Monday, October 3, 2011

A Little Gem from over at First Things...

"the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well"  -- words from Benedict XVI quoted by a new Roman Catholic convert, Louis Huizenga, over at First Things.  You can read his whole column here. (BTW, Terry, forewarned, I am quoting a Pope and commending an article by a Roman Catholic.)

The words ["the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well" -- not the whole article linked to the quote] are something which may be Roman Catholic in origin but are thoroughly Lutheran as well.  The rite, well celebrated, is its own best teacher of what we believe, teach, and confess -- not only with respect to the Sacrament of the Altar but with respect to Baptism as well.  For those who think I am being picky or that my concern for how we celebrate the Sacraments as well as that we do, this is exactly the point.  The rite and the manner in which we observe that rite is itself catechetical.  What we do in worship and how we do it teaches.  It says something.

This is one of the reasons why I am so adamant about baptism taking place within the Divine Service.  The rite of Baptism teaches and observing this rite teaches.  It is not just about throwing a little water on the kid in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The rite is not something neutral but heavily laden with values.  It teaches.  We have a hymnal and rites approved for use within the Church not because we Lutherans are hierarchical and demand uniformity but precisely because the rite teaches.  What it teaches changes when we change the rite.  BTW this is one reason why I insist upon the exorcism in the rite -- children are not nice, sweet, little, innocent balls of joy but born in sin and doomed to eternal death unless delivered from sin, death, and the devil.  What we do and how we do it counts.  Pastors who run commentary during the baptism as if it were a photo op or a cutesie YouTube moment are doing a disservice.  Maybe the baptism is not rendered ineffective but the teaching moment came and went and the train left the station empty.  This is not incidental to the baptism but part of it, as well.

This is one of the reasons why I get so upset by a truncated, cut and pasted, and made up rite for the Liturgy of the Sacrament.  The rite itself teaches.  The liturgy is a teacher.  When we steal all the tools from the liturgy, it leaves precious little to teach.  The rite is instructive and how we observe it teaches us also what we believe about the Sacrament.  When we disregard the Liturgy of the Sacrament (either Common Service form or Divine Service form) and reshape the rite to fit personal taste, artificial time constraints, or because we think it unimportant, what we do and how we do it also affects what we believe, teach and confess.  It is not a Lutheran but Scripture which reminds us of this.  For as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death til he comes...  What is that we proclaim?  The rite or liturgy is part of that proclamation and not simply the Words of Institution in a vacuum.  When we rush the words, we say something about what we are doing (mostly about it not being at all important).  When we expend the consecrated elements and add additional hosts or wine and repeat the Verba Christi over then, it says something.  What we do with and how we treat the reliquae says something about what we believe, teach, and confess.

This is also one of the reasons why we accompany the reading of God's Word with care and attention.  Whether the ceremonial that attends this is elaborate or simple is less important than the manner in which we speak forth God's Word to the people of God assembled to hear it.  It is not our word but His, not dramatic reading for effect but the reading of the Word that has authority and is efficacious, and not a tool of the preacher but the Word which the preaching extols, explains, and applies within the careful confines of the parameters of the Law and Gospel.  This is why those who read need to be carefully chosen (and, BTW, I have sat through Pastors who read so poorly I was not even sure what they had said when they had completed the reading -- Pastors need to practice every  bit as much as others who might be charged with a portion of this responsibility).  And, one more aside, this is why so much of what passes as children's sermons demean and diminish the Word of God and treat it as mere moralistic speech whose goal is an object lesson like Aesop's fables.  We do not do it because we hold to a high view of the Word not because we have something personal against these Kodak moments with the kids.

What we do and how we do it says something.  Ideally, the best catechesis IS the liturgy itself, well said and carefully observed.  This is not even a Western idea -- when I spoke with an Orthodox priest of the catechesis required of those who became Orthodox, he pointed first to the Divine Liturgy as its own best teacher of Orthodox belief and practice.  Lutherans stand right in the midst of this.  This is, in effect, nothing more and nothing less than the application of the ancient axiom, lex orandi, lex credendi.  This more than anything else is why you so much of this kind of stuff on this blog...


Janis Williams said...

"children are not nice, sweet, little, innocent balls of joy but born in sin and doomed to eternal death unless delivered from sin, death, and the devil"

I thought it interesting, and a good idea that when Jonathan Fisk (Lutheran pastor of fame) baptized his newborn son back in July, the child was dressed all in black.

One more way baptism could teach?

Terry Maher said...


And that was even before I got to your warning. First on seeing the brown cowl on the celebrant and thinking what's this, a damn Frannie or one of those cute little monkeys the Capuchins? Then the description "new Roman Catholic" (recent convert) thinking how odd to picture the Eucharist as it will hardly ever been seen except in unusual circumstances these days.

So I read the article.

This is not to contest the point of reverence, or of conducting the Divine Service (geez and here I thought the Common Service was one, but I get the TLH/LSB reference) not according to the whims of the pastor or the day.

This is to say that surely there is a better way to make these points than to jump into the mess that is Catholicism.

One is not past the second paragraph before one sees that this person has been catechised by the Eucharist right into the grotesque notion of transsubstantiation, by which Aristotle is raided to explain the unexplainable, on the basis of which he goes on to para-Eucharistic practices quite apart from the words of Our Lord to Take and Eat, not Don't Take but Adore.

If the Eucharist is its own best catechist, then either this would not happen, or our understanding of the Eucharist is mistaken. Which disproves his point, and, in either case, not simply serving the point of reverence according to norms.

Then the poor fellow even disproves his own point again, citing stats that roughly half of Catholics don't even know what their church teaches re Eucharist and have not found their occasional attendance catechesis enough to inspire either regular attendance or belief.

Then he begins to wonder if maybe the typical manner of reception in novus ordo parishes does not really serve Catholic belief. Wow, Dick Tracy here. Not to mention, disproving his own point a third time, since the Eucharist has apparently not catechised a typical reception consonant with belief.

Then he contrasts the "few" experiences he's had of what was once universal in the Roman church, not "extraordinary", and finds them better. Apparently though not catechetical enough to warrant their retention. Fourth self-disproval.

And then he recommends instead neither the Catholic practice not the novus ordo one, but his former Lutheran one! I'll be died and go to hell, a Tiber swimming Lutheran. Guess catechesis didn't work so well there either, so he wants to import a practice from people who don't have the Eucharist, either in the sense of properly understood or in the sense of having it all due to the interruption in orders, to express the catechesis coming from the Roman Mass. A practice we do at my parish, screens, praise bands and all. Fifth self disproval, if the Eucharist is its own best teacher.

Anonymous said...

Catechesis is not being done by
parish pastors in youth confirmation
classes. They job it out to DCE's
and parish laity. So the only place
left is the Divine Service. Maybe,
our pastors can salvage their
responsibilities as they adminster
the Sacraments.

Terry Maher said...


And finally a quote from he who currently occupies an office bearing the marks of Antichrist. Well guess what, Joseph, the Eucharist is not its own best catechist, and that is why the church's original practice was to escort out people who were not already instructed and who had professed that belief before it even happens, and while we do not do that now, we still practice "closed" Communion where no-one is admitted who has not been examined, or at least it's still on the books that we do. Point being, whether on the books or actively practiced, it would not be there at all if the Eucharist were its own best catechist.

The Eucharist is not a teacher, it is a testament. It does not teach, it feeds. Behold O sinful and condemned Man, out of the pure and unmerited love with which I love you, and by the will of the Father of mercies and apart from any merit or desire of yours, I promise you in the words the forgiveness of all your sins and life everlasting. And that you may be sure of this irrevocable promise of mine, I shall give my body and pour out my blood, confirming this promise by my very death, and leaving you my body and blood as a sign and memorial of this promise.

We do not need the self-contradictory cesspool of Catholicism to make our point.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but the Eucharist does teach. It does not, however, explain fully.

Every child can understand that there is something special happening. They realize they are not allowed to partake. They hear and memorize words at which adults fail. If watching the Sacrament of the Table does not instruct children (even imperfectly - what else is catechesis for?), then we should bar them from being present, and do the same with Baptism.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

So what was the sacrament of the altar teaching the church of Corinth, that St. Paul was compelled to rebuke them? (1Cor.11:17-34)

Anonymous said...

Hisssss Burnnnnnn Terry is ablaze again! Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

Pastor Peters said...

Quote: "The Eucharist is not a teacher, it is a testament. It does not teach, it feeds."

Catechesis is not merely instruction or teaching. It feeds the faith with its focus on the means of grace and it teaches through the form (liturgy). This is not something new or Roman. In fact this was Luther's liturgical principle at work.

Quote "the church's original practice was to escort out people who were not already instructed"

The man was baptized and instructed but the lifelong catechesis is what is being referred to and not the instruction that precedes the reception of the Eucharist, although I think the liturgy does confess Christ and therefore is "catechetical" to those who do not yet confess the faith or not yet fully.

Quote" This is to say that surely there is a better way to make these points than to jump into the mess that is Catholicism."

The original source was there for those who want to read it. I was not explicating or advocating everything the guy said or B16 said but simply the idea that the Eucharist (the liturgy) is catechetical - in the best sense. I no where said we need to jump into Rome's errors or that the whole article was equally commendable -- one line is what I quoted.

As a matter of fact, you may get it Terry but a ton of folks and even those against Contemporary Worship do not get it. How you do it says something about what you believe as much as a piece of paper or a book published in 1580.

I do not write this blog to be safe but to provoke thought. I did not think, however, that I was being as provocative as what you response dictates.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Dear brother Peters, you do indeed provoke thought, and I thank you for it, though my replies are not similarly as thoughtful. Your posts are often the highlight of my day.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Pr. Peters. For the record, like Fr. Richard Neuhaus, I retain a deep appreciation of and love for the Lutheran tradition in which I was raised. I suppose one could read his "How I Became the Catholic I Was" and understand it more or less as my own story.

-- Leroy Huizenga

Terry Maher said...

I'll admit I speak Latin but not Greek, however as I recall catechismus is one of those words we took over cognate from the Greek, and the bleeder means to teach, and, if I recall, orally. Hence the question and answer format retained in written catechisms (well, except the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but that book doesn't retain Catholicism either since it reeks of a mindset the RCC called dissent in my youth).

Certainly there is spiritual growth after "the hour I first believed". And certainly the great living memorial Christ has left us in the Sacrament is key in that growth, a means through which grace is imparted.

But if the Sacrament were a means of catechesis it would not descend into the partially flawed beliefs about it held by the person quoted and his church. It would not be the subject of so much dispute among Christians. And the many who have sold their birthright for "contemporary worship" would not include so many lifer Lutherans.

Yes, there are a ton of those, even among supporters of "tradition", who do not "get it". But that too would not be so if the Sacrament were a means of catechesis.

Lex orandi enim lex credendi. but how this is so, and how it works out, is not always immediately obvious. When it comes to liturgical prayer, that is because we are dealing with mysteries. And that is why, and shown in, that when we translated the Greek mysterion we did not use the cognate mysterium, but rather a tern that had no religious significance whatever, sacramentum, from whence comes the English "sacrament".

Sacramentum had two meanings, one legal and one military. In law the sacramentum was the money on deposit between rivals in a suit. In the military is was the oath of allegiance. The mysterion could not and would not have been translated this way as sacramentum instead of mysterium if the mysterium were not the Body and Blood of Christ, the deposit that settles the suit between God and Man, and the oath of allegiance, as Luther pointed out in what I quoted above from Babylonian Captivity, between God and those who plead the Blood of Jesus Christ for their justification.

Which is why to this day we say not just the reductive "The Body of Christ", Judas H Priest OSB even the Romans didn't do that until the novus ordo, but retain wording similar to the traditional "May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ guard your soul unto eternal life". And of course the same with the cup, which the Romans don't and won't except in carefully defined circumstances.

Well hell, what could be more catechetical than THAT, one might say. But is it catechetical? One knows that stuff not on reception of the Sacrament but through catechesis. Or rather is it grace, not teaching, nourishment, not understanding? Who understands a mystery? Nor does one need to understand biochemistry to be nourished by a meal, literally or spiritually, or as St Paul points out to be harmed by improper consumption of an otherwise good meal.

I am all for good order in the church, especially in liturgy, I just don't think the Sacrament as catechesis is e awry.a good argument for it, nor is quoting a proponent of the idea in which the catechesis seems to awry.