Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.

Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar. For what that stuff in the banner means, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.

27 December 2008

More Twelve Days of Christmas, 2008.

Hey I forgot -- who's Wenceslaus, whose king was he, what's so good about him, and what was he doing looking out on the Feast of Stephen?

Wow, has this guy got a story. Right here, call it ironic, coincidence, or one of those divine consistencies that look like loose ends until you know what they are, but he ended up being a martyr for the Christian faith just like the first one, Stephen, on whose feast he looked out.

Here's a short version of the rest. Wenceslaus, also Wenceslas, is English for his name Vaclav. He was functionally king of Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. But, as he was backed by the German Holy Roman Empire, his title was not actually king but duke, which is just below a king.

This was first via the Duke of Saxony and King of the Germans Henry the Fowler/Heinrich der Vogler. But then via his son Otto I, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on 2 February 962 by Pope, aka bishop of Rome, John XII -- who, btw, then turned on Otto who went back to Rome and had a layman elected pope instead as Leo VII, Otto being used to naming bishops and abbots, and then, when John staged a comeback but died and left Benedict V on the papal throne, Otto went back to Rome yet again to get rid of Benedict and make them promise to quit electing popes without the Emperor's (his) OK. There's some hermeneutic of continuity for ya, to paraphrase another Pope Benedict, XVI. Otto was the first clear Holy Roman Emperor since Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, Charles the Great, Karl der Grosse) was crowned the first Imperator Augustus in the West since the Fall of Rome on 4 September 476 by the bishop of Rome Leo III on Christmas in 800.

Wenceslaus being backed by such a power did not sit well with some Bohemians, including in his own family, all of them caught between changing religions along with their entire social order.

He's called good because he stayed with the Christian faith of his grandmother who raised him, St Ludmilla, who was herself converted by Saints Cyril and Methodius no less, the "Apostles to the Slavs". His brother Boleslaus (Boleslav) though stayed with the native Bohemian religion of their mother Drahomira, who had Ludmilla killed. Boleslav didn't like the Germans or their state-run Christian church. The martyrdom happened when Boleslav arranged to have Vaclav killed, then took the throne. But, he ended up having to work with the Germans anyway and then his son, also named Boleslav, became Christian and took over from him and established the bishop's seat in Prague!

The irony, coincidence, or divine consistency continues to our time. This man Vaclav who in his own time was killed for selling out to the Germans and their power and new religion is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic, which in 2000 established his feast day of 28 September as Czech Statehood Day, a national holiday.

Yeah, that's a short version. Oh, and what was he doing looking out on the Feast of Stephen? Checking things out after he woke up, but the rest of the story is told in the carol by John Mason Neale, same guy who wrote O Come, O Come Emmanuel based on the O Antiphons posted about earlier. Small world, huh? Or another of those consistencies. Ain't it great when loose ends become consistencies!

Anyway, good duke Vaclav spotted a guy scrounging for food and asked his page where the guy lived. He then set out with his page to bring the man and his family aid. The page started faltering due to the cold and snow, but when he followed in Vaclav's footsteps found the ground warm to his feet. Now how's that for being, uh, ablaze!

Guess what, you can still follow in the good king's footsteps. Neale's carol concludes:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

So let's get on with the Twelve Days of Christmas like, give him his due, Good King Wenceslaus!

26 December 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas, 2008.

If you looked out on the Feast of Stephen -- that's 26 December, but we'll get back to that -- you might think Christmas is over. Already on the evening news on Christmas day the local stations are posting Christmas tree pick up sites and times. Some hang around for a week to give a festive atmosphere to New Year's Eve and Day, then come down. On 2 January, Valentine's Day candy is in the stores.

That fits with the world's Christmas season. The church has a little different season going on. December is largely taken up with Advent. The idea is preparation there too, but not as in buying presents and food. It's about a preparation of repentance for celebrating the coming in the flesh of God as Jesus who will die to save us from our sins, for the coming of faith in him into our hearts, and for the coming of Jesus again in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.

For which reason the colour of Advent is purple, the colour of royalty and also of repentance. Neither his coming in history or our hearts nor his return is prepared for by buying stuff.

The church's celebration of Christmas does not begin with December and end on Christmas with New Year's tacked on. It begins on Christmas and continues for several days! Our Christmas manger scenes often have the "humble" shepherds and the "important" visitors -- called Magi, Wise Men, or Kings most often -- all there. But as the story reads the Three Kings were not there at Christmas! They arrived twelve days later, 6 January, which we celebrate as Epiphany. These twelve days from Christmas through Epiphany are the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Now how did that happen? No-body knows. The thing is, Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, yet is now largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did THAT happen?

Well, to me it looks like this. By the late fourth century after Christ, 6 January as the Epiphany existed. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the Three Kings -- epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning "appearance" or "manifestation" -- but rather the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including his birth!

It's not that there wasn't Christmas, this is "Christmas" as well as a celebration all the other events of the young Jesus up to and including his Baptism and his first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. A very big day!

In the Western Church, these events began to be spun off from Epiphany. By the sixth century 25 December had become the celebration of his birth. His baptism began to be celebrated after Epiphany, so Epiphany itself in the West fairly early on narrowed its focus to the arrival of the Three Kings (Magi, etc.), who, not being Jews but Gentiles, give it the significance of the appearance or manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles.

This did not happen in the Eastern Church, where it retained its original character much longer, with many places much later adopting 25 December as the feast of his birth but keeping the celebration of his baptism on Epiphany, and in a few places yet keeping the Nativity on this day. And there's the added complication that 6 January in the older (Julian, as in Julius Caesar) calendar still used liturgically by the Eastern Church is 19 January in the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory) calendar used in the West and now pretty much world wide as a convention.

In the Eastern Church the day is more commonly called the Theophany -- divine appearance or divine manifestation -- and is considered the third most important feast in the church's observance, Easter (Pascha) being first and Pentecost second. There ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas for our brethren in the Eastern Church, it's a Western thing, but on the other hand Theophany is more in line with the original of what we in the West call Epiphany, if we remember it to call it anything at all.

And to complicate it further, after a millennium and one half of usage, Rome, ever at the ready to tinker with the very tradition it says it conserves, decided at its last council, Vatican II in the 1960s, to make it a moveable feast, not on 6 January but on the Sunday after the first Saturday in January. So, if you listen to Rome (and if you listen to Rome, quit!) there ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas in the West now either! Nice going, guys.

For us confessional Lutherans -- those who seek to hold to the catholic, as distinct from the Catholic, faith and church -- while our latest service book, Lutheran Service Book, is infected with the latest Roman virus (please support research that a cure may be found in our time!) it appears that Epiphany has survived as 6 January.

We still got 'em, The Twelve Days of Christmas!!

So here's the deal. NOW is when all the fun and festivities are supposed to happen! LEAVE those decorations up, right on up through Twelfth Night! That's the night of 5-6 January, in case you weren't counting, and yes, it's that from which the title of Shakespeare's great play is taken. So far, Twelfth Night has not been retitled First Sunday After The First Saturday In January Eve, though who knows, sillier revisionism happens all the time. Maybe even GIVE A GIFT to someone special for Epiphany, which in some places in the gift giving day, not Christmas, just as God gave himself to us and the Three Kings brought gifts to him. BAKE A CAKE; that's how Kings Cake started and still is done in some places. HAVE FRIENDS OVER -- you get the idea! The appearance or manifestation of God is just too big to contain in one day!!

And therefore the church doesn't, but extends the celebration of God's coming among us over twelve days, so don't let the world, or, sadly, some entities called church, take a bit of it away from you!

Side note: I'm of English descent, but I was adopted by people of Irish descent, and my Dad, growing up pre-conciliar RC, always referred to Epiphany as "Little Christmas", an Irish custom from when 6 January in the pre-Gregorian calendar was also Christmas. In later life I was to find out this is one echo of all the stuff mentioned above. Growing up, decorations were always left up through Epiphany, and there was one more "Christmas" gift. I do the same in my house now. And I'll post about Los Tres Reyes (Spanish for The Three Kings) on 6 January, having been culturally adopted by the Puerto Rican contingent at university.

Another side note: "Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen". Getting back to that, you think Epiphany got lost in the shuffle, what about this Feast of Stephen? It's 26 December, the day after Christmas. Why? Well, the Stephen remembered on this day is the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and, it being the custom in the church to commemorate someone not on the day of his earthly birth but the day of his birth to eternal life -- generally called death in the world -- the first person known to have been born to eternal life by martyrdom for his faith is celebrated right after the earthly birth of him who came to make eternal life available to us.

19 December 2008

Merry Christmas / Feliz Navidad / Froehliche Weinachten 2008!

Here is the 2008 edition of my Christmas post.

In addition to the many other things remarkable about Christmas, it is so rich in significance for the Christian faith that over time the church has evolved, unlike any other feast in the church calendar, three distinct masses at three distinct times to contain it all.

That's exactly what the word Christmas is, a contraction of Christ's Mass. The first appearance of the word in English, Old English, to be exact, that survives is from 1038, Cristes maesse, which became Christemasse in Middle English, and now Christmas.

25 December is not Jesus' date of birth; the actual date is unknown, and Scripture does not record it according to any calendar. From which I think it is a safe conclusion to draw that the exact and actual date of Jesus' birth is not important since if it were God would have seen that it got recorded in Scripture.

So why 25 December? Well, in the larger culture around the Hebrews in which Christianity first took hold, the day and the general time of year already had a religious significance. In a world ruled by Rome, every year at the time of the winter solstice was the Saturnalia. What's a Saturnalia? Originally it was held on 17 December and later expanded to one week. Saturn, known as Cronus to the Greeks, was the son of Heaven, Uranus, and Earth, Gaia. Saturn took power from his father Uranus/Heaven and castrated him. But a prophecy arose that a child of Saturn's would one day overthrow him, so to prevent this Saturn ate his children.

That's right, ate his children. But Saturn's wife, Opis, known to the Greeks as Rhea, hid their sixth child Jupiter, known to the Greeks as Zeus, on Crete and gave Saturn a big rock in a blanket instead. Yeah, he ate it. Jupiter/Zeus thus survived and, with his five brothers and six sisters, all called Olympians from their hang out Mount Olympus, did indeed overthrow Saturn/Cronus and his own five brothers and six sisters, all twelve called Titans. (If you're hearing modern words like Titanic and Olympics in here, you're right.)

Now in the Greek version of this story the losing Titans got sent to Hell, well, Tartarus actually, meaning a deep place. But in the Roman version Saturn escaped the rule of Jupiter/Zeus and the Olympians and went to Rome where he established a rule of perfect peace called the Golden Age. In memory of this perfect age, Romans celebrated Saturnalia, when no war could be fought, no business conducted, slaves ate with their masters, and everybody set aside the usual rules of propriety for eating, drinking, gift giving and even getting naked in public.

Right after this came Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, The Day of Birth of the Unconquered Sun, celebrated on 25 December, which in the calendar of the time was winter solstice, the day with the shortest daylight hours of the year, demostrating that darkness cannot completely overcome light. A number of the early Christian Fathers, St Cyprian among them, spoke of the parallel that Jesus the Son of God and Light of the World was born on the same day as the physical sun and light of the world, neither to be overcome by the forces of darkness.

In addition, other religions in the Roman world had a god's birthday on 25 December, for example the Babylonian sex goddess Ishtar, and the Persian mediator god Mithras, whose mystery cult was popular in the Roman army and carried throughout the Empire. On top of that, the barbarians living to the north of the formal boundaries of the Roman world (sorry, Germanic types) where Winter is harsher had their own winter solstice observances.

So it looks like the whole Christmas thing originates with the Christian Church adopting and adapting familiar material from the world around them, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Saturnalia, and the widespread observance of Winter Solstice, to create a time of celebration for the birth of Jesus. What does this mean, a Lutheran might ask. Well, anybody might ask, but I'm trying to get a chuckle out of Lutheran readers, who'll recognise the phrase often used in Luther's Small Catechism to introduce an explanation. Is Christmas and the observances that go with it simply another step in the evolution of stories about the sun and light not going away but coming back, gods getting born and golden ages, another recasting of universal human themes -- maybe just like Christianity itself?

Don't think so. Consider. What did Saturn do? Here's a god who had kids all right -- then ate them to prevent them from doing to him what he did to his own father. In contrast to the stories Man makes up about gods, the story God reveals to Man is just the opposite. Man is a creation, not a child, of God, lost in his own nonsense, some of which he encapsulates in mythology and some of which he considers the latest of enlightened thinking, Man who will thus destroy himself, to avoid which God becomes Man in Jesus, whose body and blood will be given for our salvation on the Cross that the creation of God may become children of God, and in the mass as the pledge of that salvation.

A child of God who does not overthrow his father but lives in perfect submission to his will;`who does not banish his father's rule but proclaims his kingdom; a God who does not eat his child in fear but gives him to us in love so we could eat his body and blood as the food of eternal life, a real golden age to come; a mother who has to hide her newborn son not from God but Man for his survival. And the imagery of light, not validating all sun gods but demonstrating that even in its fallen and broken state Creation still shows that the Creator will not be overcome no matter how the darkness gathers.

These pre-Christian observances are not the real roots and story of Christmas, but rather aspects of God's truth written into both Man and Nature even in its fallen state, which we now see in retrospect point to the truth we could not see in prospect, looking forward and trying to make sense of our situation, so God reveals it to us. Which the liturgy will exactly sum up in the Introit, the introductory Scripture passages, for the first mass of Christmas: Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? -- The Lord has said to me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee (Psalm 2:1,7. See below, or with my fellow geeks and wannabes, vide infra).

We call this coming of God into Man's flesh the Incarnation, from the Latin that means exactly that, to become in the flesh. To be born. For which another word is Nativity, from the Latin to be born. Christ comes into Creation, into the flesh, is born into our world, on three levels: his historical birth in the flesh as a human baby, his spiritual birth in the hearts and souls of those justified by faith because of Christ, and his eternal birth or generation from the Father in the Godhead.

Consequently, the church celebrates a mass for each of these three.

The First Mass of Christ's Mass, at midnight.
The Historical Birth in Bethlehem.
Introit Psalm 2:7. Psalm verse 2:1.
O God, Who hast made this most sacred night to shine forth with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may enjoy His happiness in heaven, the mystery of whose light we have known upon earth.
Epistle Titus 2:11-15.
Gospel Luke 2:1-14.

The Second Mass of Christ's Mass, at dawn.
The Spiritual Birth in the Believer.
Introit Isaiah 9:2,6. Psalm verse 92:1 Septuagint, 93:1 Hebrew.
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who are filled with the new light of Thy Incarnate Word, may show forth in our works that which by faith shineth in our minds.
Epistle Titus 3:4-7.
Gospel Luke 2:15-20.

The Third Mass of Christ's Mass, during the day.
The Eternal Generation in the Trinity.
Introit Isaiah 9:6. Psalm verse 97:1 Septuagint, 98:1 Hebrew.
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only begotten Son in the flesh may deliver us who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin.
Epistle Hebrews 1:1-12.
Gospel John 1:1-14

May I take this opportunity to wish all who visit this blog Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Froehliche Weinachten!

17 December 2008

O What's an Antiphon?

Antiphon is a word transliterated from Greek words that mean "opposite voice". What does this mean? -- or for you non-Lutherans, what does that mean?

Well, originally, which is to say in ancient Greek music theory, it means something sung and also sung an octave higher, like C and the next C on a piano. That's antiphonia, as distinct from symphonia, singing in unison, or paraphonia, singing a fifth higher, like C to G on a piano.

Now, the Psalms aren't texts, they're lyrics -- all that survives of musical compositions whose music is lost. They have a parallelism in structure that suggests they may well have been performed by alternating singers or groups of singers. As Christian worship emerged from the synagogue, that's exactly what they were, performance of the Psalms by alternating choruses. At first this was repetition of the males by boys an octave up, hence it was called antiphonia, not because it was alternating choruses but because the second was an octave higher than the first, just like the term means.

Then, by about the 300s, they started adding another verse, generally a related Scripture verse to the Psalm, sung by all before, and generally after each Psalm verse or two. Before you know it, antiphon doesn't have a bloody thing to do with octaves which is what it really means, but is associated with the idea of two alternating choruses singing back and forth, and also with the added prefatory text and tune which was called antiphon all by itself.

Confused? It gets worse, or better, as you may see it. Books containing the texts to the sung parts of the Mass came to be called antiphonales, and books containing texts to the spoken part of the Mass were called lectionaries, literally, stuff that is read, not sung. Then, antiphonale came to mean a book of chants for the Divine Office (Matins, Vespers, Compline etc) as distinct from a graduale, a book of the chants for Mass.

Enough to drive you nuts, or reach for the St Louis Jesuit stuff, huh? A word that means at the octave means alternating choruses except when it means added prefatory verses unless you mean the book of chants for Divine Office. Don't worry, took me a while to catch on too -- and I was a music major in the pre-conciliar Roman church.

Some say antiphonal singing of the Psalms started with St Ignatius of Antioch, who was an Apostolic Father and traditionally is said to have been a student of St John the Apostle. It really only caught on in the Western Church with St Ambrose, who compiled an antiphonale, yeah that word again and here with a different meaning yet, that being a collection of stuff suitable for antiphonal, as in alternating choruses, singing.

OK. Now to the "O" antiphons -- antiphon here in the sense of the prefatory text itself. There are various versions in various places going back centuries so far that my man Boethius mentions the practice.

I say my man because the title of my doctoral dissertation is "On a Contemporary Boethian Musical Theory". Boethius was born the same year as St Benedict, founder of the grand and glorious Order of St Benedict, the SOBs, I mean OSBs, as well as the wider even grander and gloriouser "Benedictine tradition" found cited in all the recruiting material of universities sponsored by the Benedictines, like the one I graduated from. (A false comparative and a dangling participle in the same sentence: we Benedictines may not always follow the rules but we know what the hell they are.) That would be 480 or thereabouts, in case you got lost there.

He died in 524 or 525, depending on who's counting. It would have been later except the Western Roman Emperor, Theodoric the Great, who was an Arian, had him executed on grounds of treason for conspiring with the Eastern Roman Emperor, Justin I, who was orthodox and catholic, as distinct from Orthodox and Catholic because we all know he'd be Missouri Synod Lutheran to-day. While he was awaiting execution he wrote his most famous work, On the Consolation of Philosophy. God bless me if I'm not going to post on its Rota fortuna, the original Wheel of Fortune, just as soon as I'm sure a really great picture of Vanna White won't land me in copyright problems.

But I digress. Some form or another of "O" antiphons have been around for almost the entire history of the church, but the Benedictines arranged what has become the standard, one each at Vespers each day from 17 through 23 December, right up to Christmas Eve. Each one starts with a salutation of Christ by one of his Biblical attributes. In order, they are: O Sapientia (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Morning Star), O Rex gentium (King of the Nations), O Emmanuel (God With Us).

Now, it's Advent, right, and late in it and about to be Christmas. So looky here -- starting with the one the day before Christmas Eve, put the first letters going back of each attribute of Christ and what do you get? Ero cras, that's what, and guess what that means in English, I will come to-morrow! Benedictines man, are we good or WHAT! The whole series sums up the Advent preparation then concludes it, right down to a Psalm-like acrostic in the titles!

Never heard of such a thing? Sure you have. The popular Advent/Christmas hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is a composite of the whole series! You can find some excellent meditations on them on some of the blogs listed in my blogroll, and start with Pastor Weedon's.

14 December 2008

Where Are You Guys From? (updated)

Just took a look at my reader stats, to see where such readers as this blog has come from.

All of the following are based on entities with enough readers to report in the double digits.

By country, the overwhelming majority of readers are from the United States. Well, so am I and it's a big country, so that figures. But runner-up was a surprise. It's a tie. One of the two was not a surprise -- Australia. The two non-US blogs I visit the most are from there (Lito Cruz's and David Schuetz's) so that figures, but the other country in the tie is Norway! Then come Canada and the United Kingdom, our neighbour to the North and the land of my ancestors. There are not enough "unknowns" to change this.

So we've got present or former parts of the present Commonwealth or former empire of Mother England -- and Norway! Well, I grew up in a state with a large number of Norwegian descended people, Minnesota, so as they said growing up -- Velkommen!

By state or province or region, more surprises. Number one by nearly twice over the runner-up was California, United States! What's up with that, Lulu? And the runner-up was not a US state but Ontario, Canada! Starting with third place, in order: OH, MN, NY, IN, FL, IL, NC, WI, TX. Then comes Oslo county, Norway, and Victoria, Australia, which fits with the country stats. Now, there are as many "unknowns" as Californians, so if they were known, things might be different re the US states, but Ontario, Oslo and Victoria would remain.

By city, the "unknown" phenomenon takes over, with Unknown in first place by twice over the runner-up, which is, and which fits with the above, Toronto (which is the capital of Ontario) Canada. Then comes a cluster of Indianapolis IN, Santa Rosa CA, Dayton OH, and Long Beach CA with Oslo, Oslo, Norway and Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, right in there with them, which also fits with the above. Even with the high number of city unknowns, I expect the clear overall pattern would continue.

What's funny is, I'm from Omaha, Nebraska and Nebraska barely made mention at all, with just three readers, and, all three of them are from Lincoln down the road, not Omaha. Judas H Priest, I've got more readers from Illinois where I was born but the family moved away in 1953, or from Minnesota, where we moved to and I grew up but haven't lived there since 1972! So I'm back where I started -- Velkommen!

And thanks to all of you for reading.

PS -- here's some stuff I can tell you about you.

Browsers: no surprise, by more than twice over, most use IE 7.0. Then Firefox 3.0.4, IE 6.0, and Safari 1.2

Entry Page: the blog itself, no specific page, by well over 2x. For those with an entry page, it's mostly the Christmas related ones. However, the posts on Lutheran Public Radio/Issues Etc coming back and on Vista really needing 2 GB RAM make a showing. I'm happy to see the posts on Eastern Church/Empire, Western Church/Empire and the Hertz Chumash in there too if trailing behind. Specific entry pages tend to come from searches, for which, vide infra, as they say, or see below, if you don't know anybody who says vide infra, which is highly likely, the art of writing a scholarly apparatus being nearly extinct.

Exit Page: you leave about the same way.

The vast majority come by way of no referring link. The vast majority of those who do come by way of a referring link come from Google searches -- and those searches, consistent with the above, are about Christmas stuff, then Lutheran Public Radio then Vista.

While it doesn't hit double digits, for those coming from other blogs it's primarily Adam at With Fear and Trembling (now an Orthodox blog), Lulu at Lutheran Lucciola, Frank at Putting Out the Fire and the great Vark at Aardvark Alley. Thanks, guys!

27 November 2008

Advent 2008

Here's the 2008 version of my Advent post.

Scripture records the birth of Jesus, but it records no direction to celebrate either it or a preparation for it. But it records no prohibition of doing so either. The Christian Church has evolved various pratices to commemorate one of its most outrageous claims, that God became Man in Jesus, the Incarnation, and, considering the magnitude of what is celebrated, a season of preparation for it. These celebrations have taken on various forms in various places, and even various forms over time in the same place. But they all have the same idea, for Christ's church to celebrate to-gether and proclaim one of the world and life changing events of Christ. Which is the idea of all of the church's liturgy.

Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means a coming, and translates the Greek word parousia, which designates not the coming of Jesus at his birth but his coming again to judge the world on the Last Day. Advent is in fact a preparation for three comings, or turnings toward, and thr three will culminate in the liturgy for Christmas, Christ's Mass, in three distinct liturgies. No other season or celebration in the church year is like this.

Here are the three. Our Advent preparation for the historical coming or birth of Jesus culminates in the celebration of that event in the mass in the night, Midnight Mass. Our Advent preparation for the coming or birth of Jesus in the heart of believers, in us, culminates in the mass at dawn as evidenced in the first believers, the shepherds who went to the manger. Our Advent preparation for his second historical coming, in judgement and in glory, which has been the subject of the final Sundays of the church year before Advent, culminates in the mass during the day, which celebrates the eternal generation of the Son in the Trinity in the being of God in which redeemed Man will fully participate after the end of time.

Advent then precedes Christmas as Lent precedes Easter, a time of repentance and preparation. For both seasons, church vestments etc are purple, the colour associated both with penance, our part, and royalty, his part as King of kings. However, the purple the darker royal purple rather than the Roman purple of Lent, the colours like the seasons they reflect being both similar yet distinct in kind of event to which they lead.

The rite of Salisbury, called Sarum in Latin, England, has a hybrid liturgy of English and French influences following the Norman Conquest in 1066 (King William of Normandy appointing its bishop, St Osmund, how's that for "apostolic succession"!). The Scripture readings and other prayers proper to the day are different than the Roman rite, as is the colour of vestments, not purple but blue. This use of blue as the colour for Advent has had a more general usage in the West in recent years, though with the Roman propers. Well, the new Roman ones from its new three year cycle from the 1960s, which will not be considered here -- one can look them up and put on a little Simon and Garfunkle or other holdovers of the time if one is so inclined.

What the heck -- in the Eastern churches the liturgical colour is generally red!

This is not the first time the Sarum rite has influenced Western usage, generally through its appropriation into the Church of England. The traditional Lutheran practice of counting Sundays in the rest of the church year from Trinity Sunday rather than Pentecost is a Sarum influence too.

In fact, Advent in the West used to be even more like Lent. From the fourth or fifth century or so Advent was, and still is in the Eastern church under the name Nativity Fast, a 40 day time of fasting and penance much like Lent. In the Western church it started on 11 November, the feast of St Martin of Tours, Martin Luther's namesake, with the day being something like Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, in Lent. This "quadragesima sancti Martini", the forty days of St Martin, died out by the late Middle Ages, and Advent as it is generally known in the West took shape and is what we use to-day.

Each Sunday emphasises a different aspect of the preparation and the comings noted above. Following are the Scripture passages used for the Introits and Scripture readings. Roman usage (which they ditched at Vatican II) has the same Introits but varies as noted from ours in the Epistles and Gospels for the Western Advent.

I had never understood this variation and mentioned that once in the combox on One Lutheran ... Ablog! (see Blogroll on the sidebar). Pastor Benjamin Mayes responded citing Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, p.438, which states our usage follows the Comes attributed to St Jerome and its final version, The Lectionary of Charlemagne, which Rome later modified to accomodate its new feasts.

What's a comes (pronounced KO-mays)? It's a Latin word meaning companion, here, a companion book of readings for mass to the rite's service book itself. Now we more commonly call such a book a Lectionary, from the Latin for "readings". The list of the readings is still often called by its Greek name, pericope, meaning section, here, the sections of Scripture appointed to be read.

Psalm numbers as given below are the old Roman usage which followed the Septuagint, in which in terms of the Hebrew Bible Psalm numbering we generally use now counts Psalms 9 and 10 as one psalm, likewise 114 and 115, and divides both 116 and 147 in two, so between 10 to 148 the numbering is different by one.

The First Sunday of Advent. (Ad te levavi)

Introit Psalms 24:1-3 psalm verse 24:4, Epistle Romans 13:11-15, Gospel Matthew 21:1-9.

Roman usage Gospel Luke 21:25-33 our second Sunday Gospel.

The Second Sunday of Advent. (Populus Sion)

Introit Isaiah 30:30 psalm verse 79:2, Epistle Romans 15:4-13, Gospel Luke 21:25-36.

Roman usage Gospel Matthew 11:2-10, our third Sunday Gospel.

The Third Sunday of Advent. (Gaudete)

Introit Philippians 4:4-6 psalm verse 84:2, Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5, Gospel Matthew 11:2-10.

Roman usage Epistle Philippians 4:4-7 Gospel John 1:19-28, our fourth Sunday readings.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent. (Rorate coeli)

Introit Isaiah 45:8 psalm verse 18:2, Epistle Philippians 4:4-7, Gospel John 1:19-28.

Roman usage Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5 Gospel Luke 3:1-6, our third Sunday Epistle, the Luke passage not used by us.

Some final notes. In some places, the traditional main dish for Christmas is goose. In fact, one of my favourite phrases in English, not suitable for reproduction here, derives from this custom, let the reader understand. The Christmas goose may derive from Advent when it was St Martin's Fast. Martin didn't really want to be a bishop, and is said to have hid himself in a flock of geese from those seeking him to persuade him to accept the post, whose noise nonetheless gave his location away. So goose became the main food for St Martin's Day kicking off Advent.

In Latin and Hebrew, the title of a text is usually the first word or two of the text rather than something separate. Accordingly, some of the Sundays of the church year are called from the first word of the first proper text to them, the Introit. This practice has fallen into disuse with many churches following Rome's 1960s revisionism of the lectionary. Or one can as my former synod did abolish Introits altogether!

The third Sunday in Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the opening of the Introit from Philippians Rejoice (gaudete, in Latin) in the Lord always and the coming joy of Christmas breaks into the time of preparation. Accordingly, purple is set aside this Sunday, and rose coloured vestments are used and the rose candle in the Advent wreath lit. Rose vestments are used only one other time in the church year, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare from its Introit Rejoice (laetare, in Latin) Jerusalem, from Isaiah 66:10, in which the coming Easter joy similarly breaks into the season of preparation. Roman usage repeats, well, used to repeat, the Gaudete passage as Epistle, whereas our usage will extend this on through Advent using the passage as the Epistle for the next, and last, Sunday of Advent.

Christmas is a warm time filled with comfort, family, presents, good food, along with our religious sentiments, for many of us. Christmas as in the event we celebrate was nothing like that. It was rough. Joseph wasn't the glowing saint of paintings and icons, he was a working guy with a pregnant wife about to give birth -- I've been there twice and that ain't easy under any circumstances, and my observation would be it ain't easy being the about to deliver wife either -- in town to follow the law and get counted in the census with all the hotels full and no place to put his family up but a stable for animals, and after the baby was born they had to put him in a feeding trough for animals. That's what "away in a manger" was. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, the word coming into English from the French to eat, in turn from the Latin to chew (mandere). Fact is, our word "munch" has the same root.

So the King of kings is put in a feeding trough for animals in a cold stable. You don't make up this kind of stuff. Humans who are gods in myth are emporers and such, not working class kids born in a barn. Top it all off, this child "away in a feeding trough" will one day give himself to be the food of eternal life, giving his body and blood for us to eat and drink at mass as the pledge and promise of our salvation through the merits of his death and resurrection. Guess it kind of fits then.

For those of you whose Christmas isn't going to be all warm and cozy and filled with cheer, guess what, you're right in there with those at the first Christmas. That was a little rough too. Born in a stable, a feeding trough for a crib, and pretty soon his family having to high tail it out of town into political exile too. So you're not excluded at all, and you can take it right to him, because he knows all about when Christmas isn't so merry. And he also knows all about how merry doesn't really get determined by what happens in this life, on Christmas or any other day!

To Thee have I lifted up my soul, in Thee, O my God, I put my trust. Let me not be ashamed, neither let my enemies laugh at me, for none of those that wait on Thee shall be confounded.

Psalm 24 (or 25, remember?):1-3 as used in the Introit for the First Sunday in Advent.

26 November 2008

26 November 1997/2008, Thanksgiving Eve

I remember things better by the day than the date.

For example, my wife Nancy died the night before Thanksgiving, 2140 hours, 1997, rather than 26 November 1997. Dates fall on different days in different years, and the night before always seems more like the anniversary of it rather than 26 November. This year, as in 1997, 26 November is again the Eve of Thanksgiving.

In addition to the obvious, what amazes me about it, then, now, and all points in between, is that it has not produced a crisis of faith, let alone a loss of faith. Now, if you haven't gleaned it from some of my posts, crises of faith and loss of faith were pretty much constant for me from Vatican II in the 1960s to professing the faith of the evangelical Lutheran church in 1996.

Vatican II tore up and stomped on pretty much everything that was the basis of my life. However, the death of your wife and mother of your children, toss in that their ages were fifteen months and three months, is a tearing up and stomping on at a whole different level and place.

I've been me for a while now, and "me" no doubt about it would take that as the final insult after all the rest from a god who probably doesn't exist anyway so forget the whole thing, it's a cruel joke that ain't funny.

But it didn't happen. Not Thanksgiving Eve when she died, not the next day when I spent Thanksgiving afternoon at the funeral home picking out caskets and stuff like that before arriving late for some turkey at the family dinner like everyone else. Not in the first few weeks of not having a clue how this single working dad with two babies will work beyond just getting through each day. Not later as routines emerged that worked but obviously aren't the ones we hoped and planned for.

That's not me. No way I can be like that, guaranteed, take that to the bank, I cannot do that. But it happened. Since other spiritual forces and powers do not bolster faith in Jesus Christ, I think we're going to chalk this up to the Holy Spirit. When they say faith is entirely the gift and work of the Holy Spirit, believe it, they ain't kidding.

Her funeral was the following Saturday. It was right by the service book at the time, all about faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation from sins unto eternal life. You couldn't have been there without getting the message that the only dead people present aren't in caskets but dead in sin unjustified by faith in Jesus Christ through whose merits alone they are counted saved unto eternal life, a promise He extends to all including right here and now.

The sermon concluded as follows, which I hear eleven years later as clearly as the moment the pastor said it:

A few days ago, most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.


So, proceed to the post below about Thanksgiving in itself, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

16 November 2008

Thanksgiving, Sukkot, Football, Shopping 2008.

As a counterpart to my post on what became of Sukkot as the Christian liturgical calendar emerged out of the Jewish one, here's a little something on the secular Sukkot here in the US called Thanksgiving.

Turns out, there were two "first" Thanksgivings before the "first" Thanksgiving in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts. On 4 December 1619 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, roughly 20 miles up the James River from Jamestown, the first permanent settlement, begun 14 May 1607. The ship's captain, John Woodleaf, led a service of thanksgiving and the settlement charter directed the date to be observed thereafter, thereafter lasting until 1622 when the native population, not so grateful for their arrival, forced their retreat to Jamestown. Spanish settlers celebrated thanksgiving for their safe arrival 8 September 1565 at what is now St Augustine, Florida, which is the first recorded thanksgiving in America, but, as this was Spaniards in a Spanish colony, La Florida, which didn't pass to English control until 1763 or become a state until 1845, doesn't get much airplay.

Thanksgivings were held at various times in the colonies, after the harvest, as days of prayer, not eating! The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national thanksgiving, which was Thursday 18 December 1777. The first national day of Thanksgiving in the United States as such was proclaimed by President Washington for Thursday 26 November 1789.

Presidents and governors proclaimed thanksgivings off and on, then starting with President Lincoln's designation in 1863 of the last Thursday of November as a day of national thanksgiving, all presidents since had year by year designated the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Until FDR. In 1939 the last Thursday in November would be the 30th, and President Roosevelt was persuaded by business leaders that a longer Christmas shopping season -- once upon a time it was considered inappropriate to start the Christmas season before Thanksgiving -- would help the economy out of the Depression with more sales and declared Thanksgiving the next to last Thursday in November that year. The new Thanksgiving was widely derided as "Franksgiving" -- Roosevelt's first name being Franklin -- and had no force of law, some states observing the new "Democrat" Thanksgiving and some the old "Republican" Thanksgiving. A Commerce Department report in 1941 found no significant difference in sales from the change, and Congress passed a law designating the fourth Thursday in November, which some years is the last and some the next to last Thursday, as Thanksgiving Day every year, so 1942 was the first Thanksgiving under the current law -- by which time a new world war had maybe redirected things away from retail sales to graver matters.

Funny, Washington didn't have a thing to say about sales, Christmas, Christmas sales, food or football regarding Thanksgiving when "Washington" referred to a man and not a city. Neither did President Lincoln, whose example had been followed since. Here is the original proclamation of the original national Thanksgiving Day by President George Washington. Amazing stuff. Beautiful stuff. Our stuff. May we find something of it in our national celebration in 2008.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

11 November 2008

What's an Armistice? 90 Years On, Veterans Day 2008.

Here is what the world, I hope, knows. 11 November was originally Armistice Day, from the armistice that ended hostilities in the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, GMT (or UTC), in 1918. Later, with another and even worse World War having been fought despite a War to End All Wars, Congress in 1954 changed the observance to include all veterans, hence Veterans Day.

What's an armistice? The English word is transliterated from the Latin armistitium, which literally means a stopping of arms. It's a truce, a cessation of hostilities. Now, if you're one of those getting shot at, that's a good thing -- but, it's not a comprehensive social and political solution to what led to the hostilities, and not even necessarily permanent, let alone that universal aspiration of beauty pageant contestants, world peace. Which means, hostilities may well resume at some point. And always have.

Here is what the world probably does not know or care about. 11 November is the feast day of St Martin of Tours, who is the patron saint of, guess what, soldiers! Hmm. Martin was born a pagan around 316 and was career military in the Roman army. One day he passed a man freezing on the road, tore his military issue cloak in half and gave it to him. That night, he had a dream seeing Jesus wearing the half a cloak. Shook up, he went to the bishop (now called St Hilary) for direction. He was taught the faith and baptised, obtained a discharge from the army and set about combating the Arian heresy which about did the church in at the time, thinking he was God's soldier now. He was forced into exile by persecution, lived as a hermit, and later was finally persuaded to become the new bishop of Tours when the old one died, and from there soldiered on to preach the true Gospel in Gaul.

11 November, feast of the patron of soldiers for centuries, date of Armistice Day, now Veterans Day? Coincidence, or one of those little things that pokes through from what is beyond the surface? The armistice of 11 November 1918 turned out to be just that, a cessation of hostilities. What was fought as The War to End All Wars would become World War One as hostilities resumed in an even worse World War Two. Along with the millions of lives lost, and millions more of lives forever changed, something changed in what might be called the spirit of Man too. The great sense in the age leading into these cataclysms that Man was on an upward spiral of progress toward an enlightened future lay rotting like the wreck of that great expression of the age the RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic.

The Titans had lost, but unlike the mythological battle, who were the victorious Olympians, or if there even were such, was not clear. The old world order, and its certainties both temporal and eternal, were gone. Man began to speak of life as absurd, and the search for "meaning" was on amid an apparently essentially meaningless existence. One could simply accept that life is absurd and meaningless; one could understand that meaning is something Man, or each man, creates for himself; one could deny the whole thing and remain irrelevant and inauthentic in either a religious faith or, equally, in holding on to the secular faith in the progress and perfectibility of Man. The resolution? Well, 90 years later in 2008 hostilities continue amid the arrangements worked out nearly a century ago following the War to End All Wars in Southeast Europe, the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.

So the Twelve Titans. So the Twelve Olympians, who this time apparently aren't going to show up. If Genesis isn't witness to Man as fallen, the world history of Man surely is. A history filled with the universal intuition that Man is less than he is meant to be or can be, filled with however many religious, philosophical, social and political programmes to accomplish his fulfillment -- and filled with the dashing of all of them.

There's twelve something else who had something to say about that. The Twelve Apostles. Not "the church", the twelve Apostles. They got told to go into the world with the message that Man just isn't going to get himself out of his self-constructed mess, that God has seen that and became Man in Jesus to die to pay for all that and rise again, so that Man can by the gift and power of God repent of his own self-destructive efforts and start over, be reborn in faith in the One God has sent that because of Him one can be washed clean by being covered in his sacrificial blood and even amid the brokenness of this world live in partial experience of that which is beyond it, dying with him to rise with him. That message continues to-day where God calls and feeds Man in his Word properly preached and his Sacraments properly administered.

Interesting that in that context, 11 November, St Martin's Day, in 1483 was the day that Mr and Mrs Luther brought their day old baby boy to be baptised, and following the traditional custom he was given the name of the saint of the day -- Martin Luther, who too would devote his life to preaching the true Gospel against heresy.

So as we rightly remember and celebrate in gratitude those who have served to preserve and defend our temporal freedom, let us also remember that armistice is the best we can do, the hostilities cease for a while only to resume, and let us remember and celebrate in gratitude Him who gained our true spiritual freedom for now and all eternity, who gives peace not as the world gives peace, but for real and for ever.

Pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis.Peace I leave thee, my peace I give thee.(John 14:27, used in the liturgy after the Agnus Dei before Communion)

Here is the Collect from the mass propers for the feast of St Martin of Tours:

Lord God of hosts, who clothed Your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in Your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.

08 November 2008

New Link -- To the Book That Changed My Life

I have no idea why I didn't include this link from the start of this blog!

On 14 December 1978 I bought a copy of a red paperback called "Three Treatises". (I don't have that great of a memory, I just date my books.) These are the three treatises written by Martin Luther in 1520: Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (August); Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (October); On the Freedom of a Christian (November). I was working on my doctoral dissertation at the time, which was not about Luther at all, but as it contained some passing unflattering references to him, I suppose I thought it would look good if I had some Luther on my bookshelf.

At the time, I had rejected Roman Catholicism as having killed itself at Vatican II, and, there being as I saw it at the time no other Christian church with any basis whatever to hold itself out as wherein the fullness of the church of Christ subsists, Christianity itself in any form showed itself to be a false religion, however, this did not invalidate the "Old Testament", therefore I had taken my place as a believer in, but not a convert to, Orthodox Judaism.

I never read it, and didn't for damn near twenty years until, in 1996, long out of academia, married to a woman raised LCMS but who bailed after Seminex wondering what if anything they still believed in, and in adult instruction class in a WELS parish, hauled it out to see what it said.

What it said changed my life. Starting with "German Nobility", and being a veteran -- casualty -- of a university sponsored by an abbey of German heritage, it was like this guy saw what I had seen, Babylonian Captivity followed. Therein from page to page as he discussed the sacraments, there culminated in his soaring discussion of the Eucharist -- who would not shed tears of gladness, indeed almost faint for joy in Christ etc -- an explosion of light shattering years of darkness! Here in joyous sun-clarity was no new doctrine or church but what the captive church I had known had hemmed and hawed, stammered and stuttered, farted and belched, and at Vatican II, vomited, to say! Christ, his Gospel, his Church, hadn't gone away, it was right here, and I'm in!

The pastor sensed something was up, and gave me a copy of the Tappert Book of Concord (it being the pre-McCain BOC era of church history) to read, which I did on my nighttime shift with my then infant older son in between feedings, and it fleshed the whole thing out. I professed the faith of Christ taught in Scripture and accurately stated in the Book of Concord, especially the Little Catechism, on 15 December 1996. (I don't have that great of a memory, they give you a piece of paper about it.)

Now, Babylonian Captivity is not a confessional document and reading it was not an isolated event but part of a process. But reading it was the point at which the lights went on, and it changed my life. Maybe it would be better to say it was the point at which I knew my life had changed. Even now, I cannot recall coming to that passage about the Eucharist without tears in my eyes.

So I'm putting a link to the text on my blog in a sidebar element titled "A 'Prelude' To My Faith", a nod to both the title of the original and its role in my life. It's a revision of the same translation I read in "Three Treatises". And you know what, that little paperback is still in print, red cover and all!

01 November 2008

Barnes, and a noble life. All Saints Day 2008.

As we have celebrated the reform of the Church and it's now 1 November, the feast of all the saints collectively, and, being of English descent and Lutheran faith, I'd like to recommend to your attention what is becoming one of my favourite saints who from their labours rest, Robert Barnes, Lutheran, Englishman, and martyr.

I'll hold off writing about him myself, maybe until 30 July, the day in 1540 when he was burned at the stake by Henry VIII for, essentially, being Lutheran. Until then, here are some places to read a little about him. One is from the great Aardvark, another from Pastor Klages when he hosted Lutheran Carnival, and the last from the classic 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the article about him in Wikipedia!

He spent time in exile in Germany and was a personal friend and guest of Luther. The year he was martyred, Luther published Barnes' confessional work Sententiae, with a preface written for it, as Bekenntnis des Glaubens.

15 October 2008

The Divine Office -- What's That and Why Bother?

Recently one of the Divine Offices came up elsewhere in my life, and I got thinking about the matter more generally and decided to post this about the whole subject. It is revised from something I originally posted in the context of the "O" antiphons during Advent, which we'll leave for Advent. Right now, the matter is -- hey, just give me Jesus, we're free aren't we, why bother with all this set stuff? Here's why all this set stuff is part of giving you Jesus, or rather, part of Jesus giving himself to you.

Pre Messiah, there were no particular set times for prayer for hundreds of years. Not that prayer wasn't prayed at set times in various places, but there was nothing normative about it. That came at the end of the Babylonian Captivity (the one that happened to the Jews, not the Church!) with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of the Temple, ie the Second Temple. Ezra and the 120 Men established set times for prayer in essentially the form they are still used in the synagogue, which was adapted and continued by the church.

Established, not originated. These were not new, but were codified into three times of prayer during the day. These times were set to correspond to the three times of sacrifice in the Temple: morning (shaharit), afternoon (minha) and evening (arvit or maariv). On top of that, in Jewish tradition they trace themselves to the times of prayer Scripture records for each of the three great Patriarchs: Abraham in the morning (Gen19:27), Isaac at dusk (Gen24:63) and Jacob in the evening (Gen28:10).

This pattern was adapted by the Church in light of the Christ having come, and is the basis of the three major times of prayer in the Divine Office we know as Matins, Vespers and Compline. Just as in the Divine Service, or mass, we have essentially a Christian synagogue service followed by a Christian seder, a service of the word followed by the sacrament of the altar, so in the Divine Office we have:

1. Matins, a Christian shaharit going back through the history of the New Israel the church to the pre-Messianic morning synagogue service which Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with morning sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the morning prayer time of Abraham;
2. Vespers, a Christian minha going back through the church to the afternoon synagogue service known to Jesus and the Apostles and aligned with the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the afternoon prayer time of Isaac;
3. Compline, a Christian arvit or maariv going back through the church to the evening synagogue service Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with the evening sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the evening prayer time of Jacob.

Where can you find this stuff? There's been all kinds of versions over time in both the Eastern and Western church. You hardly have to undertake some sort of monastic regimen. Any of the hymnals in use by our beloved synod contains material for use, sometimes combining Vespers and Compline into one. The Concordia Edition of the ESV from Concordia Publishing House has excellent short ones. Or, you can just follow what is set out for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Little Catechism!

Absolutely, not commanded by Scripture. But we Lutherans aren't an "If it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it" crowd. Our Confessions are explicit -- though unfortunately sometimes our parishes aren't -- that we happily accept the observances and ceremonies that those who came before us in faith brought about and hand on to us, rejecting not what isn't in Scripture but only what contradicts it that crept in here and there over time.

And what a great gift has been handed to us! In the Divine Office as in the Divine Service we not only have a magnificent gift from those who came before us, but we take our place with them in the forward motion toward the final fulfillment of the promises of God, and do so in a vehicle that is itself an expression and product of the advent, the coming, the unfolding through all its points leading to that great and final Coming!!

09 October 2008

Tagged! -- Here Are My "Influences"

Father Hollywood has tagged me to respond to the following question -- What five people, past or present, inspire your spiritual life?? There's an additional rule, which is, being Lutherans, it is assumed that Jesus Christ and Martin Luther would be on the list. Which, in terms of direct influences not just on, but from, what I believe to-day, pretty well sums it up. My reading to-day is about 100% listed on the sidebar element "Book List". So the question really is, What five people, past or present, besides Jesus Christ and Martin Luther inspire your spiritual life? And my answer is not so much who has inspired its content, since they are assumed and not listed, but who got me ready, humanly speaking, to hear it.

1. Archbishop Fulton J Sheen.

Growing up in the pre-conciliar Roman Catholic Church, it was his weekly shows, which I never missed, that brought a greater depth and clarity to what I was taught in school in the Baltimore Catechism series. This was absolutely the foundation of my faith. In later years, I read some of his books, most notably "Life of Christ", which I have seen in Lutheran parish and pastor libraries.

2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ.

Before the groaning starts, let me mention I first heard of him in one of Bishop Sheen's telecasts, who spoke approvingly of him, surprise, surprise. The Divine Milieu, particularly, was of great influence in seeing redemption and salvation inclusive of all creation, and far from being the jumping off place to heterodoxy that he was for some, to me reinforced the pre-conciliar faith.

3. Godfrey Diekmann, OSB.

The only one of the five I knew personally. He was a peritus at Vatican II and one of the leading lights for "reform", liturgical and otherwise. Though him and those around him I got to see "the changes in the church" from the inside out, to know them as those who advocated them, what I am saying, formed them, knew them. I agreed with him on absolutely nothing, but I can find no better description of him than the one Father Hollywood wrote for Pastor Marquart: "Aristocratic in bearing, devout in faith, articulate in discourse, and yet genuinely humble and ever ready to help anyone in need, he was completely fluent in several languages and was gifted in rhetoric. He brought a kindness and warmth to his teaching, which was always designed to make the material accessible to his students - no matter how difficult the subject matter. He was a true gentleman, churchman, scholar, educator, and above all, a genuine pastor." If, at the Heavenly Table, I have a choice for Communion distributors, I shall be in his line.

4. Rabbi J.H. Hertz.

Joseph Herman Hertz was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire from 1913 until his death 14 January 1946. His "Pentateuch and Haftorahs" -- the Torah portions for each Sabbath and festival, with each's associated portion from (usually) the Prophets, along with his extensive notes and essays, was the bedrock for my devotional life during most of the time I was a Righteous of the Nations, ie, not a convert to Judaism but a Gentile who acknowledged the God of Israel and lived by the Noahide Law incumbent on all mankind (which, according to the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts, it still is). His commentary exposed, years before time of the particular proponents I read in theology in college, the utter baselessness of the historical-critical school and method. And, understanding the Scripture from a Hebrew perspective did more than any Christian apologetics to allow me to see Jesus was indeed the Christ.

5. Friedrich Nietzsche/Richard Wagner.

Yeah I know, that's two guys, but as Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, said himself, the two are forever bound to-gether. Though hijacked in support of things grossly at odds with what they had to say, as Nietzsche himself foresaw they would be, the two represent a re-introduction into modernity through new art forms of the Greek classical concept arete, which may be rendered excellence, not at all of the kind meant in "mission statements" littering modernity now. For a completely different stumbling across arete in modernity, try Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

Honourable Mention, that being the rest of the guys who belong on the list if the number weren't limited to five.

Conrad Diekmann, OSB, brother of the better-known Godfrey, whose World Lit I was the greatest class of my life, as the ancient Greek tragedians and comedians (that's when a comedian was someone who wrote non-tragic plays, not someone who mugs in front of the camera to get you to laugh) and Homer came to life. His course on haiku was great too.

Gerard Farrell, OSB, an Eastman School of Music graduate who taught us music from the venerable Eastman Series, which is part-writing based on the Bach (the "Fifth Evangelist" and I sometimes think the best Lutheran I ever read, so to speak) chorales, which taught me to hear music as a linear event in time, making sense out of pretty much any music, and would lead to the next named person. He was also director of the abbey schola cantorum in which I sang, until he was removed and exiled in the pogroms following the Revolution, er, Vatican II.

Heinrich Schenker, the only real music theorist in centuries -- and who like Nietzsche and Wagner has been hijacked in support of things he did not say, though stuff about "structural levels" boring the hell out of college music students is not likely to cause the damage the hijacking of Nietzsche and Wagner has, though it may cost an academic his job here and there.

Lao Tsu, whose Tao-Te-Ching, if there is no revelation, is the highest to which Man can reach.

The Confessional Lutheran Blogosphere, especially the blogs listed on my sidebar element "Lutheran Blogs", who at first showed me that, whatever else there may be in LCMS, it is where Lutherans such as myself are too in greatest numbers, and now continue to feed me. In particular, the blogs by Pastors Weedon, Beane and Snyder.

That's it. I'd have put BB King, the other Luther in my life, Allison, and Modern Jazz Quartet in there but they didn't ask about music. I don't know who to tag either, since the ones I would think of tagging have already been tagged. So, if you want to be tagged, you're it!

07 October 2008

It's Fall -- Thanksgiving, Advent, What Happened to Sukkot?

Past Elder, the blog, commenced operations 22 February 2007. In my second year, I have taken to posting a few posts again, with revisions here and there, that relate to our cycle of observances of major parts of our faith in the church year, especially as they relate to the fulfillment of the cycle of observances in the Jewish calendar. Fall is unique -- where the Jewish calendar is full of stuff in Fall, the Christian church calendar has nothing! What's up with that? Here's the 2008 version of my post about it.

In my posts about Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost, I mentioned that the Christian pattern of yearly worship derives from the Jewish one. And, that this is precisely what one would expect if the Messiah had come and fulfilled the Law.

In the religion God delivered to the Jews in the Old Testament, he commands three major festivals: Pesach or Passover; Shavuot or Pentecost, also called Weeks; Sukkot, called Tabernacles or Booths. In addition to Sukkot in the Fall there is also Rosh Ha-Shana or New Years (actually one of several new years, there being a new year for trees and a new year for kings which begins the year in terms of the festivals) and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year.

We saw Passover transformed by Christ at the Last Supper into what we call Holy Communion, and ratified by his Death and Resurrection which we celebrate as an event in time on Good Friday and Easter. Then we saw God himself count the commanded Omer and transform the celebration of the giving of the Law at Sinai at Pentecost by the giving of the promised Holy Spirit to the Apostles, which we celebrate as an event in time on the day also called Pentecost. Then, what -- the whole thing seems to fall apart!! Where's the transformed Rosh Ha-Shanah, where's the transformed Yom Kippur, where's the transformed Sukkoth, which begins 15 Tishrei in the Jewish calendar, falling this year (2008) at sunset, the start of the Jewish day, 13 October?

Nowhere, it seems. The Christian calendar is entirely absent of such things. Fall, full of observances in Judaism, comes and goes with nothing until the secular Thanksgiving and then Advent which is a time of preparation for Christmas. So does the parallel fall apart here, or perhaps show itself to be irrelevant anyway if it exists at all? Just give me Jesus, man.

No. Consider how Jesus gives himself. Christ has himself become our atonement, that to which the Day of Atonement led. The "Day of Atonement" is the historical Good Friday, once for all. Rosh Ha-Shanah too, the day on which creation was completed and God judges each person for the coming year, has been fulfilled in God's having re-created lost Man by making justification possible because of the merit of Christ's sacrifice. That is how we are now inscribed, not just for the coming year but for eternity. They are absent because they have served their purpose and been fulfilled.

And what of Sukkot? At Sukkot, one lives, or at least takes one's meals, in a temporary structure called a sukkah in Hebrew -- a booth, a tabernacle, not in one's actual home. This is to remember the passage of the people after the Passover and Pentecost to the Promised Land. Zechariah (14:16-19) predicts that in the time of the Messiah the feast will be observed not just by Jews but by all humanity coming to Jerusalem for its observance. That would be a pretty big event. It ain't happening. And there isn't even some sort of transformed Sukkoth in the Christian calendar. So what is the deal here?

Consider. Christ is our Passover in whose blood we are washed and made clean, and the Holy Spirit has empowered the spread of this Good News beginning on that Pentecost recorded in Acts. But the end of the story, unlike the arrival in the Promised Land, has not happened. The real Promised Land is not a piece of geography but heaven itself, the ultimate Jerusalem. So, there cannot be a Christian Sukkoth because we are still in our booths, as it were, not in our permanent homes, still on our pilgimage to the Promised Land, and what Zechariah saw is happening as "the nations", all people, join in this journey given first to the Jews and then to all Man, the Gentiles. Our Sukkot is our life right now, in our "booths" or temporary homes on our way to heaven. So this feast awaits its transformation, and that is why it is absent. The first two of the "pilgrimage festivals", the Shalosh Regalim, have been transformed, into the basis of not just our calendar but our life and faith itself, but the third will be heaven itself, toward which we journey as we live in our booths here on the way.

While we do not, therefore, have a certain observance of a transformed Sukkot in our calendar, being in our booths presently, we do have something of it as we go. Our nation, and others too, have a secular, national day of Thanksgivng at the end of harvest time, preserving that aspect of thankfulness for our earthly ingathering of the fruits of our labour. And in the final weeks of the Sundays after Trinity, we focus on the End Times in our readings, the great ingathering that will be for all nations when our Sukkoth here is ended, not just at death personally but finally at the Last Day.

At my wife's funeral, the Saturday after Thanksgiving 1997, the pastor concluded the sermon by saying: A few days ago most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.

So is the promise to us all. And that's what happened to Sukkot.

28 September 2008

It's Your Grandfather's Church Even When It Isn't!

Pastor Christopher Esget, on his excellent blog Esgetology (link in my sidebar element "Lutheran Blogs"), just recently posted the following two passages from the first president of the LCMS, CFW Walther.

Written well over a century ago, they are amazing in that they could have been written this morning. Not only are these two passages a magnificent expression of true Lutheran thinking on doctrine and doctrine in motion (often called worship or liturgy) so needed now, they show too that the trends and forces against which they are needed are hardly the latest and greatest thing, but a temptation to leave what we were founded to stand for and stand for something else thinking we have done no such thing which has been a part of our beloved synod's history from the start. As Bishop Sheen used to say, Old Errors New Labels. Here they are.


Whether our Synod gains friends or makes enemies, wins honor or invites disgrace, grows or declines in numbers, brings peace or incites enmity, all this must be unimportant to us-just so our Synod may keep the jewel of purity of doctrine and knowledge. However, should our Synod ever grow indifferent toward purity of doctrine, through ingratitude forget this prize, or betray or barter it away to the false church, then let our church body perish and the name Missourian decay in disgrace.

-C.F.W. Walther, First Sermon Delivered at the Opening of Synod, 1 Corinthians 1:4-5


We know and firmly hold that the character, the soul of Lutheranism, is not found in outward observances but in the pure doctrine. If a congregation had the most beautiful ceremonies in the very best order, but did not have the pure doctrine, it would be anything but Lutheran. We have from the beginning spoken earnestly of good ceremonies, not as though the important thing were outward forms, but rather to make use of our liberty in these things. For true Lutherans know that although one does not have to have these things (because there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not abolished “outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and similar ornaments,” [AP XXIV] but has left them free. The sects proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of God. We remind only of the mad actions of Carlstadt and of his adherents and followers in Germany and in Switzerland. We on our part have retained the ceremonies and church ornaments in order to prove by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human ordinances on them with the command: “You must keep such and such a thing!”; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. Unfortunately, also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies.

It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people — this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, “Qui cantat, bis orat–he who sings prays twice.”

This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years.

It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the solemnity of the divine service that one is in the house of God, in childlike love to their heavenly Father, also give expression to their joy in such a lovely manner. We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.

Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church. With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of this search.

How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?

The objection: “What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?” was answered with the counter question, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: “It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments.”

-C.F.W. Walther
Explanation of Thesis XVIII, D, Adiaphora, of the book The True Visible Church
Delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, beginning August 9, 1871, at the 16th Central District Convention
Translated by Fred Kramer, printed in Essays for the Church [CPH: 1992], I:193-194.


Well now ain't that the dingest dangest thing, as a great Missourian of another kind, Jesse James, used to say. Those who would deliver us from being our "grandfather's" synod said the same stuff to grandpa! Well, not mine; he WAS a Methodist of the type to which Walther refers, then turned RC, but you get the idea. Old errors, new labels, so they think it's new. Or emerging, or purpose driven, or ablaze, or whatever new labels they may devise.

Here's how to REALLY not be our grandfather's synod -- leave that nonsense behind!

14 September 2008

Lourdes: The Catholic Benny Hinn

On 24 December 496 or 498, Remigius, bishop of Reims -- to which he had been elected when he was 22 and a layman -- baptised King Clovis of the Franks. Clovis began the identifiable history of France after the collapse of the Roman Empire. But also, the Franks were the first of the Germanic tribes that brought about that collapse to convert to catholic Trinitarian Christianity rather than Arian Christianity. This earned France the title "the eldest daughter of the Church".

To-day in the eldest daughter of the Church, about half identify themselves as Catholic, and about 5% attend Mass. Recently the current pope said an outdoor Mass in Paris, in the homily of which he spoke against materialism and commercialism which he saw as creating a new modern idol with consumerism as something of a religion with its own values and mindset replacing Christian ones.

On Saturday, 13 September 2008, he continued to Lourdes, France, which is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the reports to her local pastor of Bernadette Soubirous, a 14 year old peasant, that she was having visions of Mary the mother of Jesus, beginning 11 February 1858. There were 18 visions, ending 16 July 1858. In the ninth vision, 25 February, the woman told the girl to go to a spring and drink and bathe in it, but she reports finding only a puddle, the spring starting the next day.

Lourdes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the natural border between France and Spain, at the time was a village of about 4000 people, whose local dialect Occitan resembles both French and Spanish. In the area, there had long been legends of people returning from Purgatory, called revenants, and there had for some time been childrens' and other reports in the area on both sides of the border of Marian apparitions, and at the time in nearby Garaison there was a popular pilgrimage centre of Marian devotion arising from supposed apparitions to 12-year-old Angleze de Sagazan in 1515.

While the Catholic Church has determined the visions to be real, a Catholic is not obliged to believe they were real, and nothing doctrinal is based on them. Nonetheless, to-day Lourdes is a major tourism destination, hosting between 5 and 6 million pilgrims annually, and the town of now about 15000 nonetheless has more hotels than anywhere in France other than Paris. Some of the pilgrims come seeking cures in the water of the spring. The current baths for those seeking cures have come a long way since Emile Zola's 1892 description that the waters were so filled with various things coming off the bathers that the miracle is that anyone come out of them alive, being built in 1955 and last updated in 1980. The streets are lined with vendors selling trinkets. Everyone from street vendors to the local economy to corporations makes money off it.

Of the hundred of thousands who have sought cures there, only 67 inexplicable cures have been recognised by the Lourdes Medical Bureau, sanctioned by the Church. One wonders if a physician could practice 150 years with only 67 successful treatments if his practice would continue to attract patients in the hundreds of thousands. The pope said it was not so much a place to go seeking miracles as a place of hope. One wonders, hope for what, hope in what? He drank from the water, and authorised special indulgences regarding observance of the anniversary.

They come by the millions, every year, spending money whether seeking cures or not. A site of whose authenticity is not required for belief of its followers by the church who deems it authentic, which has become a major lucrative tourism industry based solely on the legends, does not seem consistent with a message against commercialism and consumerist values, let alone bolster it. A guy in white, stories of miracles in the background of the whole event while they line up in droves money pouring in, the guy saying it's really not about all that -- sounds like the last time Benny Hinn came to town.

Here's a little better advice for those seeking hope:

Let everyone stay in his own parish. There he will find more than in all the shrines even if they were all rolled into one. In your own parish you find baptism, the sacrament, preaching and your neighbour, and these things are greater than all the saints in heaven, for all of them were made saints by God's word and sacrament. (Martin Luther, from To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation)

A PS -- in her own language, Bernadette's name is Bernadeta, a diminuative from her full name Maria Bernarda Sobiros. She never herself said this was Mary, although she did say the woman called herself the Immaculate Conception, now a familiar phrase but then not, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception having been defined as binding dogma only four years earlier at the time and in a pre-media age not likely something an impoverished uneducated peasant girl would know. She did herself drink the water for her lifelong asthma, with no return of symptoms, although she did not seek such treatment when she contracted tuberculosis, from which she died at age 35 in 1879 on 16 April, now her feast day everywhere but France, where it is celebrated 18 February, date of the third apparition and the first in which the woman spoke. She later said the statue put in the grotto in 1864, now the representation of Our Lady of Lourdes, was nothing like the woman who appeared to her. Her body has been exhumed three times and found to be incorrupt. After the last time, in 1925, a wax mask was made. I think I once viewed the body with the mask, though as this was some forty years ago and in a considerably more confused period of my life, it may have been some other saint, although I am not sure there are that many incorrupt saints viewable in southern France. The high school from which I graduated was named after Lourdes, local pronunciation sometimes adding the final "s" and sometimes not from the French, and the town's name in the local language is Lorda anyway.

And BTW poor old Garaison is still in business though not doing nearly so well, and on the web too!

04 September 2008

New Book and New Blog

Having a hard time getting a daily prayer life going? Want to be a little more connected to these books the pastors talk about being so important but can't find the time or don't know how? Looking to feel like there's a little more to this than just me and here and how I'm feeling about that? Wondering why these "confessional" types get excited about things others call musty, irrelevant and dead but they don't?

Our beloved synod is about to present itself and the church generally with a Treasury of Daily Prayer, which looks to answer all of the above and a good deal more. You can preview it by looking at the material for November at this link
and see how simple the book is to use at this link
and order a copy of the Regular Edition (or link to the Deluxe Edition) at this link

Also, if you're wondering what all this stuff we blog about has to do with the Third Use of the Law, how works not in order to be saved but because we are saved looks, how all this looks when it's not balanced elements in a composite but simply aspects of a single whole, try this blog:
Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison

30 August 2008

St Monica and Vatican II For Lutherans

We Lutherans -- that is, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, insofar as the name has not been removed or hidden so people don't think we're some kind of frozen chosen, maintenance rather than missional mentality, wannabe Catholics stuck in a Eurocentric liturgical straight-jacket for worship rather than ablaze to bring you to a critical event and get you all on fire with our praise band -- recently celebrated the Feast of St Monica on 27 August.

Thing is, the Feast of St Monica is 4 May.

Huh? Who cares? What difference does that make? And who is and why bother about this Monica anyway? The last Monica anyone heard about was Lewinsky anyway. Besides, it's all adiaphora anyway, why trample on my Christian Freedom with all this dead weight from the past?

Monica was the mother of St Augustine. Geez, whozzat? Well, arguably the most influential Christian theologian ever. We'll leave whether that was for better or worse, as well as biographies, to your searches or Wikipedia. Except for this part. Augustine was quite non-Christian, anti-Christian really, and a celebrated figure in his time, and his conversion was brought about by the example and prayers of his Christian mother, Monica, which is why the church honours her.

When the church sets up a day in honour of someone, the traditional practice is to choose the day on which the person died, if known, since that is the day they were born into eternity. St Augustine's date of death, his heavenly birthday, is 28 August 430, so 28 August is his feast.

St Monica's feast day was not a part of the overall observance of the Western Church for about three-fourths of its elapsed history to date, until about the time of the Council of Trent in the Sixteenth Century. However, it was long observed by the Augustinian Order. Geez, whazzat?

The "Augustinian Order" is a rather motley assortment of religious associations rather than a clear cut single entity -- in this way rather like my guys, the Benedictines -- all of them tracing their origin to St Augustine and his rule of life, or regula in Latin. That's what it literally is to be regular -- you live under a regula, or rule. Readers here may have heard of one such Augustinian. Guy named Martin Luther. Anyway, in the Augustinian Order but not the church as a whole there was, besides the observance of the feast of St Augustine, another one whose focus was his conversion to Christianity, which conversion in turn influenced the entire church.

This Augustinian feast, the Feast of the Conversion of St Augustine, was/is celebrated on 5 May. So they celebrated the single biggest human factor in bringing about that conversion, the example and prayers of his mother, St Monica, the day before, 4 May. The Conversion feast never did make it into the overall Roman Calendar, and when St Monica's did, since her date of death is not known, the traditional Augustinian date was retained, 4 May.

Until the Revolution. Er, Vatican II.

One of the stated aims of the "liturgical reform" at Vatican II was to pare down the historical hodgepodge of stuff into something more straightforward and accessible. So they effectively banned the old stuff and came up with an entirely new order (novus ordo) sporting four orders Mass each with its own "Eucharistic Prayer", each with several options for key parts of the Mass, and a lectionary of readings spread out over three years and a new calendar -- a new hodgepodge crafted from an even wider spread of historical sources! Oh well, it was the 1960s after all. I guess you gotta make allowances for that.

One item in this was relocating the Feast of St Monica to 27 August, the day before the feast of her son. There's a logic to that, obviously. And as far as the institution of Christ and fidelity to Scripture goes, you can celebrate the Feast of St Monica on 4 May, 27 August, any other day, or not at all.

It's not the 1960s any more. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to learn or be taught that we honour St Monica because of her example, particularly her example of the power of persistent prayer, in the conversion of her pagan son who went on to be one of the church's greatest saints, and we do so on 4 May because in the religious order that looks to her son as their patron saint they had long celebrated it then as the day before they celebrated the conversion of their patron. And to stay connected to and become a part of that ongoing history by leaving it there rather than turning one's back on all that and relocating it.

Sorry, Roman dudes. There already was a liturgical reform. It was to pare down all right, but in view of what contradicts Scripture, not our ideas of what makes something more "accessible", and to zealously guard and defend the worship of the church's order, not invent a new one. It's called the Lutheran Reformation. You're a few centuries late to the party. If the Roman hierarchy and associated academics are going to busy themselves with something other than preaching Christ and him crucified, and along the way explain the history of this movement, let them put off the period clothes, get married and raise a family and learn something of real benefit to their fellow man, like heating and air conditioning repair.

Yet, we and other Christian bodies fall in line with them as if there had been no Reformation! The 1960s Roman novus ordo, with emendations and adaptations, is now the common property of pretty much all heterodox Christian denominations with liturgical aspirations, rather than the traditional order of the Western Church.

And "our beloved synod" falls into line too, even those parts of it trying to remain true to our Confessions in the Book of Concord. We moan and groan why other parts of our beloved synod seem to be heading off on all sorts of tangents, or rather, variations on the tangent of chasing after the success in attracting numbers of the American suburban "evangelical" megachurches and their next stage, the Prosperity Gospel American suburban megachurches that will drive you with purpose and give you your best life now. We wonder how our people could be taken in by these false hopes and promises, yet why should our people not wonder why these are not also valid options when we set before them as confessional "options" derived from 1960s Rome equally with our common catholic history, this historical mass and that Vatican II For Lutherans mass, this historical lectionary and that Vatican II For Lutherans lectionary, this historical calendar and that Vatican II For Lutherans calendar. Why not listen to Willow Creek and Saddleback and Lakewood too? Why should they not think it's all about options, personal preference, all OK? We let something in through the back door then wonder why it comes knocking at the front!

Judas H Priest with a ham and cheese sandwich -- as a recovering academic, rather than offering extra credit for getting that one I'll just say it, a ham and cheese sandwich is doubly un-kosher, ham of course being not kosher but even if it were a kosher meat one does not consume meat and dairy products at the same time lest one unknowingly seethe a kid in its mother's milk, forbidden in the Law -- even in a small matter like when a saint's day is observed the whole rotten mess in the church is revealed!

St Monica gave St Augustine physical birth, but her greatness for which we honour her is in her role in his spiritual birth in this life. Therefore she is better honoured by leaving her day where it is for the reason it is there, or better yet finally inserting the Conversion into the Calendar, rather than moving it from a day which does have inherent reference to her to the day before her son's feast, which does not.

Once again, the calendar, lectionary and ordo of Vatican II misses the mark, even of its own intended reform, the product not of the church but one denomination headed by an office bearing the marks of Anti-Christ -- regardless of its current occupancy by a nice and learned German guy -- and now the common property of all heterodox liturgical churches in the West, utterly irrelevant to Christ's Church and therefore should be utterly irrelevant to Lutherans. Right along with Saddleback, Willow Creek and Lakewood, it no less than they "contemporary worship" whose forms derive from and express a content that is not ours and rejects ours, and therefore into which our content does not fit.