Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm a Roman Catholic?

I received an email last week from a Lutheran layman who accused me of being a Roman Catholic.  The basis for his accusation were some comments I made regarding the Holy Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood in a recent thread over at BJS.  Evidently, if one believes that the Body and Blood of our Lord are Present at the moment of consecration, and that His Body and Blood remain Present until what has been consecrated has been consumed, one is a Roman Catholic.

Not only that, but those of us who masquerade as Lutherans, but who are really Roman Catholics at heart, are responsible for all the problems in the LCMS.  I think that's just a little much, actually.  I mean, surely we pretend-Lutheran-Roman-Catholics-in-disguise are not to blame for all the problems.  But, whatever.

Here is the accusation:

Reverend Messer,
I am greatly disturbed by the many pastors like you in our synod today who are obviously Roman Catholic, but not honest enough to admit it and leave.  Your recent comments about the Lord's Supper on the Steadfast site show that you definitely hold a Roman Catholic, and not a Lutheran, view of the Supper.  Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine are immediately changed into Christ's body and blood at the priest's consecration, not Lutherans.  Roman Catholics elevate and genuflect at the consecration, not Lutherans.  Roman Catholics believe that Christ's body and blood remain after the distribution, not Lutherans.  I wonder what they are teaching at our seminaries these days, because there seem to be a lot of young guys like you coming out with Roman Catholic beliefs, rather than Lutheran beliefs.  That's a real shame.  I feel sorry for the members of your congregation who are being served by a pastor who follows the doctrines of the Antichrist.  Why don't you, and all those other closet Roman Catholics in our synod, do us Lutherans a favor and go join up with the Pope and his church, since you love his teachings?  You papistical pastors are responsible for all the problems in our synod.  Please stop spreading your venom among Lutherans and leave!!!
First of all, this layman never heard me say that I believe that the bread and wine are "changed into" Christ's Body and Blood "at the priest's consecration."  Contrary to his false accusations, I am a Lutheran.  I do not adhere to the doctrine of Transubstantiation.  I also do not adhere to the belief that the priest's/pastor's words affect the consecration, as if the power to "change" the bread/wine into Christ's Body/Blood resides in the priest/pastor.  Rather, I believe, teach, and confess, with all Lutherans, that the Body and Blood of Christ are sacramentally united to the bread and wine when Christ Himself speaks His Word at the consecration.  When our Lord Jesus Christ says, through the pastor, "This Is My Body; This Is My Blood," the bread and wine are His Body and Blood.  He says it.  They are.  Lutherans do not delve into philosophical attempts to explain the mystery of this sacramental union.  We simply confess that the bread and wine, consecrated by Christ, are His Body and Blood given to us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.

Secondly, because, as a Lutheran, I believe that when Christ speaks His Word over the bread and wine, His Body and Blood are Present, yes, I do, as the celebrant, elevate and genuflect.  By doing so, I confess that what I elevate and kneel before is Christ Himself.  I am not holding up mere bread, but the Body of Christ.  That is not mere wine in the chalice I elevate, but the Blood of the Lamb.  What I hold in my hands, and what lies upon the holy altar after the consecration, IS the very Body and Blood of Christ, and I believe it is good, right, and salutary to kneel before my Lord and Savior in worship and adoration.  Likewise, when I face the congregation, holding the Body and Blood of Christ in my hands, and say, "The Peace of the Lord be with you always," I am confessing that the Prince of Peace Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, has been faithful to His promise to "be with us always," since He is, right then and there, with us in His very Body and Blood.  When the congregation responds, "Amen" (so glad we did away with the "And also with you" at this point), they are confessing, "Yes, this is so; the Peace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, our Savior, is with us here and now in His very Body and Blood."  Then, immediately following this, the congregation joins in praying to our Present Lord for mercy and peace by singing the Agnus Dei ("O Christ, Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us . . .").  I'm pretty sure that all of this is most assuredly in line with what we Lutherans believe, teach, confess, and practice.

Thirdly, I have no word from our Lord telling me that His Body and Blood do not remain sacramentally united to the consecrated bread and wine after the Distribution.  For this reason, the Church has historically treated what remains of Christ's Body and Blood (commonly referred to with the Latin word, "reliquae") with great reverence and respect.  It was common in the early church to reserve some of the reliquae in order to take Christ's Body and Blood to the sick and shut-in (St. Justin, Martyr, for instance, says, ". . . and there is a distribution [of Christ's Body and Blood] to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.").  Another practice throughout history in the Church has been to reserve the reliquae against the next Communion, but such reservation was practiced reverently, the reliquae being reserved in a fitting receptacle and never mixed in with unconsecrated bread and wine.  And still another faithful practice in the Church has been to consume what remains immediately following the Distribution, in order to avoid any possible scandal which might arise with what remains of our Lord's Body and Blood.

That third practice is the one Dr. Luther himself advised and the one I follow.  After everyone present in the Divine Service has partaken, I consume what remains and reverently cleanse the sacramental vessels, so that there remains nothing left of our Lord's Body and Blood to deal with after the Service.  I believe this is the safest and wisest practice, but as I have pointed out several times over the years in debates regarding what to do with the reliquae, it is not a widely held practice in our synod today.  The vast majority of LCMS pastors and congregations practice some form of reservation, many of which I find less than salutary (e.g. storing consecrated hosts in a jar in the sacristy cabinet; mixing consecrated with unconsecrated hosts, as if there is no difference between them; putting consecrated hosts/bread in a bag and storing in the freezer; throwing used individual cups with remnants of Christ's Blood in the garbage; pouring consecrated wine down the drain; I've even heard of the practice of throwing consecrated hosts on the ground outside to feed the birds).

With less than salutary practices of reservation or disposal like these, it is understandable how Lutheran laypeople would develop the belief that what remains after the Distribution is not Christ's Body and Blood.  But, again, where is the word of the Lord which says so?  Also, it must be pointed out that it would seem odd for Dr. Luther to give the advice to consume what remains if what remains is nothing but bread and wine.  If that was the case, who cares what we do with it?  Throw it away or feed it to the birds or put it back in the jar with unconsecrated hosts.  But, Dr. Luther was an "Is means Is" kind of fella, like all good Lutherans, and so advised that we deal with the reliquae as Christ's Body and Blood, which is what it "Is."  It must be further pointed out that our own Lutheran Altar Guild manuals, right down to the present day, implore us to deal with the reliquae in a reverent and respectful manner, as if we are dealing with Christ's Body and Blood.  We are advised to either consume what remains or to reserve reverently in a fitting receptacle and never to mix consecrated with unconsecrated hosts.  And, if we're not going to consume what remains of Christ's Blood, the advice is to reverently pour what remains on the ground.  Oh, and our Altar Guild manuals also advise us never to use plastic, throw-away individual cups for Distribution of Christ's Blood, not only because these tend to lead to the abuse of throwing remnants of Christ's Blood in the garbage, but also because they are not fitting vessels to carry our Lord's Blood.  The advice is to employ the chalice, but that if you are going to use individual cups, they should be glass and should be reverently cleansed after the Distribution.  But, I digress.

Now, it never fails that when this debate is initiated among Lutherans, some will point to the "usage clause" in FC X and try to make the claim that here we confess that the Body and Blood of Christ are only Present during the Distribution within the Divine Service, as if the point of the "usage clause" there is to nail down a specific time-frame of our Lord's Sacramental Presence.  But, that is hardly the case.  What we are confessing against in FC X is the abuse of consecrating for the sole purpose of adoration, as the Roman Catholics are wont to do by housing consecrated hosts in a tabernacle or monstrance purely for Eucharistic Adoration or to be paraded around in Corpus Christi parades, and not for Distribution.  We say, "No!" to that.  Our Lord did not institute the Sacrament of His Body and Blood for that purpose, but to be given to us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.  But, to try to use the "usage clause" in FC X to argue for a specific time-frame of our Lord's Sacramental Presence is an exercise in futility, since our Lutheran forefathers are in no way addressing that in this article.

What really is at play here is the error of Receptionism, which is an error to which many unknowing Lutherans adhere, believing that the Body and Blood of our Lord are not Present until they eat and drink, and only remains Present until the last person present in the Divine Service has eaten and drunk.  But, Lutherans have always believed, taught, confessed, believed, and practiced that the Body and Blood of our Lord is Present the moment He speaks His Word over the elements and remains so until it is all consumed.  To call me, or any other Lutheran, a Roman Catholic for confessing this is to misunderstand what Lutherans believe.

Fourthly, what I learned at seminary was what Lutherans believe, teach, confess, and practice, and this in contrast to what other Christians believe, teach, confess, and practice, other Christians including Roman Catholics.

Fifthly, I have four children, ranging from the ages of 21 to 14, so I'm not exactly sure the whole "young guy" thing applies to me, but I appreciate the sentiment. 

Sixthly, I do often feel sorry for the members of the congregation I serve, since I am a wretched sinner prone to make many mistakes and completely unworthy of the Office to which I have been called and ordained, but not because I follow the doctrines of the Antichrist. 

Seventhly, I cannot follow this layman's advice and join the Pope and his church because I vehemently reject many of the doctrines taught by the Pope and his church, since, well, I am a Lutheran. 

Eighthly, I reject the notion that I am a "papistical pastor," but even were that true, I highly doubt that pastors like me are responsible for "all the errors in our synod."  As I said above, that's a bit much, methinks. 

Ninthly, if what I believe, teach, confess, and practice is "venom," then I am wholly committed to spreading that "venom" for as long as our Lord grants me the ability to serve.  Of course, what this layman calls "venom," I simply refer to as Lutheranism and, in true Lutheran fashion, state:  "Here I stand.  I can do no other.  God help me!"

Now, where did I leave my rosary?  I need to locate it so that I can say my morning prayers to our Holy Mother. :)  


William Weedon said...

Don't know if you still have contact with the fellow, but these might be of use:


It is very common for those born and raised in the Lutheran Church to be unaware of our own heritage. I posted recently a list provided by Dr. Herl on the changes that the Calvinists insisted the Lutheran carry out in Brandenburg. Amazingly, the Calvinist description fits the shape of the piety of many Lutherans today in America. These poor folks have been deprived of their own heritage - stolen away from them, without realizing it. And when they encounter that heritage (as you live it out liturgically), it's not uncommon to hear complaint about it being Roman. That's the same complaint that the Calvinists raised about Lutheran liturgical practice years ago.

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

Pr. Weedon,

This particular fellow asked me not to respond further to him, but I know he reads this blog, so maybe he'll see that excellent link you provided and go and check it out.

I read that list provided by Dr. Herl which you posted the other day and thought the same thing, namely that it sounds very similar to the piety of many Lutherans today in America. But, through patient and loving catechesis, that can be changed, and I think we are blessed to be seeing that change in many places today. I pray that we continue to recover and restore that heritage we sadly allowed to be stolen away due to an increased Romaphobia among Lutherans in America. But, I also know from experience that there are some lifelong "Lutherans" who are convinced and will not listen to anyone, no matter how lovingly and patiently you deal with them. I doubt that a resurrected Dr. Luther himself could convince them that many of the things they consider "Roman" are not. Sad, that.

WM Cwirla said...

A bit of brotherly advice, take it or leave it. You are being way too defensive! These kinds of letters must simply be endured in humble silence, along with rude phone calls, the persistent emails, and screaming voice mails. Clearly, the author is not acquainted with what is properly "Roman Catholic" doctrine regarding the Sacrament. He seems to reading into your statements much more than you are actually saying. You are not arguing for a "moment" when the Body and Blood begins to be present nor are you speculating over if and when they cease to be present. You are simply saying what the Lord says of His bread and cup and doing as Luther admonished in "leaving the Sacrament whole."

I would counsel against refutations of the pious laity by means of blogs and other public posts, including comment streams. It never comes to anything good. Simply endure this as the scandal which the Word of Christ always provokes and pray that this person come to a deeper and fuller understanding of the Sacrament and the Church.

Richsheri1 said...

Yada, yada, yada. Sad to say, but the note you received is typical. The average Lutheran today is not Lutheran. Nor would I say is the average Lutheran pastor (based on what is actually practiced and preached). This makes it harder, because the one who thinks he is Lutheran is actually an amalgam of varying aspects of North American Protestantism with the Lutheranism contained in our Confessions.

If you think my assertion is out there: simply ask several questions that our Confessions allow or affirm. Our Confessions say (by saying in the negative) that we pray for those who have died in the faith. Today, it is forbidden, even contrary to the latest reprint of Starck’s Prayer Book. Our Confessions allow us to talk to the saints in eternity (traditionally called “praying to the saints”) as long is it is not done in a way that takes away from Christ. We don’t teach this practice because we can say for certain that the saints in heaven can hear us.

Now how among the “confessional” pastors hold to this? Yet, such is what our Confessions say and to which we all vow to uphold. So, we have veered so far away that even those non-contested, and barely mentioned, items in the 1500s (for they were not articles of faith with which we disagreed with Rome) are not forbidden.

Your holding to the truth is commendable. Keep it up.

Dennis Peskey said...

Father Messer - Just a measure of the distance we'll need to travel before koinonia is achieved. The road to Geneva is much closer to Rome than to Wittenberg.

Steve said...

Fr. Messer,
I'm almost sad to say how many "Lutherans", the vast majority cradle to grave, fit in the letter you received. Laity is often quite happily untaught and when a solid shepherd tries to teach they automatically throw up their hands and scream "foul"!

I will never forget the time I tried to encourage the pastor and "elders" of the church we were attending to start celebrating the Sacrament weekly. One "elder" looked me in eye and said, "No, then it will become ordinary and meaningless". So, I can't say as I feel your pain, I don't sit in your seat; I can sure see where you're coming from though.

Pax Christi,
Bro Steve SSP

sag said...

I will continue to dare to be Lutheran thanks to your guidance.

Carol said...

Having you as my pastor does not make me feel the least bit sorry for myself. Quite the contrary, I feel very blessed to have learned so much from you, all based on Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

May the Lord bless your ministry for many years!

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

Pr. Cwirla,

Thanks for the brotherly advice. You're probably right about me being way too defensive. Perhaps it would have been best to simply endure this as you suggest. But, I do believe that this is a topic worthy of our attention, since this particular layman is not alone in his beliefs, as any Lutheran pastor serving today knows full well, even though I recognize that this may not have been the most salutary way of broaching the topic.

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


"Yada, yada, yada" - very Seinfeldian! :)

Yes, we have allowed a lot of practices and teachings of our own Confessions to fall into disuse (or to be outright contradicted). The only solution to this, of course, is intense study and bold catechesis. May the Lord grant it among us!

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

A long road to travel, indeed!

Bro. Steve,
Your anecdote reminded me of the struggles a good friend of mine endured when he tried to lead the congregation he served to weekly Communion. After a year of teaching on the subject, he announced at a Voters' Assembly that they would be doing a trial run, having Communion every Sunday during the upcoming Easter Season. A lifelong, and very influential, member of the congregation stood up and said, "If you go to weekly Communion, you better be prepared to sign a lot of transfers!"

Imagine that! You offer the Gift of our Lord's Body and Blood more often and we're outta here!

Such is life in the Church Militant.

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

Thanks, Sharyn and Carol!

LambertsOnline said...

Pastor Messer:

Excellent information! Hopefully an opportunity to teach some confused Lutherans.


Jason Nota said...

This past Sunday I received my first Lutheran Communion. This was the first Communion I have taken that I truly and clearly understood what actually is the Lord's Supper, what is present at the Table, what are the purpose and benefits of the Lord's Supper and finally who should and should not eat and drink the Lord's Supper.

Before this time I had taken Communion under the belief of transubstantiation as a boy and then later under the belief that the bread and wine are only symbols or representations of His body and blood.

If some Lutherans don't understand what they believe, maybe they should go though confirmation classes again.