Monday, September 27, 2010

Signs of Reverence at the Consecration

This week's poll asks about the signs of reverence that accompany the Consecration at your congregation.

Gottesdienst has long advocated the ancient practice of elevation and genuflection after each consecration - I'm sure our resident medievalist and Editor-in-Chief will, as is his wont, chime in with the story of how that got started in the Church. But however it got started, this ceremony is a remedy to today's cultural default setting of lack of reverence and awe.

In speaking with seminary classmates and other pastors at conferences and so forth, I find that these ceremonies (along with the celebrant communicating himself) have only the removal of the Battle Flag of the Republic from the Sanctuary to rival them for controversy and consternation in the parish. Tragically, the problem often gets worse with the more teaching a pastor does. That is to day, the consternation this reverence toward the Sacrament causes many Lutherans today stems not from a misunderstanding of the ceremony but from understanding it perfectly well.

"It's too Catholic," a member of the Antigenuflecting Society of Dies Irae Lutheran Church might say.

"Well," responds Pastor Schickelgr├╝ber, "it's simply an expression of the fact that we really believe that what is on the altar is really the Body and Blood of Jesus."

"Aha! I told you it was too Catholic! Panolater!"

OK, nobody has every said "panolater" to me, but you get the point.

But don't be too put off by this, dear pastor - it is an opportunity to do some real shepherding of the sheep. Your reverence at the altar and your preaching on the Sacrament will lead folks to ask questions and you will get to explain more and increase their understanding of this great Mystery. Every once in a while, even one of the shouters of Too Catholic will come around (some, of course, never will).

But it is incumbent upon our generation to do this teaching - of this I am convinced. The conversations I've had with active, lifelong, faithful, pious, Midwestern Lutherans on this topic almost always include a statement along these lines, "Huh. Pastor Soandso never talked like that in my confirmation class. . ."

Perhaps it was the infrequent communion, the Protestantizing influence of integrating into English-speaking American society, or the rampant receptionism taught in Missouri Synod seminaries in the mid-twentieth century - but my impression is that many of our parishes were simply not well catechized on what the Sacrament is. I, at any rate, have encountered more than a few lifelong Lutherans who had an essentially Presbyterian view of the Supper.

And here's your deep thought for today. Have you ever noticed how some of the communion hymns in our hymnals are in Presbyterian hymnals and others are in Roman Catholic hymnals? Would we be better off to toss out all the hymns that a Presbyterian could sing with a clear conscience? I think so. Would we be better off tossing out all the hymns that a Roman Catholic could sing with a clear conscience? I think not.

Too Catholic, again, I suppose. . .



  1. Take a look at the Lord's Supper hymns in Lutheran Book of Worship. There is barely any hymn that confesses any sort of Presence in the Supper.

  2. Good post and point. I think such ceremonies should not be introduced without a great deal of explanation and teaching.

    Have you, or anyone else, had any success on these issues by pointing folks to the fact that many of our Lutheran congregations have the communicants kneel to the receive the Sacrament?

    Or, the fact that we sing, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" -- are we singing that merely in an abstract sense? To whom are we addressing that "song" in the liturgy?

    I've found both points helpful in explaining expressions of reverence toward Christ as He comes to us in His body and blood.

  3. For Clarity's Sake: I put "elevation only" although I turn and face the congregation after the words and elevate both Chalice and Host then at the Pax Domini. Technically that is none of the above, but it is close to elevation only.

  4. Fr. McCain,

    Yes, those two points have been helpful to me, and I am sure, to many others. This is yet another case where the holding on to old customs (communicants kneeling at the rail) and the liturgy (the Sanctus) serves as a catechetical defense against the encroachment of foreign theology.

    Seeing Fr. Juhl's little icon reminds me of another bulwark often poo-pooed in our midst today: language. Walther and his generation were very desirous to keep German alive at least as a theological language - indeed, there is that oft quoted quip of his that to lose the German language would be to lose the Gospel.

    Walther is obviously playing with hyperbole, but looking at post-WWI North American Lutheranism - will anyone dare gainsay the general thrust of his argument? God be praised, much has been recovered and even improved since that time - but what is still lost now that German and Latin have been relegated to stepchild status in our seminary education (to which my own pitiful German skills even after passing the graduate school German exam can attest!)?

    Modern Orthodox Jews have this much right: conserving a theological language in an active way can be a very important tool in conserving a theology. How much more conserving and restoring traditional ceremonies and liturgy!


  5. Seeing how even the bronze-age Missourians could not help but tinker a bit when translating Walther and Pieper, I have to say that I am inclined to agree with Walther (hyperbolically speaking, of course ;) ).

    I wonder how much more reverence there would be for the Sacrament among our laity if they could read Luther in the vernacular. Even Walther's Kirk u. Amt suffered a number of Muellerisms in the transition - particularly the explanations of Ministry Thesis VIII (of which Dau's translation is much better).

  6. HRC,

    Not only the Jews, but also most Orthodox churches in America preserve their languages. And... the Muslims probably won't give up Arabic anytime soon.

  7. To modify the words of Christ,

    "These people confess my presence with their lips, but their actions say they don't think I'm there."

  8. Signs of reverence? I think this is too abstract. It is reverence, it confesses the reality. If you are asked questions about what reverence is, you don't give a philosophical diatribe. You say: It is that (pointing to the the pastor genuflecting, etc). Otherwise, our tendency is to fall into relativism, a particularly pernicious form of abstraction.

  9. I spent a year at Northwestern College, the feeder school to the Wels Sem, back in the days when I thought I was too good for the LCMS. There, the refusal to elevate was not even described as adiaphron—it was a confession against the false teaching of the Roman Catholic church.

    I think that nowadays, we just look back on some of this antipathy with wonder. I just don't have the same attitude towards the RC church that my forefathers did. And I don't mean those who were being slaughtered or declared an outlaw by the church—I mean those who were working together and worshipping on the same street.

    I think this attitude allows more of this sorta thing to be a part of our services today.

    PS I think reverence is wearing pants and not shorts...but that's just me...and I poo-poo your language thing. Everyone always thinks that the previous language worked much better than it actually did...but we all change to where people are because we want to communicate. And, in fact, we can communicate. Mostly this is because Jesus was translating in His mind from Southern English anyway.

  10. Not wanting to disappoint Fr Curtis, I will offer a segment from my book:

    "The elevation of the host arose in France in the 13th century against the teaching of one Peter the Stammerer who held a questionable view regarding the efficacy of the Words of Institution.

    "A significant element in the shaping of the liturgy can be traced to the Church’s desire to confess liturgically what she believed, in the face of heresies which denied those things" (80).

  11. I knew you'd come through, Fr. Fritz.


  12. Does anyone elevate the individual cups?

  13. In addition to elevation and genuflection, our organist also rings a chime at each elevation.

  14. Fr. Esget,

    We use the church's main bell for that - but only at midnight Christ Mass - to wake the heathen.

    Fr. K,

    Yet another problem with those little American thingies. Kind of awkward for that, eh?


  15. "There [at the Citadel of the WELS], the refusal to elevate was not even described as adiaphron—it was a confession against the false teaching of the Roman Catholic church." -- Rev. Fr. Louderback

    I don't think a disagreement with a theory as to how the Real Presence comes to be (on the Altar) ... especially by neck-tied and misguided receptionists ... necessarily constitutes a solid "confession." It's really not on the order of that expressed by, say, St. Polycarp of old.

    Transubstantiation is but an abstract theory, not a concrete worshipful behavior. Elevation the act speaks to the Presence of what is recognized and adored as being truly divine and life-saving, something far beyond our puny synapses' comprehension.

    I do think it was blessed Dr. Luther who once indicated that he'd much rather commune with the papists ... where holy Body and Blood is present, and appreciated ... than with the severely pinched Reformed rascals (who the sadly deluded Lutherans of today actually permit to eat and drink at the Lutheran Altar, to the Reformed's personal harm).

  16. May I ask if there is any historical significance to the phraseology, if not the language, 'Real Presence'?

    As I wade through my foggy memory, I seem to recall hearing or reading either at this illustrious blog or at Fr. McCain's site (which has very useful anti-calvinist posts) that the phrase 'Real Presence' is not inherently a Lutheran phrase, but Reformed. Am I mistaken?

    Should we avoid this phrase (a question pertinent to me in the midst of Calvinland, MI)? Or should we keep it and use it according to our own understanding of what it means?

    As far as I have been informed from Scripture & the Confessions, the bread is (not 'transubstantiates' into or 'represents') the Body of Christ. The wine is (not 'transubstantiates' into or 'represents') the Blood of Christ. It isn't a question of a 'presence' of any kind, it is Him.

    Have I misread the Confessions?

  17. Kenneth:
    "Real Presence" is a good Reformed phrase, and is therefore most fittingly, if also confusingly, used by the Reformed. I think Alber Collver once suggested in a paper the term "personal presence," which I kind of like. "Real presence:" would actually be a very good phrase, if it were not for its history, and the fact that almost everyone uses it today. For the genuine Lutheran view is what I suppose I would term a eucharistic realism.

    I don't really see where you are going when you say, "It isn't a question of a 'presence' of any kind, it is Him." Indeed, It is precisely Him (contrary to those who insist we cannot speak of the Christ Himself in the Sacrament, but only His "body and blood"), and therefore He (the whole Christ) is 'present'.

    This radical realism, expressed so beatifully, eg., in the Great Confession of 1528, was timely in that age in the midst of the Zwinglian threat, and it is timely today in the midst of the modern gnosticism of many and various stripes.

    Nor does the Great Confession conflict with the Book of Concord, contrary to Paul McCain's claim, who has publicly advised students to avoid writings like that, and stick with the FC, which is supposed to condemn Luther. In fact, nowhere is Luther guilty of capernaitism or local inclusion, properly understood. Nor is he guilty of a new doctrine of the Supper, though he confessed it about as profoundly and forcefully and beautifully as anyone in history. Rather, he upholds and hands on to us the eucharistic tradition that came before him, with such positive examples as the first draft of Berengar's confession in the 11th century.

  18. Please let me add that though it may seem I am unnecessarily poking brothers or dormant fights of the past, these happen to be important theological issues, and are matters of public dispute, and when I use a term like "dispute," I have in mind the great history of healthy, respectful, and thoroughgoing disputation. Will this guy ever stop, some have wondered. I promise I will not.


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