Tuesday, September 27, 2011

St. Michael Liturgical Conference

What an absolute joy it was to attend the 14th Annual St. Michael Liturgical Conference at Zion, Detroit yesterday.  We were treated, as always, to a stunningly beautiful Divine Service, during which our gracious and merciful Lord dispensed His divine gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation to us via His Holy Word and Sacraments.  Fr. Mark Braden (Zion, Detroit), who has one of the most beautiful voices known among Lutheran clergy, served as Celebrant; Fr. David Petersen (Redeemer, Ft. Wayne), who is thought by many, myself included, to be one of the best preachers we are blessed to have in our synod, served as Preacher (always a cherished experience to hear the Word of God preached by Fr. Petersen); Fr. Eric Forss (Immanuel, Howell) served as Deacon; Fr. Joel Basely (Emmanuel, Dearborn) served as Subdeacon; Dcn. David Muehlenbruch (Bethany, Ft. Wayne) served as Master of Ceremonies; and Bp. David Stechholz (Bishop/President of the English District of the LCMS) served as Officiant.  The Divine Service had all of the pomp and circumstance (or smells, bells, and whistles, as some say), complete with the employment of Crucifer, Torch Bearers, and Thurifer, that many modern Lutherans sadly thumb their noses at, but that this Lutheran absolutely adores.  As I said, stunningly beautiful!

We also gathered together to pray the Divine Office at Sext before lunch and Solemn Vespers at the conclusion of the day, both of which were also stunningly beautiful.  Fr. Braden's homily at Solemn Vespers was especially edifying; I hope it will be posted at Zion's website in the days to come.

The Keynote Address was given by Fr. Charles McClean (Immanuel, Alexandria, VA - where Fr. Chris Esget serves), whose theme was:  "The Conduct of the Services:  Revisited" (Fr. McClean studied under, and was a colleague of, Fr. Arthur C. Piepkorn; both men have produced guidelines to liturgics and rubrics that contain a treasure trove of information for Lutheran pastors as they conduct the Divine Service and Daily Offices, which are made available by Redeemer Press in a single volume).

So great to meet Fr. McClean and to hear him speak in person.  He began his presentation by taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane, sharing stories from his childhood about what life was like in his home parish in Baltimore, and sharing stories about his relationship with Fr. Piepkorn, and how he believes that some today paint a picture of Fr. Piepkorn that doesn't accurately reflect the image of the man he knew well, especially regarding his work on liturgics and rubrics, which, according to Fr. McClean, was not something Fr. Piepkorn produced in some dictatorial way, but as a humble servant who honestly wished to provide a guide for reverent conduct of the Divine Service by Lutheran pastors.  Very interesting to hear Fr. McClean speak about these things, as I've often heard the kind of criticisms of Fr. Piepkorn he referenced.

Fr. McClean stated that his goal, which was the goal of Fr. Piepkorn, and which, in his opinion (mine, too), should be the goal of every Lutheran pastor, is to conduct the Divine Service (and Daily Offices) in such a way as to create "an unmistakable atmosphere of the deepest reverence."  Reverence should be non-negotiable for Lutherans, who believe, teach, and confess that their Lord Jesus Christ is Himself Present.  Fr. McClean referenced the excellent book written by Fr. John Stephenson on "The Lord's Supper" in the "Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics" series, where Fr. Stephenson makes it vividly clear, using Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions, that Lutherans believe, teach, and confess that, during the Divine Service, we are "admitted into the realm depicted in Revelation 4 and 5."  And, since we believe, teach, and confess this, our practice ought to bear this out.  Fr. McClean wondered aloud, as I and so many others have often done, how the practice we see in so many LCMS congregations today, especially in the administration of the Holy Eucharist, can be reconciled with what we believe, teach, and confess.  Do Lutherans who confess their belief that what we receive is the very Body and Blood of Jesus, but whose practice is irreverent and nonchalant, really know what they're confessing?  For that matter, do they really believe what they're confessing?  And, even if they do believe what they're confessing, are those who witness their irreverence and nonchalance brought to believe what they're confessing?  I mean, we Lutherans believe that the purpose of ceremonies is to teach the faithful what they need to know about Christ.  What are we teaching the faithful to know about Christ when we are irreverent and nonchalant in our administration of Christ Himself in the Sacrament?    

Fr. McClean noted that the abuses we now see surrounding the Holy Eucharist among Lutherans (open communion, using other elements, irreverence, etc.) were simply unheard of fifty years ago.  That is not to say that there weren't abuses here and there, but that such abuses were rare.  Whether or not this or that pastor and congregation employed this or that ceremony during the celebration of the Holy Sacrament, nearly all were reverent in their conduct, for they believed what they confessed, that they were dealing with the very Body and Blood of Jesus.  Can we honestly say the same thing when looking at the landscape of today's LCMS?  Hardly!  In fact, as soon as someone plays the "Reverence Card" these days, they are met with scorn and ridicule by those who have come to believe that reverence is in the eye of the beholder.  Fr. McClean lamented what he called the "Baptistification of the Missouri Synod," which has caused us to truly lose sight of what we say we believe, teach, and confess, namely that Jesus IS Present among us in the Divine Service.  I share his lament.  It truly is a sad thing to see many Lutheran pastors and congregations showing no more reverence to the Most Holy Sacrament than those who do not believe that Christ is Present.

Besides reverence, Fr. McClean spoke about the importance of continuity.  I was reminded of the presentation given by Dr. David Scaer at last year's Liturgical Seminar in Kewanee, IL, where he spoke about the need for Lutherans to retain and maintain catholicity, not only in confession, but also, and most especially, in practice.  This is something that needs to be reiterated time and time again in our day and age, when catholicity is pushed aside to make way for innovation, especially when it's most often not even innovation, but the borrowing of practices done by those who don't share our Lutheran confession of the faith.  Like it or not, you cannot faithfully read our Lutheran Confessions without having the catholic principle come screaming through.  Lutherans have never been (until recent times, sadly) innovators, but those intent on remaining in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.  Our Lutheran forefathers had absolutely no interest in starting a new church, but simply corrected the abuses which had crept into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.  In fact, they go to great pains in our Confessions to make this clear, for they were being accused by Rome of doing this very thing.  Thus, they made sure to make clear that they were not abolishing the Mass or the beautiful traditions and ceremonies of the catholic church (except those that had been brought in by Rome and militated against the Holy Gospel).  Again, given what we see being done all around us by those bearing the name Lutheran today, can we still make this confession with a straight face?

During his Keynote Address and during the Q&A Workshop we had with him, Fr. McClean also spoke about verses populum vs. ad orientem (he's an ad orientem proponent), church architecture and decor, private confession and absolution, and provided some interesting historical tidbits regarding the Common Service and the changes which have been made to it over the years.  A couple of real gems that I shall soon not forget:

"You can't chant the praises of something you know nothing about" 
(speaking of the importance of pastors going to private confession).

"This is such a beautiful house. Is this where God lives?" 
(a comment a VBS student made to his pastor in his home parish in Baltimore years ago - Fr. McClean was speaking to the importance of having sacred space confessing itself to be sacred through Christian architecture and decor).

In addition to learning at the feet of Fr. McClean, we were blessed to attend three other Workshops throughout the day:  "The Proper Use of Incense," led by Fr. Braden; "Chanting the Gospels," led by Kantor Daniel Reuning of Redeemer, Ft. Wayne; "Rubrics for the Laity," led by Mr. Allen Kerkes, Organist in Residence at Zion, Detroit.  Interesting and informative, all.  I especially enjoyed Fr. Braden's presentation on incense, during which he touched upon not only the use and rubrics, but also the meaning and history, of incense in the Liturgy - learned much I didn't know in that one.

It was a wonderful and edifying conference.  So glad to have had three members of our congregation attending with me, all of whom expressed their deep appreciation for having attended.  It was great to see so many familiar faces and do some catching up or simply share greetings and well wishes (Prs. Petersen, Braden, Voltattorni, Zeile, Basely, Dave and Mary Ellyn Lambert, Jennifer Balaska, and many more), and I had the pleasure of meeting several new brothers and sisters, including Dr. Michael Anderson, fellow Polycarpian, whose online writings I have long cherished, and Pr. David Gallas, whose genius is behind many of the Issues, Etc. promotional videos.

Yes, indeed, it was a great day!  Already looking forward to next year . . .

4 comments:

William Weedon said...

Sounds so wonderful... one of these days!!! I haven't been to St. Michael's in a coon's age.

Pastor Peters said...

Wish that those papers were available on line... I too have missed them for too many years.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Frs. Weedon and Peters,

The presentations were recorded and I believe they will be posted at Zion's website sometime in the near future (maybe the papers, too, although I'm not sure).

Pr. David Gallas said...

Yes, it was nice meeting you! What an excellent overview of the conference!