Friday, April 11, 2014

Not one I would normally challenge. . .

President Harrison has done the Church a great service with his translation work bringing the Herman Sasse's great contributions to confessional Lutheranism into English.  I applaud him and so many others (including John Stephenson and John Pless) for renewing our awareness of this man and his theological testament.  That said, he is just plain wrong when he lumps together the Eucharistic Prayer and the Roman Canon as one and the same thing.  He is also wrong when it comes to the idea that the Words of Institution encapsulated in a prayer automatically leads to the loss of sacramentum and its replacement with sacrificium worked by man.  It just ain't so.  There are many voices within confessional Lutheranism who agree with me and not in the least of them is Richard Stuckwish who treats this most recently in Gottesdienst in an article entitled Justification and Eucharaia.  [Note to reader, subscribe to Gottesdienst by clicking here. It is well worth the few bucks it costs you.]

Sasse writes:

Even in the Missouri Synod, otherwise not inclined to novelties, high-church tendencies appeared. But as in Europe, so too in America, the rule is valid, that liturgical novelties indicate a crisis in doctrine. Where pastors and congregations are no longer in agreement with the classic liturgy of their church, the deeper cause tends to be that the teaching contained in this liturgy is no longer understood. If one still knew what the consecration according to Lutheran teaching means, then one would not call for an Epiclesis, which has its origin in an entirely different understanding of the real presence. And the manifold attempts of the Berneuchener[1] movement in Germany, and its parallels in other regions of Lutheranism, to renew the communion service in some sense—in a thoroughly Lutheran sense, as they say—toward the thoughts of the sacrifice of the mass, are the most certain sign that the Lord’s Supper of the Lutheran Reformation is no longer understood. So the representatio of the sacrifice at Golgatha becomes for many the pattern and practice, substituting for the true, the “real and substantial” presence of that which Christ gave for us, once and for all times (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10), namely His Body and Blood. And that which the human does, namely the thanksgiving, the “eucharistic high prayer,” or even the adoration of the eucharistic Christ, becomes the meaning and center of the celebration and overshadows that which the human receives. The “for the forgiveness of sins” recedes and is no longer seen as the actual promise of the Sacrament—it is as though the modern human carries his deep aversion to the Reformation teachings about sin and justification even up to the altar of the Lutheran Church. But if that happens already in the green wood of the liturgical movement, whose profound goodness is in this: that it wants to take the Sacrament of the Altar seriously again, and regain for it its lost place in the life of the church, what shall we expect from the dry wood of theological half-way-education and of the poor, ignorant Christian people, who seem to determine the form of every church in these times?   [1] German high church movement associated with F. Heiler. MH

And again:

Only from this profound contrast between the Roman Catholic view of the creature’s cooperation in his redemption and the Reformation’s conviction that there is no such cooperation and that Christ alone is the One “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” [1 Corinthians 1:30] can the difference in the understanding of the consecration be grasped. It is still true, despite every appeal to the word of Chrysostom [c. 347-407] and despite the contention that the priest speaks the consecration ex persona Christi [in the person/place of Christ], that he also still acts in his own name and in the name of the faithful. “We your servants, but also your holy people” offer to the Father the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood—not just the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, not just the gifts of the offertory. It is no accident that the Words of Institution are fitted into the prayers of the Canon of the Mass in the form of a relative clause and thereby become a part of a human prayer. However beautiful these Mass prayers may be, as not only the Roman Mass but also the liturgies of antiquity and of all the churches of the East have them, they remain human prayer and take the Words of Institution into human prayer. It is characteristic of the predominance of the human prayer that since the fourth century in the Eastern Church, the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit to change the elements, has been understood as the actual consecration in place of the verba testamenti [Words of Institution]. But even if one, as was probably the case in the earlier Masses, understood the whole series of the prayers, including the Words of Institution, as the consecration, it would still be the prayer that consecrates. That is confirmed by the fact that in the Roman Mass the whole Canon is prayed inaudibly so that the congregation does not get to hear the Words of Institution and has to be alerted to the moment when they are spoken by the ringing of a bell. The elevation of the consecrated host for all practical purposes replaces the hearing of the Words of Institution. One must consider once what it meant for the German people, after over 700 years of Christian history, to hear the Words of Institution for the first time in the Lutheran Reformation, and that the same is true of the other nations who accepted the Reformation at that time. Then one will understand what the Lutheran Mass in the mother tongue meant for these peoples.

Long before he created this Mass after years of the most careful theological and liturgical work, Luther had recognized where the decisive error in Rome’s understanding of the words of consecration lay. In The Babylonian Captivity he declared that what makes the Mass a proper Mass in the sense of the institution of Christ is the Word of Christ [verbum Christi] alone, i.e., the Words of Institution. “For in that word, and in that word alone, reside the power, the nature, and the whole substance of the mass” (WA 6:512 [LW 36:36; Aland 120]). Everything else is “accessory to the word of Christ” [verbo Christi accessoria]. A year later in The Abolition of Private Masses he interpreted the Words of Institution as the heart of the Sacrament of the Altar. In this Sacrament is the whole sum of the Gospel (est enim in eo summa tota evangelii, WA 8:447; [Aland 503]), as Paul says with the words: “As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you will be proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes” (Luther is quoting the Vulgate). In the German version of the writing (The Misuse of the Mass) of the same year he says:
For if you ask, What is the Gospel? you can give no better answer than these words of the New Testament, namely, that Christ gave his body and poured out his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins. This alone is to be preached to Christians, instilled into their hearts, and at all times faithfully commended to their memories. Thus the godless priests have made words of consecration out of them and concealed them so secretly that they would not reveal them to any Christian, no matter how holy and devout he has been [WA 8:524 LW 36:183; Aland 507)].
Hidden deep in the Canon of the Mass among purely human prayers and in such a way that the Christian people can no longer hear them, the words of the Lord’s Supper, the Gospel pure and simple, are stuck. By no longer permitting them to be heard and clothing them in human prayer formulas, they have made out of this Gospel a “benediction” [Benedeiung], a verba consecrationis, as the Latin wording says. That is, they have robbed the words of consecration of their real meaning. For in the Mass they are no longer good news to the believing sinner but only a consecration in the sense in which there are other consecrations, e.g., the consecration of churches or bishops, a rite of blessing with a particular effect. In view of all this we can understand why Luther, when he began to reform the Mass, immediately made two liturgical changes: the words of the Lord’s Supper were to be chanted aloud by the liturgist, and the framing of Christ’s words with a whole series of prayers was completely set aside. The only prayer that Luther left in this position was the Lord’s Prayer, which in the Roman Mass follows the Canon, while Luther put it before the Words of Institution. For him no man-made prayer seemed tolerable beside the verba testament.

Theodor Knolle[1] has shown the profound doctrinal and liturgical meaning of the old Lutheran Mass in several works (Luther-Jahrbuch [1928] and in his contribution to the volume Vom Sakrament des Altars [1941, edited by Sasse]) and raised a warning voice against the introduction of epicleses and eucharistic prayers, which bring the Words of Institution again into a relative clause between purely human words, even if they are beautiful and venerable human words. Even when one makes the utmost effort to speak of sacrifice only in an indisputably evangelical way, what is Lutheran still becomes a Roman Mass. The pious man again puts himself alongside Christ, and the Words of Institution are no longer the Gospel. The congregation edifies itself with its beautiful prayers, but it no longer hears the Gospel in the Lord’s Supper. The forgiveness of sins recedes. It is no longer seen as the great and joyous gift of the Sacrament.

[1] Theodor Knolle 1885-1955, pastor at Wittenberg and Hamburg. Bishop of Hamburg territory 1954. Co-founder Luther Gesellschaft. Leader Lutheran Liturgical Conference. Wrote on Luther’s rejection of the Eucharistic prayer in Sasse’s “Vom Sakrament des Altars” (1941). MH

My words:

The typical logic is that the Verba Christi embodied in a Eucharistic prayer automatically displace the sacramental gift and work of Christ and replace it with the sacrifical re-offering as the work of man (the priest).  The typical logic continues that there is no Eucharistic prayer that does not end up at the medieval canon [which Luther rightly spoke against].  The typical logic is as soon as prayer bookends the Words of Christ, they cease being Gospel, the forgiveness of sins becomes a footnote to the whole thing, and the gift of the Sacrament is gone.

Never mind that the Lutheran Confessions quote regularly and positively the Greek Canon.  Never mind that the Lutherans do not discard all notion of sacrifice but carefully distinguish the once for all sacrifice of Christ which is given for us to eat and drink in the Eucharist from the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that accompany this faithful eating and drinking.  Never mind that the canon which Luther condemned (again, rightly so) is NOT the only Eucharistic prayer employed by the Church through the ages and that such prayer forms come to us from antiquity, not as Sasse mistakenly implies, a novelty of late invention.  Never mind that the confessional Lutherans who promote an evangelical and catholic Eucharistic prayer are also among those who are most adamant in their identification of the Words of Christ as consecratory, the forgiveness of sins as being the chief benefit and gift of this Sacrament, and believe that the Verbum Christi are, indeed, nothing more or less than the pure Gospel of Christ at work (albeit through the mouth of the priest/pastor who speaks them).  Never mind that the use of a Eucharistic prayer is not an abdication of confessional Lutherans to modern scholars and the modern liturgical movement but the fruits of Lutheran liturgical work that from the beginning has included prayers, exhortations, and extended prefaces to fill the gap left when the canon was excised by Luther (long before the modern liturgical movement).

Lutheran opponents of a Eucharistic prayer fall into the fallacy of acting as if there were only one Eucharistic prayer and that is the traditional Roman canon of the mass.  Lutheran opponents of a Eucharistic prayer falsely assume that any Eucharistic prayer is foundational to the Sacrament and the chief lens through which the Sacrament itself is understood.  Lutheran opponents of a Eucharistic prayer erroneously assume that those in favor lump together mass and prayer, sacrament and sacrifice, prayer and proclamation, katabatic (from God) and anabatic (toward God), neither distinguishing them nor dividing them.  Lutheran opponents of a Eucharistic prayer forget that Lutherans have a canon ((preface, proper preface, and sanctus) in which the baptized do give thanks as part of the "do this" implicit in the Words of Christ.  Lutheran opponents of a Eucharistic prayer seem inclined to write off more than a dozen centuries of historical practice and to cast aspersions upon the theology and practice of nearly every church father from Justin Marty to John Chrysostom.  Lutheran opponents of a Eucharistic prayer also seem to have a lapsed memory of the fact that from the beginning it has been and it remains meet, right, and salutary that we should give thanks.  The problem here is not THE Eucharistic prayer (there is none) but how a Eucharistic prayer can be crafted to avoid the errors Sasse and others fear both of the Roman canon and its Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eastern emphasis on the Epiclesis which detracts from the Verbum Christi or a false understanding of anamnesis which steals the thunder from the Gift given to the remembrance of those remembering.
My point is this.  Too many Lutherans write far too broadly when it comes to the subject of a Eucharistic prayer and this does little to shed light or clarity upon this important subject.  Sasse was shaped by his time as we all our but being against a Eucharistic prayer has become a shibboleth for conservative credentials among some confessional Lutherans and it is about time we ditched this misnomer to have a real discussion instead of simply knocking down straw men.


Donna said...

Please tell us what practice you follow in your worship service?

Anonymous said...

I think the problem comes when the Words of Institution are read as *part of* the Eucharistic Prayer. When that is done, it seems almost impossible to safeguard against the idea - whether stated explicitly or simply left to be inferred - that our words and our sacrifice of praise are on the same level with God's Word and God's Sacrament. I think there's a lot to be said for prayer as something that we do in *response* to the proclaimed Word of God, and I think this is especially the case in the Eucharist.

Additionally, it's clear from Sasse's writings that "Eucharistic prayer" does not mean "a prayer that is prayed at the Eucharist." By "Eucharistic prayer," Sasse is clearly referring to the inclusion of the Verbum Christi solely within the prayer, with the implication that the prayer is some sort of Epiclesis, or that it is the prayer as such, rather than the Words of Christ alone, which accomplishes the consecration. I don't think he would have any problem with a prayer before or after the Words of Institution thanking God for His gifts, offering our sacrifice of praise, etc. - indeed, that's what we already do as a Church body. Given Sasse's context and understanding of certain terms, I think his criticisms are completely valid.

Anonymous said...

I do not know of any such Eucharistic prayer that does not include the Words of Christ. If the prayer ends before or starts after the Words of Christ it is not a Eucharistic prayer as everyone else in the world defines it.

The point made here is absolutely valid. Eucharistic prayer does not equate with the traditional Roman Canon -- not even in Rome anymore.

The abuses of language are no excuse for the rejection of the form.

The Church distinguishes prayer and proclamation all the time -- even when they occur simultaneously. Why is it a choice of one or the other when it comes to the Words of Christ and a Eucharistic prayer?

Lutherans who refuse the Eucharistic prayer stand outside the catholic tradition when it comes to this issue.

My 2 cents

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters has said at other points that he uses a Eucharistic Prayer. Google search his blog.

Anonymous said...

I would be very interested in knowing the history of how we Lutherans adopted the belief that we receive the forgiveness of sins when we take part in the Sacrament of the Altar. As best I can determine, Scripture does not mention it.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Maybe from Jesus own words "for the forgiveness of your sins" in the Words of Institution?

Lutherans are not alone nor unique in this understanding except that Lutherans tend to point to the gift of forgiveness as the penultimate gift of the Sacrament.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous: But did He say we would receive forgiveness by drinking His blood, or did He say, “which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins?”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...


How is it possible to receive Christ's body and blood - the body and blood which sanctify, and which gained forgiveness of sins - without receiving forgiveness?

When it comes to the Words of Institution, I'd point out that the "given for you" and the "shed for you" refer to Jesus' body and blood; the benefits are completely tied to the body and blood of Christ, to receive the one is to receive the other. I'd also point to John 6: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."


I'm OK with "standing outside the catholic tradition" on this one, if I don't see that tradition as being in conformity with Scripture. There is a distinction between the Words of God and human prayer, hence the (to me) very compelling argument that the two ought to be kept very clearly distinguished so as to avoid any confusion between the two.

Anonymous said...

Dear Curulechair: No, Christ’s Body and Blood do not sanctify; neither did they gain forgiveness of sins. Whenever Scripture speaks of “redemption through His blood”, it speaks figuratively. It is the Person of Christ our Lord Who allowed His Body to be broken and His Blood to be shed in order to redeem us and to earn forgiveness for us. His Holy Spirit, Whom we receive in Baptism, together with the forgiveness of sins, sanctifies us.
If our Lord, or anyone else inspired by the Holy Spirit writing in the Word of God had said that we receive forgiveness when we eat and drink His Body and Blood, then I would believe it even though there is no logic or natural imperative to it whatsoever.
Forgiveness has to come from the deliberate act of the One against Whom we have sinned. Those who eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Lord are those who are already forgiven. If they were not, they would eat and drink judgment to themselves, even as Judas did.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Was Judas not also forgiven but rejected that forgiveness OR did God turn away and refuse to forgive Judas? I am confused. I always understood God to be forgiving but Judas the one who said no.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous: I was referring to 1Cor. 11:29, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”
But this is not really relevant to whether or not we receive forgiveness when taking part in the Sacrament.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Unknown said...

The new covenant that Jesus instituted at the upper room was about forgveness (Jer 31:31-34). If the wine actually is the blood of Christ, then it must be true about this blood that "the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). ... When it comes to Eucharistic prayer, I think that the prayer should preferebly be prayed towards the alter (man to God), whereas the Words of Institution should be spoken towards the people (God to man).