Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 9

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


No section of the liturgy has undergone more tinkering and tampering than this section. Our hymnal’s presentation of the Sacrament appears to climb mountains of controversy in order to get to the essentials clean and pure. It concentrates, as do a number of Lutheran liturgies going back to the Reformation and before, on the basics of what God is doing in the Sacrament. It lets God speak and God act with as little interference from his minister as possible.

And so this most ancient section of the Liturgy begins with that customary greeting in the Preface which signals that something awesome is about to take place. For the miracle about to happen we ask God’s blessing on all present, pastor and congregation. The special nature of this miracle is that God through the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament will make personal what up until now has been general and universal. That’s the special role of the sacraments. Now especially the one hiding behind the pillar in the temple and still smiting his breast in despair because of his guilt should come out from behind the pillar and look into the face of God with rejoicing. If he had to struggle with unbelief when God through the pastor spoke a general absolution, perhaps the miracle of Christ’s presence will win him. For if Jesus feeds us with himself, with the very price of our salvation, then when God looks at us, he sees — Jesus! How can God then still be angry? The Sacrament is a banquet of forgiveness and salvation, yes, even for the one who struggled to believe the Word of Absolution, and who, even if just for the moment, lost in that dread battle.

Lift up your hearts! We lift them up to the Lord. Yes, we should indeed lift up our hearts to the Lord. That is such a full and beautiful expression. We lift up the heart in confession; let God see it, every bit of it, all that no one else will ever see or know. We lift it up in joyful expectation and adoration before the mystery that so soon Jesus will come to us with the very price of our salvation. Having no gold or goods on the night in which he was betrayed, he nevertheless wrote a will. In it he left us a bequest: Himself! And how much is packed into that! He gives himself to us as individuals, but in fellowship with and not apart from one another, in the fellowship of the church.

Then we sing one of those wonderful biblical expressions of understatement: Let us give thanks to the Lord. It is good and right so to do! The Sacrament is called the Eucharist from this line of the liturgy.

The Proper Preface follows and then the exultant Sanctus. The Sanctus is one of those great masterpieces of solemn simplicity. Heaven and earth are joined as we intone the chant of the angels in Isaiah 6. The Old and New Testament are joined as we pass from the song of the angels to the Old Testament hymn sung by the disciples on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is the song of the church in this place and of the church for over a thousand years, biding welcome to him who comes to us so completely in his Sacrament.

The Words of Institution follow. This is the part that, oddly enough, gets most argued about. Luther took a meat cleaver to the formula of the Mass that, upon close examination, exalts not Christ but the priest and the pope who sent him. For all the church in heaven and earth joins, as already noted, to pray that the priest’s sacrifice may be acceptable. After Luther’s meat cleaver hacked away all of that abomination, others sought to expand the Words of Institution with an assortment of prayers that were often more didactic than prayerful or that emphasize our sacrifice of thanksgiving more than Christ’s gift to us in the Sacrament. Luther wanted God’s Word to say it all. Personally, I’m satisfied with that. Given that people these days have the attention span of gerbil, some might want to argue that a little more should be said by way of the real nature and blessing of the Sacrament. And it is certainly true that also in our circles there are a lot of silly notions that persist: Dear, should we go to Communion this Sunday? Ans.: I don’t know. Did we go last time? That all-too-common approach betrays the notion that in the Sacrament we are obeying a law or doing God some sort of favor. That our people need to be reminded more than just in Confirmation Class or on Maundy Thursday of the nature and blessing of the Sacrament cannot be argued. Whether the sacramental liturgy is the best time to do that reminding or not is worth thinking about. But if one decided to do it there, he will do it best if he is very brief and to the point. Again, Luther’s emphasis here is worth remembering: It’s not about you; it’s about him and his gift of himself for you.

The Pax follows the Words of Institution. Luther often praised this little sentence in the Liturgy (though he did not include this line in the Deutsche Messe). Like all of the other blessings of the Liturgy, this too is an application of the doctrine of the means of grace. For the Pax gives what it says, and it is thus the best preparation for the reception of the Sacrament. It emphasizes the fruit of absolution and the blessing about to be imparted in yet another wondrous way in the Sacrament. The Amen of God’s people declares their faith in what is offered in absolution, in the Pax itself, and in the Sacrament about to be received. Jesus spoke of this Pax, this peace, so fulsomely just before he went to gain it for us (John 14:25-27) and it was the first blessing that he gave his disciples when he came to them after his Resurrection (John 20:19-21) — and he said it twice in less than a minute. Could he have been more in earnest or emphatic in the way that he gave this gift of peace?

The Words of Institution follow. In them we set aside earthly elements for a sacred use. The Verba do not change the elements. There is no magic involved in their recitation. Arguments about the moment of the Sacrament, frankly, have always seemed a little silly to me: The Sacrament is whole cloth; no Word of God, no Sacrament; no use, i.e. reception, no Sacrament either. The rule still applies: Extra usum, nullum sacramentum! I’ve always thought it interesting that the very order of Christ’s words suggests that. He doesn’t say: This is my body; take eat. He says: Take eat; this is my body. In it all it’s the what that matters, not the when. Arguments about when tend not only to distract from the what; they tend to shift the emphasis away from Christ and his gift on to the pastor and his acts — the opposite of the intent of the Lutheran reform of the communion liturgy.

Then comes the beautiful Agnus Dei, an addition to the communion liturgy from about the year 700. It again gets our priorities right. All that we need comes from the Lamb who was slain. All that we claim is his mercy, not our merit, our excuses, our good intentions. And now we are about to receive the evidence of his mercy and the peace which is its fruit in the banquet spread before us. And that’s what the Sacrament is all about: His giving what he won on the cross, our receiving thereby all that he is and all that he has.


Anonymous said...

If the Sacrament is what Lutheran's say it is, why not have it as often as we can? I mean, isn't that more congruent with the WELS' (and the historical Lutheran church) beliefs about the Communion? Is there any push to do this in the WELS?
Andy Groenwald

AP said...


I suppose you are right. It is more congruent with confessional Lutheranism, but it is not, unfortunately, congruent with the entire history of Lutheranism.

The periods of Pietism and Rationalism in the seveneteenth and eighteenth centuries and unionism in the 19th and 20th centuries (times when the Lutheran church, broadly speaking, was strongly influenced by false doctrine) led to a downplaying of the sacraments. The churches that eventually became ELCA (starting in the colonial period) mainly came from the Pietistic tradition. WELS itself began very much influenced by Pietism, and it took the Missouri Lutherans to turn us back to the confessional path.

So, as it turns out, your question is a very complex one. I would do some reading, maybe just using the internet as a start, on the history of these movements within Lutheranism.

I do not know about any pushes in WELS toward weekly communion, but I know some churches do it.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

Unknown said...

I also do not know of any push to weekly communion. Most churches I attend are either 1st Sunday or 1st/3rd Sunday communion parishes.

Anonymous said...

Strictly speaking the frequency of communion is an adiaphoron--something not governed by a specific command of Scripture. As such it is unlikely, and indeed would be wrong, for the WELS to make an official synod-wide rule about every-Sunday communion.

However, Dr. Palmer is correct. Much of our practice is/was influenced by our history and our history as a church body contains influences that do not treasure the Sacraments and the blessings God gives through them.

That being said, I believe this specific influence has been and is being overcome. The congregation where I was raised changed from monthly communion to twice monthly in the last 25 years. At the seminary, pastors are taught clearly what the Sacraments are and the sweet blessings they give. And as they go out they teach this too their congregations. And congregations are seeking to partake of these blessings more frequently. And this is good.

However, there shouldn't be a "push", at least not from the top down, from the synod on pastors or pastors on their congregations. It would be wrong to condemn those who celebrate the Lord's Supper less frequently or to brand them as lesser, weaker, or foolish. This is one of the areas that it is appropriate to be different in practice while remaining united in belief.

I guess it would always be a good thing to teach and remind (and to be taught and reminded) of the Gospel, the gifts given in the Lord's Supper. And if this leads toward God's People seeking it and receiving it more frequently, what joy! The same need for teaching and remind of the blessings in the written and spoken Word are also in order, and bring the same joy filled increase in desire.

Pastor Albert Meier

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I haven't heard of the synod pushing weekly Communion. But we are certainly encouraging it here on IL.

We really must stop talking about Communion frequency in the realm of adiaphora. That puts it in the realm of the Law. It belongs in the realm of the Gospel. We should be talking about Communion frequency like we talk about the Sermon frequency. Why would we omit one or the other?

We need to be honest about our historical answer to that question: we omit the Sacrament from the Sunday service because of our Pietistic history. We need to be honest about the fact that this is a deviation from the confessional Lutheran practice of weekly Communion.

We also need to stop equating offering the Sacrament every Sunday with obligating members to commune every Sunday. There's a huge difference. No one is suggesting that members should be obligated to commune every week. What we're suggesting is that it be offered weekly to those who wish for it, according to confessional Lutheran practice.

There ought to be a "push" coming from our synodical leadership: For congregations to stop preventing those who wish to commune weekly from doing so, together with a study of the reasons behind the confessional Lutheran practice and the Pietists' reasons for changing that practice long ago.

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Nor have I heard any serious discussion from "official" sources which would encourage weekly Communion. The only information I receive, as a layman, is the same empty quip which seems to stand as the ultimate basis for all of our practice: "it's adiaphora." On the other hand, non-official sources, such as the opinions of individual pastors, do not always express agreement with this position. In fact, just recently, in my travels over the past three weeks, I happened to meet a WELS pastor who recently introduced every-Sunday communion in his parish. As we got to talking, he made the very same remark as Rev. Rydecki, above, saying, "We need to get away from using adiaphora as justification for our practice. An argument from adiaphora is an argument from Law." That is, one man's freedom is held over another man as a form of Law, where each man is obligated to bend over backwards to accommodate the unique preferences of those around him. Of course, arguing from man's freedom is also an argument from anthropocentric criteria, which is often reflected in the practice which descends from such reasoning. He further commented on the need to justify practice from the Gospel, rather than from adiaphora, stating that such would lead almost immediately to the christocentric practice found in the Western Rite. It would also lead to increased frequency in use of the Sacrament. And this is important. As Rev. Rydecki mentioned above, no one would make the case for offering the sermon only twice a month, so why are we satisfied to offer the Sacrament only twice a month?

Or, maybe there are some who have made the case for offering preaching less frequently... For example, for all of the hot air expended by us Lutherans on the necessity of Law and Gospel preaching, I’ve lost count of the number of laymen who have commented to me personally the conspicuous absence of substantive Law preaching among us – that’s second use of the Law, not just technically present, but used and applied in the sermon. I’ve heard precious little of it myself over the years – in fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard a Lutheran sermon where the Law was used in a way that struck terrors of conscience, like it is supposed to. And what about certain teachings of the Bible? Are some important teachings becoming less and less conspicuously taught? Scriptural worship practice comes immediately to mind, but what about Church Fellowship, the Means of Grace, the Divine Call, and others?

I bring this up, because I was recently involved in a discussion with a group of WELS men, both laymen and called workers, who were entertaining serious consideration of partially censuring certain Scripture teachings – on church or dayschool property – because such teachings may constitute a source of political offense for non-Christians, or non-Lutherans, who may not understand them. To be fair, the issue was the artistic representation of such teachings rather than the direct preaching of them, so perhaps this is the reason that the principle of censorship prevailed, despite the objections of a tiny minority of us.

While there may not be a push to reduce the frequency of preaching, is there nevertheless a willingness to deplete our teaching and preaching of its fullness, in order to avoid offense? If so, where can this lead? Is not Christ Himself a stumbling stone, the Rock of Offense? Are we not told in the Scriptures that the Gospel itself, while a sweet salve to us who receive it in faith, is in fact foolishness and offensive to those who, in their faithlessness, yet remain the enemies of God? Shall we censure the Gospel to avoid offense? Other church bodies have done this...

Michael Schottey said...

I agree entirely that we should not speak of communion frequency as a matter of adiophora. The last thing any of us should want connected to the blessed sacrament is legalism.

Rather, I believe it is something that we should pray continually is observed rightfully when it is observed and make personal points to observe it as often as we can.

Furthermore, pray and labor in your own churches to increase respect for the sacrament and denounce the strains of piety which are still far too prevalent among us.

It is amazing how connection with the word along with proper teaching makes Christians crave the bread and the wine.

Anonymous said...

Well, yes.

Terrible to make weekly communion a law. Michael is right on. Proper teaching does make Christians crave it.

Communion IS what we say it is, so let us encourage our fellow Christians to make the Sacrament a concrete feature of every Divine Service!
Andy Groenwald

Anonymous said...

There is a certain absurdity in the argument that communion frequency is an adiaphoron. Ask your pastor if the Lord's Supper is the distribution of the Gospel. If he is Lutheran, he has to say yes. If he says no, you have a much bigger problem. Ask if adiophora involves being free in the Gospel. Again, the answer should be yes. At this point, you are ready to expose the Reductio ad absurdum. Ask if Communion is what it is, and if adiaphora is what it is, how can we say something is adiaphora when it involves being free from the Gospel? Do not be surprised if he gets a little flustered. In three simple questions, you challenged nearly 20 years of schooling. That's why using questions is good. If you ask them properly, you won't be confrontational.

I've never understood the argument for less frequent distribution of the Lord's Supper for that very reason: we are saying we have the freedom in the Gospel to not distribute the Gospel. It is absurd when you think about it.

Dan Sellers

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