Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do we really need altar guilds?

No. We don't. We really don't. Most of the problems that I have had in my ministry have come from altar guild members--altar guild members who are absolutely inflexible, completely closed off to change on any kind, and who think it is their personal duty to protect the congregation from the pastor and all this "catholic" stuff. Now please understand, I have known many faithful Christian altar guild members over the years; but I have also known a lot of sharks. The altar is their territory and woe to the pastor who tries to move anything, change anything, or even suggest anything. It doesn't matter if the pastor is the one who has to stand at the altar and do all the things required of him by the Church's liturgy; it is the altar guild's way or the highway.

Many altar guild members are, let's be honest, older ladies. They learned their craft under the well-meaning but incompetent guidance of some protty clergyman a long time ago, one who had little real interest in liturgy; or worse, they were left on their own to make up their own "rules" (not drawn from any official manual) which they stick to as rigidly as any observant monk. You can explain to these altar warriors how the altar should be set up for Holy Communion, but don't expect that they are going to take you seriously. When Sunday comes, you'll see, it will be back to the same old way they learned when Pastor Krunch was pastor forty years ago.

The one serious problem I have with altar guilds is the fact that they often undermine the proper, reverent, respectful treatment of the Eucharistic elements after the Communion Liturgy. I, gladly, don't have little shot glasses in my parish, so I am able to ablute the chalice and the flagon at the altar and consume any uneaten hosts. I have instructed the altar guild to rinse all vessels and dispose of the rinse-water reverently before washing the vessels with soapy water. However, this has always been an uphill battle. Sadly, there are a lot of pastors out there who just don't care what happens to the consecrated elements after the liturgy has been concluded. Altar guilds are just left to do their thing, and when a pastor who cares about liturgy comes along, he gets a lot of opposition from guild members who have "always done it that way."

Lately, I have been giving serious thought regarding the need for altar guilds. Honestly, I don't think we need them. Unless the members are faithful, well-trained, flexible, and have an understanding that their job is to help the pastor do his job, I say disband them. Altar guilds that think they have the final say in liturgical matters are a nuisance at best, and at worst they (albeit unwittingly) serve the devil.

Here's my proposal: Every parish should have a sacristan or two. The sacristan should be very knowledgeable in liturgy. He or she should work closely with the pastor. The sacristan can appoint members of the parish to wash linens, polish brass-ware, etc. He or she might be someone who wants to train for the ordained ministry someday, and being a sacristan would provide much needed training that is usually lacking in Lutheran seminaries.
As far as altar guilds are concerned, keep them if they behave themselves. Otherwise, they are not worth the headache.

Anti-catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice

I serve as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a Lutheran church body known for its toleration of just about everything. ELCA Lutherans pride themselves on ordaining women clergy. We have a quota system which is suppose to guarantee that the voices of women and minorities are heard and respected, and that women and minorities have access to holding important positions in the church. Since 2009, we have allowed non-celibate ordained pastors "in life-long committed relationships" to serve as pastors of congregations, and several of our synods have guidelines for blessing same-sex unions or performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. We pride ourselves on being at the forefront of ecumenism. We have full-communion agreements with he United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Reformed Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and the Moravian Church. Our bishops go to Palestine and demand, "Mr Netanyahu, tear down that wall!" We congratulate ourselves on being a tolerant, open-minded, open-hearted, non-bigoted, mainline liberal Church. Now I am going to withhold my opinion on these issues, for that is not the topic of this article, the purpose of which is to point out that there is still one acceptable prejudice in the ELCA and that is anti-catholicism.

Ask any liturgically-minded pastor in the ELCA and he will share with you the heartache, the frustration, and the sadness he has faced for the sake of a more reverent, beautiful, traditional liturgy. Any practice or custom can be dismissed by a bigoted laity (or by a bigoted 'hierarchy;' and don't think the ELCA doesn't have a hierarchy!) simply by labeling it "too catholic." Exactly what the criteria is for putting something in this category is still a mystery to me after 20 years in the ELCA, 13 as a pastor. However, it seems to me that the criteria is "anything we say it is." It doesn't matter how many Lutheran books that have a photo or drawing of a pastor in a chasuble that you bring to the table, and it matters even less how many passages from the Lutheran Confessions you show them; the Romaphobes, though they know nothing about Scripture, theology, liturgy, liturgical art, or liturgical music, intuitively know "too catholic" when they see it. Ask a Romaphobe about his experience with an actual Roman Catholic Church, however, and he will tell you about being at a cousin's wedding in a Catholic church once.

It is so ironic how I and other liturgical pastors have taken it on the chin for things like the sign of the cross, eucharistic vestments, chanting, sprinkling with water from the font at the Renewal of Baptismal Vows (two or three times a year), putting a drop of water in the chalice at the offertory, elevating the host, genuflecting, etc. (not to mention a little incense!), yet I have many colleagues that play fast and loose with the liturgy (not just gestures, but with the words!), have replaced hymns with praise songs on screens, and basically do whatever the hell they please, all in the name of evangelical freedom and 'growing the church,' and they get away with it--in fact, they are hailed as innovators. I was once told by congregation members how they attended a Lutheran parish while on vacation that has a "country and western" service, and how much they "got out of it." The Lutheran magazine did a big story on a congregation that has "dixie-land services." When was the last time The Lutheran did a story on a high liturgical Lutheran parish or a story celebrating the contributions of liturgical pastors and parishes in the ELCA? Don't hold your breath. It ain't gonna happen.

Have you noticed that evangelical freedom only goes in one direction--the freedom not to do something? It's never the freedom to do something. The Lutheran Confessions make it clear that everything should be retained that serves the Gospel. However, in practice this is a very short list indeed. Let me say this: there is something sick about a church body that makes the permitting of gay marriage and ordination of practicing homosexuals a more pressing matter than having the Eucharist celebrated weekly in all parishes. There is something sick about a church that allows pastors to suffer abuse at the hands of parishioners simply because these pastors want to worship according to ancient, time-tested, confessional, historical norms, in the beauty of holiness. There is something very sick about a church body that congratulates itself for its ecumenical relationships, even with the Roman Catholic Church, and yet openly tolerates anti-catholicism. Yes, it's all very sick, indeed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Paraments and Vestments for Advent

Many Lutheran congregations and pastors are using blue paraments and vestments during Advent. However, this was an innovation introduced in the last 30 years. The traditional color for Advent is purple, and in the Roman Catholic Church, the use of blue has never been officially approved for use in Advent. Why then the switch to blue? Today's liturgists tell us that the old penitential emphasis of Advent has been replaced with an emphasis on eschatological hope in the future kingdom of God (or "reign of God" for those who don't like the maleness of the word kingdom). Blue represents royalty (of course, so does purple!) and hope, so they say. These are the same liturgists who have said that we should lose the penitential emphasis in Lent and move to more of a stress on baptism and catechesis. Yeah, whatever. It seems the [post-] modern liturgists have a problem with penitence. I guess this is why the new ELW allows a renewal of baptismal vows to replace the order for confession and forgiveness. I don't have a problem with an order for renewal of baptismal vows with sprinkling from the font, but this should be done as an amplification of the Creed (Easter, All Saints, and the Baptism of our Lord would be good feast days for this). However, I am not for replacing confession and forgiveness with a renewal of baptismal vows. We need regular confession of sins more than ever in our churches.

In any case, back to blue in Advent. It must be admitted that the use of blue in Advent does have some historical basis. In the middle ages, a dark blue (indigo) was in use in England and in Scandinavia where it was more difficult to obtain the ingredients for purple dye. Blue is also used in certain churches is Spain and Latin America, but here it is a lighter blue connected with feasts of the Virgin Mary. Certainly, if blue is used for Advent it should be of the darker indigo variety so that some of the penitential character of the season remains. After all, the new Revised Common Lectionary does focus on John the Baptist's call to repentance. In my own church, we use a Sarum blue. This is something I inherited. When Lutherans spend money on something, they don't like to be told it wasn't right. Anyway, I can live with it, though I prefer the traditional purple.

With regard to the color rose: unfortunately, the LBW altar edition/minister's desk edition gives the colors purple or blue for use on the third Sunday in Advent. LBW makes no mention of the option of using rose vestments and paraments. However, the rose color has a long history in the Church and many churches have a rose-colored candle for the third week in Advent on the Advent wreath. The rose vestments and paraments being brighter than the penitent purple correspond to the ancient introit (entrance antiphon) from which this Sunday--Gaudete Sunday-- gets its name: Gaudete in Domino semper ("Rejoice in the Lord always") from the 4th Chapter of Saint Paul's Letter to the Philippians. On this Sunday there was a reprieve from the strict fasting of Advent when Advent was truly a penitential season. A similar reprieve took place in Lent on the 4th Sunday, the introit of which also begins with "Rejoice (Laetare) O Jerusalem!," thus it is known as Laetare Sunday. It is perfectly acceptable and commendable for Lutherans to make use of rose vestments and paraments on both Gaudete and Laetare Sundays.

Note: It is not appropriate to light the rose candle on the Advent wreath on the 4th Sunday of Advent because "Christmas is almost here." That's a silly innovation. If we are going to reclaim liturgical ceremonies and practices, let us at least use them properly and at the right times.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Translation of the Roman Missalhttp://icelweb.org/musicfolder/openmusic.php

I was just looking at some of the new ICEL translations of the Roman Missal texts, and I must say, they are very fine. Unlike the ICEL translations of the 1970 Missal of Paul VI, these new translations are much more faithful to the original Latin. The texts, along with their respective chants, can be viewed at http://icelweb.org/musicfolder/openmusic.php. The people that serve on ICEL are to be congratulated for their fidelity-- it only took them 40 years to set things straight! Of course, I understand there was a good deal of pressure from the Roman hierarchy to make sure that the translators stuck to the texts rather than promote their own 'sense' of the texts.

It would have been wonderful if the committee that produced Evangelical Lutheran Worship had waited until these new ICEL translations had come out. Actually, however, it wouldn't have mattered since the ELW people were not interested in fidelity in translating ancient liturgical texts but in promoting their own narrow ultra-feminist sectarian agenda. The ELW people had no qualms about surgically removing "Father" and "Lord" from the proper prefaces, or changing the catholic creeds and the Psalms to make them more 'inclusive' (that is, more palatable to feminists). The irony is, in some cases, the Latin texts are much more inclusive than ELW's. For example, the response that has been rendered "It is right to give our thanks and praise" is "Dignum et justum est" in Latin. This should be translated simply as "It is right and just." In the LBW it was rendered "It is right to give him thanks and praise." This was borrowed from the ICEL text of the 1970 Missal. Then the ELW people tinkered with an already poorly rendered text, changing "him" to "our" in order to avoid 'offensive masculine language for God. So now the focus is on us--on our thanks and praise, as opposed to him (God). More liturgical self congratulating! All this could have been avoided, of course, if the Latin had been translated properly in the first place. But as I said, fidelity was not a priority for the ELW crew.

So, when it comes to the highly defective ELW, I admonish you caveat emptor!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Reasons Why I Will Not Use ELW

1. The altering of the historic creeds of the Church Catholic to appease feminists: no longer can we say "and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord," but now we must say "God's only Son our Lord." The worst sin one can commit in the ELCA is using a male pronoun for God. The altering of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds is sectarian and obscures the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

2. The removal of God the Father from the proper prefaces.

3. The altering of the Psalms: for example, changing he to "you" in the 23rd Psalm which now reads "you make me lie down in green pastures," etc. Even the Bible has to be "corrected" in accordance with feminist 'inclusive' language principles.

4. The deliberate omission of the Athanasian Creed.

5. The many 'options' in ELW which allow for alternatives to "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
Now we may simply say "in the name of the Trinity."

6. The altering of many hymn texts removing words like Lord, King, etc. which are viewed by the revisionists as patriarchal and exclusive.

7. There is a thinly veiled agenda behind the ELW, the agenda of feminist revisionists. The many alterations of Biblical and historical liturgical texts and hymns leads to an erosion of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

I have listed only a handful of problems with ELW; there are many more. All faithful Lutheran pastors and the people they serve should simply reject this awful heterodox book and continue to use the Lutheran Book of Worship, the Service Book and Hymnal, and other orthodox Lutheran worship books. ELW is a departure from our confessional evangelical catholic faith. It is a sectarian book by and for sectarians.