Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Who Communicates the Celebrant?

The current issue of The Lutheran Witness gives us the occasion for our poll this week. The Q&A section is from the pen of Dr. Jerald C. Joersz and seeks to answer this query: "...we and other members of our congregation are offended by a practice recently introduced by our pastor. During the Communion, he communes himself. Is this proper?"

From his answer, it is clear that Dr. Joersz is not really a fan of the traditional practice of the Celebrant communicating all the communicants, including himself. I am gratified that he at least notes that this practice is "permissible." However, this is clearly damning with faint praise: according to Dr. Joersz, asking a lay person to communicate the Celebrant is the "preferred option."

Now, what Dr. Joersz means to say is any one of the following: 1) that he prefers this practice; 2) that he thinks the traditional practice is flawed; 3) that this is what the majority of LCMS parishes see on Sunday morning.

But surely, he must know that this deputizing of the laity to perform the Celebrant's duty is not the objectively preferred option since he himself quotes the current convention-approved rubric instructing the exact opposite practice!

Should Doctor Joersz or anyone else wish to argue against the practice of the Celebrant communicating himself, I welcome that debate. But clarity and objectivity are required for a helpful debate. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod's official rubrics state: The pastor and those who assist him receive the body and blood of Christ first, the presiding minister communing himself and his assistants. I think any fair minded person would have to say that the official rubrics of LSB make this practice "preferred" for the LCMS.

For a host of reasons, I would argue that this traditional practice would be the preferred option even if the LCMS said it wasn't. But, dear reader, I would at the very least try to make clear to you that I was arguing against the LCMS' official position. Indeed, if you wish to send a check for $20 for the support of the journal and an SASE, I will send you the Annotated List of My Disagreements, Great and Small, with the Official Line of the LCMS (please put ALMDGSOLLCMS in the memo line).

But here is why I am most frustrated with this piece. The Rev. Dr. Joersz fumbled a gold-plated chance to Be a Classy Guy (BACG) and Help a Brother Out (HABO). Here's how he could have handled this question, keeping intact all his own scruples on the issue at hand.

The transition to a new pastor can at times be confusing for both pastor and parishioners! I hope you take this as an opportunity to discuss this issue with your new pastor - because, I bet he would be very surprised at your offense. In fact, he is only doing what the instructions in the Synod's hymnal say. . . .

That being said, I for one, prefer a different practice and like to ask a layman to commune me for these reasons. . .

But the point is, both options are good, right, and salutary - I pray that your pastor's ministry will be a blessing to you and that you will be a blessing as a parishioner to him.

More often than you might think we pastors get questions about a neighbor's practice. For example, I might get a question about a guy in my circuit who uses an Entrance Hymn instead of the Introit per the rubrics in LSB. I think this is absolutely daffy: the Introit is really important, it summarizes the theme of the day, and it's, like, you know: THE BIBLE. Why would LSB encourage tossing out a proper for a hymn? And why on earth would any pastor make use of this allowance?

But here's what I would say to that lay person miffed at his pastor: If you look in your hymnal, you'll see that the pastor can either include the Introit, Psalm, or an Entrance Hymn at this point in the service. I would encourage you to talk to your pastor about why he decided to use a hymn instead of the Introit.

A good rule of thumb: if you won't take the time to speak to a brother pastor about your gripe with his practice, you don't get to gripe about his practice to his parishioners when they come itching for ammunition against him. This is especially so if what the pastor is doing is in no way sinful, but simply not what you would do in a similar situation.

Pr. H. R.28 Comments