Sunday, February 06, 2011

On Visiting St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church during paternity leave

A lot of random and unassociated thoughts occurred to me during our time at St. Joseph's. Here they are:

1) When I'm in a Roman Catholic Mass, I often think: this is the way worship should be! Much of "the way it should be" has to do with the fact that the worshipping community has been trained to use bodily gestures during their time in worship, especially crossing themselves at the font, genuflecting at the pew, using upraised arm gestures during the prayers, holding hands with neighbors during the Lord's Prayer, bowing their heads in the middle of the Nicene Creed in honor of the Incarnation and the Virgin Mary, and the ipsissima verbi.

2) Furthermore, many of the ritual actions of Mass would be well worth incorporating into Lutheran worship, including the ringing of the bells during communion, bowing to and kissing the Bible before and after the reading of the Gospel.

3) The diversity of the community, many ethnic groups, social classes, etc. all gathered for worship, it's a robust aspect of life in many Roman Catholic parishes I have visited. In this particular case, the place was also packed with lots of small children and young families!

4) There wasn't a bulletin, so most of the time we had trouble keeping up with the liturgy. It seemed like many regular worshippers didn't have any intention of actively "participating" in worship, like singing hymns, etc. and those who did knew the service so well they didn't need a bulletin, they just found their way around in hymnals and missives. In this respect, I prefer the robust singing of many Lutheran congregations.

5) I'm definitely liturgical, no doubt about it, and love the overall sensibility of the Mass. The only thing missing was a good sermon. The priest at St. Joseph's is a remarkably good communicator, and did a couple of times during the service interject informal messages and comments that were faithful and helpful. But his sermon was replaced by an audio recording of the bishop making an appeal for financial support for the mission of the diocese. I wish there would have been a good, law/gospel sermon. But that's the Lutheran/Protestant in me coming out.

6) This is the third time in the last few years I have visited a Roman Catholic parish, and they are batting 100%. Each time the sermon was a financial appeal. On the one hand, this was somewhat frustrating. On the other hand, I really respect them for their forthright and honest approach to fund-raising. It takes a lot of money, and faithful giving from members, to build a vibrant ministry. The way they spoke about the appeal was very clear and faithful, not patronizing or guilt inducing. If you're going to make a widespread diocesan financial appeal, I think this was a good approach.

7) I was a bad dad. I failed to prepare the kids for the fact that they might not receive communion, and I failed to find out whether in fact they could. I know officially they probably can't (I'm really not that familiar with current RC communion practices, but I'm guessing communion in an RC context is for Roman Catholics, and those already of the age of first communion, which my children are younger than). Anyway, I still could have checked.

8) This was the only part of the day that made me sad. Why is it that the one thing that is supposed to unite us (the Eucharist) that is most divided in our churches? Seriously, why? Jesus Christ practiced open table commensality, but most churches do not. Even my own denomination tends to still exclude small children until the "age of reason." Why?

9) I very much appreciated the care and respect the priest paid to the sacramental elements. I'd like to do a small study with a priest some time to improve our practices in the Lutheran context around handling and disposing of the elements.


  1. Clint- I enjoyed reading your post. As a Lutheran who regularly attends Mass, I notice all the same intricacies as you did but it really does depend on the Church that you attend. The church is Waverly is much more contemporary and actually does sing quite robustly. The homilies/sermons are also well thought out and don't usually speak about finances but much more social justice issues.

    As for your question of communion. Lutherans are still not welcomed for full-communion in the RC church. However, with talking to a priest ahead of time (as I have) communion can be granted by the priest. However, you have to have had first communion preparation before hand. Some priests will allow communion from outsiders others will not. As to point 9, the handling of the elements is because of the belief that Jesus is presence in the wine and bread. Therefore care must be taken in order to respect his presence and transformation in the body and blood. Much reverence is taken in this sacrament due to this practice.

  2. For what it's worth, the Reformational Protestant in me sees "genuflecting at the pew" and "bowing to and kissing the Bible before and after the reading of the Gospel" as more problematic than substituting "an appeal for financial support for the mission of the diocese" for "a good, law/gospel sermon."

  3. I have the sense that the priest at this parish is similar to yours, and even the financial appeal had a social justice component to it.

    I do understand point 9, and we believe that too, we just don't take as much care around the elements as Catholics, and it's something I would like to learn from them.

    Jon, why exactly? Luther continued the movements but changed the preaching.

  4. No problem with movements in general - on the contrary, kneeling for confession, upraised hands, the sign of the cross, etc, are all great. My only problem is with movements that involve venerating objects made with human hands, even (especially) Bibles, the elements, crosses, icons, etc. See for some arguments along these lines (opinionated and peppered with polemics as they may be, not unlike Luther's own style).

  5. Anonymous10:49 AM

    We go to Catholic masses periodically because my wife's family is Catholic. We go forward for a blessing and cross our arms as we approach the priest. At my ordination they came forward and received a blessing from me in the same manner.

    I've observed over the years that the quality of homiles vary widely by the priest. I'm wondering if there has been an emphasis on better preaching recently because I have noticed an improvement.

    Pr. Jay Denne

  6. Jon, it sounds to me like this is where Lutherans and the Reformed part ways, I think Lutherans tend to agree with how the ecumenical councils ended up in favor of the use of icons, and I think of those movements as being similar to the veneration of icons.

  7. Have Lutherans generally parted with most Protestants in rejecting the Seventh Ecumenical Council? I find pretty compelling. It was later published as an appendix to a slim volume on liturgy with a few additions:

    A new point was included at the beginning: "It is noteworthy that the justification of image veneration given by the Council, and by iconodules generally, is that veneration paid to the image passes to the person represented by the image. Thus, Jeroboam could say that his Golden Calf simply represented Yahweh, and that incense burned to the Calf on high places was transferred to Yahweh. This notion - that human beings can and may make something that becomes a telephone to heaven - is precisely what the Torah forbids in the second commandment. What the so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council authorizes (yea, commands) is exactly the mindset that Yahweh, Moses, and all the prophets warred against."

    Point 3 was replaced with the following: "The veneration of icons is strictly forbidden by God on pain of a horrible curse. God says that to do this is to 'hate' Him."

    Point 5 was expanded to include a historical example of early disagreement with the 787 Council: "The Carolingian church expressly rejected both the 754 and 787 Councils, admitting the making of pictures but rejecting any adoration of or through them. This made relations with Rome sticky for a while, since the bishop of Rome had given tacit approval to the 787 Council; but as the Carolingian Renaissance died away, superstition from Rome overcame the authentic Biblical religion more and more in Western Europe."

  8. Jon, I don't think I have a knock-down argument supporting the seventh ecumenical, but I would say that I tend to be in continuity with all seven, at least in many particulars. I myself at least find the following valuable points:

    1) Icons do not depict God or "the gods" in Orthodox iconography. They depict Jesus and the saints. This is an important distinction that the points you make above gloss over.

    2) Jesus himself was visible, like a living icon. I think iconography and thinking about it should proceed from the Incarnation of the Logos, rather than the 10 commandments per se.

    3) Lutherans tend to identify strongly with the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I can point to resources if that is helpful, or possibly blog on this some time this week.

  9. There are many things I also identify with in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, especially in ecclesiology. See e.g.

    However, I considered veneration through icons and movements at great length as a member of an Episcopal parish with Anglo-Catholic leanings before ultimately deciding I could not in good conscience embrace these practices. I just can't go there.

    "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen."

  10. Jon, that makes sense to me, and as you can see I have not embraced them either, I'm just sympathetic to exploring them especially after having visited a communion of which I am a neighbor but not a member.