Article XXIV was Written for You and Me…and for Carmen!
I recently posted a comment on Facebook that I would not be a member of any parish that did not have every Sunday Mass.
By “Mass” I simply mean what our Lutheran Fathers meant when they clearly, unabashedly, and correctly used said term as a salutary synonym for The Sacrament of the Altar [AC Art. XXIV, Apol. Art. XXIV]. Do I always use the term “Mass” instead of The Lord’s Supper, The Sacrament, The Eucharist, or The Holy Communion? No, I do not always use the term “Mass” but I use it whenever I judge it prudent and ALWAYS when I know it will “smoke out” a crypto-Calvinist or a weaselly-sacramentarian masquerading as a gnesio Lutheran. I love to watch their heads spin around like Regan/Demon in Wm. Friedkin’s The Exorcist.
For anyone professing to be a Lutheran, a “quia” subscription to the Symbols is both mandatory and comforting. We believe, teach, and confess, the doctrines found in our Confessions “because” they DO accurately explicate and explain the Holy Scriptures that so many heterodox misinterpret. Not only is weekly Communion the historic practice of the Church Catholic (I’m using a capital “C” rather than lower case … hear that? Heads spinning.) but it is prescriptive of the Church of the Unaltered Augustana [c.f. Werner Elert’s Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, and of course again, Apol. Art. XXIV, para. 1] And let’s not forget the Holy Scriptures themselves [Acts 2. 42]
But if history, Melanchthon (thus Luther), and the Bible won’t convince some willfully ignorant and obdurate souls, surely an appeal to their hearts, their emotions, and their love for their own parish brothers and sisters could carry the day. No! There are no human arguments that will move the will of those who have “always done it their way” and who resent a proactive pastor seeking to enrich a congregation’s Lutheran ethos.
I remember Dr. Arthur Just sharing a pastoral anecdote (from his own time in the parish ministry back east) with all of us in his Homiletics II class back in the mid 1990’s. This same story was repeated by Dr. Just on the Liturgy Video Series (VHS) that he made for Lutheran Visuals in the late 90’s and was almost as moving and effective on tape as it was live in class. He had ministered to a couple in his congregation who had had a young son (12 years old or so) who had been diagnosed with bone cancer. After a short, brutal, and painful struggle the young boy died and his mother and father were devastated. Pastor Just ministered the love and peace of Christ Jesus and the blessed hope of life everlasting as well as he could under circumstances that all pastors know are impossible. By that I mean, nothing a pastor can “say,” “quote,” or “read,” not Paul, not Isaiah, not even Jesus instantly heals the heart and soul ripped apart by a grief that only a parent burying a child can know. But Art Just did his best. It was when the mother said: “I know I will see our son again someday (so too said dear Saint Martha of Bethany) but I just miss him so NOW!” that Dr. Just was able to let Christ provide the healing balm. He said “Alice, you can see your son with the eyes of faith every time you come to the Lord’s Supper where THERE CHARLIE IS, with angels, archangels, the entire company of heaven, and with Jesus our Redeemer.” Dr. Just then told us all that that because of his parish’s every Sunday Mass, that young couple when they came to Church the next Lord’s Day, tentatively, and with tears in their eyes, came to the rail to receive their God’s Body and Blood. As Dr. Just (with that mellifluous baritone voice of his) told the story to our class there were more throats clearing and papers shuffled than normal (let the reader understand). The young mother, was “shaking like a leaf” when she came to shake his hand at the end of the service. She thanked him profusely, and with tears streaming down her face, thanked him most for what he had said about the Sacrament uniting heaven and earth together, the deceased with the living; that that reality had brought her the first comfort she had experienced since her sons’ death.
I told this same story early on to a parish. I’m no Arthur Just and I don’t play him on television, but I told it fairly well. Nada; there was no reaction and no glint of “understanding.” I later showed the Video series where Dr. Just re-tells the story…same reaction of intellectual receipt but quadruple-chamber heart blockage.
I thought it might be simply due to the fact that it was only a distant event from a different parish and from different people outside our own local family.
And then, within six months I had my own personal/parochial anecdote.
Our parish had an elderly (very, very elderly) widow, Carmen Gerson, who lived in a retirement home and could only come to Church on those Sunday’s when someone could bring her. Her own frailty and health issues also kept her from regular, regular attendance. She did faithfully come as often as she could and many times that was twice a month. Our parish only had the Holy Communion twice a month. Now to be sure, as a “shut-in” Carmen received the Supper whenever I visited her, but she had told me how much it meant to commune with God’s whole family in His Holy House.
One Sunday I was loitering around the front doors well before the service started and I saw the door opened up by Carmen and the other elderly couple that brought her. Carmen walked in and even before looking at me, or shaking my hand, turned her bright, beaming, smiling face towards the front of the Church and to the altar. When her eyes (bad as they were) discerned that there was no veil, nothing in the center, that the altar had nothing on it except a missal stand, her smile faded and an audible deflation of air gasped out from her chest. “Oh….” she sighed, “no Sacrament today Pastor?” It was the sound of sadness and resignation. She needed it, I needed it, people who worked on alternate Sunday morning shifts needed it, hurting people needed it, and sinners needed it. Our parish didn’t have it because Weekly Mass was not their tradition.
I used Carmen as a “teaching lesson” and as an argument for changing the practice of the parish. It carried no opinions and melted no ice.
To love God is demanded of us. We fail our Lord and He forgives us. To love our neighbor is demanded of us. We fail our neighbors, they failed Carmen, and He still forgives us.
Carmen died. Carmen was blessed to have an “Official” transfer from a sinful parish (as are they all) in the Church militant to a Perfect, Holy, and Righteous Congregation in the Church Triumphant. Carmen receives her Lord not just weekly, but daily, hourly, and eternally. Carmen’s feast with Jesus is NOW and ALWAYS.