23 September 2015

Catechesis on AC XXIV

Selections from AC XXIV:

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence. 2 Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved,.... 6 No one is admitted to the Sacrament without first being examined. 7 The people are also advised about the dignity and use of the Sacrament, about how it brings great consolation to anxious consciences, so that they too may learn to believe God and to expect and ask from Him all that is good. 8 This worship pleases God ...Paul severely threatens those who use the Eucharist in an unworthy manner, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).  Therefore, when our priests were warned about this sin, private Masses were discontinued among us, since hardly any private Masses were celebrated except for the sake of filthy gain....But Christ commands us, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Therefore, the Mass was instituted so that those who use the Sacrament should remember, in faith, the benefits they receive through Christ and how their anxious consciences are cheered and comforted. To remember Christ is to remember His benefits. It means to realize that they are truly offered to us.

In the name of the Father...

The accusation was: "You guys got rid of the Mass!" That is, the changes that the Lutherans had introduced into the liturgy were of such a kind and weight that their opponents actually thought they destroyed the liturgy itself. The Lutheran response was little short of "Hogwash. That is a lie. We've done nothing of the kind."

To prove their point, the Lutherans insisted that they KEPT the Mass and that they observed it with the highest reverence. They could even honestly protest that they still used most of the ceremonies, in other words, the human customs that have been added to the Supper's celebration across the centuries.

Of course, what Lutherans DID do was to dump the prayer that surrounded the Words of Institution. Not that most folks noticed, because it was, after all, prayed in silence by the priest as the choir was singing the Sanctus and Benedictus. The only point at which the people even connected with that silent prayer was when the bells were rung, signaling the consecration. And yet this was prayed in silence as well. They only knew it had happened by the priest elevating the consecrated host first and later the chalice. This prayer asked for things which failed the Scriptural litmus test. Asking God to be gracious to us because of the surplus merits of various saints (a massive pile of which were named out), asking God to accept the sacrifice that we were offering and make it availing for those for whom it was specially offered, and so on.

In a nutshell, the problem with the prayer was that it read the Words of Institution backwards. Not God saying to us: "Take, eat, drink, for you." But us saying to God: "Here, you take and then bless us on account of this." Do you see the massive difference? When God was trying to give us a priceless gift, we're shoving it back up to heaven!

Lutherans have NEVER disputed that the very sacrifice of Calvary (as a noun) is what is present in the Supper. What we dispute is that the pastor or the pastor and the people sacrifice (as a verb) this to God, even in some unbloody and mysterious way. Jesus didn’t say: “Take and offer!” He said: “Take and eat for here is the sacrifice I offered once and for all on Calvary’s tree, and now I give it to you for your forgiveness for you to receive, believe, and rejoice in.”

No, we could justly protest. We keep the Mass. We have no intention of letting go this ancient and lovely liturgy, even if we do dispense with a prayer that's been in it for a long time. We recognize that not everything that grew on that liturgy over the centuries is of equal value or worth. Some things ended up actually obscuring of the gift itself, and so  these have to go. Like doing the whole liturgy in a language no one understands. Or like treating the human ceremonies as if they were more important than the actual gifts of God. Or offering to God what He is trying to give to us. But anything that extolls and confesses what God is up to when He summons His people together to give them the memorial of the new and everlasting testament of their Divine Redeemer, all that we rejoice to keep.

Or at least we did and we still say we do. If we are not observing the customary ceremonies with the highest reverence, the solution is not to conjure up some ceremonies and reverence. The solution is to stop and take thought again of exactly WHAT and WHO is present in the consecrated elements and WHY He comes among us in that mysterious way. Then to weigh what best confesses His presence and the gifts He brings. That will always land you back in the liturgy again, because it's just hard to come up with a better way to confess this than all those previous generations of Christians have done. This is liturgy not as legislation or the Augsburg Confession as some canon law; this is liturgy as prayed version of the Church's confession of faith.

Look, if on the altar and in your hand and in your mouth is the very body and blood of the Eternal Son, through whom you and this entire creation came into existence, who in the fullness of time was born of the holy Virgin, taking on a human nature, that once hung upon Calvary's cross, suffering and bleeding, to wipe out your sins, that rose from the grave to free you from death, and even now sits at the right hand of the Father ruling all things, that will appear in glory at the Day of the recreation, if all that’s so, then highest reverence simply follows in all our receiving and handling of this astounding gift.

In the name of the Father…

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