Ash Wednesday, Christmas, Clergy Titles, Communion, Communion elements, dance in church, fasting, Lutheran identity

Frank Answers Briefly

This blog  is primarily about answering questions sent to me—if I am able and willing to do so. I receive questions anonymously via the blog platform or by email from people I know. Not all questions need an essay-type answer. So I decided to have a post here in which I respond to questions with just a brief answer. The most recent one is on top.

Jan. 22, 2018

Communion on Ash Wednesday

Should The Sacrament of the Altar be omitted at congregation Services  on Ash Wednesday? Many Lutheran congregations begin the fast with the Feast on that day.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship indicates that the Holy Communion may be included in the Ash Wednesday Service or there may be a Service without Communion, ending with the Intercessions, Concluding Prayer, Our Father, Sending, and Dismissal (p. 254, Pew Edition). I served on the Church Year committee in the ELCA’s Renewing Worship project and worked on the special liturgies for Lent and Holy Week. I argued that Holy Communion should not be celebrated on the fast days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

The distinction between fasting and feasting as it relates to the Eucharist eludes Western Christians. In the ancient church, and continuing in the Eastern Churches today, the Eucharist is not usually celebrated on a fast day, whereas in the West Masses came to be celebrated on every day except Good Friday. The logic of the relationship between Eucharist and fasting is simple: first, the Eucharist is a liturgy of praise and thanksgiving and fast days are days of lament and penitence; second, the Eucharist is a meal and you don’t fast and eat at the same time.  However, the desire of Christians of antiquity to break their fast by receiving the bread and wine of Holy Communion led to the development of the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified. In this liturgy the elements reserved from the Sunday Eucharist are distributed to the faithful with appropriate devotional texts. (In the Western Church Sundays are never fast days, not even during Lent; they are days of the eucharistic feast.  In the Eastern Churches Lenten Sundays are relaxed fast days on which the Divine Liturgy is  celebrated.) In Byzantine Rite Churches this form of Communion is offered on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent (the traditional fast days throughout the years, except during the Easter season) at Vespers. This is because  Communion is offered at the end of the fast day and before the next fast day begins, that is, at the time of Vespers.  (The practice of taking food at the end of a fast day and before the next fast day begins is also observed by Jews and Muslims.)

The one celebration of the Mass of the Pre-sanctified in the Western Rite is on Good Friday. However, there is some experience of distributing Communion with what is essentially the pre-sanctified (previously consecrated) elements in the tradition of the Extended Distribution of Communion to the sick, whether that is done after the Sunday Eucharist on Sunday or later during the week. If pastors desire to make this form of Holy Communion available at the end of the day on Ash Wednesday, a form of the pre-sanctified for Lutherans on Ash Wednesday could include: bringing the consecrated bread and wine to the altar after the intercessions, concluding prayer, and Lord’s Prayer of the Ash Wednesday Liturgy during the singing of “Lamb of God;” the proclamation “The gifts of God for the people of God;” the distribution of the sacrament, followed by a post-communion prayer, blessing, and sending.

If it would be out of the frame of reference for Lutherans to be communed exclusively from the reserved sacrament, the parish could simply offer the Ash Wednesday Liturgy without Communion. In any event, Ash Wednesday should not be a eucharistic day, in my opinion, because it is the day that calls for the beginning of the Lenten fast. This liturgy of the word with litany of penitence and distribution of ashes is what I offered in my congregation during the last several years of my pastorate, and with explanation about the distinction between fasting and feasting this non-eucharistic, non-communion service was accepted.

See my Frank Answers About Daily Communion and Lenten Disciplines for further information on Communion and fasting.

Pre-sanctified gifts served by Serbian patriarch


Dec. 15, 2017

Christmas Lectionary Readings

Why are there three readings for Christmas Day in the lectionary? Are these different readings for Years A, B. and C?

People (= pastors) have been confused about this ever since Lutheran Book of Worship gave three readings marked A, B. C for Christmas Day. Evangelical Lutheran Worship tried to fix this confusion by marking each set A, B, C, indicating that they may all be read every year, and then further specifying (in red!) “I. Particularly appropriate for Christmas Eve, II. Particularly Appropriate for Christmas Day, III. Particularly Appropriate for Christmas Day.” Even this doesn’t give all the information. Set II (Gospel: Luke 2:8-20) should be for an early service on Christmas Day. Set III (Gospel: John 1:1-14) should be for a later service on Christmas Day.

Usually there is only one set of readings per liturgical day. But it was customary for pilgrims to the Holy Land to have a Eucharist at the pilgrimage site with a Gospel and other readings related to the event commemorated at that site, and then return to Jerusalem where there would be another Eucharist (probably the Eucharist for the day). On the Feast of the Epiphany (on which the Nativity of Christ was celebrated) pilgrims walked to Bethlehem and celebrated the Nativity there with a midnight Eucharist, then walked back to Jerusalem for the eucharistic celebration at dawn on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6).  This was replicated in Rome in the fifth century, but on December 25. A cave-like grotto in the subterranean chapel of the basilica of St. Mary replicated the cave at Bethlehem. The midnight mass was celebrated here followed by a morning mass at the usual hour at St. Peter’s. In the sixth century a third mass was celebrated by the pope on December 25 at the church dedicated to St. Anastasia of Sirmium, a martyr highly venerated in the East, probably out of respect for the Byzantine governor since this was the imperial church. So three sets of readings entered the papal Gregorian Sacramentary, which was exported on requests from Frankish kings and implemented throughout Western Europe and they have been in the Western liturgical books ever since.

We could accommodate all three sets of readings because many of our churches  have an early and later service on Christmas Eve, for which sets I and II would be used. Set III would be used on Christmas Day and observed as the feast of the Incarnation.


Nov. 17, 2017

Advent Hymns and Christmas Carols

Frank, I have been approached by a pack of grandmothers who are disturbed by the fact that their grandchildren do not know standard Christmas hymns. We sing them during the season, of course, but they are not taught in schools these days or apparently in the children’s homes. So, of course, their solution is to get rid of Advent, which most of them dislike despite consistent and loving teaching. I do agree that there is a problem, but disagree on the solution. First, if the kids went caroling with us they would sing those songs 4 or 5 times each. Second, the solution is not to destroy Advent but to help parents teach the culture of the Church at home. I am going to institute some home helps, but I also would not mind extending Christmas into Epiphany a bit. But, what would you do?

Answer: I think you’re on the right course. Advent is an important season at the beginning of the church year and Lutherans have a rich tradition of Advent hymns. We can’t get them all in on four Sundays. Of course, the more eschatological Advent hymns, like “Wake, Awake for Night is Flying” and “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” and “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”) are also appropriate for the last several Sundays in the church year, which were once a part of the Western European (i.e. Gallican) six-or-seven-week Advent. Christmas carols should be delayed liturgically until Christmas Eve.

To say that Christmas carols and hymns should be used in Christmas liturgies does not mean that they should be banned from parish use altogether. Certainly the choir is practicing Christmas music as they prepare to sing at Christmas services. Many parishes have children’s Christmas pageants which also employ Christmas carols. As you point out, there are caroling opportunities which could/should include children and youth. By the way, some of these opportunities could be planned for during the Twelve Days of Christmas, not only during Advent.  There are the Sundays within those Twelve Days on which to sing Christmas carols.

Extending Christmas Carols into Epiphany is quite appropriate, especially those which have Epiphany-related themes of three kings or wise men or the star (such as “The First Noel,” “We Three Kings,” “He Whom Shepherds Once Came Praising,” and “Bright and Glorious is the Sky”).  But I could see “cradle songs” like “What Child Is This”, “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and “Away in a Manger” being sung during Communion.  “Angels We Have Heard on High” could be sung as the Song of Praise (“Gloria in excelsis Deo”). “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” “Oh, Come, All Yet Faithful,” “Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice,” “Let Our Gladness Have no End,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” could be entrance songs on the Sundays after the Epiphany. And what better sending hymn is there than “Go Tell It on the Mountain”—anytime. Maybe the Festival of the Presentation of our Lord and Purification of Mary on February 2 (forty days after the Nativity) could be one final time for a Christmas carol sing.  By that point maybe even your grandmothers are ready to put away the carols for another year.


Use of gluten-free bread for Communion

What is your take on the Vatican’s ruling on gluten free wafers?  Is there a biblical citation which require wheat and can Lutherans hold to concomitance?

Answer: To require .009% gluten to make the bread real wheat is the endth degree of casuistry, in my Frank opinion. Undoubtedly bread made from grains is the biblical precedent, but we don’t know what kind of bread Jesus used. If the Lord’s Supper was instituted at a Passover Seder (synoptic gospels), the bread was unleavened. If the Lord’s Supper was instituted before the Passover (fourth gospel), it probably was leavened. The Eastern Church uses leavened bread.  The Western Church didn’t require unleavened bread before the early Middle Ages.

The real issue is why there has been an increase of gluten intolerance and celiac disease in America. Why can people with gluten intolerance eat bread in Europe? The answer seems to be that in America we are using a blended strain of wheat germs that produce bumper crops whereas an older strain is used in Europe. There’s also a thought that too much gluten has gotten into our diet generally, more than our bellies can tolerate. While the science is not totally settled on this,  it would seem that the Catholic Church should take the lead in experimenting with growing the old strain of wheat or encouraging some farmers to do so. If that solves the problem, there may be a market for old strain wheat bread. I know people with gluten intolerance would prefer to be able to eat regular bread.

In the meantime we can appeal to the doctrine of concomitance that we receive the entire Christ under either species and people receive and consume what they can tolerate.  Yes, the Lutheran Confessions argue for receiving both bread and wine (Augsburg Confession 22 and Apology 22). But the argument in the Confessions is that the papal church had gone so far as to declare as heretics those who favored the fullness of Christ’s institution (Jan Hus was burned at the stake). But concomitance was originally a justification for in extremis situations in the communion of baptized infants and the sick who could not swallow bread and communed with the WINE only.  How much better it would be to provide some form of gluten-free bread for those who need it. In my experience this accommodation can be made without a lot of fuss and calling attention to the fact that GLUTEN-FREE BREAD IS AVAILABLE.  A simple announcement in the worship folder suffices, and the pastor usually knows who needs it—another reason why the pastor should serve the bread.


Communion wine

What are your thoughts on alternates to wine in communion? I know grape juice is common. I’ve seen even nonalcoholic wine. But I’ve also seen apple juice communion. Could you do a frank answers on this?

Answer: The beverage for the Lord’s Supper is wine because our Lord used it in his institution (probably at a Passover Seder) and the Eucharist is a festive meal. Preferably wine with a little kick to it to produce a slight inebriation. Preferably good wine. Either red or white. Either dry or sweet. If grape wine is not available, then rice wine like Japanese sake. Nonalcoholic wine could be available for children and alcoholics. Maybe a different color than the regular wine so as not to confuse them. But grape juice and apple juice are out. Coke and other sodas are definitely out. Beer is way out, unless you’re a German pope.


(Yes, this is photo shopped.)


Mixing consecrated and unconsecrated Communion elements

Question: An LCMS colleague sent me an E-mail inquiry concerning the  disposition of consecrated elements remaining after the Mass. I’m wondering if you can shed any light on the mixing of previously consecrated and non-consecrated wafers and wine.

Answer: You don’t mix consecrated and unconsecrated elements. If additional supplies are needed during the distribution you bless them. However, you can add unconsecrated wine from flagons to consecrated wine in chalices during the distribution. It is consecrated “by contagion.” (This is the practice I see in Ordo Romanus Primus when consecrated wine from the chalice on the altar is poured into the vats of wine from which communicants drink with a straw.)  I usually bless the wine in the chalice(s) and maybe one cruet on the altar, but not the wine in the other cruets on a credence table and not on the altar.  But the communion ministers must not run out of wine; they need to signal the acolytes when they need a refill. After the service the consecrated bread and wine are either consumed or set aside for further distribution, as in the communion of the sick. What is reserved should be kept separate from the unconsecrated elements, perhaps in an ambry. I used to keep what I needed for the communion of the sick in the little ciborium and cruets in my private communion kit. If they were not used in a reasonable length of time, I consumed them.

Reserving the wafers is easy and pastors too easily default to using them since freshly baked communion bread will not keep and needs to be consumed. I don’t think we need to default to wafers. We need to develop enough experience using freshly baked communion bread that the presiding minister knows how much is needed. I would note that the Orthodox have figured this out. Before the liturgy the priests cut out of the loaf what is needed for Communion.

Orthodox priests preparing the “Lamb”—the center of the loaf—to be consecrated during the anaphora (eucharistic prayer). Other pieces of that loaf, and other loafs not needed for the Communion (the Antedoron), are broken up and distributed to the worshipers after the Liturgy as food for the journey home.


Praying to the Saints

Question: Did the Lutheran Reformation throw the baby out with the bathwater when we rejected the cult of saints? The biggest critique I hear from Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox is that asking the saints to pray for you is just like asking one of your living friends to pray for you. Which got me thinking, with our doctrine of the communion of saints that we confess in the creeds, I wonder if we could make an argument of asking the saints to pray for us.

Answer: I refer you to my article, “Frank Answers About Saints in the Lutheran Church.”  Lutherans do not pray to the saints, claiming the sole mediatorship of Christ as the main reason. But the Lutheran Confessions (Apology, Article 21) grant that “the saints pray for us.” So I suppose there isn’t a need to ask them to do so.  However, I wonder: how do we address the dead?  What consciousness (mind) do the dead have?  What is the substance of the soul apart from the body? What is the relationship between the body, the mind, and the soul?  I refer you to my articles, “Frank Answers About What Happens After Death” and “Frank Answers About the Soul.” In what sense can “saints in heaven” hear earthly prayers? Wouldn’t they need to be like God?  I think we need to hear Catholic and Orthodox theologians deal with these kinds of questions.


Why are Lutherans Identified as Evangelical Catholics?

Question:  Aren’t Lutherans Protestant? Why would some theologians like Martin Marty suggest we call ourselves evangelical catholic and reject the terms Protestant or even Lutheran?

Answer: The issue is one of historical and theological identity. The name “Protestant” was first used of those who “protested” the Edict of Speyer (1529), which revoked the Recess of Speyer (1526) that left the determination of religion in each territory and city of the Holy Roman Empire up to the governing authorities until a general council could settle the religious differences in the Empire. So, yes, Lutherans are among the first Protestants.  The problem is that now every denominational group that is not Catholic or Orthodox is regarded as Protestant, not just the Lutheran and Reformed protesters. What do Lutherans have in common, say, with Pentecostals, who might also be identified as Protestants? As for the name “Lutheran,” it was originally a name of derision used by Catholic critics and Luther himself did not approve of it. He said his followers should simply call themselves “Christians.” The term “Evangelical” (gospel-centered) was also applied to Lutherans in Europe, often to distinguish them from the Reformed. But “Die evangelische Kirche in Deutschland” is quite different in character from American Evangelicalism, as are American Lutheran denominations and congregations that have “Evangelical” in their name. Many Lutheran theologians since the 19th century have embraced the term “evangelical catholic” to indicate that Luther’s intention and actual Lutheran practice was to reform the Catholic Church, not to create something new. The Catholic creeds, the canon of Scripture, dogmas of the ancient church (Trinity, Christology, original sin, etc.), historic liturgical forms, and many church practices were retained by Lutherans. Theologians such as Archbishop Nathan Soderbloom, Gustav Aulen, Paul Tillich, Jaroslav Pelikan, Carl Braaten and many others have used moniker “evangelical catholic” as a description of Lutheranism as well as Martin Marty (and yours truly).


Lutherans and Catholics “On the Way”

Question: What do you think of the new Lutheran-Catholic document “Declaration on the Way?” Have Lutherans given away the store?

Answer: This document was adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is a summary of the very substantive theological dialogues in the U.S. over the last fifty years. At its heart are 32 “Statements of Agreement” about where Lutherans and Catholics do not have church-dividing differences on topics about church, ministry and the Eucharist based on previous dialogues. More tentatively, the document also explores differences that remain. As to whether it “gives away the store” as far as Lutheran confessional commitments are concerned, I don’t think so. But in a blog article I can’t analyze all 32 individual points of agreement. So I decline to give a full Frank Answer.


Calling pastors “Father”

Question: When and why did Lutherans stop referring to pastors as “father”? I’m particularly confused by this since Luther seems to defend the practice in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism and was addressed by many of his colleagues as “reverend father”.

Answer: You are correct that in the explanation to the fourth commandment, “Honor you father and your mother,” Luther commends “spiritual fathers” along with, and even more than, biological fathers, heads of households, and rulers who are “fathers of their nations” (The Large Catechism I, 158). Contrary to “those in the papacy who have had themselves called ‘father,’…the name of spiritual father belongs only to those who govern and guide us by the Word of God. St. Paul boasts that he is such a father in 1 Corinthians 4[:15}, where he says ‘In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.'”

Luther and many Lutheran clergy were addressed as “reverend father.”  I do not know when Lutherans generally stopped using this title of address. As to why, my suspicion is that it sounded “too Catholic,” which is the Lutheran default response to anything they don’t like. However, the title “Father” is still used  by some Lutherans today, especially those who regard themselves as evangelical catholics.

The Reverend Father, Doctor Martin Luther, teaching the Catechism

While I’m at it, Lutherans never call their ministers “Reverend.” “Reverend” is a written form of address preceded by “The.” Most Lutherans call their ministers “Pastor,” although properly speaking “Pastor” is the spiritual leader of a congregation or parish: e.g. The Reverend Doctor Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor of the Wittenberg Stadtkirche. In the English tradition it is quite appropriate to address ministers as “Mister,” “Master,” or “Doctor,” according to their academic degree. I would add that if our ordained male ministers can be called “Father,” ordained female ministers can be called “Mother,” since the fourth commandment refers to honoring fathers and mothers, and “Reverend Mother” has also been a title of honor given to women heads of religious communities.

German Lutheran Pfarrer confirming youth


January 23, 2017

Dance music in church

Sir. Nowadays, in Korea, EDM (Electronic Dance Music) worship has become a hot issue. Many young people like EDM  and some Christian worship leaders want to introduce this music in the worship. I think I should study about this for my denomination.  What do you think about that?

Answer: I think it’s always good for worship scholars to get ahead of a trend and be able to give guidance to pastors. I would have several questions. 1. What kind of dancing is it?  2. Does it engage the whole congregation? 3. What would be the purpose of the dancing? 4. Where in the order of service would dancing be done? At the entrance? In response to the word?  During the offertory? The place of dancing would relate to its purpose. 5. Is the dancing wordless or does it accompany a text?  I think dancing added to Christian worship should be modest, within the capability of most worshipers to participate, serve to glorify God, have a liturgical function, and be related somehow to a text, even one chanted over and over.

19th century Shakers dancing in worship


1 Comment

  1. Eugene A. Koene

    Wonderfully frank answers, Fr. Frank, as always. Just 3 brief points:

    1. I am more than certain that that’s a photo-shopped picture of Benedict ostensibly consecrating beer at Mass — I hope everyone understands it was meant as humor.

    2. I’m glad you point out that if additional elements need to be brought to the altar, bread in particular, it does need to be consecrated (unless taken from the reserved Sacrament). This is a needed correction to ELCA’s otherwise fine document “The Use of the Means of Grace.”

    3. On the question of asking the saints for their prayers, the old Roman Catholic Baltimore Catechism answered, in response to the question of whether or how the saints are able to hear our prayers, that God reveals our needs to the saints. So in a real sense, any invocation addressed to a saint is really addressed to God, as an expression of our belief in the oneness of all God’s faithful in the communion of saints. I’m not sure whether the current Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this issue. Suffice it to say that divine omniscience is not being attributed to the saints in heaven. On the other hand, since we advance “from glory to glory” and become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), I think it could be left as an open question. I personally do think we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, and as heirs of the Reformation should reconsider this issue. A devotional practice that includes the saints in the fellowship of prayer is not unique to Rome, but is practiced in some form by all of the ancient Catholic churches (Orthodox & Oriental).

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