Monday, May 6, 2013

In our churches, Mass is celebrated...

By Larry Beane

In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc. ~ Ap 24:1

Some make the argument that this is merely descriptive rather than prescriptive - therefore it is purely optional. Some would even say this used to be descriptive and is actually expired or not true any more. And yet in spite of this, Lutheran pastors still take unqualified vows that this Book of Concord norms their ministry in the Church. The reality is this: the entire Book of Concord is descriptive - it describes the doctrine and practice of our churches. We do not obey the Book of Concord, rather we confess it. It describes our faith and explicates how we (Lutherans, that is) interpret the Scriptures.

Some argue that there is no theological significance to AC 24 and its corresponding article in the Apology (Ap 24), that these are as irrelevant to our faith and practice as the statement, "In our churches, we have men's rooms that have urinals and waste baskets." Such a statement would be a throw-away line, a historical curiosity like knee breeches and powdered wigs - as quaint and useless as a quill pen.

But the reality is this: the confessors laid out an entire article to describe and defend the Lutheran practices of weekly communion and traditional worship. Both were already being discarded by some groups in the 16th century, and the Lutherans were very careful to distance themselves from the infrequent-communion and non-traditional-worship parties. Our practice of weekly, traditional, liturgical, Catholic Mass is a theological consequence and lived-out practicum of our doctrines, beliefs, and interpretation of the Scriptures - so much so that the reformers angrily corrected insinuations to the contrary (e.g. "We are unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass.  Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents" (AC 24:9)).

To those who claim Ap 24 is quaint, outdated, irrelevant, and no longer part of our confession, I would argue that it is even more fresh and timely today than in 1530. For today Lutherans are pressured - by society, by other Christians, by their own hierarchs and bureaucrats, by some of their own clergy, by some of their own lay people, by moneyed interests, and by those who care more about feelings than confessions - to abandon this article and concede to infrequent communion and entertainment-based non-traditional and/or non-liturgical worship. In many cases, pastors are unable to keep this promise they made at ordination out of pastoral concern for their congregations who may have parishioners who will violently oppose something as simple as using the hymnal or having the Holy Sacrament every Sunday - and so they must pray and teach, perhaps at best hoping to "move the chains" a few yards so that a future pastor might be able to bring this great blessing to the parish - even as we are all collectively committed to do by virtue of our vows.

The reason we need the traditional worship forms and weekly Eucharist is because we are sinners. That has not changed since 1530. What has changed is that our culture is even more self-centered (living in a 24-7 entertainment culture) and less influenced by Christian doctrine and practice than in the days of the reformers. The solution is not to compromise either our doctrine or our practice. The solution is the opposite: to be faithful to our doctrine and practice - because our faith is not something that changes with every whim of the culture. We cling to traditional marriage and traditional liturgy - even though hipsters and celebrities tell us both are no longer relevant. 

They only lose their relevance when Christians reject them in order to be popular. The Book of Concord places us firmly within the catholic tradition. It never once describes us as Protestant. Not only does the Book of Concord confess traditional and liturgical worship forms, it decries novelty (AC 24:40) and frivolity (FC SD 10:9) in our ceremonial.

Not all Christians confess the Book of Concord.  In fact, very few do explicitly.  Many Christians indeed do not enjoy the blessings of weekly Eucharist (and the Real Presence) and the awestruck reverence that goes hand-in-glove with the confession of the Real Presence - a reverence that not merely results from, but also shapes, our worship life as Christians.  Those who lack it are the poorer for it.  Similarly, many Christians deny the reality that Holy Baptism regenerates, that divine grace is monergistic, and that pastors forgive sins by virtue of their office by Christ's authority.  But all Lutherans, by definition, joyfully and humbly confess these things - even as all Lutheran pastors and congregations, by definition, willingly and explicitly bind themselves to the Book of Concord - including AC and Ap 24.

And what we confess, we should also believe and teach.  What we teach we should also strive insofar as we are able, to put into practice:

In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc.  ~ Ap 24:1

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