Friday, May 28, 2010

"Why Traditionalism Matters" or "Paved With Good Intentions"

By Larry Beane

The above video shows a bizarre reception of Holy Communion by the girlfriend of a politician, made possible by liturgical anti-traditionalism.

One of the reforms resulting from the Roman Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was that the rubrics regarding the reception of Holy Communion would change. Instead of kneeling as the priest placed the host on the tongue as had been done for centuries, people would now stand up and receive it in their own hands, in a sense, "communing themselves." This was hailed as a liturgical triumph by those who held tradition in contempt back in the turbulent sixties.

I'm sure that this liturgical change - like all the rest of them - had "good intentions" and seemed like a great idea at the time. Of course, the practice of giving people communion on the tongue had been around for centuries, and was a way of safeguarding the integrity of the sacrament - protecting the Lord's body from abuse - whether accidental or intentional - or even in the name of anti-Christian hatred. There was a very good reason for the tradition to have developed by the Church over many centuries of practice.

And like other Roman Catholic liturgical changes of the radical 1960s, these answers-in-search-of-problems made their way into Vatican-aping churches of the Augsburg Confession.

And so, as a result of the new "more friendly" touchy-feely method of lay-self-communion, it is once again easy to desecrate the Holy Sacrament.

This is the problem with leaving the safe and trodden paths of tradition for untried roads that seem better. Obviously, traditions that deny or obscure the Gospel or contradict Scripture have to go (which includes the pre-1960s denial of the cup to the laity - that was a good change and a restoration of a better and older tradition). But all other things being equal, if communing people orally is a way to diminish and discourage the Lord from being desecrated, what possible argument could anyone make for doing away with it? If after 40 years, it has proven a failure, why is there reticence to go back to tradition?

The way to best safeguard the holy elements is to distribute them in the traditional manner practiced by western Christians for centuries - having the host placed on the tongue and having the blood served orally from a common chalice. And while it is true that a person can smuggle out a consecrated host even when it is placed in the mouth, and while it is true that the blood of Christ can be spilled from a chalice - it is simply more likely that such bizarre behavior as this video above (a repeat of a similar alleged event involving the non-Roman Catholic prime minister of Canada who presented himself for communion and may have pocketed the host (the video is not conclusive and politicians are not particularly known for their candor...) will happen by ignorance or by ignominy.

I honestly don't know what is gained by giving the hosts into the hand. For the life of me, especially in this day and age of rampant disrespect and grandstanding against Christians, what in the world is wrong with placing the Lord's most holy body on the tongue as we have been doing for centuries?

Another possible title for this little reflection: "If it ain't broke..."


  1. I thought maybe she was saving it to put in Fr. Eckardt's Tabernacle later on. :)

  2. I thought our concern was celebrating the Supper according to Christ's institution. Do you suppose he placed the unleavened bread on the tongues of the apostles?

  3. I teach our folks that receiving the Body on the tongue or in their crossed hands (which are then brought to the mouth) are fine Lutheran piety. Some listen to me; some don't. ;)

  4. Philip,

    Christ's institution of the Supper does not entail everything that He did when He celebrated it the first time. Certain practices instituted later in the Church's life serve to witness to the truth that Christ is bodily present in the elements (the Elevation, the Agnus Dei, kneeling for distribution); others serve to support our love for one another (fasting and Absolution before receiving the Sacrament, deacon and usher protocol to enforce closed Communion). As Lutherans we aren't performing a ritualized historical reenactment, which would be more in conformity with Zwinglian/Calvinist doctrine.

  5. Dear Philip:

    Silly me. You're right. Now, where can I buy a table with short legs for all of my communicants to recline upon? And when will Almy start carrying those little earthen oil lamps... ;-)

    The point is that we come from a living tradition within the church, and in many cases, those traditions are not arbitrary. There is a practical and well-advised reason for taking communion orally. It isn't just one more thing for the consumer-minded sovereign individual to decide for himself according to his preferences and choices.

    I believe that the Roman Church acted rashly in jettisoning those ancient practices without even considering the unintended consequences. And Lutherans (whose specific tradition never included taking communion manually) were (as usual) ever quick to copy the Vatican.

    I'm not saying people should not take communion according to the way they do it. I am saying it was foolish for the clergy and bishops to show such disregard for tradition as to invite the Lord's body to be desecrated. They opened a can of worms that could have been avoided, and to no advantage whatsoever. They gained nothing.

    It's as though since Vatican II (for both RCs and Lutherans) sacramental desecration is just no big deal. Nobody is even grieved. It's as though we want to communicate to the world that "it's just a cracker" like the atheist professor who gets a kick out of pocketing hosts to mock them.

    Maybe that comme-ci-comme-ca attitude is an even bigger issue than the communion rubrics...

  6. Watching that video clip I wonder if something else didn't transpire. Maybe the priest didn't want to commune the nice young lady and was trying to tell her no? Either way, what she did was disgusting and showed her distain for the eucharist.

    Rev. Hoppe, just curious, do you have a river running behind your church to conduct baptisms in? After all, was not Christ baptized in the Jordan?

  7. In seminary I was reading through Justo L. Gonzalez's in "A History of Christian Thought." He notes that the most ancient Christian practice is reception by the hands and that the confession was a "cradle for the Lord Jesus." How would this factor in to the discussion?

  8. @The exiled
    The BoC condemns the anabaptists who claim that a baptism by affusion or sprinkling is not a real baptism. It doesn't denounce immersion as such; it condemns immersion if we say it is the only true baptism. Since we hold the "ancient traditions" of the catholic Church of all times and places in such high esteem, the Didache might be informative: "Concerning baptism, baptize in this manner: Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water [that is, in running water, as in a river]. If there is no living water, baptize in other water; and, if you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
    Ezekiel 36 points to sprinkling.
    Re. Communion, I personally kneel at the rail and receive Christ on my tongue, although I understand "Take, eat" as literally as "this is My Body". I like the elevation of the host at the altar/table, but would prefer the pastor face the congregation as he speaks Christ's words; with his back to the congregation during the elevation of the host, it seems to betray some kind of sacrificial tendency. Now that's an ancient practice too, but it is so roundly condemned by Luther, that I think Lutheran pastors ought to face the congregation during the WOI and if they elevate.
    Sorry to ramble.


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