Monday, February 13, 2012

happiness and its unhappy place in worship

Father William Weedon recently wrote, "The Lord doesn't want you to be happy; He wants you to be holy...He wants us to be holy so that we may be truly blessed; and blessedness is even better than happiness."  I refer you to the whole comment at his blog.  I very much agree with his argument; it is a valuable insight.  It got me pondering happiness, and its unfortunately exalted place in the modern Church.  So I would like not merely to make the same argument, but to make it in my own way, and then apply it in certain particular ways.

Before proceeding any further, however, it is worth taking a close look at the word happiness.  On the one hand, happiness as it is most commonly used today has to do with a certain type of sentiment, that is, the feeling of personal pleasure.  It doesn't matter to what degree one feels this sentiment; it could be anywhere from an understated sense of contentment all the way to the sort of giddiness around which one can barely stand to remain for more than about a minute.  Nor does it matter what the cause or the particularities of the occasion might be in any given case; the happiness is no less real, valid, and genuine.       

On the other hand, happiness in its more literal and etymologically true use has to do with a sense of chance, or fortune, or luck.  Now, while some may be tempted to object that this use of the term is obsolete today, it is worth observing that this sense of the word does persist in our language.  It is why we have terms like happenstance (in essence, a chance circumstance) and perhaps (essentially the same as saying, by chance). 

Either way, the difference between worldly happiness and the sure hope we have in Christ, which is not dependent upon fleeting emotions, is unmistakable.  Nevertheless, regarding both of these senses of the term happiness, the emotive and the sense of chance, before we critique the use of these concepts among Christians, I believe it is worth also defending them.  For my view is a balanced one, which sees a place for both happy feelings and talk of good fortune among the faithful. 

If one is saddened, whatever the particular reason (and we all know they can range from the simple and incidental to the profound realities of death or other human tragedy), it is not necessarily inappropriate or out of line both to thank God for the experience and to ask Him to grant finally a reprieve from it, ie., to show the one experiencing it gladness once again.  With the Psalmist the Christian is happy to confess, "I was glad (Laetatus sum) when they said unto me: we will go into the house of the Lord.  Sometimes the insistence I hear from Lutherans about the distinction that must be maintained between happiness and joy strikes me as a bit overstated, absolutist, and overly literalist.  I am not condemning all such instances of this type of argument, just saying that it needs to be tempered with the understanding that our language is capable of nuances, and of terms being used in more than one sense; so that, for example, on the one hand, one might speak of "rejoicing" and have in mind being glad or "happy," even though the relationship between "joy" and "rejoice" is rather obvious, and on the other hand, one may certainly speak of being "happy," and have in mind the deep and abiding sense of contentment we have in Christ; all despite the insistence on fixed (and somewhat arbitrary) definitions of "happiness" and "joy," which I hear from some preachers. 

Likewise, I do not think it is absolutely wrong or inappropriate for the Christian to engage in language of chance or fortune or luck (the older sense of happy).  The Christian sees all gifts as coming from God, and we want always to be clear on that.  Nevertheless, on the one hand, some Christian uses of such phraseology are indeed meant in the sense of fortune and blessing that we receive from our Lord (such as Miles Coverdale's use of the word "luck" in Psalm 45, or in Psalm 118), and on the other hand, some of the greatest Christians of all time have used this sort of language, often in jest, and when having a bit of fun.  An example that sticks out in my mind is one of those particularly sassy passages in Luther's The Bondage of the Will:
I confess not only that you are far superior to me in powers of eloquence and native genius (which we all must admit, all the more as I am an uncultivated fellow who has always moved in uncultivated circles), but that you have quite damped my spirit and eagerness, and let me exhausted before I could strike a blow. There are two reasons for this: first, your cleverness in treating the subject with such remarkable and consistent moderation as to make it impossible for me to be angry with you; and secondly, the luck or chance or fate by which you say nothing on this important subject that has not been said before. 
Indeed, the literalists, if they were consistent, would surely be happy if we would cease using such terms as chance and even happy.

Now having said all of that, I want to affirm most clearly that Christians should ween themselves of the desire for increased emotional pleasure in life, and instead cultivate the desire for sanctification.  Even as the Christian looks with terror at his sins, he finds all joy and comfort in Christ alone.  This is the true and abiding hope which sustains us through life's trials, both the quotidian ups and downs and the true tragedies in this life.  And so while, as my discussion above shows, I would not condemn the use of the word happiness, or the focus on the concept of the same, in the Christian life per se, I would argue that praying for it, celebrating it, and all efforts to cultivate it should be kept out of our public worship, for much the same reasons outlined in Weedon's discourse. 

We could merely pick on the use of songs like "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."  Indeed, we should pick on it, ridicule it, and roundly condemn it, in all Christian love (and also in Christian hate).  We could also pick on William Beck's dumbed down translation of the scriptures, in which "blessed" in the Beatitudes are replaced with "happy," a translation most unworthy of public worship, though I hardly think the AAT is much of an issue anymore.  I would suggest, however, that even in the Synod's approved worship resources, there are passages the wisdom of which is worth rethinking.  An example that comes to mind immediately is the Litany, which contains this petition:
To grant all women with child, and all mothers with infant children, increasing happiness in their blessings, we implore You to hear us, good Lord.
This language in LSB's version of the Litany is taken over from LW before it.  And it contrasts rather starkly with traditional Missouri Synod usage, such as Liturgy and Agenda of 1921 (and TLH of 1941), which employs what I would argue is much healthier language.  To wit,
To preserve all women in the perils of childbirth, we beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord.
Has anyone thought to ask, what exactly is it for which we are praying when we ask for increasing happiness for mothers? Are praying that women be deprived of the full range of their emotional life?  That would be asking that women no longer be women.  Certainly a husband's instinct would be the desire for his wife to be happy, whether out of pure love or partly for self-serving reasons.  Yet, the Church exists in part to be the objective bearer of Truth, for the family, and for the world.  Frankly, sometimes a woman experiences sadness; in some cases this is due to her fallen sinful nature, and in other cases it is because God has decided, for His own reasons, to allow a woman to experience certain sad situations.  He has a purpose and a plan, and it is ours to receive, to accept, to pray and meditate, to work through.  If a woman is experiencing truly debilitating depression, the Church ought to pray for her as she suffers such affliction; in such a case, it is not mere "happiness," however, for which we pray, but healing.  In Christ, the true Man of Sorrows, Who in His bitter passion and death suffered more than we can ever know, and Whose death and resurrection is our victory and life, we who are baptized into His death have ultimate and abiding hope and sanctification.  Let us pray that we may always remain firmly rooted in Christ, and His faithful Word, instead of praying for mere happiness.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lutheran Reservation of the Sacrament

In the past I made the claim that the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament has always been practiced among the churches committed to the Lutheran Symbols. But do we really know this to be the case? And isn't the Book of Concord, along with other theological pronouncements, such as Chemnitz' Examination of the Council of Trent, against the practice? Such questions were posed to me on Facebook by a friend from seminary. So I thought I would attempt to make an unscholarly yet relatively reasoned case here.
First, I will directly address those two basic questions. And then, I will try to provide some data, and in that regard I am indebted in large measure to a few sources which conveniently collate much of the known evidence, such as the 1993 doctoral dissertation of Edward F. Peters, The Origin and Meaning of the Axiom: "Nothing Has the Character of A Sacrament Outside of the Use," In Sixteenth-Century and Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Theology.

The first question pertains to the claim that reservation of the Sacrament has a real and documentable history in the Church of the Augsburg Confession. In answer to this I first admit that, indeed, in view of the big picture of Lutheran history, the reservation of the Sacrament seems to be a minority practice. It also seems fair to say that the practice was stronger early on, and declined as time went on, and might even have practically disappeared in many places, especially after the age of Pietism took its hold on the Church in the eighteenth century. However, granting both of those two points, I would nevertheless maintain that it is unfair to claim that it was never practiced among our churches, or that it completely died off soon after the Reformation. In fact, that is the sort of claim that is unreasonable and prejudiced.
The second question has to do with whether reservation, per se, is inherently opposed to Lutheran theology. Does not the argument of Martin Chemnitz, eg., in his Examination of the Council of Trent, preclude the practice? Likewise, is not the Formula of Concord opposed to reservation of the Sacrament? My answer is that the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament is not absolutely condemned, either by the Confessions, or by the Examen, or by Lutheran doctrine. The Formula of Concord does not in fact address the question of the reservation of the Sacrament where it fulfills the institution of Christ, that is, where it is reserved for consumption by the faithful. It does condemn, on the other hand, the reservation of the Sacrament as practiced by the Roman opponents, who argued that the reservation is necessary (eg., Bellarmine). More to the point, the Formula, and the orthodox Lutheran theologians, are opposed to the reservation for the sake of adoration. This is the key qualification, which we see again and again. It must be emphasized and kept in mind as a crucial factor in virtually all instances of orthodox Lutheran condemnation of reservation.
I hasten to add at this point that this proviso does not mean that adoring the Sacrament in the tabernacle is to be condemned per se. Adoration is not the purpose of the reservation, but when one becomes aware, by virtue of, say, the sanctuary lamp (the traditional sign of the reserved Sacrament), that he is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and then spots the tabernacle behind the altar or in the chancel, it is not inappropriate to make an act of adoration by bended knee. The very purpose of the sanctuary lamp is to alert people to the presence of the Blessed Sacrament so that they will have the opportunity to adore our Lord's presence, and I fail to see why it would be preferable to just disregard the Sacrament and pretend It isn't there.
What we see, when we look at the record, is that from the earliest stages of the Lutheran Reformation to the seventeenth century and forward, the reservation of the Sacrament was opposed in some places, retained and embraced in some, and in some cases the attitude to this practice is best described as indifferent. Certainly in all places where Lutherans practiced reservation in the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, it was done with the qualification I mention above, viz., that it be practiced for the sake of giving the Sacrament later to the sick, and not for the sake of adoration per se.
Sixteenth Century
First, what was Luther's position? The Blessed Reformer does not say a lot about the reservation of the Sacrament. In one case he calls for its elimination; in another passage he is in favor of its continuation, as a statement against "several heretics." He says:
Here they are also disputing in the churches, whether or not one should carry the consecrated Sacrament to another altar. I for my part let it happen for the sake of several heretics, to whom one must give an answer. (WATR, V, 55, Nr. 5314)
Peters says that this is a reference to the practice of taking the Sacrament to the sick, as provided in the Brandenburg Church Order of Joachim II, 1540. I anticipate that some will hasten to reply here that this was a case not so much of reservation, but of taking the Sacrament to the sick, perhaps immediately after Mass. I think, however, that it is nonetheless noteworthy, for even taking the Sacrament to the sick right after the Mass involves a sort of reservation of the Sacrament. When we consider that whether the Sacrament is reserved in a tabernacle for six days, or two days, or in a pix for a twenty five minute trip to a man's sick bed, It is still being reserved outside of the Mass, which some therefore mistakenly consider outside the actio of the Sacrament. Further, this taking the Sacrament to the sick or shut-in directly after Mass, though it involve a much shorter reservation than we usually think of, actually involves the priest in something that would seem at first glance to be even more problematic, namely what amounts to a sort of eucharistic procession. In those days the Sacrament was transported with great reverence and solemnity.
Let me now turn for a moment from Peters' dissertation, to Jurgen Diestelemann's book, Usus und Actio. On this count I am indebted to Fr. John Stephenson's review essay. Diestelmann writes:
While polemics against the sacrificial and private mass occupy much space in Luther, nowhere in his writings do we find a demand to do away with tabernacles.
Stephenson relates what amounts to very revealing data in Diestelmann's work. He writes:
He argues that the Reformer's counsel, given in 1522, that hosts not distributed in a given celebration be reserved in a monstrance (!) until they could be administered to sick communicants (20, n. 46, according to which, more than two decades later, George of Anhalt related how he heard the older Luther give similar advice), is to be understood in light of the important distinction between the age-old custom of reserving the consecrated species for this pastoral purpose and the late medieval practice of permanent reservation for the sake of extra-eucharistic adoration...Diestelmann locates directions for such temporary reservation in Sehling's Kirchenordnungen (20, n. 47) and supplies evidence of beautifully decorated pyxes (capsulae) used in 16th century Lutheran churches for the reservation of consecrated hosts (in Augsburg, after 1537, on the altar); one such was made in Coburg in 1607 (23, n. 58; see also 103f.). In the closing pages of his work, Diestelmann underscores how the historic Church of Sweden allowed for reverent reservation for the purpose of communion alongside the practice of consuming the remaining sacrament (305).
Luther's take on the matter is summed up thus by Dr. Peters:
Except for those few instances, Luther does not specifically mention the reservation of the Sacrament. He is evidently not much concerned about the question. In one instance he says it should be abolished, in another he is not concerned whether or not it is abolished, and in a third instance, he reportedly says that it should be retained against certain "heretics." At any rate, Luther nowhere infers that the reservation of the Sacrament is per se or necessarily outside of the use, and therefore not the Body of Christ. (183)
Luther was of course far from the only Lutheran of his time who allowed for the reverent reservation of the Sacrament. From the diet of Ansbach in 1526 we have this:
And if at times something of the Sacrament were left over when the communicants receive the holy and venerable Sacrament, this shall not be contemptuously disposed of, but with the proper reverence shall be kept in the Sacrament houses, to be reserved for those who might accidentally fall sick from day to day or for other communicants. (311)
In the examination prepared for Lutheran priests in Nuremberg in 1528, reservation is treated as an adiaphoron which must be approached as a pastoral question. To the question, "Should one enclose the sacrament?" it teaches that this "is a free matter," though admittedly it expresses a preference for not reserving the Sacrament.

While it is true that consecrating the bread and wine on location for the sick became the general norm in Lutheran churches, there are certainly exceptions to this. Guy Dietrich, of Nuremberg, for example, gives a balanced endorsement of taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sick. Peters quotes him thus:

This too is certain from [the writings of] many Fathers, that, just as among us today, the people went to the Sacrament together every Sunday, and the Supper was held publicly. Then what remained was reserved, partly for the sick who would desire the Sacrament during the week, and partly because one could not distribute everything at once, when the number of communicants was too small...Then the remaining Hosts and also the chalice were reserved, and during the week the sick were communed with it, and what was left was used again during the next Communion or Supper. Here we do not dispute whether such reserved Hosts and chalice were the Body and Blood of Christ. And the reason is that it stayed in its use and was distributed to the Church, and those to whom it was distributed received the Body of Christ in the bread and drank His Blood in the chalice. Here there is no doubt at all, for the institution of Christ remained in its entirety and inviolate. (Peters, 404)

Peters then comments that with these words Dietrich:

...approves not only of carrying the Sacrament to the sick but also of reserving it for the communion of the sick during the week, or for distribution on the following Sunday. This he considers an acceptable practice, in keeping with the practice of the early Church, along with the more recent custom of celebrating at the bedside. He specifically says that such reservation is still "in the use" of the Sacrament, and that such a practice does not violate the institution of Christ. (404-405)

In the Examenation of the Council of Trent, Chemnitz deals at length with the question, too much length to be worth including here. I must say, however, that Chemnitz cannot be used to condemn reservation per se. Admittedly, he prefers not even to reserve It for the sick, yet nowhere does he condemn it. He only says that it is unnecessary. Dr. Peters sums up the evidence from the sixteenth century thus:

Most of the Lutheran theologians of the sixteenth century do not bother to distinguish between reservation for adoration and for the sick. But it is important to note that no sixteenth century Lutheran theologian, in those sources which are available, makes the explicit statement that reservation for the sick or carrying the Sacrament to the sick is wrong or "outside of the use." Guy Dietrich approves the reservation for the sick, and Chemnitz defends the practice as it was done in the ancient Church. It is not until later that Lutheran theologians consider this practice as such "outside of the use of the Sacrament." (413)
Clearly, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was both practiced and defended by Lutherans in Luther's own day, as well as later in the century, and in at least one instance it was at Luther's own urging.
While we're still in the sixteenth century I would like to briefly discuss a couple of incidents which veer off the particular question of reservation of the Sacrament. These incidents pertain to what happens after an accident takes place in the administration of the Sacrament, whether innocently, or by carelessness, and thereby shed light on the reverence for the Sacrament evident in the Lutheran Church of that age.
The first incident I would like to share took place on the Third Sunday in Advent, in 1567. A priest by the name of John Musculus, according to the testimony of the church officials whose job it was to hold the houseling cloth, report that Musculus spilled the Blood of Christ onto the houseling cloth, and though there were some conflicting reports in the ensuing investigation, it seems that he also spilled the Blood onto the floor, and may have carelessly stepped on It. Peters writes:

On April 3, 1568, the Electoral Prince Joachim II sent a letter to the University of Frankfurt, as well as to the city council, stating that he had been informed that John Musculus, in celebrating the Sacrament in Clistow, had spilled some of the contents of the chalice onto the floor and then had stepped on what had been spilled. He demanded an immediate investigation of the matter.

The investigation that followed was quite involved; conflicting testimony had to be sorted out; the full truth may have been impossible to ascertain; in the end, however, it was unthinkable for the church of that time to be unresponsive to such a scandal. At one point, the Elector "suggested that as punishment for the 'abominable crime' John Musculus should have 'two or three fingers cut off'." His final decision, however, was in some ways even more severe. After the inquiry was complete, and all testimonies and opinions were considered, the verdict was decided; the decree issued by the Elector was as follows:
Since Master John Musculus, pastor in the suburb of Lebus, near Frankfurt on the Oder and in the village of Clistow, shortly before last Christmas, in distributing the holy and venerable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Savior and Sanctifier Jesus Christ, with vicious and criminal carelessness, swung the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the action itself, and in the distribution, in such a way that a large part of it flowed not only on the communicant's clothing and on the silk houseling cloth which the church officers held, but also on the floor; and since he did not remove it with Christian and fitting reverence, thereby causing it to be stepped on not only by himself but by the communicants who followed...therefore, from now on he shall no longer be tolerated as a minister of the church in our lands; he shall also leave our land immediately and without privilege, shall be completely banned, and shall not enter this land again without our special permission, shall not be found in it, if he would like to avoid a greater and corporal punishment. (Peters 363-364)
The second incident involved Dr. Luther himself, and is from late in his life. He was on the road on business, and in the town of Halle was asked to say Mass at the Church of Our Lady. The Reformer was not altogether well, though it is too easy for us now, who were not there, from the distance of several centuries, to ask why he didn't have help with the distribution, say, from another priest or a deacon. In the end, we must simply accept the fact that this was a small group, who sought the ministry of the Eucharist at the hands of the Reformer, and that he must not have felt so ill at the start of Mass as to conclude that he could not do it without incident. In the course of the administration of the Precious Blood of Christ, his hands were shaking, and he spilled some of the Blood onto the floor. A witness' account reports that "Luther put the chalice down on the altar, fell to his knees, and sucked up the wine with his mouth so that it should not be trodden under foot, whereupon the whole congregation broke out in sobbing and weeping."
Other similar incidents could be brought forth from that period, but we will let these suffice here. They are relevant to the overall discussion for this reason: they show the great seriousness and reverence with which Luther and the Lutherans of that century took the Personal Presence of our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament. They took it so seriously that when an accident befell the administration of the Eucharist, they had no hesitation or second thought about the belief that It is still the Body and Blood of Christ, and must be treated as such. In the more famous case of Adam Besserer, who mixed unconsumed consecrated Hosts with unconsecrated, Luther said that he was a despiser of both God and man, and the same as a Zwinglian!
The reason I bring these stories up is that they are such a stark contrast to the behavior in most of our churches today, and so they bring this thought to my mind: in an environment in which the conduct toward the Sacred Species even during the Divine Service tends to be so blasé, even irreverent (some even say that a dropped particle is not the Body of Christ, and that if what is in the chalice spills on the altar or floor it is not the Blood of Christ, thereby effectively redefining the Real Presence even more narrowly than within the Mass itself), then such people really intellectually forfeit the right to tell others how to handle or not handle the Sacrament outside the Mass. Let me simply add here that, sadly, the seminaries themselves do a poor job of inculcating reverent treatment of the Sacred Species, and perhaps until that changes, no large scale improvement can be expected in our churches...But I digress.
Seventeenth Century
The general opposition to reservation of the Sacrament among the Lutheran theologians in the sixteenth century intensified in the following century. So much so that the prevailing bias against reservation, itself, seems to have influenced the thinking (became the presupposition, in other words) of the theologians of that age. Nevertheless, the arguments are not completely uniform. Many condemn reservation outright, and call it "outside of the use" of the Sacrament. In this, they clearly are defining the Usus differently, more narrowly, than do the Lutheran teachers from the age of Luther and the Confessions. Some admit that the reserved Sacrament is the Body of Christ, yet nevertheless argue against the practice, and these on a number of grounds. Some practical (eg, difficulty in transporting the Blood of Christ), some because it might send the wrong message, and suggest that Lutherans endorse the practices that do fall outside of the use, such as processions, etc.

Nevertheless, the minority opinion persisted, as does the practice of at least taking the Blessed Sacrament directly to the sick, if not also a longer reservation. These persist through the seventeenth century, and indeed, into the eighteenth. I highlight here the account Peters gives of Casper Calvor.

The Lutheran liturgiologist, Casper Calvor, discusses the communion of the sick at some length in his Ecclesiastical Ritual. He, too, admits that the ancient Church carried the Sacrament to those who were ill, but he points out that this was very rarely mentioned before the seventh century. Nevertheless, there is a difference between reserving for the sick and carrying it to them immediately after the celebration. Then he adds:

"I imagine that it is from this [latter practice] that the rite of our churches has come, namely, in which we are accustomed to communicate the sick by carrying bread and wine to them from the churches themselves, after the public celebration of the Eucharist."

Since this book was first published in 1704, this statement serves as evidence for the fact that this method of communicating was still known at the beginning of the eighteenth century. (503)

A Concluding Word
The definitions by Lutheran theologians of eucharistic terms like Usus and Actio have, the record would seem to suggest, evolved gradually but surely over the course of the centuries since the classic formulations of our doctrine were set down and articulated by Luther and the Symbols of 1580 and 1584. Practice corresponding to these narrowing definitions has evolved with them. I should rather say that our practice, over all, has devolved. It has devolved to the point where even within the Divine Service itself there are examples everywhere of gross irreverence toward the Most Holy Sacrament (this while we sing in our hymns about how reverent we are, eg., "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence"). To be clear, consecrating the bread and wine at the bedside is not in itself offensive, nor the product necessarily of the later definitions to which I refer. The insistence on the part of some, however, that reservation and carrying the Sacrament to the sick are "outside of the use" has led to a real and unfortunate bias against a tradition that has always had a place in our Church. And it has clouded the thinking of many of our teachers and theologians to some of the potential arguments in favor of the practice. On this count, let us hear once more from Edward Peters:
One aspect of the Sacrament which most Lutheran theologians ignore almost completely is the fact that the Sacrament is one of the highest expressions of Christian fellowship that has been given to the Church. The Sacrament is not merely an individual's participating in a gift of God, but it is just as much the participation of Christians in Christ Himself with one another in the Body of Christ. Lutheran theologians condemn the Roman Catholics who forget this principle when they allow priests to celebrate Mass by themselves without the participation of the congregation. However, one might ask if Lutherans are not ignoring the same principle when they express their preference for a clinical celebration at which one person receives the Sacrament by himself. When the Sacrament is carried from a congregation's celebration to the bedside of the sick, this is a laudable expression of the individual's common participation in the Church's celebration, even though he is not able to be present physically in the church building itself. Most Lutheran theologians, however, all but forget this emphasis, which is an important part of the sacramental celebration. (558)

Indeed there are good reasons, I suggest, to keep room for both practices alive, that of carrying the Sacrament to the sick, and of consecrating the elements at the communicant's room, side by side in our Church. And whatever approach is taken by a priest, I pray for a renewed sense of reverence, at the altar, in the sacristy, in the nave, as well as wherever the sacrament might be taken.