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 from people I know by email. 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. I have also set up posts exclusively dedicated to answering briefly questions about communion practices and Advent and Christmas, some of which previously appeared here.
Table of Topics
Lutheran Pastors as Religious Oblates
The Response “The Word of the Lord”
Reformation or Reconciliation Sunday?
Praying to the Saints
Why Lutherans are Identified as Evangelical Catholics
Calling Pastors “Father”
June 15, 2020
Lutheran Pastors as Religious Oblates
What are your thoughts around a Lutheran pastor becoming an oblate (or associate or other terms) of a Benedictine, Franciscan, or Trappist order (whether Roman Catholic or Episcopal)?
I know several who are, and they mention how having a rule of life (including commitment to the Daily Office) helps them pastor.
There’s nothing wrong with Lutheran pastors becoming oblates of a religious order. Third order Benedictines or Franciscans are usually lay people who support the order and follow the Rule as they are able as married men or women with family responsibilities and secular jobs. There are, in fact, Lutheran Benedictines and Franciscans. The Congregation of the Servants of Christ is a Lutheran monastic community at St. Augustine’s House in Oxford, MI. Oblates are actually men who are interested in the monastic life and live with the community in an intentional way that might lead to becoming professed monks. However, the Fellowship of St. Augustine is a group of pastors and lay people who support the congregation, follow its prayer cycle, and attend one or more retreats at the monastery. For more information visit: https://www.staugustineshouse.org/.
Lutheran pastors are also welcome to join the Society of the Holy Trinity, which is an inter-Lutheran ministerium and pastoral oratory. It’s Rule is helpful to Lutheran pastors in praying the Daily Offices, practicing individual confession and forgiveness, experiencing collegiality in local chapters, and attending chapter retreats and the annual General Retreat. For more information visit: https://www.societyholytrinity.org/.
June 4, 2020
About My Books
Frank, you are a prolific author!
How would you describe your various books? With regard to intended audience, purpose, and focus?
(We read mostly Pfatteicher and Lathrop when I was in seminary.)
Answer: Thanks for your question. I’ve hung on to it for several weeks while trying to decide in what way to answer it. Maybe other readers would also be interested in my answer, but I don’t want to write a long article about my life’s work since I’m working on another book and other articles at the moment. So I decided to give a brief answer. For those who haven’t discovered it yet, there is a page on my blog listing my published books.
I’m glad you read Philip Pfatteicher and Gordon Lathrop when you were in seminary. They are also prolific authors. I imagine you read Philip H. Pfatteicher’s Commentary of the Lutheran Book of Worship: Lutheran Liturgy in its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) and at least Gordon W. Lathrop’s Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). Philip Pfatteicher didn’t teach in a seminary, so he couldn’t use my books in his seminary classes. But Gordon Lathrop told me that he had his students at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia read my Christian Liturgy — Catholic and Evangelical (see below) as did Mark Bangert at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. It’s also been used in some non-Lutheran seminaries in North America and elsewhere.
This year is actually the fiftieth anniversary of my career as a published writer. I had published material in college and seminary publications. In fact, I was editor of the Hartwick College student literary magazine, Desideratum, back in my undergraduate days (1964-1965). But my first peer reviewed article was “Berdyaev, Orthodoxy, and the Theology of Hope,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 7/3 (Summer 1970):455-75.
The question asks me to describe my various books. Well, I have sixteen books of various sizes with my name on the cover, four of them collaborative (two of which I edited, the other two with multiple authors). There are sixteen other books in which I have a chapter, plus essays in five journal special issues (two in Swedish). Then there are several hundred journal articles, of which maybe a dozen would be worth mentioning. Being president of the editorial board of The Liturgical Conference (1995-1998, 2001-2004) made me the de facto publisher of Homily Service and Liturgy and other Conference publications. Add to that a couple of dozen articles in reference books and some published sermons and you can see that the task of reviewing my life’s work as an author would be daunting.
So here’s what I’ll do in answering the question briefly. I’ll first discuss the intended audiences of my books. Second, in terms of purpose I’ll mention the books that I wanted to write for particular reasons. Finally, I’ll discuss the focus of my interests, particularly my recent interest in the body in relation to liturgy and sacraments.
Many of my books originated as academic courses, workshops, or lecture series. So the audience of the books would be similar to the audience which heard my oral presentations: mostly pastors, students, and interested lay people. Of course, as a scholar I also want to share ideas with my peers. That is usually done in professional journal articles. The origins of the books are accounted for in the introductions. My contributions of chapters in other editors’ books were invited.
I wanted to write all my books. The oral presentations gave me material to expand into a book, most recently Embodied Liturgy (2016) and Eucharistic Body (2017). But some had no prior audience. These included: Christian Worship and its Culture Setting, The Witness of the Worshiping Community, The People’s Work, Lutheran Identity, Introduction to Christian liturgy. Cultural Setting (1983) was written to demonstrate what I had been teaching at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (1978-1981) since my non-renewal was focused, in part, on whether I included “contemporary culture” in my courses. I was also teaching along these lines at the University of Chicago Divinity School (1982-1984). Witness was written to tackle the confusion of worship and evangelism that was rampant in the 1990s. The People’s Work was to pursue my own growing interest in the social history of liturgy. Lutheran Identity was a manifesto of evangelical catholicity. Introduction was to write a liturgical catechism answering fifty hypothetical questions. I think it has become a helpful resource.
Christian Liturgy–Catholic and Evangelical is a special case. It was part of a two book project I undertook with Phil Pfatteicher at the invitation of Fortress Press to produce a resource comparable to Luther D. Reed’s The Lutheran Liturgy (1947, 1959) for Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). Reed provided a history and commentary on the Common Service and then the Service Book and Hymnal (1958) In our view Reed’s book could not easily be updated to account for the LBW. It would have to stand as the classic it was. So in a comparable resource for LBW I was to write the historical background, making it no less ecumenical than Reed’s history, and Phil was to write the commentary on the orders and texts, also placing LBW in an ecumenical context. Phil published his Commmentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship in 1990; my history book was mostly finished around 1995/1996 and was published in 1997. I had thought about updating it after about fifteen to twenty years, but now I have put that idea aside. To carry the story into the 21st century would require the whole issue of he impact of contemporary worship and its music and the differences between LBW and subsequent Lutheran worship books. Unfortunately, everything is time bound. My book is as much related to liturgical renewal as Reed’s was to liturgical restoration. Reed’s book still has useful information. I trust that my book is also still useful.
Finally, in terms of issues of interest to me: obviously renewing the liturgy as the public service of the people of God has always been my focus. To do that we need to know what the liturgical tradition is and to discern what in the tradition addresses our current cultural context. The cultural context can change. I came of age in the 1960s with its social issues (civil rights, peace movement, sexual/gender revolution) and its ecumenical excitement. I was studying and working on liturgy in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. I was in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame Theology Department when the whole work of the Council was animating liturgy, theology, ecumenism, the church’s mission in the world, and the understanding of the church itself. I find much of that ecumenical liturgical consensus unraveling in the 21st century.
But where we can find a new commonality and a new resource for liturgical renewal is in the human body itself. This is not new for me. Already in my first book, The Pastor as Worship Leader (1977), my emphasis was on ritual actions, which requires the body to perform them. There are also no sacraments without a body to receive them–both the personal body and the ecclesial body. The body has also become the focus of behavioral and social sciences, philosophy and theology. In my return to the body I think I still have a contribution to make. If liturgy is not embodied, it will not be engaging or meaningful. But the meanings the body provides are not like the meanings of scholastic theology. For me, orthodoxy is not just about correct doctrine, but about glorifying God—which, as St. Paul said, can only be done in the body (1 Cor. 6:19).
April 24, 2020
The Response “Thanks be to God”
When did Lutherans start ending their readings during the Liturgy of the Word by saying, “The Word of the Lord; Thanks be to God?” Why?
The custom of announcing the lessons goes back to the twelfth century. When the custom began of announcing the end of the readings is uncertain. The first and subsequent editions of the Book of Common Prayer concluded readings in the daily prayer offices with “Here endeth [such a] chapter of [such a] Book. The custom was carried over to the Epistle in the Service of Holy Communion. Lutheran worship books in English picked up this custom of announcing the end as well as the beginning of the reading. The Common Service Book (1918) and the Service Book and Hymnal (1958) had: “Here endeth the Epistle of the Day.” The SBH had added an Old Testament Lesson and it was concluded with the words, “Here endeth the Lesson.” The idea was catching on among the Western Churches that the people should respond to the readings. To say “Here endeth the Lesson” with “Thanks be to God” didn’t seem appropriate. When the Roman Missal of Paul VI was promulgated in 1969 (in English in 1970), the response to Scripture readings except the Gospel was: “The Word of the Lord. R/ Thanks be to God.” With the adoption of versions of the Roman Lectionary during the 1970s this response was incorporated into the worship books of other denominations, including Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). It has become an ecumenical response that is familiar in now in a number of Protestant traditions. With Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) other words have been added as options, such as “Word of God, word of life.” Why? I don’t know.
March 13, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic makes its way across the globe, churches are closing for group activities, including worship. Sunday worship is important for Christians. Many churches have livestreaming capabilities. What kind of worship should we present? Should livestreamed Sunday worship without a congregation present include Holy Communion?
I think what is livestreamed should be as close as possible to the worship services congregations are used to, and to the way they are usually conducted. Congregations using online communications could send the worship bulletin to the members with their weekly e-newsletter so that congregants can follow the service from home.
The pastor and organist/musician would be present. Candles are lighted on the altar. The pastor wears customary vestments. A couple of lay people might be present (spaced out) to serve as a reader (Scripture, intercessions) and a singer (to assist in singing the hymns and liturgical chants). Most of the service would be spoken but at least the hymns should be played and the stanzas sung by those present. Some of the people watching at home might join in singing. Copies of the order of worship can be made available online.
In the absence of a congregation Holy Communion should not be celebrated. It would be valid but not a good sign since only the few people present could receive while the rest of the congregation watching at home is excluded. Protestants would not be into “ocular Communion,” that is, receiving a spiritual benefit just from seeing the sacrament. We have taught that the sacrament is meant to be consumed as food and drink. This means that a form of Ante-Communion (liturgy of the Word) would be used or Morning Prayer (Matins).
The spiritual preparation of the people to join in an actual virtual worship service from home should receive attention. As much as possible the congregation at home should switch gears from other activities to prepare themselves for worship. If the live streamed Sunday service is to be an act of worship, viewers must intentionally make an effort to enter into God’s presence.
Preparing for worship is a ritual process in which we must step out of the ordinary routines of life and enter into a time of preparing hearts and minds to hear God’s word and be receptive to the work of the Holy Spirit, just as we would ideally do when we cross the threshold on Sunday morning into the worship space to do the assembly’s liturgy. Since this is Sunday worship at home, the fellowship time after worship could be kept by preparing coffee and refreshments. As far as possible retain the Sunday morning routines. The members of the congregation will long to be able to return to experiencing social closeness instead of social distance.
February 28, 2020
Question: Any suggestions around adapting worship practices in light of Coronavirus? I suspect we probably should be already during flu season.
Contact points include handshaking before worship, passing of the peace, passing the offering place, communion, and handshaking in the receiving line.
The pastor touches everyone, so everyone “downstream” gets everyone else’s whatever!
I remember reading in “Lutheran Partners” magazine in the early ’90s that the common cup was more sanitary than intinction or individual cups? Has to do with the silver in the cup (not so with ceramic) and the wine (not so with grape juice), and also the wipe and rotate method.
I’m reluctant to give an authoritative answer to this issue because at this time there’s a lot we don’t know about this virus. As information about and experience with this virus increases I’m sure denominations will come out with recommended guidelines about the interaction of people in worship if, as expected, the virus begins to spread more widely through society and around the world.
However, you are right that many churches haven’t adopted anti-contagion practices during the flu season and this year it has been a more aggressive strain than usual. Statistics indicate that millions of Americans have had flu or flu-like symptoms. As of this writing, during the 2019-2020 flu season in the U.S. some 16,000 people have died and 280,000 people have been hospitalized, according to preliminary estimates from the CDC. The new coronavirus seems to be lethal for older adults with pre-existent health conditions but mild in children and healthy younger adults.
In church and in worship interpersonal contact will have to be limited. It is not necessary for the pastor to shake hands with people or for people to greet each other with a handshake. People can exchange the sign of peace by speaking the words and bowing slightly to each other. It is not necessary to pass the offering plates through the pews. People can deposit their offerings before or after the service. Whether wafers or loaves of bread are used for Holy Communion, those who handle the elements can wear protective latex gloves. You are correct that the CDC has concluded that drinking wine with alcoholic content from a silver or gold-inlay chalice, that is wiped with a purificator after each imbibing, has a low risk of transmitting germs (although this seems counterintuitive to a lot of people). Intinction would entail a higher risk of transmitting germs because people’s finger tips dip into the wine along with the bread. Individual glasses would have to be washed in a commercial grade dish washer because fingers and lips touch the rims of the little glasses. (Congregations that use disposable plastic containers should be encouraged to cease and desist from contributing to environmental pollution!) The chalice should also be washed with hot water and soap and altar guild members who place the individual glasses in a tray should wear latex gloves. Since the whole Christ is received under either species (the doctrine of concomitance) communicants concerned about the cup could receive the bread only.
People might have to allow more distance between bodies in the pews. When joining a procession for communion worshipers would have to be spaced apart (recommended 6 feet). People wearing masks can still speak and sing, however muffled the sound. And they should pray urgently that this scourge passes away as quickly as it came. But considering the speed with which this coronavirus is spreading, we may reach a critical point at which public worship services will have to be suspended, as is already happening in Italy. We will need to be prepared for that situation.
February 27, 2020
An ongoing question in our parish is about the necessity, or lack thereof, for two actions; “Is an offertory canticle necessary after either a hymn or another musical offering,” and “Is it necessary for the assembly to rise as the gifts are presented?” For more clarity, occasionally when a hymn or hymn anthem is sung, the offertory canticle has been omitted, and the assembly stands and sings the final stanza of the hymn as the gifts are presented. This causes some confusion for our ushers, as well as the assembly. Our pastor would like to get rid of a separate canticle altogether and simply have the ushers collect the offering and then come forward and present the gifts, simultaneous to any musical offering or hymn, and then have the assembly stand at the Great Thanksgiving, when no Offertory Prayer is used. When we have tried this, occasionally there are a few folks who stand as the gifts are brought forward, due to habit. Maybe a couple of better questions are, “Is it better liturgical practice for the assembly to stand and sing a separate offertory canticle as the gifts are presented,” and “Is the assembly standing during the presentation a liturgical function, and if so, does ending this action constitute poor liturgical practice?”
Considering how fussy Lutherans can be about offertory ritual, it is ironic that Martin Luther and early Lutheran church orders omitted the offertory completely. Luther called it “tota illa abominatio.” That’s because it was the point at which the faithful paid stipends for votive masses (masses of special intention). In early Lutheran mass orders the altar and sacramental elements were prepared during the singing of the Creed and the faithful deposited monetary offerings for the common chest (poor box) when they came forward to receive communion. Today in Lutheran services the offertory is a very big ritual.
If we look back to the practice of the ancient Roman Church, the offertory constituted a big procession of the faithful who brought forward to the clergy gifts of bread and wine, oil and candles, and other items used in the Divine Liturgy. To cover this movement throughout the basilica the choir (Schola Cantorum) sang psalms appointed as propers for the day. The liturgical action didn’t cease while people just listened to the choir.
What would make liturgical sense is that whatever is sung at the offertory covers the action of gathering the gifts and setting the table. That may be a choir anthem (chosen for its appropriateness to that day in the church year calendar and lectionary) and/or a hymn sung by the congregation and/or a psalm or canticle. The amount of singing depends on how much music is needed to cover the action. It may fluctuate depending on the day in the liturgical year and the expected attendance as well as whether there is a choir anthem and how long or short it is. These variables can be known in advance of preparing an order of service. The people may remain seated during all of this and the gifts (including the bread and wine) are brought forward to the ministers as soon as the ushers/gift bearers are ready to do so. The people stand for the offertory prayer or Great Thanksgiving.
For what it’s worth, in the Episcopal Church I attend we usually have (and need) both a choir anthem and a congregational hymn. The congregation stands for prayer, not for the presentation of the gifts and setting of the table.
October 28, 2019
Reformation or Reconciliation Sunday?
Question: Why didn’t the proposal to make Reformation Sunday Reconciliation Sunday take off?
Answer: I suspect that the proposal to turn Reformation Day/Sunday into Reconciliation Day/Sunday didn’t take off because there’s nothing to celebrate. Reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics is a hope, not a fact. It is based on the successes of contemporary ecumenical dialogue and cooperation, such as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Reformation, on the other hand, is something that historically happened and Lutherans have several centuries of tradition in observing it liturgically. It has become a way of dusting off and looking again each year at our Lutheran heritage. If the idea of a Reconciliation Festival is to have any currency, it will have to be at the local level (between dioceses/synods, parishes/congregations) where relationships between Lutherans and Catholics are being cultivated and sustained by continual dialogue and cooperation.
Another possibility is for the Roman Catholic Church to also celebrate a Reformation Festival. After all, what the Roman Catholic Church has been for the last five centuries has also been shaped by the Reformation—the Catholic Reformation. In modern times the festival has prompted us to ask about the continuing relevance of reformation. Both Lutherans and Catholic have seen the need for continuing reform. Ecclesia semper reformanda. “The church must always be reformed.” I dare say that in the wake of the pervasive sexual abuse scandals throughout the world the Catholic Church today is in need of institutional and spiritual reform today as thorough as what occurred after the Council of Trent—reform that touched the whole ecclesial body from the papacy to the parish.
November 1, 2018
About 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. I think that we can certainly pray with the saints, just as we join our voices “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” in singing the thrice-holy hymn (Sanctus).
October 30, 2018
About Why Lutherans Are 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).
October 23, 2018
About 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.
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.