Sunday, May 13, 2012

a point of churchly etiquette

At the church where Ruth and I are active and hold membership I do not serve the church as deacon.  I knew that most likely I would be, for the present, setting aside official diaconal parish ministry when we switched to our current church, and I was willing to do so because transferring to our current parish means having a pastor who is faithful to the Gospel and to his calling.  So in the grand scheme that trade-off is worth it.  This situation means that my wife and I are again together in the pew for Mass.  And so I have gone back to a practice that may seem curious to some, so I thought I would reflect briefly on it here.

I refer to the fact that when we get up to go to Communion, I do not do what most considerate and loving husbands and heads of households would do, and step aside to let the wife go first.  That is a rubric of social etiquette which, when in the church, I completely ignore.  I do not judge others for their proclivities in this regard, but would simply like to offer a thought or two on why I do what I do in terms of the order in which we go to Communion. 

As I say, giving a lady the deference, when walking in line, or, say, when going through a door, is a custom of social etiquette, and a very worthy one.  It is part of what it means to manifest respect for the fairer sex; it helps foster in our young people the important lesson that a man should act like a gentleman, part of which means to treat ladies with modesty and respect, to treat them as ladies, in other words. 

So why do I not do this in church?  It is because, while there are many points of identity and intersection between worldly etiquette and churchly etiquette, there are also points at which they traditionally do not manifest themselves in the same way, and this is one of them.  There was a time in the church when all the men would take Communion first, and only then the women would receive Communion.  This was easily facilitated in many churches by the men and women being segregated from each other.  I am not advocating a return to that practice.  It is instructive, however, to consider the order intended by this custom, and how we might preserve such order in our modern church.  Consider what the Blessed Reformer writes in the 1526 Deutsche Messe, "Let there be a decent and orderly approach, not men and women together, but the women after the men, wherefore they should also stand apart from each other in separate places."  Reverence for the Word of God, both in terms of the Gospel, and the faithful preaching thereof, and in terms of the true presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in his Sacrament, and manifesting and fostering such reverence by traditional practices of churchly order and etiquette, these are of greater importance to Luther's liturgical thinking than modern notions of conceiving the liturgy as a celebration of the assembled community. 

In our modern milieu, for the most part the people gather in the church according to nuclear familial units.  That is, whole households worship together in the same pew.  And of course I advocate no change in this regard.  We might draw certain lessons, however, from the way our forebears worshipped and conducted themselves in the church.  And I suggest one way we can translate this lesson of order is for the husband and head of the household to walk to the altar before his family, and to take Communion first.  In doing so, he shows himself to be the leader, the husband, the head of the family.  He literally leads his wife, and children if applicable, to our Lord.  He thereby sets the example of spirituality for his family.  She (or they) see him get up first, and when he gets to the end of the pew she might even see the example of his genuflection before leading her to the altar.  Then, at the altar he kneels down, setting the example of reverence for his family.  His posture, his signing himself with the holy cross, all of these things, too, have the added benefit of being examples for his family.  Finally, the celebrant and his assistant arrive and place the Sacred Host in the man's mouth.  I am not saying that the wife actively and directly sees all of this, as though she is there to study her husband.  Nevertheless, he provides the spiritual leadership and sets the very real, flesh and blood, example of Christian piety for his family.  It is the Christian husband's role to lead his wife and family in prayer, and what we often overlook is that Sunday morning (and whenever else they have the chance to go to Mass together) is one of those times when he gets to do just that, by bringing his family to church, and also by his conduct in the church.

And what does it mean that he eats and drinks of the Blessed Sacrament before his wife does?  It means, for one thing, that he sees any strength and moral and spiritual leadership he provides in his house as first deriving from what he is fed at every Eucharist.  To a degree it is analogous to the tradition of the pastor (whose office is that of spiritual father of a church and the office of Christ, Who is husband to His Church) giving Communion to himself before he gives It to the people.  (As Luther writes in the 1523 Formula Missae et Communionis, "Then, while the Agnus Dei is sung, let him communicate, first himself and then the people.") 

It is not the goal of any Christian to be the focus of attention in the church.  Nevertheless, by our conduct we do set an example, each according to his station and place in life.  And by maintaining traditional order in our churchly conduct we foster and cultivate the environment conducive to spiritual benefits we cannot know or foresee.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Gaba.
I just found your blog - interesting. Another good one i just found that you may find enjoyable is:

It is posted by Fr. Timothy May. I believe he is a pastor in the midwest. Good stuff!

I plan on posting your blog on his site too. I like to connect the like minded in our movement to restore the historic liturgy.


Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Dear Anonymous,
I cannot with good conscience recommend Timothy May's writings or ministry to anyone. He is one from whom I had to separate, a separation referenced in my first paragraph ("transferring to our current parish means having a pastor who is faithful to the Gospel and to his calling"). Romans 16:17-18

Daniel Gorman said...

"And by maintaining traditional order in our churchly conduct we foster and cultivate the environment conducive to spiritual benefits we cannot know or foresee."

How is confirming feminist and papist reordering of communion practice maintaining traditional order? If you wish to maintain traditional good order, ask your pastor to commune the men first and then the women and to stop receiving children. Tell him you will receive the blessed Sacraments from his hands alone. This is the communion of our Lord's holy body and blood not a family picnic.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Daniel Gorman,
If I know you, please remind me of who you are. I've become quite disconnected from many church-type connections I once had.

Your comment is a bit confusing. Is it meant seriously? If so, I wish you would make your argument more fully and clearly. What exactly are the feminist and papist practices against which you would argue? Regarding receiving the Sacrament by the hands of the pastor, that is exactly how I insist on receiving it. I do wish the chalice were administered by someone who is at least a deacon, but that is not the case where I worship. Not much can be done about that.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Daniel Gorman posted the following comment, which for some reason did not get posted here, but ended up in my inbox. So I share it here:

"By feminist practice, I mean mixing up males and females in seating and in the administration of communion. As Luther teaches, "And for the sake of good order and discipline in going up, not men and women together but the women after the men, men and women should have separate places in different parts of the church." The German Mass and Order of Divine Service, January 1526.

Luther says nothing about the children going up to communion. Obviously, permitting children to go up for the sake of a blessing (which will be received anyway at the appropriate point in the liturgy) is contrary to all good order and discipline.

By papist practice, I mean the practice of a superior minister assigning a lessor minister to distribute Christ's blood to the people. As our Confessions state, "Paul makes ministers equal", Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope, and "The Gospel assigns to those who preside over churches the command to teach the Gospel, to remit sins, to administer the Sacraments". Only a papist minister would consider administering Christ's blood to be beneath the dignity of his exalted office.

I recognize that your minister has little control over where people sit, over what order people present themselves, and over parents who insist upon taking their children up with them. However, your minister does have complete control of the actual administration of the Sacraments. You could ask that he do for you what he has been called by God to do for you (i.e., administer the Sacraments)."

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Unfortunately I honestly don't have time for a lengthy conversation at this point. Let me say, however, that my reaction to your comments is mixed. I can agree with your assessment to a degree, but to go to a communion where all the men worship in a separate part, and go to Communion first is to go to another universe; it's hardly a fight worthy of our time or energy.

Regarding your argument against the pastor having someone else administer the Blood of Christ, I actually like much of what you are saying, and in essence I think we are in agreement. Where I differ with you on this is merely the fact that I have no problem with a deacon, a real, ordained deacon, giving out the Blood of Christ. That has always been one of the roles of the deacon, before, during, and after the Reformation. The ministry of Christ is one, yet the Church, even Church of the Reformation, has always recognized that deacons exercise aspects of our Lord's ministry in His Church. "Elders," and seminarians, however, have no authority to do this.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gaba,
My room-mate recently introduced your blog to me. It is rather interesting and even quirky, but more interesting than quirky. This post intrigues me. I looked up that Pastor May that the other person referred to and his content seemed quite complimentary to your own. So I am fascinated by your suggestion that he's either less than sound in doctrine or practice or not fully fulfilling the charge of his office. In what ways? Like I say, you both seem to be on the same page.
Have a nice day, Sir.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Dear Anonymous,
I can envision scenarios in which it might be safer or more desirable for a writer to write anonymously, and I don't ban the practice, per se, here at my blog. However, I will officially ask you one time, what is your name? Tell me about yourself. Whether you answer those questions is up to you. Know, however, that if you don't wish to tell me, then 1. there are levels of depth I won't explore in public discourse when I don't know with whom I am interacting, and 2. you ought at least come up with a good pen-name.

You write, "My room-mate recently introduced your blog to me. It is rather interesting and even quirky, but more interesting than quirky."

Thanks, I think.

Then you write, "This post intrigues me. I looked up that Pastor May that the other person referred to and his content seemed quite complimentary to your own."

You really cannot tell much about someone, even a churchman, merely by what you see online.

You then write, "So I am fascinated by your suggestion that he's either less than sound in doctrine or practice or not fully fulfilling the charge of his office. In what ways? Like I say, you both seem to be on the same page."

I must trust your impression that we he and I seem to be on the same page, but that "seem" is quite a big factor, also I would need to know what you mean by "page" before I could comment on that impression.

The time has not come for me to elaborate on how he and I differ on matters of importance. I do call upon you, if you are a Christian, to pray for him. and for me. and for the Church.

You write, "Have a nice day, Sir."

Same to you. Or have a nice evening.