos above, let me add here, that even though I don't condemn this per se, and even though I fully know that there may be any number of pastoral/historical reasons for it, that just for the record, I do not endorse a couple of things you will see in this video, namely, the celebrant wearing a surplice instead of mass vestments, the use of a white linen over the vessels instead of a traditional chalice veil, and the use of a decidedly noncrucifix behind the altar.  Nevertheless, this is a Lutheran church, in Canada I believe, where the singing of this hymn is done clearly and reverently, and I appreciate the video:

worship in the modern Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

This is how the Mass is celebrated at Prince of Peace, in Carrolton, Texas.  Oh, that doesn't quite suit your tastes?  Not to worry.  If you attend the 8 a.m. worship, you get the "traditional" worship, where they "utilize elements" of the orders found in LSB. 

This kind of liturgical ineptitude is meant to train and prepare the young people of that church for what exactly?  The struggles they will face in life?  The unstable and fractured nature of life in the modern world?  To be able to appreciate the constancy of the Gospel, which is meant for all generations and cultures?  Hardly.  I suppose if there is one thing, however, for which this type of worship does prepare the youth, it is to accept the liturgical Kool-Aid they will get when they go off to the Lutheran university:

Of course other types of worship can be found in the LC-MS.  If you want to make an argument for virtually any type of worship taking place in modern Missouri, you can do so.  But the Solemn Mass at Zion, Detroit, and the LSB worship at St. Paul, Hamel, Illinois, do not "even out" what happens in Carrolton or in Mequon.  It is not the case, as some think, that the Christian thing is to focus on the positive things happening in the LCMS, and on what is now available on the shelves at CPH.  What is Christian is to give a fair view of the whole picture, to praise the good, to condemn the bad, and to seriously ask, Is this the picture of a church, a synod?  Is this liturgical uniformity? 

Liturgical uniformity, properly understood, is hardly deemed desirable anymore.  That's the problem.  We strive for the least common denominators in the Church, when we should be striving for the highest common factors.

Friday, June 24, 2011

private devotion in church

In my previous post I touched upon the value of fostering in the church an environment which encourages and respects those who would like to spend time in prayer, whether in preparation for Mass or in thanksgiving after Mass.  So I thought I would point out that there are specific prayers and devotions for these very purposes in The Essential Lutheran Prayer Book.  Please consider ordering one for yourself, and perhaps several for your class or family.  The book is currently available both in a handy hardcover and in digital form, and I will soon be able to make it available also in paperback, and in a couple of other cover designs (might take a couple months on these plans though).

The Problem with Friendly Churches

Genuinely friendly churches are wonderful to experience.  It gives you the sense that these are real Christians, and that your presence was felt and welcomed.  One of the sure signs that you might have found a genuinely friendly church is when you go back the next week, or a few weeks later, and it becomes clear that people remember you, in some cases by name.  Note, however, that I am referring here to churches which display a genuine friendliness, and have no need for contrived and fake friendliness.  I do believe that while friendliness is a natural product of the love which the Christian has for mankind, friendliness is also an art which can be cultivated.  Great athletes are born with certain gifts, and yet they become great in their field by constantly and vigilantly exercising those gifts.  Likewise, I don't think it is a contradiction to say that, on the one hand, friendliness and hospitality should not be forced or programmed or faked, and that on the other hand, true and loving hospitality can be practiced and cultivated and improved, both on a personal level and within the culture of the parish. 

So I appreciate and applaud the churches where real hospitality shines and takes place.  If it's not so in your church, take heart, for as I say, I think it is something that is a natural characteristic of the Bride of Christ, and can be cultivated and encouraged, over time.  Let it begin with you.

So what's the problem?  The problem is that too often today a good or an ideal, such as hospitality, is approached on the same terms by which we would practice it in the world, when in fact it would be healthier if we would restore a more traditional idea, namely, that there is a distinction between worldly etiquette and churchly etiquette.  I am now beginning to speak a foreign language, but please hear me out. 

In many ways, churchly etiquette and worldly etiquette intersect and are identical, for they both have in common a sense of courtesy, neighborliness, and gentlemen being gentlemen and ladies being ladies, etc.  In other ways, however, they lead to different courses of action, for in the culture of the Church (and contrary to what some claim, the Church does by its very nature have its own culture) there are other goods or ideals which must not be allowed to be trampled by our own notions of how to practice the ideal of friendliness. 

One of those ideals is a sense of prayer.  On the whole, modern Lutherans, certainly here in the Western world, are accustomed to the notion that "church" starts at a certain predetermined point, and likewise ends at a given point.  In some places it is when the music for the first hymn kicks in, or when the pastor and his assistants are seen walking out of the sacristy, or when the pastor begins the Invocation.  Up till whatever point that is in a given parish, anything goes.  Likewise, after the service has ended, in some places the organ kicking in with a loud and boisterous postlude is the cue for all hell to break loose.  In some places it is when the pastor is finished with his announcements, or whatever.  And when I say things like "anything goes" and "all hell breaks loose" let me be clear that I am not trying to be uncharitable, for most of what happens, in most places I am sure, is good and wholesome activity.  It is people being naturally friendly with each other, both with friends and with visitors.  However, this is a deeply faulty way of thinking of the church, and it kills a sense of prayer and reverence in the church.  Church is not merely what happens on pages 184 through 202 (or pages 15 through 31).  It is a holy people, one of whose chief characteristics has made her known as Ecclesia Orans, the Praying Church.  It is a people filled with gratitude for what they are about to receive, and then filled with awe at what they have just received, for they have been in more than one way filled with eucharist.

Many Lutheran children were, are, ingrained with the idea that the Church is not a place, but a people.  This is misleading, at least the way it is often taught, for a couple of reasons.  1. While it is true that the Church is the people of God, we ought to follow up that lesson by talking about how the Church thus defined is characterized, how it relates to its members, how she relates to her Lord, etc.  2. We ought not let this lead to a cheapened notion of the holiness of the place of the Church's worship.  That place, whether it be a centuries old edifice or a rented meeting room, is where Almighty God, in the Person of Christ, makes Himself present for us.  When He appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, our Lord did not tell Moses to be sure to be jovial in that place; His message was quite different:  "Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

As far as I know, the Church has never been known as Ecclesia Amicabilis.  That is not because she is unfriendly.  It is because while the love of God in Christ will shine forth in the life of Christ's Church (for we reflect the love which is lavished on us by the Lover of our souls, Whose banner over us is love) and is expressed by different people and different churches according to a variety of temperaments and cultures, and will be expressed in more celebratory ways in happier times and less so in times of great affliction and trouble, there is one thing that is far more constant wherever the Church is to be found.  Namely, she is Ecclesia Orans, that is, she is known by the prayerful attitude which marks her gatherings, and by which her places of worship are treated by her members. 

Courtesy itself should prevent us from joviality and loud fraternizing within the church's spaces of worship, that is, certainly in the nave itself, for even if I have no interest in sticking around to pray, or must get downstairs to help with this or that, someone else might want to pray for a few minutes, right there in the pew, and my behavior ought not cause any disturbance to that brother or sister.  I encourage my fellow Lutherans, therefore, to ponder anew the nature of the church's space, and consider what we are doing and whether it is healthy, and whether our efforts at friendliness and hospitality toward visitors could be realized in ways which better complement rather than compromise the prayer and reverence which we ought to be encouraging and fostering in the Church.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

in memory of Clarence Clemons

Here is Clarence talking about his first meeting with Bruce Springsteen:

Here he holds forth on what it has meant for him to play with Bruce and the E Street Band:

Clarence's art really shines in a song like "Paradise by the C". This clip is from a concert at Idraetspark in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1988:

Finally, a performance of the song "Bobby Jean" at a concert in Paris, 1985.  I include it both because you get some good sax toward the end and because on the occasion of Clarence's death "Bobby Jean" almost sounds like a farewell to him.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer in Riverwest

What do people do in my neighborhood in the summer?  Things like this:

And this:

Confirmation & First Communion

On the Sunday before last, ie., Cantate Sunday, I attended another church of the same communion as my own.  I was there for the purpose of witnessing my nephew's Confirmation, and indeed it was an honor to see him confess the Christian faith, and receive his First Holy Communion. 

It is always an interesting experience to visit another parish.  You get to see the art and architecture of the church in ways often forgotten by its own lifelong members.  You get to hear the Word with brethren you don't really know, but with whom you have a common bond in the Lutheran Confession.  Every time the liturgy is celebrated, it is the prayer of the whole Church, of every place, even of those who have gone before us.  In the liturgy we participate in the ongoing worship of the whole Church.  So in one sense, if I were to worship in the same place my whole life, by doing so I would still be in real communion with the Church in another place.  For the Church is One, as we confess in the Creed.  Visiting another parish enables you to see these brethren with whom you have been worshipping Christ all along, and actually helps drive home the truth that we are all of the same Church.  So there are many benefits to visiting other parishes.

What would drive home this sense of unity even more, however, would be if our churches were to practice actual liturgical uniformity.  This problem is not the fault of Mount Olive.  The liturgical cacophony of which I speak is a shameful plague on the whole of the modern Missouri Synod.  Every parish is left to do what seems best in that place, so that no one blinks or thinks twice when liturgical aberrations occur; such are no longer seen as 'aberations', but merely the way we do things here.  Mount Olive, for example, was once known for the reliability of its "Old Missouri" practices, yet now is perfectly fine with leaving out major portions from the order of Mass purportedly being used that Sunday, so that, eg., though I would normally kneel when the Sanctus begins, on this occasion there was no Sanctus and the pastor was already breezing through the sacred words of consecration, the verba testamenti, before I realized it.  Somewhere along the line it also became perfectly fine to have a layman read the Holy Gospel in the Mass.  Perfectly acceptable now, too, is the practice of giving out the Precious Blood of Christ only in individual tiny cups, and not even utilizing a chalice for those who desire it.  When I realized this to be the case, I admit, I walked right by the pastor handing out the shot glasses, perhaps to his perplexity.  It is better to commune in one kind than to take part in the irreverent methods of the Methodists.  Another practice once prevalent in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod was to open the Holy Supper only to Lutherans of the same confession, and to make real efforts to keep it closed to others.  Not that I saw non-Lutherans take communion, as far as I know; I am merely struck by the fact that this church's communion practice seems to make it feasible for potentially anyone to get communion.  For example, I have spoken with the pastor before, but I'm not sure how much that matters, since it turns out that the pastor is not the one who gives out the Host.  That is handled by some other person, while the pastor stands a few yards hence handing out the little shot glasses.  My niece, who happens to be a Muslim, was sitting next to me; another niece, who happens to be Roman Catholic, was a few pews back, along with more Muslim family members.  None of them would have taken part, but there are many people in today's world who, in such a circumstance, would automatically go to communion.  Is there any procedure in place to prevent such a thing?  None that I noticed.

As I say, these things are symptomatic of the way things are in the LCMS today, so my aim is not to pick on one congregation in particular.  Today's Missouri Synod is a point on a trajectory, and my prayer is that this trajectory starts to turn, and go in another direction.  Is there any compulsion to do so, to turn back toward consistent traditional Lutheran practice?  Do we see ourselves as a Church?  Time will tell.

Instead of dwelling on those aberrations that I saw, however, I would like to reflect on a different matter.  It actually has something to do with what I didn't see.  More on that in a moment.  As I mentioned above, the occasion of my nephew's Confirmation also happened to be the first time he was privileged to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, for this congregation, as I suppose is still the case with many in the LCMS, delays first Communion until Confirmation.  I certainly think that we cheat our young Lutherans by denying them participation in the Blessed Sacrament until they are at Confirmation age.  Be that as it may, it is not my business to stand in judgement over a church's practice in this regard.  There may be pastoral reasons for keeping first Communion at a certain age, while perhaps working toward lowering it.  So my point is not so much to pick on the decision to have First Communion so late, but to point out one of the unfortunate liturgical implications of such a decision, as food for thought. 

Namely, when the Confirmation and First Communion are the same day, the First Communion loses the attention it would otherwise have.  That is what I mean by observing something that I didn't see.  There was a complete lack of attention on the fact that is was First Communion for these young Lutherans.  The day is all about Confirmation.  The sermon is about Confirmation.  The printed literature is about it being Confirmation Day.  In fact, there was no mention at all, so far as I noticed, that this was also First Communion.  I inferred it from context clues, such as the Confirmands receiving Communion before everyone else, and kneeling instead of having to go to a walk-up station like everyone else, and by verifying this later.  This is all the more problematic when a church doesn't exactly do much in general to highlight the Eucharist, its central importance in the Church's life, and the deep reverence with which we hold this mystery, either in its preaching or in its liturgical practice.  So instead, the theological focus on this day gets shifted to the spiritual significance of our Baptism, since that is the focus of Confirmation preaching.  Such a focus at Confirmation is understandable, but this leaves a gaping eucharistic hole in our piety, our preaching, our practice, and maybe our theology.

At a child's first participation of Holy Communion, or anyone's, a most blessed thing happens.  The Christian is united with his Lord in the most Blessed Sacrament for the very first time.  Christ deigns to come under a sinner's roof, and bless him with His saving presence, and thereby bring him healing of body and soul.  A most blessed marriage takes place, for the Lover of our souls unites Himself with us.  And with His presence, He brings us the forgiveness of our sins, and with forgiveness comes new life, and salvation.  It is a great milestone, and the commencement of a significant new stage in a Christian's life.  Therefore it ought to be a time of great celebration both in a child's life, and in the life of the parish.

I suspect that part of what has led to First Communion being so diminished as to be virtually just another day in so many of our churches is precisely the casual way in which the Eucharist is treated.  With a rebirth of a real eucharistic piety in our church will come a renewed attention to things like a child's First Holy Communion.  This is one of my prayers for the modern Lutheran Church.