Eating for death vs. eating for life

Our church was not one of the 10% of American churches that cancelled Sunday services on Christmas day, I’m happy to say.  We had a wonderful service.  Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon was on the “great reversal” of the Fall of Adam and Eve that God worked through the gift of His Son.  Especially striking was something that I had never thought about:  Our fall took place when mankind ate the fruit of the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil.  So the reversal of this curse also involves eating.  We eat the fruit of the Tree of Life; namely, the body and blood of Christ crucified.

The Word who became flesh is flesh still and comes to you, for you, in that same body and blood today on this altar. And that final, dreadful part of the sentence once spoken to Adam has been reversed – and now the fruit of the Tree of Life is ours again! And so while Adam ate and died, for you and me it has been proclaimed: the day you eat of this, you shall surely live! This is My Body, this is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. And we feast upon the Lamb of God. The flesh and blood of our Lord is truly the first – and best – Christmas gift.

And so the darkness of our sin is enlightened by His glory. The glory of the Creator dying for his creatures. The glory of the strong become weak. The glory of God in the manger. The glory of Jesus. The glory of the Word made flesh. The glory of God who gives Himself to us. Is this not a marvel?

But perhaps there’s even one more marvel for us this happy morning . . . that your Saviour didn’t just redeem you from your sin that you may serve God as a slave, or be an indentured servant, or to be on parole to see if you’ll live up to it – the Son of God came to make you a son of God. A full son! With all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto! For that’s what His forgiveness does. It doesn’t just restore part of the way, but all of the way. . . .

Today, marvel at that. Rejoice with the angels. Kneel with the shepherds. And take the body and blood of Jesus not in your arms, like Mary, but in your mouth, and depart in peace. Your sins are forgiven, dear child of God; your exodus complete.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Christmas Day Sermon.

Keep the “mass” in Christmas

Last time Christmas fell on Sunday it came out that a number of churches had decided to cancel services, which provoked some controversy.  I haven’t heard of churches doing that this year, whether because they have all come to their senses or because it has become no big deal.  (Does anyone know of churches that have cancelled Sunday services?)

The reason given was that if people don’t have to go to church they can spend more time with their families, and Christmas, after all, is a family holiday.  Do realize that this way of thinking secularizes Christmas just as much as crass commercialism.   Christmas is about Christ.  Specifically, it is about worshiping Christ and receiving Him sacramentally–hence the “mass” in “Christ+mass.”

So I urge you to go to church on Christmas.  Traditionally, this was the day that even casual Christians–a.k.a. “Christmas and Easter Christians”–would go to church, some of whom could be reached.  So more serious Christians certainly should go, if at all possible, whether Christmas falls on a Sunday or not.  Christmas Eve services count, since holy days technically begin after sunset of the day before, but I also urge you to receive Holy Communion if you can, the sacrament being traditionally offered on that day even in traditions that don’t celebrate it often.

The whole point, however you conceive this happening, is to not only celebrate the gift of Christ, but to receive the gift of Christ.   You don’t just celebrate the fact that people gave you presents.  You open them.

Some Catholics will be denied the Cup

A huge issue during the Reformation was the right of the laity to receive Holy Communion in “both kinds”; that is, to receive both the bread (Christ’s body) and the wine (Christ’s blood).  The practice of Roman Catholicism up until Vatican II in the 1960s was for the laity to only receive the bread.  Clergy were the only ones allowed to receive the wine.

I never understood the rationale for that.  People, such as John Hus, were burned at the stake for insisting on both kinds.  And now at least some dioceses (specifically in the United States, Phoenix and Madison) are going back to the practice of denying the cup to laypeople, except on certain special occasions:

While Catholics across the United States are getting their tongues around the new translations of the Mass, Catholics in two U.S. dioceses will also be taste-testing another change: regular communion from the cup will be disappearing.

Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s new directives for communion from the cup, according to the diocesan website, will allow the assembly to receive the blood of Christ “at the Chrism Mass and feast of Corpus Christi. Additionally it may be offered to a Catholic couple at their wedding Mass, to first communicants and their family members, confirmation candidates and their sponsors, as well as deacons, non-concelebrating priests, servers, and seminarians at any Mass,” along with religious in their houses and retreatants. Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin made a similar decision.

The effect of the change, intended or not, is that the blood of Christ will separate some members of the assembly from others, notably priests and deacons (whether they are functioning in their liturgical roles or not), and seminarians and servers.

A close reading of the Phoenix rationale for the decision quickly makes clear a primary purpose: to eliminate extraordinary (lay) ministers of the Eucharist, because too many of them result in “obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers.”

This fear of “disproportionately multiplying” communion ministers is then applied to the feast of Corpus Christi, one of the few times communion under both species will be permitted. In that instance if a parish is lacking enough “ordinary ministers,” “it is common sense that [the pastor] would not be able to judge the necessary conditions as met,” because he would need a “disproportionate” number of lay ministers to distribute the blood of Christ. In other words, no cup—even on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ—all for the sake of reinforcing the distinct (and obvious) roles of the ordained.

The diocesan reasoning invokes the 2005 expiration of a Vatican permission granted in 1975 that allowed wide use of the cup but disregards the more general liturgical law that allows the diocesan bishop to make the cup widely available. The diocese even bizarrely argues that communion under the form of bread alone is a greater sign of Catholic unity because most Catholics in the world don’t get to receive from the cup. Because the faithful of the rest of the world are robbed of the fullness of the eucharistic symbol, the reasoning goes, Catholics of the Diocese of Phoenix should be, too.

via You’re cut off: No more cup for the people. | USCatholic.org.

Could some of you Catholics explain why the laity–not just in these two dioceses but apparently in other places in the world– would be denied the cup? I know about the priest/layperson distinction, but what is the rationale for manifesting that in this particular way?

UPDATE:  Thanks to Jonathan for alerting us that the Bishop of Phoenix has reversed his decision.

The Black Rubric

I’ve been studying Anglicanism lately.  But then I’ve run up against the Black Rubric, so-called because it was printed in bold type in the Book of Common Prayer.  It enjoins kneeling while receiving the Sacrament, but goes on to deny explicitly any kind of real, bodily presence of Christ in the elements:

“Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.”

via Black Rubric – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Now I know that many Anglicans do believe in the Real Presence, with some sounding almost Lutheran in their affirmations.  Indeed, some are Anglo-Catholics with a very high view of the sacraments.  I’m curious how those folks handle the Black Rubric.

According to the article, this has come in and out of various editions of the Book of Common Prayer.  (Puritans insisted on it and would go up in arms when it was omitted.)  It isn’t in the 2000 edition used in America today, though it remains in the British prayer book.  It is apparently in the 1926 Book of Common Prayer, the one favored by many conservatives and Anglo-Catholics today.

I realize that this is what I read in a Reformed Episcopal service I once attended, with my hosts seemingly a little hurt that I, as a Lutheran, would not commune with them.  But the liturgy explicitly repudiated my beliefs about the Sacrament as idolatry!  This may also explain to Anglicans who are hurt by the confessional Lutheran practice of closed communion why Lutheran pastors can not assume that Anglicans have the same view of the Christ’s presence in His Supper that they do. And why Lutheran theologians tend to categorize Anglicans as another variety of Calvinists.  Indeed, the Black Rubric seems to be a textbook definition of Calvinist sacramental theology (what with the statement that Christ’s body is in Heaven, “and not here”), which is why the Puritans made such a point of it.

And yet I’m sure this isn’t the whole story.  Someone help me out with this.

HT:  Adam

Closed Communion question

I know that the confessional Lutheran practice of “closed communion,” in which you have to be a member of the church body (or a member of a church in formal doctrinal fellowship with that church body) to commune at the Lutheran altar, is offensive to many non-Lutherans.  I don’t particularly want to debate that practice, which we’ve talked about extensively.  Rather, I would like to ask those of you who are offended some questions:  Have you ever been to a Roman Catholic mass or an Eastern Orthodox divine liturgy?  Perhaps you attended a funeral or a wedding or had an assignment in a religion course or dropped in on a service for one reason or another.   Were you offended because you could not commune?  Did you expect to?  Did you even want to, given your theological reservations about what was going on?

Though some Roman Catholic priests will commune anyone, this is strictly forbidden by canon law.  I would say that there are proportionally more Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors who practice open communion, even though it is against denominational policy, than there are Catholic priests who do it.  And, as an Orthodox commenter helpfully observed in one of our earlier threads, you will come close to never finding open communion practiced in an Eastern Orthodox church.

Used to, one’s membership in a particular theological tradition was defined by whom you would take communion with.   Then we had the ecumenical movement, largely among Protestants, and different churches–usually highly liberal–started sharing Communion with everyone.

Anyway, my impression is that few people feel insulted when they don’t join Catholics or Orthodox in their sacramental rites.  After all, we think, I’m not Catholic or Orthodox.

So why is it different with Lutherans?

 

The latest on confession and indulgences

Todd alerted me to this story from Reuters:

The Vatican has granted priests the right to forgive the sin of abortion when hearing the confessions of hundreds of thousands of young people attending a Roman Catholic youth festival in Spain this week.

The termination of pregnancy is a sin punishable by excommunication under Church law. The World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrims will attend a mass confession in the presence of Pope Benedict on Saturday in a central Madrid park.

“This (concession) is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” the Madrid archdiocese said in a statement on its website.

Two hundred white portable confessional cabins have been erected in Madrid’s Retiro Park where hundreds of priests will take confessions in different languages from the pilgrims who have travelled to Spain from around the world.

The pontiff will sit in one of the booths on Saturday morning to hear confessions from three visitors, ahead of a mass with up to 6,000 seminarians.

The Vatican already announced on August 11 that it had authorized a plenary, or full indulgence, to all the young people attending the celebrations.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven and is traditionally granted to WYD pilgrims.

via Priests to forgive abortion in Pope youth festival – Yahoo! News.

First of all, could this be one of those many cases in which the reporter completely misunderstands a religious teaching?  Can it be true that in the Roman Catholic Church a woman who has had an abortion cannot normally repent, confess, and be absolved of that sin?  (Please, may a Catholic reader clear this up for us.)  If this is true, we see again the difficulty of finding full forgiveness under the Roman Catholic penitential system.  More certain, I suppose, is getting an indulgence.  Rome doesn’t sell them anymore, but gives them away for the good work of attending a youth rally!

If this is a correct account, it shows how Lutherans actually have a higher view of confession than Rome does. We also have a higher view of Baptism, which deals with all sin throughout one’s life, not just original sin, and the Lord’s Supper, which we receive for forgiveness, not having to already be pure in order to take it.

UPDATE:  Mollie Hemingway has confirmed with canon lawyers that priests cannot forgive the sin of abortion without special arrangement.  She gave me this quotation linked from a comment in her own discussion of World Youth Day:

“Elaine, I am a canon lawyer. The article is correct. Not all priests have the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion with its attendant automatic excommunication. If a person goes to Confession and confesses abortion, and the  priest does not have the faculty to absolve it, he will request the person come  back a few days later. In the meantime, he will notify the bishop and ask for  the faculty to absolve the sin and lift the excommunication. When the person comes back, then the confession is completed and absolution is given. Many dioceses (such as the one where I work) have granted all priests in the
diocese this faculty.”

So forgiveness comes from the bishop rather than the Word and the promises of the Gospel.

 

 


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