“If it’s just a symbol, then to hell with it!” Wherein a Lutheran tells it as it is and then Fr. Z rants a lot.

Years ago, I was – for my sins – sent by the pastor of the parish to attend a Thanksgiving Day “ecumenical” breakfast.  When I entered the place, a young man in clerical cloths and a tag identifying himself as the pastor of the area’s Missouri Synod Lutheran Church made a bee line at me and asked,

“Are you the priest at St. Raphael’s who tells non-Catholics that they shouldn’t receive Communion at your church?”

“Yes, indeed I am!”, I said.

To which he responded, “Thank you!  Some priests don’t get that we Lutherans don’t all have Communion with each other, much less with Catholics.”

We sat together and had a great conversation.

Ecumenical encounters should be based on clarity and honesty.

However, when we ourselves drop the ball as Catholics and go to the zoo on basic issues, we sow confusion not only in our own ranks, but among non-Catholics as well.

That’s scandalous.

Today I read a piece by a Lutheran pastor on his blog, Pastoral Meanderings, who cited a piece at First Things by a good friend of mine, a German priest, about how the Germans are going to the zoo about inter-Communion.  This Lutheran pastor offers a steaming hot cup of reality.

The Lutheran schools the German Catholic bishops about Communion.

Let’s see what he has to say with my usual emphases and comments:

Ya’ll Come. . . or maybe ihr kommt. . .

In an article by Msgr. Hans Feichtinger over at First Thingsthe German bishops have announced that they will soon publish new guidelines for reception of the Holy Eucharist. In the future, non-Catholics married to Catholic spouses and attending Mass with their families could, in certain cases, be admitted to communion if they profess the Catholic faith in that sacrament. By this the Roman Catholics (at least some of the ones in Germany) are doing two things that have become super problematic for us in the Missouri Synod[NB] They have individualized belief AND made belief in the Real Presence the prerequisite for receiving the Sacrament.  Both of these have made close(d) communion one giant hassle for those in the LCMS and now the German Roman Catholic bishops seem intent upon following the same playbook.

The problem with this is that the faith is not one person wide and one person deep.  It is the faith that transcends the ages, confessed in time in creed, and defined by doctrine held in common.  Our faith is not a “me’n’Jesus” faith but a communion of saints, transcended in time and expanded in space.  The marks of the Church are not individual piety but the Means of Grace.  Where the Word and Sacraments are, the Church is there and the Church exists where the Means of Grace are.  Through the waters of baptism, one becomes joined to the many because they are united with Christ (and through Christ to all who share this new birth of water and the Word).  Sure, there are irregular situations in which one may rightly believe, having heard the Word in which the Spirit is at work, but not yet be baptized AND there may be those who are baptized who have refused the Spirit and do not believe, but these are not normative.  And the baptized, who join in common confession of what it is that they believe, confess, and teach, are gathered also around the Table of the Lord.

[Watch this…] The other problem with this is that the Catholic faith in the Sacrament (the Real Presence and ???) cannot be isolated out of the whole of what is believed, confessed, and taught in such manner that those who do so, despite other differences, are united enough, at least, to eat together the flesh and blood of Christ.  The bishops are not promoting irresponsible inter-communion. [I don’t know about that!]  No, they certainly would suggest that pastors (stewards of the mysteries) should make a reasonable effort to discern in each individual case whether their admission as a non-Catholic to communion would be permissible.  According to these bishops, those who would desire to receive Holy Communion must profess the Catholic faith in the Eucharist. How odd, however, since that Catholic profession, at least until now, pretty much said that no non-Catholic may receive communion in a Roman Catholic Church.  In order for them to receive Holy Communion as a non-Catholic, it would be required that they at least belong to a church in which all sacraments are considered such and valid (the list is not long here), and that one must be in the state of grace, which in normal parlance means going to confession once in a while (sooner rather than better [sic… later?] is also better).  [The Catholic Faith is entirely interconnected.  Pull on one thread and you loosen the entire thing.]

Ahhhh, the problems of trying to be ecumenical!  No one wants to be an inhospitable host — not even to people who disagree with your faith and may, in other circumstances, wish a pox upon your house.   So most churches have given up.  Faith is one person wide and one person deep.  As long as you believe Jesus is somewhere in the room, it is enough to chomp down with us.  It is so terrible mundane.  It makes Jesus and His meal so ordinary.  It makes it seem as if it is no big deal — not what you believe nor what you eat!!!  It is just appearances.  And if it is just that, then why bother — to hell with it (one of my favorite Flannery O’Connor quotes). [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] If welcoming those who do not share the faith or who have not been examined and absolved and can receive rightly the gift is preferred over being true to what the Sacrament is, then O’Connor is correct.  To hell with it.  But that is what the German Roman Catholic bishops and some within the LCMS (one of the few remaining non-Roman churches to retain a semblance of close(d) communion seem to want to make it — nothing all that important at all.

If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.

Fr. Z kudos to this Lutheran pastor.  If we ever meet, friend, I’ll buy you a beer.

When I see what is going on with Communion in some places and circles these days, I wonder if the people – at least the bishops and priests – there belong to the same Church and religion that I do.

In so many places Communion has been reduced to a sign that you are okay just as you are.  It’s the moment when they put the white thing in your hand and you feel good about yourself and then you sing a song together.

It’s liquid church for liquid society.

I say, “NO!”  Furthermore, I say:

I firmly embrace and accept each and every definition that has been set forth and declared by the unerring teaching authority of the Church, especially those principal truths which are directly opposed to the errors of this day.

And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:90), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated:

Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time.

Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time.

Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely.

Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our Creator and Lord.

Furthermore, with due reverence, I submit and adhere with my whole heart to the condemnations, declarations, and all the prescripts contained in the encyclical Pascendi and in the decree Lamentabili, especially those concerning what is known as the history of dogmas. I also reject the error of those who say that the faith held by the Church can contradict history, and that Catholic dogmas, in the sense in which they are now understood, are irreconcilable with a more realistic view of the origins of the Christian religion. I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality—that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful. Likewise, I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misrepresentations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm.

Furthermore, I reject the opinion of those who hold that a professor lecturing or writing on a historico-theological subject should first put aside any preconceived opinion about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine promise of help to preserve all revealed truth forever; and that they should then interpret the writings of each of the Fathers solely by scientific principles, excluding all sacred authority, and with the same liberty of judgment that is common in the investigation of all ordinary historical documents.

Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact—one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history—the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.

I promise that I shall keep all these articles faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard them inviolate, in no way deviating from them in teaching or in any way in word or in writing. Thus I promise, this I swear, so help me God. . .

Thank you, dear readers, for your kind attention in this matter of great importance.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Carrie says:

    Yes, it’s clear that faith is a very intellectual matter for you and many readers here. [?!? Are you psychic?] I was exhausted after reading this, and not much inspired. (Sorry—not a criticism, but a reflection on human differences.) For me, faith is slightly less complicated. God reaches us through our hearts as well as our heads. Both/and. Faith involves paying attention to not only Tradition, but Scripture, also. And— getting out there and putting faith into action. Bring the “fragrance of Christ” in the world; living with “hearts on fire,” like Jesus’ Emmaus companions. Following Micah’s wisdom: “What does the Lord ask of me? Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with my God.” 6:8 [? More on this, below.]

    Head AND heart.

    I feel deeply grateful to be Catholic, and to have vast resources, including this blog, that help me along my spiritual path.

    Easter blessings to all!

    [You appear to have made a some assumptions in that comment about a lot of people about whom you know very little. I’ve written with some frequency of the connection of the intellective and the affective, and I’ve even included the occasional personal anecdote about the way that I entered the Church with my own intellective and affective experiences. To help you get the connection between the intellective and the affective, you might try reading THIS, which deals with the head and the heart. Maybe it will help. And if you think you need to admonish us to pay attention to SCRIPTURE… okay… I’ll play along. I’ve read a little Scripture in my time. I did my Hebrew. I taught New Testament Greek. I’ve read my Latin now for nearly 40 years. I don’t know what version of Scripture you are using, but your use of that magnificent verse from Micah, one of my favorites, is a bit off, to the point that it could be misleading. Micah 6:8 reads “love mercy” not “love tenderly”. “Tenderly” is an adverb, while “mercy” is an object. The Hebrew has “וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד…’ahabah checed… love mercy”. Another way of transliterating that is “hesed”. The LXX Greek reads “ἀγαπᾶν ἔλεον”… agapan eleov… love mercy”. Nearly all the English versions of Scripture I saw in a rapid review of parallels say “love mercy”, though ESV and ASB (not favorites) have “love kindness”, which is not out of bounds for checed/hesed. One possible way to render this, in light of the extremely complex checed/hesed could be “love tenderness”, though that pushes it. There are a couple of outliers but none with an adverb. Be on guard against an anti-intellectual attitude. If that becomes habitual, the results are dire. Chesed/Hesed, with all it’s overtones, also envelops a concept of what we Latins mean by “pietas… piety”. It concerns also loyalty and reliability. It is also concrete, rather than dreamy. Checed is what we do, not how we feel.  It isn’t a benign mood (cf “tenderly”)  It characterizes something of who God is to us reflected in what we do for others. Out of love, God (who is faithful to His promises O! v’rav checed!… v’emet!) provides gratuitously what we lack, which is the very core of mercy. I wrote about the virtue of mercy the other day, citing the highly affective and also intellectual St Thomas Aquinas in his Second Part of the Second Part of his Summary of Theology. Yes. We Catholics think about everything having to do with the Faith. Why? Because we love all of it.  Back to checed/hesed.  Checed  also makes us think of the lavish nature of God’s loving kindness (another way of translating this deep word) or mercy. Chesed/hesed is the root of the term hasid or, plural hasidim, who are known for “going above and beyond”, as it were. Beyond what? Beyond the minimum “call of duty”. There’s that “loyalty” component again. This has been a little bit of checed for you today, a work, which we Catholics have – out of love – traditionally systematized in the intellectualized list of Spiritual Works of Mercy.]

  2. Ave Maria says:

    In my pro-life work, I have met with a couple of Lutheran pastors. Some, of course, would not speak with me as they are pro-abortion. Of the pastors I met with, they would not pray with anyone outside ‘their communion’. Some, like the Wisconsin synod, are internally pro-life but not only do they not like other Lutherans, they will not join with any other Christians in prayer either. And then, there are the Lutherans that are totally bought into all the present intrinsic evils. So when some of the ‘powers that be’ in the Vatican celebrate Lutheranism, you have to wonder which sort of them they are referring to. Obviously there is no consensus among them just to begin with.

  3. Barnacle says:

    Dear Fr. Z,

    Your declaration is stupendous. I will read it and re-read it – it is like balm to a fevered brow – just, well, excellent. Every word rings out like the pealing of bells, clear, true, and clamorous! Thank you. I will continue sticking to the Ship you are on…

  4. Barnacle says: Your declaration is stupendous.

    Thank St. Pius X! That’s the famous Oath Against Modernism.

  5. Carrie says:

    Yes, yes— “love mercy” or “love kindness” are correct. “Love tenderly” is from my memory, or what I’ve internalized— maybe from some translation I used in my youth, but I couldn’t tell you which one. All three are beautiful.

    Hesed is dear to my heart— thank you for addressing it.

  6. Sseprn says:

    Thank you Father for sharing this Oath with us. Twelve years of Catholic education ( including the early years, when I served Mass in Latin), and I had never been asked to read these inspiring paragraphs . Written in 1910 and so applicable today.

  7. TonyO says:

    Yes, it’s clear that faith is a very intellectual matter for you and many readers here.

    Pope St. Pius X’s oath and profession isn’t an instance of “intellectualism” at all. It is the expression of simple, strong faith, stated clearly. Simple faith, that simply accepts as true what the Gospels said, and what the Apostles taught. Strong faith, that rejects attempts to revise, reduce, and reformulate the Gospels and what the Apostles taught into some other belief. It is the same faith as that of the martyrs who would cling to the simple truths they knew rather than rationalize their way to bowing before idols while triangulating and trying to remain Christian. It is just that same faith, stated clearly, with the ramifications of having true faith laid out explicitly. Everyone whose Catholic faith is alive believes the same, either explicitly or implicitly.

  8. Grant M says:

    Years ago, while I was still an Anglican, I was reading the autobiography of Terry Waite, the Anglican envoy. Once when he was in Africa he was along distance from any Anglican church, but close to a Catholic church, where he sometimes attended Mass. A nun there urged him to present himself for communion,but when he went forward, the priest passed him by. The nun was furious, but the priest pointed out that he was simply following Canon Law. Waite concluded that the priest was justified: “I was facing reality. Our churches were divided. I decided that I would not put myself or a priest in that situation again.” (Disclaimer: the quote is from memory, I do not have the book to hand. But like that Italian journalist, I’m pretty sure that that is what the guy said).

  9. Antonin says:

    St. Pope John Paul II ‘s docotoral and intellectual life was heavily influenced by phenomenology – scholasticism is not the only game in town in the Catholic Church – and never was. There has always been the Alexandrian and Antiochan divide in the church or the age old Athens/Jerusalem divide

  10. Grant M says:

    Micah 6:8 first came to my attention when Carter quoted the verse at his inauguration. TIME magazine reprinted the verse together with an engraving of the prophet. It made quite an impression on my teenage agnostic mind.

    I went back to my Hebrew Bible and dictionary yesterday to study the verse again:

    Higgid leka, adam, mah-tov, u mah ADONAI doresh mimmeka, ki im asot mishpat, ve ahavat khesed, ve hatznea’ leket ‘im Eloheika.

    He has shown you what is good, O Man, and what does the LORD require of you, but to do mishpat, and to love khesed, and to walk humbly with your God.

    Mishpat is, according to my dictionary, judgement, sentence, law, rule, what is right, one’s due. Khesed relates to numerous terms in English: love, kindness, benevolence, good-will, favour, benefit, grace, mercy, piety and beauty. It seems to cover the treatment we hope to receive from others, over and above the claims of Justice and duty.

    Mishpat reminds me of stern old Cato guarding the base of Mt Purgatory. Khesed reminds me of charming young Matilda, in the garden at the top of the mountain. Clearly the two virtues go together, just as you can’t have the mountain peak without the base.

    The ten translations of khesed seem like the list of desirable qualities that a young man might make when looking for a potential fiancee. That makes sense, if you think of the image of the Bridegroom and the Bride which runs through the Scriptures.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

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  12. Mojoron says:

    My wife’s family (she came into the Church) are all Lutherans, and from time to time, I have to attend a illicit (c)onfirmation with (c)ommunion, and when it comes to (c)ommunion, right before handing out the wafers and grape juice, the pastor say’s, “This is really the body of Christ.” I often wonder if he say’s that because he knows me and knows I’m Catholic? I tell my wife after the “event” that Lutheran’s believe that Christ miraculously comes down from heaven and places himself into those wafers and grape juice. No ceremony, no consecration, just, “This is really the body of Christ.” She laughs and said, “Now I understand the importance of the Mass.”

  13. Imrahil says:

    Speaking of the German bishops,

    I can’t help to find it somewhat under-mentioned that 1 of the 2 German diocesan-bishop Cardinals, 5 of the 7 (if you count Speyer 8) Bavarian diocesan bishops, and one other diocesan bishop actually did take the (I guess psychologically very big) step and appealed to Rome against the Conference’s majority decision. And their letter went to the CDF, no less, and (according to the reports) they did actually write that the majority decision was against Catholic doctrine and the unity of the Church.

  14. dallenl says:

    Excellent. On a side note , it kind of reminds me of the adulation given to Billy Graham on his passing. He emphasized a “decision for Christ” but let denominational differences and beliefs pass. A well meaning person, no doubt, but an amalgamation of differences is not really possible and the attempt quite useless.

  15. jellysquare says:

    If one is not Catholic and does not believe everything the Catholic Church teaches then it is hypocritical to receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ since they are NOT IN TOTAL COMMUNION and agreement with the Catholic Church. This applies to “cafeteria” Catholics as well. If they DO believe everything the Catholic Church teaches, then they should BECOME Catholic and then they can receive the Eucharist without further discussion.

  16. aiello01 says:

    The Eucharist is not a substitute for a healthy dose of me’Jesus.

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