Monday, October 9, 2017

Abuse and abuse. . .

Recently in a print publication, the issue of non-ordained assisting with the distribution of the Lord's Supper was discussed (not deacons or non-ordained presiding but assisting in the distribution to the congregation of the consecrated under the leadership of the ordained pastor).  It was called an abuse.  Perhaps it is in one sense but I wonder if the word abuse should not be reserved for greater violations -- such as when lay preach and preside without call and ordination.  That is clearly an ABUSE while assisting, distasteful to be sure to some and to many, does not rise to that level.

Reading regularly a popular Roman Catholic blog, I read all the time the complaints of lay attentive to the liturgy and of priests who violate the canons in their practice.  Once, for example, a writer4 complained that the deacon did not add water to the several chalices being used in the distribution but only the priest's chalice.  The blogger described this as an abuse, even a serious abuse but not one that would make the wine invalid material for the Sacrament. The same fellow described the use of a glass chalice as an abuse.  He also warned of the abuse of priests who deviate from the words of the mass or the rubrical canons regarding that mass.  On another occasion, he indicated that anger over liturgical abuse can be justified but it was important not to wallow in that anger.

Abuse is defined as the improper use of something or unjust or corrupt practice or a cruel or violent treatment of something or someone.  So, with the leeway within the definition we might describe with the same word someone who fails to add water to additional chalices but does so to the priest's chalice AND the person who abuses altar boys or slaps around women or yells at lay people.  I think you can see the problem.  Abuse becomes everything or nothing at all.  It is not the word's fault but the way we use that word.

An abuse ought to be serious enough that it causes the faithful to be concerned about the validity or efficacy of the means of grace.  Some practices are not good or right or salutary but they do not affect either the actual validity of the Sacrament nor do they raise questions in the minds and hearts of the people receiving it.  I fear that we are bantering about a word in such a way that the most egregious violations or propriety and form are in essence minimized while the small and less consequential violations are raised to a level of seriousness/offense they should not possess.

So while it is not best practice to have non-ordained assist the ordained in the distribution of the Sacrament it is clearly not an abuse that raises questions about the efficacy of that Sacrament when one deviates from the elements the Lord used or alters or omits the Verba Christi from the consecration of those elements.  All I am saying is that we need to take case with how we use terms.  If we use them wrongly, they make every little thing an abuse or nothing, no matter how serious, an abuse.  We just need to watch how it is we speak of such things.  Addressing them wrongly does not at all help the case with the more serious examples or problems while it can make liturgical folks out to be ridgid, unbending, and uncaring folks.  Having non-ordained assist in the distribution is less abusive, for example, than tinkering with the elements in the Lord's Supper and using apple juice in place of wine.

How we address things is clearly important as well as the things themselves.  We run the risk of minimizing serious things and of straining at gnats over the small things. 

6 comments:

William Tighe said...

From the last paragraph of the posting:

"So while it is not best practice to have non-ordained assist the ordained in the distribution of the Sacrament it is clearly an abuse that raises questions about the efficacy of that Sacrament ..."

Did you omit an intended "not" from between "it is clearly" and "an abuse?"

Pastor Peters said...

Thank you, Dr. Tighe, I found a few more typos. My hands move faster on the keyboard than my mind does composing and editing. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

The real abuse in the Roman Catholic Church is when people pay
to have a Mass. God's grace is free.

Carl Vehse said...

In the January 10, 2011, Gottesdienst Online blog article, "Lay Assitance in Communing the People and Something About Deacons," Rev. Heath Curtis writes:

"So, anyone reading AC XIV in 1530 would know exactly what it meant: only clergy consecrate and distribute the Lord's Body and Blood. That is the original intent of the article - and I really don't think that this is a point that can be controverted. To try to find wiggle room in there for another practice ("it says administer - not distribute") is to be anachronistic. It's a bit like lawyers trying to argue for new Constitutional "rights" that are beyond the obvious original intent of the US Constitution....

"Therefore, I find it hard to view this practice [of non-ordained assisting with the distribution of the Lord's Supper] as anything other than an abuse - and a widespread one, at that." [Emphasis added]

Rev. Curtis' solution (to which a number of commenters agreed) is a return to an episcopal-type multiple levels of the Office of the Ministry.

Carl Vehse said...

The Gottesdienst article regarding "elders" in the Lutheran church gives a reference to "Lay Elders: A Brief Overview of Their Origin in the Missouri Synod Implications for Elders Today" (Concordia Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, January 2006, 38-53) by Albert Collver, then pastor of Hope Lutheran church in DeWitt, MI. Dr. Collver, in turn, references:

C. F. W. Walther "Ueber Laien√§lteste oder Gemeindevorsteher,” Lehre und Wehre 4, no. 2 (1858): 54-57;
Lehre und Wehre 4, no. 3 (1858): 82-89;
Lehre und Wehre 4, no. 4 (1858): 110-113.

Carl Vehse said...

In addition Dr. Collver also references these 1916 articles (in English):

Theodore Graebner, “Elders and Deacons in the Lutheran Church,” trans. W. Cook, The Lutheran Witness (St. Louis, MO) XXXV, no. 14 (July 11, 1916): 205-207;
The Lutheran Witness (St. Louis, MO) XXXV, no. 16 (August 8, 1916): 240-241;
The Lutheran Witness (St. Louis, MO) XXXV, no. 17 (August 22, 1916): 255-256;
The Lutheran Witness (St. Louis, MO) XXXV, no. 18 (September 5, 1916): 269-270;
The Lutheran Witness (St. Louis, MO) XXXV, no. 19 (September 19, 1916): 285-286.