25 May 2009

The Office of the Keys, the Rites of Preparation, and Pastoral Care

In contrast to the preaching of the Gospel, which is scattered to the four corners of the world without distinction because the world has been reconciled to God in Christ — and in contrast to the Christian forgiveness of those who trespass against us, which is freely given for Jesus' sake, no strings attached — the Office of the Keys is "that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent." Accordingly, the called ministers of Christ absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, but retain the sins of those who persist in their sins and refuse to repent. These are matters of personal pastoral care for individuals, not a public declaration of that which is universally true in Christ.

Which is why the rites of preparation (the so-called "Confession and Absolution" at the beginning of the Divine Service, as in all five LSB "settings") are not a substitute for Individual Confession and Absolution, such as our Lutheran Confessions everywhere extol. It is also why the history of those rites of preparation has been a bit chequered. So do we find numerous historic examples of conditional absolutions, which are ultimately worse than nothing and are no absolution at all; because the proud sinner will presume upon the absolution, despite the caveat, while the humbled and remorseful penitent will be driven back to his or her own resolve by the condition.

The Missouri Synod hasn't had conditional absolutions, thankfully, but we have gone to the opposite extreme, following the "Absolvo Te" tradition of the Saxon agendas; or so I am given to understand the trajectory. Thus, the public rites of preparation with their general confession are met with the strong indicative-active form of the Absolution from the rite of Individual Confession: "I forgive you all your sins in the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This is very clear and forthright Gospel, Christ be praised. But here there is at least a potential confusion of the Office of the Keys with the preaching of the Gospel to the world; because there is no discernment or distinction between repentant and unrepentant sinners.

Historically, in the rites of preparation, Lutherans tended to prefer the so-called "Declaration of Grace," such as one finds in the p. 5 "Service without Communion" in TLH, and now as an optional response to the general confession in LW and LSB. This form is a simple and succinct proclamation of the Gospel, that God has given His Son to die for us, and for His sake forgives us all our sins. It holds forth the universal promise of that Gospel, as it is openly preached to all creation: "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved." It typically concludes with a prayer or petition that God would grant such faith and forgiveness to all. But it does not presume to exercise the official "Loosing Key" indiscrimantly. It does not pretend to be the pastoral care of Individual Confession and Absolution, but is rather the more general pastoral care of preaching.

In a relatively small congregation like Emmaus, the use of the "Absolve Te" form in the rites of preparation usually gives me no qualms of conscience; because I know the people well, whom I am absolving. When we have visitors on any given Sunday, I almost always have some opportunity to chat with them, even if only briefly, prior to the Divine Service. In a much larger congregation, especially one with frequent and numerous visitors, I'm not at all sure how this would work with much integrity. Leastwise not as an exercise of the Office of the Keys in the way that our Lutheran Small Catechism teaches and explains it.

Several weeks ago, this was brought to my awareness and consideration when we had a large number of visitors at Emmaus. Many of the students of our local Lutheran school were there with their families to sing with and for our congregation. It was lovely to have them join us, but it meant there were dozens of people I didn't know gathered together with the members of my own flock. I don't hold that against them, nor do I have the slightest hesitation in preaching the Law and the Gospel to any such group, whether or not I know anybody in the crowd. But is it really right and appropriate for me, "as a called and ordained servant of Christ," to absolve an entire group of people, all at once, many of whom I do not know and will not have any opportunity to know in any context of personal pastoral care?

My normal practice at Emmaus is to use the strong indicative-active "Absolvo Te" response to the general confession during the festival seasons of Christmas-Epiphany and Eastertide, and the so-called "Declaration of Grace" during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. I also alternate between these two forms through the post-Pentecost tides, preferring the "Declaration of Grace" during August-September and November. According to this pattern and practice, I did go ahead and use the "Absolvo Te" on that recent Sunday of Easter when we had our many visitors, but, as I say, it did raise the question in my mind as to whether that form was appropriate under the circumstances.

I have had similar concerns, and have wondered the same thing, when I have served as the officiant at large gatherings of people from numerous congregations. Where I have been given the option, I have generally preferred to use the "Declaration of Grace" on such occasions; not because I doubt or question anyone's repentance, but because I simply have no way of exercising the pastoral care that ought to go hand-in-hand with the Office of the Keys.

So now I am wondering if any of my fellow Blackbirds, or any of our astute readers, have any further thoughts, comments or suggestions on this question and concern of mine. Thanks.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

There are times I think we can put too fine a point on things - think things through too deeply, as it were, and work ourselves into a corner and provide a burden upon ourselves as Pastors. I think you might be approaching one here.

I'm not going to say that the "Absolvo Te" is conditional, but the first words are important. "Upon this, your confession." The Absolution is given in response to confession - so the sinner who has confessed will receive comfort, and the one who has not bothered or blown through that confession is reminded of his need to confess.

Moreover, the distinction you make between the personal, private exercise of the Office of the Keys and what happens in the worship service is apt -- there is general absolution all over the place that is direct - Luther referred to the Pax Domini as an absolution (so anyone who hears the Pax has been absolved prior to communion! - that's from the LW).

The worry of misrightly pronouncing absolution places too much of a burden upon the pastor. If there are hypocrites or unbelievers, so be it. If someone lies to you during private confession, God forbid that it happens, but so be it. Rather, give due diligence to your worship duties and your individual pastoral care, and be content with that.

The service is general and public - let it be general and public (even as it is direct and blunt) - and don't worry about the fact that it isn't as precise as individual dealings. The the two poles happen as they will.

(I like the Absolvo Te, if you can't tell)

William Weedon said...

Whenever we use the declaration of grace, our members complain: "Why didn't you absolve us this morning?" Korby talked about how his wife helped him come to appreciate what the absolvo te means to our laity. I agree with Eric, this should not be taken from them, even if it is not the best practice. It is something that so many of them treasure and eagerly wait to hear and believe.

If I had had my druthers, I'd have used the Confession and Absolution from Compline in the Divine Service, along the lines of our Roman brothers and sisters. I believe that this is the practice of Zion, Detroit and also, for much of the year, of my dear friend and neighbor, Heath Curtis. I refrain from it mostly out of a sense that I can't ask others to abide by the liturgy of our hymnal if I myself don't follow it.

Susan said...

Rick, as Weedon said, I do love to hear those firm and clear words, "I forgive you all your sins." Even if I just heard it in the confessional 30 minutes earlier, it is still lovely to hear again in the Service.

And yet, there is something very important to me about the pastor being totally for-real about what he is saying. Have I told you about my take on one of the side benefits of closed communion? If the pastor is not practicing closed communion, then how do I know for sure that His body and blood is given into my mouth for my good and not my harm? If the pastor communes whoever walks up there, then how can this food be a sure and certain sign to me? But if Pastor is diligent about practicing closed communion, then I know he will feed Jesus only to those who are "truly worthy and well prepared" and that he has reckoned me worthy even though I know the filth of my heart. And there is great comfort in that.

Likewise, if you are hung up on absolving only those who should be absolved (and sometimes using the Declaration of Grace when you don't know the people so intimately), then that gives me something solid and sure that I can hang onto when I hear you say "I forgive you." It would mean that you really do mean the forgiveness is for ME.

chaplain7904 said...

You write: his or her own resolve by the condition. I respond: The "universal" is "he/his", not "his or her." I don't think the church should be gender sensitive.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Perhaps I've not articulated my concern as carefully and clearly as I was hoping.

I'm not so worried about a lack of sincerity on the part of the people, as I am about a lack of integrity in my exercise of the Office.

I have no problem with very clear and forthright "absolutions" in the Divine Service, both in the preaching and in the Liturgy.

However, the "Absolvo Te" comes from the rite and practice of Individual Confession and Absolution. It is clearly intended as an exercise of the Office of the Keys. But it happens outside of pastoral care and examination of the penitents.

Normally, as I have indicated, I am not terribly bothered by this, because I am examining and caring for my own members as their pastor. I know them and talk to them regularly; there's a whole context of ongoing pastoral care in which I absolve them.

It seems reckless to me to use the official Loosing Key with people I don't even know and will likely not ever be a pastor to. Reckless, not in the way the Sower sows the Seed everywhere, but in the way we shouldn't throw pearls before swine.

It further frustates me, more in general, that using the "Absolvo Te" form in the rites of preparation has contributed to the neglect of Individual Confession and Absolution. While I appreciate the place and purpose of the rites of preparation, they are not the equivalent of, nor a substitute for, the practice of Individual Confession and Absolution.

For the sake of clarification, I am not weighed down with a burdened conscience over this, although it does concern me. I am raising the point for discussion, because such things ought to be considered and discussed by those entrusted with the stewardship of the mysteries of God, rather than simply done out of momentum from one generation to the next.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Chaplain, I agree that the masculine pronoun is universal in its scope. I do occasionally make a point of using both the masculine and feminine pronouns, however, because of the way that people now (including my members) hear and perceive lanugage. But thanks for your observation.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

I have evolved much on this matter and I expect I will continue.

My current practice - after having taught nearly an entire year on the Liturgy - is to frequently begin the Service at the Introit, thus omitting entirely the rite of preparation.

I learned from Korby that the sermon itself needs to be a kind of preaching of the Absolution, and my people often hear Christ speak the words "I forgive you" from the pulpit. No worries there.

They also know that the Sacrament itself is an Absolution, individually given.

Finally, they also know that anyone who longs to hear the Absolvo Te is NEVER denied. He may hear it from me at the drop of a hat, or a knee, as the case may be. I hear Confession any time.

I make sure that at least a couple times a month the service DOES include the Preparation. When it does, we hear both the Absolvo Te form as well as the Declaration of Grace - on alternating Sundays, of course - not in the same service! I refer to both as Absolution. One is less punctilliar, perhaps, than the other, and neither is specifically that which our Confessions urge us to retain and not lose.

With Weedon, I would have gone with the Compline form, and have explained that if such is rightly an Absolution, then so is the Declaration of Grace.

And if anyone - I mean ANYONE - at ANY time - ANY day of the week - for ANY reason - wants me to say, specifically and individually to them, "I forgive YOU (singular) all your sins," I will do that in a heartbeat.

No one is denied. I believe we have to begin teaching the folks that as well.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

The initial comments are already helpful to me in my thinking.

The clear and forthright absolutions that are given in the preaching and the Liturgy are all given within the context of the entire preaching of the Law and the Gospel. That is what good preaching always is, and that is why preaching is a necessary part of the Divine Liturgy.

The rites of prepration, however, by their very place and purpose in relation to the Divine Service, are prior to and apart from that context of preaching. They are the window by which people enter into the presence of God.

BUT - if I am not mistaken; and here I am hoping that my colleague, Pastor Weedon, will help me out with his encyclopedic knowledge of such things - the same Saxon tradition from which we have inherited the use of the "Absolvo Te" in the "rites of preparation," actually located the "confession and absolution" in the Divine Service after the preaching. In that place, it would be exercised as an extension of the preaching, and within that context of the Law and the Gospel, as part of that pastoral care and "public examination," if one may bear with my terminology here.

Pastor Weedon, are you following my line of reasoning here? Can you help me out with data and insight?

It seems to me that we inherited a form of the Absolution from one ordo (that of the Saxon Agenda), and then inserted that form into a different ordo (that of the "Common Service"), where the form now actually functions in a new way: which may or may not be appropriate, in my opinion.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Pastor Sawyer, I think that I am with you on most everything you say, with two possible exceptions:

Are you suggesting that there is never to be any exercise of the "binding key"? I doubt that is what you mean, but I got lost in your train of thought at some point along the way.

Also, I understand that there is only the one forgiveness of sins, or absolution, of the Cross of Christ; which freely and fully forgives all sins. But here we are speaking of the rites of the Church and of pastoral practice, and those rites do have different forms and functions. So I'm not sure I follow, or I'm not inclined to agree, with your assertion that there is no difference in these various rites.

At Emmaus, we omit the rites of preparation on festival days, when we enter with a processional hymn and the Introit immediately after. My reasoning is much the same as yours, Pastor Sawyer; not only with respect to the clarity of the "absolution" freely given in the preaching, but also in the sense that the festivals of Christ in their entirety are a loud and clear proclamation of Absolution.

Anyway, thanks for your comments.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

There are two ideas brought forth - recklessness and neglect of private confession and absolution.

As to recklessness, yes, it is part of the preparatory service, and we can make a distinction between the service of Confession and Absolution and the service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament. . . it's all combined into one service. It is not meant to function like private confession and absolution - but it is meant to function along the likes of the rest of the proclamatory nature of the liturgy.

Perhaps it isn't properly an "Absolvo te" but an "Absolvo Vos" - anyone seen the latin for the phrase being used this way?

Second, I'm not sure if historically this is a cause of people avoiding private confession and absolution. I don't think the move was "Well, since we have it on Sunday now, we can avoid private confession." Now, while some might use it an an excuse to avoid now - the corporate serves as an excuse, not a cause.

Also, I would strongly recommend against trying to lessen the presence of one absolution to bolster the use of another absolution. That strikes too close to the Pietistical approach of not offering the Supper as often so that people want it more. If we cut of one absolution so people will desire another. . . that's dicey to me.

Yes, we aren't to cast pearls before swine, but that means if we obviously and directly know that one is swine. . . and even if you have one who is under the ban come to the service, I still don't think that counts as being reckless.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Are you suggesting that there is never to be any exercise of the "binding key"? I doubt that is what you mean, but I got lost in your train of thought at some point along the way.Egads! Sorry to have let the train derail at THAT point, brother.

By no means did I intend to deny the exercise of the binding key. I'm not sure where I left that impression, but let me clarify that I do exercise that key. In keeping with this discussion, I never exercise it generally but individually. I prefer to exercise the loosing key in the same way.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Also, I understand that there is only the one forgiveness of sins, or absolution, of the Cross of Christ; which freely and fully forgives all sins. But here we are speaking of the rites of the Church and of pastoral practice, and those rites do have different forms and functions. So I'm not sure I follow, or I'm not inclined to agree, with your assertion that there is no difference in these various rites.Sorry to raise confusion in my post, but thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

I wholeheartedly agree with the differences in these various rites. That is one reason I prefer to keep the Ego Absolvo Te in the individual context and prefer the Compline form of Absolution in corporate contexts. It's also why I'm happy to use the Declaration of Grace in the Preparation, since a corporate setting is its proprium. I'd rather think it strange to use the Declaration of Grace in the individual context! We only get away with transferring the Ego Absolvo Te to the corporate because English lets us!

My point in speaking of each as a kind of Absolution was not intended to deny real differences in the rites. Instead, it is the way I often reassure people who think they have NOT heard the forgiveness of sins simply because they have not heard me say, "I forgive you all your sins, etc."

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Also, I would strongly recommend against trying to lessen the presence of one absolution to bolster the use of another absolution. That strikes too close to the Pietistical approach of not offering the Supper as often so that people want it more. If we cut of one absolution so people will desire another. . . that's dicey to me.I agree with you. I'm not sure if my post occasioned the comment, but let me assure you that I don't withhold the corporate Absolution in order to encourage the use of Private Confession. Rather, I often begin at the Introit because that is a fine and historically defensible place to start the service, and we CAN omit preparatory rites at festival occasions - as I do at Easter and its season - having gone through the rigors of Lent and Holy Week.

No, what I meant to say is not that we should withhold corporate Absolution in order to encourage the use of Private, but that no one is EVER denied the Absolution simply because the service does not begin with the Preparatory rite some mornings.

I mean, just ask me . . . "Dear pastor, hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God's will"!

With others, I have also come to understand how much people desire to hear "I forgive you all your sins," which apparently Korby learned from his wife. I learned it from some ladies in my congregation years ago. I also learned that they somehow thought I had removed it from them, simply because on an Easter morning we started with the Entrance Hymn followed by the Kyrie.

Not so! Never! No way!

My preaching makes sure they hear the forgiveness of sins, and the Supper makes sure they eat and drink it. And if ANYONE wants this pastor to Absolve him (or her), I will certainly hear confession and do just that.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

It's funny that you wrote that--I have recently had similar thoughts and posted them on my blog (http://lutheranpastor.wordpress.com) I'm with Rick on this one.

WM Cwirla said...

Good topic.

The history of confession and absolution is indeed a checkered one, whether we are speaking of the individual or corporate form. Our Confessions remind us that we are dealing with a custom that is derivative of the Keys, that is, a customary usage of the Key's authority, not a divinely mandated form.

Though something of a liturgical "innovation," the general, corporate absolution has a place and purpose in highlighting both the universality of God's grace in Christ as well as its non-transactional, unconditional character. Personal confession and absolution underscores the "for you" specificity of forgiveness and applies it to specific sins.

Pr. H. R. said...

We talked about this in 2008 in Gottesdienst.

I think of it like this: if you don't know, as far as any man can know, that you should not be saying "I bind your sins" then you don't know if you should be saying "I forgive your sins." To do so cheapens the currency. That is, it seems to me that the best pastoral practice is not to use those direct declarations unless there is a pastoral knowledge of the penitent's repentant heart.

That can't happen in a modern public worship service where we encourage visitors.

To put it another way: It's Absolvo TE and not VOS for a reason.

So my practice is never to use the "absolvo te" form in public worship, directed at a crowd. LSB did us a great service by giving a declaration of grace option in DS 1 and 3.

Indeed, this was a return to normal. It was TLH in 1941 that introduced having only the indicative-operative statement in the fore Mass. The Common Service, for example, as it appears in the 1927 LCMS Liturgy, only carries the declaration of grace.

And yes, as Weedon points out I use the Confiteor on non-Penitential days. And as he points out, that's a pretty strong use of the "local customs" right mentioned in FC X. I think I should, indeed, back away from that. I think it's a better practice than any of the options in LSB - but they just didn't use the Confiteor as a Divine Service option. I don't like it, but I should probably abide by it.

But I don't think it would be out of order to bring over one of the DS 1 declaration of grace options over to DS 3. Maybe I'll work in that direction in replacing the Confiteor. . .

But one can avoid my overstepping-mistake and still avoid the indicative-operative statement to a crowd problem by sticking with the "page 5" option in LSB DS 3 from the get go. Wish I had. . .


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for your very helpful clarifications, Pastor Sawyer. You answered all of my questions beautifully. Now I can say, without qualification, I'm with you in all that you have said.

Thanks to the other brothers, also, who have responded with various comments. I'll get back to those with further thoughts as my time permits. I appreciate this good feedback.

Mike Baker said...

Pastors. I have questions:

Luther's instruction in the Small Catechism for private absoultion allows (though one could scarcely see how) for a confession without any specific enumeration of sins.

If someone goes to you for private confession and follows the rite and delivers a generic confession and does not enumerate any specific sin (essentially what you get from a general confession in a private setting), would you absolve him?

How would that be different from the generic confession that comes from corporate/general confession?

Just some stuff I've always wondered. Thanks.

Mike Baker said...

One other point.

As a layman I would say that the only thing that I see as a really bad practice in general absolution is the fact that nearly every pastor I have seen does not give us sufficient time to reflect and confess our sins prior to the point where he starts "moving on" to the absolution. There is a pause of silence there, but it is usally never longer than a minute or so. I find myself racing to squeeze a few coherent thoughts into the alloted time.

If the goal is to encourage repentence among the congregation, might I suggest that giving us a little more time at least would help.

WM Cwirla said...

To Mike Baker's questions:

Yes, I would absolve that person. The rite of Individual Confession and Absolution does not require the confession of specific sins as a condition of pronouncing Absolution.

What then is the difference? In individual confession, the person is intentionally and clearly seeking forgiveness from the pastor, even on the basis of a general confession. "Pastor, please hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God's will." The occasional visitor in the corporate setting may or may not be seeking such forgiveness, and one really has no way of knowing.

Phil said...

"...For Schade [one of the early Pietists] this [great pressure and burden] was hearing confession... People in Berlin regarded confession as people everywhere regarded it after the Thirty Years' War. They retained private confession, the confessional, and private absolution. But the confessional examination, which belongs to the old way of the Lutheran Church, they had as good as dropped.

They undertook no doctrinal examination of the person confessing his sins. They made no inquiries into his life. They did not discuss the condition of his soul. They gave him no opportunity to confess particular sins or to seek counsel and comfort for special needs of his conscience (which, therefore, people no longer even thought of doing). They no longer gave him special instruction or admonition. In short, although penitents were still urged to come to confession, pastors did not discuss their sins with them, as the old agendas demanded. A penitent simply recited the formula of confession, and the pastor bestowed on him the formula of absolution. (Kliefoth, Die Beichte und Absolution)

But the pastors could have done no more. Completely contrary to the old agendas, according to which the celebration of the Lord's Supper should happen throughout the year, now certain times were fixed for Communion. Thus the number of penitents was too great for the pastors to be able to undertake a regular confessional examination with each one."

Heinrich Schmid, The History of Pietism, NPH, p. 178

Phil said...

Schmid continues:

"...About this time [Schade] completely did away with private confession; he gathered the penitents in the sacristy and admonished them there. Kneeling with them, he implored God, they spoke the confession, he showed them how they must become worthy of the Lord's Supper, and then he absolved them as a group. Obviously this procedure would only be of advantage to him if he regarded absolution differently than the Lutheran church. This arbitrary change of practice aroused great displeasure among the townspeople. They said that people would prefer to go to the Reformed for confession, and Spener was compelled to officially forbid Schade to hold confession in this way. But then Schade discontinued to hear confession at all. The townspeople complained to the government. They wanted him either to return to the old method of confession or to resign from the ministry."

Heinrich Schmid, The History of Pietism, NPH, p. 178. Emphasis mine.

William Weedon said...

Fr. Richard,

Sorry to take so long to get back to you. You are absolutely correct about the displacement that occurred. The form is essentially that of the Saxon (Herzog Heinrich, 1581) public absolution, but that was NOT a preparation rite and occurred immediately following the sermon itself. It also contained originally "who are heartily sorry for your sins and intend by the grace of God to amend your sinful lives" - at least that's what I recall without double checking.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Mr. Baker mentions the silence provided for in the rubrics. It's a point I'd like to add to this discussion, and I thank you for mentioning it.

I realize there are those who are critical of no time of silence prior to the corporate confession. For myself, it always seemed awkward. I mean, how long is long enough?

I never have to worry about that in the Confessional. I do not dictate when a person is finished with his self-examination, nor do I dictate when a person is finished with his confession. I am there to pronounce forgiveness, and I do not typically tell a person to cease and desist because it's time for me to have my say.

Now, admittedly, a person may get so waylayed by various things that a gentle reminder needs be interjected. Such as, "You are here to confess your sins and not another's." Of course, the pastor will have Scripture at his disposal in order to provide further counsel. But I do not run the timeline. The person asks me to hear his confession and pronounce forgiveness. When he has confessed, he will tell me that these are his sins, for which he is sorry, and he wants to do better.

I cannot possibly give enough time to accomodate everyone in the corporate setting to do that. We'd be standing there for at least ten minutes. I think I'd be safe with that, though maybe that is just when a person's self-examination gets started. Who knows?

I'd rather not dictate corporately any more than I do privately, and so I've opted not to make use of the silence at all. I put the best construction on my congregation and assume that they have spent sufficient time - of their own determination - in self-examination prior to the Service.

They are there to make a general confession and I am there to speak an absolution to the whole.

In private confession, folks show up already having self-examined and they are ready to confess. I don't give them unlimted time for silence but unlimited time for speaking what is of concern to them. Of course, they can generally confess their sins, as Cwirla has indicated, and I will absolve them.

Anyway, for me - the silence on Sunday is an un-ding. I don't know how to employ it without dictating for people what I don't believe is mine to dictate - corporately or privately.


Susan said...

Pr Sawyer, I don't like the silence for the practical reason that I never know how long it might last. So I end up thinking more about "how long is this going to go on? do I really have time for self-examination, or do we have only 4 more seconds of silence?"

On a more theological note, however, my pastor is always stressing that the focus in confession is not on what we say but on what we hear. The point is not so much the confession, but the absolution. So, personally, I'd rather have those minutes of silence in the Divine Service used for longer sermon or longer readings or an extra psalm or more hymn stanzas.

chaplain7904 said...

I would like to get a copy of the book by Schmid. Does anyone have one to loan or sell?

Heinrich Schmid, The History of Pietism


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

The "moment of silence" is another way in which the rites of preparation have tried to serve double-duty as a replacement for Individual Confession and Absolution. Susan has also caught the right critique, by pointing to the fact that our focus is to be on the Word of Absolution, not on the quality or quantity of our confession.

There is no point to this silence for examination in the context of the rites of preparation. Considering one's place in life according to the Ten Commandments should not be left to any amount of silence at that point. The Catechism teaches such self-examination for the sake of knowing what sins to confess before the pastor; not for the purpose of stirring up some emotion of sorrow or regret on the spur of the moment. We confess those sins, that is, we say them aloud, we say what is true concerning ourselves on the basis of what God has said to us, in order to request the Absolution from our pastor as from God Himself. This is a verbal exercise and exchange, not an internal monologue.

Pastor Brown, it's not as though the rites of preparation caused the demise of Individual Confession; and, no, I don't suggest that the rites of preparation should be despised as a strategy for encouraging Individual Confession and Absolution. But the rites of preparation, especially when they have taken on the trappings and forms of Individual Confession and Absolution, have made it that much easier for people to neglect the practice of Individual Confession and Absolution. People think they are protecting themselves from the shame and embarassment of confession; but really they are "protecting" themselves from the special comfort of the pastoral care and personal Absolution they would receive in the "private confessional."

Pastor Zip said...

If I may, brethren, perhaps we could add the paper Pr. Eugen Lehrke presented at last year's Society of the Holy Trinity General Retreat, The Office of the Keys and Confession and its Relationship to the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness.

Gene's subtitle is, "A reappraisal of the Lutheran pre-service order for the Mass toward a recovery of sacramental absolution." Granted he could use an editor, but his thesis is related to these posts:

"Corporate Confession and Forgiveness, although not a historic part of the ordo of the Mass, has after several centuries of use as a preparatory rite, come to be regarded by American Lutherans as an essential preparation for the Sunday liturgy. We need to consider the possibility that this post 16th century addition of another ordinary by which to lead the Sunday assembly to the Word of God is problematic in the celebration of the Gospel. Its use has eroded and supplanted the sacrament of Confession and Absolution, while it also presupposes the Mass, both the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist. It advances the presumption that the human act of a general confession of sins and sinfulness can secure God's forgiveness, making the Mass virtually irrelevant."Pr. Rod Ronneberg offered a response:

"The challenge for true Lutheran practice will always be: is the generalized confession a norm we wish to keep? Are we willing to open up an office whose doors have been closed for too many years – that is, the office of the keys? And how do we do this, biblically and confessionally?

"Scratching away at our theological veneer, we must admit that Confession & Forgiveness is not
the sacrament of the keys. Does Confession & Forgiveness misrepresent what we, as Pastors of the Church, have been clearly called to do when we took our ordination vows: forgive or retain sin? A pre-Service order for Confession with a loosely worded, at best conditional, Declaration of Forgiveness is, as Robert Jenson claims in his book, Visible Words, nothing more than 'pseudo-absolution.'"I'm certainly not prepared to ditch the (LBW) Brief Order with clear absolution (which I use weekly except during Lent, when I use the old SBH confession rite from The Service with declaration of grace). That would take some serious, and lengthy, catechesis -- after I've become convinced of a better way. But I know that some (perhaps all?) of you, like we in the STS, believe Lutherans should be on the road to restoring Individual Confession/Forgiveness as normative. Perhaps it is because of my experiences attending Roman Catholic Mass, but over the years I've grown more and more uncomfortable declaring unconditionally "the forgiveness of all your sins" over an entire congregation as our order has us doing.

I've only just discovered this blog today, but I'm impressed by the breadth of the topics and the participants, and the enterprise in which you all are engaged. Too bad we Lutheran pastors no longer do this sort of thing as a matter of course.

Pax et bonum, Steven+
= = = = = = = = = = = =
The Rev.. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)Peoria, Illinois USA

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

There is a stigma associated with Private Confession and Absolution - so I like to point out to people that whenever they speak to their pastor about sins that are bothering them (most likely how they are not handling a situation in a good Christian manner) they are de facto going to confession and absolution - just in a non-ritualized way.

I think the bigger thing that stands in the way of C and A is the idea of "Counsel" being separated and distinct from Confession and Absolution. "I can just go get some advice from the Pastor" - but advice in this world is always impacted by sin - and absolution is needed.

The assumption has become "I'm doing okay - but I'll get the pastor to brush me up a bit with advice" instead of "I am a miserable sinner who needs forgiveness and counsel."

Mike Baker said...

...one also cannot discount the unfamiliarity as a major cause of aprehension. It has fallen into disuse and so it is "new" for most American Lutherans. This is especially true for people like me who are converts from denomenations that frown on such things.

William Weedon said...

I'll advocate for the silence, folks. There's a line from the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete: "when I think of the many evil things I have done..." and it always seems to pop into my head. During that time of quiet waiting before the All Holy my own unholiness becomes apparent and then bursts into the words of the confession, and then God dresses me in the Holiness of my Savior in the Absolution - and I enter the wedding feast unashamed. A guest who though undeserving is both welcomed and loved. The silence gives me time for that. I think a great deal of our discomfort with the silence is a discomfort with the God who waits for us in it; and that's a salutary discomfort.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

On Vicarage at Palo Alto, Pastor Crown basically had me say the Lord's Prayer silently in my head before I would start the Confession (I led the confession, he did the Absolution). There was a time, it was short, and people knew roughly how long it would take.

Here I don't have much of a silence whatsoever - because that was the custom here. 10 seconds (most of which is me turning, getting settled in kneeling, and taking a good deep breath).

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I'm behind in responding to a number of helpful comments, and I'm sorry for that.

But a quick response to Pastor Weedon: Silence I don't mind; it can be salutary, and we shouldn't be so uncomfortable with it. Agreed.

What I disagree with is the notion that "self-examination" happens in that "moment of silence," and that the purpose of "self-examination" is an internal emotion of remorse. The examination taught by the Catechism aims specifically at the confession of sins to the pastor, for the sake of seeking the Word of Absolution. Trying to package that opportunity for pastoral care in a period of silence, whether short or long, is missing the point.

Also, thank you for the clarification, Pastor Weedon, on the locus of the confession in the Saxon tradition. That's very interesting, and helpful. I'm going to make a guess that it lies behind our LCMS use of Psalm 51 as the "Offertory" Psalm in TLH.

More later, as my time permits.