Parish and personal duties have taken me to two events in Roman Catholic parishes this year – in two different dioceses. Back in January our parish choir participated in a Sunday afternoon “Epiphany Ecumenical Concert” here in a neighboring town and earlier this summer I attended a wedding in a Roman Catholic diocese in another state.
I was left with the impression that our separated brethren in Rome suffer under the same difficulties as we when it comes to reverence in worship – and maybe even a difficulty or two we have been spared.
For example, the ecumenical concert took place in what used to be a cathedral – it is now a parish church and still houses the bones of the first three bishops of what was once a frontier river port. I felt sorry to see the bones of these intrepid men being treated so poorly: the members of a Roman Catholic guitar choir had absent-mindedly leaned their guitar cases against the bishops' tomb. What is more, the stage for this musical ensemble had been erected directly in front of the altar of repose – and if the lamp was to be believed, the blessed Sacrament was indeed being reserved therein. Thus the group performed their music with their backs to the blessed Sacrament – and neither was any customary sign of reverence shown by any of the Roman Catholic participants toward that altar.
Neither the parish priest, the considerable number of nuns who were there to sing, nor the parish music director made any visible attempt to rectify the situation.
Bones buried in the sanctuary and a reserved Sacrament are rare in Lutheran Churches – though not unheard of – but the wedding I attended recently in a different Roman diocese highlighted issues more familiar to the Churches of the Augsburg Confession.
Since this was a mixed marriage, the Mass was not celebrated. Rather, a short marriage rite, very nearly identical to the LSB rite, was followed. See if any of this sounds familiar:
Lay readers, dressed as for a garden party in summer dresses that exposed the shoulders and then some.
The sister of the groom calling the bids for the prayers.
The “offensive” verses from Ephesians 5 concerning the wife's duty to her husband were simply elided out of the reading.
The chanteuse singing the verses of this Marty Haugen setting of Psalm 103 replaced every “his” with “God's” so that no masculine pronouns were used with reference to the Almighty.
Well. None of that brings me any Schadenfreude – but since misery loves company, I was at least heartened that the problems we face are not unique to Lutheranism. It is not some error in our theology, some fatal weakness in the Lutheran Reformation, that has led to the battles in our midst over reverence in worship. Rather, all Christians are fighting the sames enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil which do not want us to hallow God's Name or let his Kingdom come.
There's plenty of need for repentance and serious thinking about worship to go around.