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quod pro nobis traditum est

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Liturgy

Although there is a more technical definition of the word "liturgy," and this is not it, the liturgy may be seen as "the bearer of the Word." By this is meant the Incarnate Word, including the Sacrament on the altar, the blessed Eucharist.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Quick thoughts

- In the next two weeks look for newspapers and magazines to come out with articles against Christianity and share "new" stands on theological themes and topics like the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. This happens around Christmas time too with published critiques of the Incarnation. At least they are watching the calendar. Also, if I remember correctly, the Major League Baseball season begins on Good Friday.

- The Feast of the Annunciation is March 25. This year the feast falls on Sunday and is commemorated on the newer calendar even though this is traditionally Passion Sunday. Those who follow the traditional calendar will commemorate the Annunciation on the Monday following Easter. Either way, this is an important feast on the calendar not to overlook. As the psalmist says, "My heart hath uttered a good word . . ."Eructávit cor meum verum bonum . . .

- Traditionally, statues and crucifix are veiled beginning on Sunday.

- Advent, in preparation for the Incarnation of our Lord, and Lent, in preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord are not so much about somberness nor an over-compensating focus on joyousness. Rather, they are seasons that bring us deeper into a solemn hearing of God's Word and are perfect times for individual renewal in Christ.

- When I do not write on the blog it is not that there is anything to say. Rather, it is that there is too much to discuss and not the time to write. I mention this as Holy Week approaches. We'll see . . .

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What about the Saints?

The vast majority of Christians in the world recognize saints as holy people who are recognized by and given honor in the Church, both in the East and West. Saints are commemorated on given days on the Church calendar. Historically, the Church has also prayed to the saints. The churches of the reformation do not recognize saints in the same way although it is common to find these same groups speaking of great figures from Scripture as saints. Lutherans speak of all believers being saints and sinners at the same time (simul justus et peccator), an admitted paradox, with faith and holiness being gifts of God. They tend to look at dead people, even believers, as dead and that's it.

Unfortunately, in highly charged polemics, the invocation of the saints comes to the forefront and becomes one of many markers to test people's allegiances. It is one issue, for example, in which there are clear sides and orthodoxies. A couple of points should be made here. Firstly, this is quite unfortunate in that something of Scripture and Church degenerates into an us and them rather than an opportunity to learn about God and holiness. In other words, the debate becomes an anthropocentric concern (I'm right, you're wrong) and this leads to the second point. Secondly, the debate often denies opportunity for learning theology on the one hand by silencing much of it and thus de-theologizing the Church, what is commonly understood as secularism.

Last Sunday I heard a reading from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians in which he encourages the brethren to "be imitators of God." He goes on to say, "but fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints . . ." Although Paul is talking about something else I could not help but immediately think about how we are not supposed to invoke the saints, as is so clearly spelled out in the Lutheran Confessions. In other words, it was hard to take Paul at his words because of an undue emphasis on just one aspect of the teaching regarding the saints. Here Paul is saying that saints are those who imitate God, who walk in love, "as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us." There is a saintliness to our lives on earth, whether or not one considers it as God's gift or something someone strives for or both.

The invocation of the saints is a large topic theologically, one which cannot be fully addressed here. Invocation is prayer and the saints who are invoked are in heaven. The argument often goes that since Christ is our Savior and Mediator there is no need to pray to Mary and the saints or that such prayers are forbidden and even idolatry. The spirit of the argument is clear enough.

In 1521, the year that Luther was excommunicated, he wrote a commentary on the Magnificat in which he ended it with an intercession to Mary. Scholars may be able to show that Luther later on would have rejected such a prayer and practice (i.e., "early Luther", "later Luther"). What is interesting is that this is four years following his writing of the 95 Theses, which is commonly celebrated at Reformation Anniversaries.

I do not deny that debate and controversy exist on this or any other theological matter. I do argue that they cannot be solved simply by citing the right passages for doctrines like this are so rich and manifold that a one-sided polemic eliminates the possibility of appreciating the fulness of the teaching. Or am I simply addressing a secular Church? Theology, and a theological mindset, is much more than citing the right passages.

Logically, we can admit, for example, that Lutherans do not invoke the saints. But this tells us more about the Lutherans than it does about God. Theology, as apparent in its name, connects saints and saintliness to God. In other words, saints are those who imitate God and lead others to God and not to themselves. Even more succinctly, saints are saints because of God. They are saints because of God's love in Christ and how this has changed them to live in love toward God and one's neighbor.

Knowing that a practice is or may be wrong is not enough without looking first at what those who follow a practice base their practice on (doctrine and practice go together, lex orandi, lex credendi). This is not a matter of connecting too many dots. This is a great opportunity to learn.

In the Catholic Catechism, under a section entitled "The Communion of the Church of Heaven and Earth" the Catechism addresses the intercession of the saints, "Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness . . . [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped." (#956)

In another section entitled "Guides for Prayer" under "A cloud of witnesses," the Catechism states, "The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were 'put in charge of many things.' Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world." (#2683)

I share these quotes as is without further comment. Church teaching helps us to discern a difference between what the Church actually teaches and practices that may be popular but that do not always reflect what the Church teaches. We often react first to those practices which we see without considering what the Church teaches.

Without delving further into the divide, for example, between Lutheran and Catholic teaching on the intercession of the saints I would like to address three related issues to the whole question of the saints. This post does not pretend to be a textbook or a final answer but an avenue of some reflections on theological issues.

In considering the saints we usually first think of holiness and how we could never be saints. Some even drop out of Church because they think that it is all too holy for them. This brings up my first point. Saints are not saints because of themselves but because of God. Everything they thought, said and did that was good they attributed to Christ and God. It is just like Mary who says, "Let it be to me according to Your word." Her Magnificat is in praise of the Lord and not of herself. The saints strive to imitate God and follow Him ( this is a great emphasis of Lent). Saints are saints because of God - it is not about them. They reflect God's love in Christ to others so that people may see their good deeds and glorify the Father who is in heaven.

Secondly, we are sinners, something far away from holiness. Does this mean that God is powerless against our sin? Is He unable to work good in us or unable to conquer sin and the devil? What about the forgiveness of sins? We need to re-think our own ability to focus on and hold on to our sin and the sin of others. Holiness is possible in this life.

Finally, one aspect that needs to be highlighted with the reality of the saints is the unity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Specifically, with regard to the saints, there is a unity between the one holy Church in heaven and on earth that exists even now. The Church on earth is united with the Church in heaven in worshipping God in the fulness of His glory. There is a transcendent reality and unity that is beyond space and time. We confess this reality in the Creed. We live in this reality when we receive the blessed Eucharist.

These are some aspects I like to consider in dealing with the question of the saints, not whether or not someone invokes or does not invoke them. There is something more to this and any other theological question than showing we are right and you are wrong. Consider that even those who invoke the saints do so recognizing that there is only "one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus." Thanks be to God.

Monday, March 12, 2012

ongoing legacy

Gregory the Great, or Pope Gregory I, (c. 540 - 604) is an important figure in the early history of Christianity. His prolific writing, reform of the liturgy, pastoral counsel, and work in the Church have had a lasting impact on the Church. The Mass of St. Gregory emphasizes the Real Presence in the Eucharist. He is a Latin Father, Doctor of the Church and a saint in both the Eastern and Western Churches. He died on this date in 604.

"In the modern era, Gregory is often depicted as a man at the border, poised between the Roman and Germanic worlds, between East and West, and above all, perhaps, between the ancient and medieval epochs." This quote from an online encyclopedia is probably a good summary of today's understanding of Gregory. To learn more about Gregory and his many works find an encyclopedia or pick up a biography.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Baptism, something given to us

Why does the Lutheran Church, like many churches, baptize infants?

This question has been answered many times before and in many ways so this is just a brief comment. The Lutheran Church baptizes at any age meaning that age is not the focus of or the requirement for baptism. Scripture nowhere mandates an age for baptism. It is how we understand baptism that gives us an understanding why baptizing infants is a good practice.

First, it is given by divine revelation. In addition, the practice is followed by the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, from the earliest of times. Lutherans do not view baptism as symbolic or as a work of man but as a gift of God and His mercy. For children born in sin there is no greater gift than God's mercy and forgiveness. Also, God puts His holy Name on them and makes them His children. The water combined with God's Word brings God's Spirit to us in baptism. Being baptized means putting on Christ and being clothed with Him and His righteousness. In baptism we are buried with Christ into His death and raised with Him in His resurrection to new life. We can call it a gift of God's Spirit, a gift of His grace, a means of grace, a sacrament. Those who are connected to God in Christ are rescued from death and the devil. They are given the forgiveness of sins. Or as the Apostle writes in his letter to Titus, "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

There is no greater gift to give to helpless infants, our own children. Also, this gift is not limited to the few minutes it takes to baptize but it is a gift with a promise to eternal life. Baptism is not dependent on our age but on God's grace and mercy. Baptism is a focus on Christ and His salvation poured out on us. Baptism is not a work of men but a gift from God that the Church freely shares as she has graciously received from the Lord.