Sunday, May 25, 2008

Roundtable 34: The Smalcald Articles: Article II: The Mass

"The Mass in the papacy has to be the greatest and most horrible abomination, since it directly and powerfully conflicts with the chief article." Thus Luther launches into perhaps the second most important portion of the Smalcald Articles. For it is precisely in the way Rome regards the service of the Lord's Supper that one finds the most dramatic example of Roman Catholicism's misunderstanding and false teaching on the "chief article" — the doctrine of justification by grace along, through faith alone, on account of Christ, alone. When Luther refers to the "Mass"in this article, he is referring to the Roman Catholic version of it. Elsewhere in the Lutheran Confessions, the term "Mass" is used simply to refer to the service of Holy Communion. In this sense, Luther forcefully rejects and condemns the Mass:

First, a "purely human invention" and something that "has not been commanded by God."
Second, as something "unnecessary" that can be "omitted without sin and danger."
Third, the Sacrament "can be received in a better and more blessed way (indeed, the only blessed way), according to Christ's institution." (SA II.ii.2-4).
Fourth, the Mass "should be abandoned" because of all the abuses associated with it.
Fifth, "the Mass is and can be nothing more than a human work."

And Luther then returns to the main point, the Mass, for all these reasons, must be abandoned, rejected and condemned because it "conflicts with the chief article."

Luther's keen insight is that the public service of worship in the Church of his day has become the chief means by which the Gospel itself was obscured and contradicted. A council called to reform the Church should deal with this, the greatest of all abuses, first and foremost (SA II.ii.10).

Here Luther asserts, flatly, "In this, we remain eternally separated and opposed to one another." (SA II.ii.10). Why? Because if the Mass, as practiced by Rome, falls, then so falls the entire Papacy. In addition to the five points Luther lists, he identifies a series of "many vermin and a multitude of idolatries" that the Mass has produced in the Roman Catholic Church:

Purgatory: "purgatory, along with every service, rite, and commerce connected with it, should be regarded as nothing more than the devil's ghost. For it conflicts with the chief article: only Christ, and not human works are to be help souls." (SA II.ii.12).

Evil spirits and their wicked tricks: "unspeakable lies and tricks demanded Masses, vigils, pilgrimages, and other alms. . . Here to there is to be no yielding or surrendering." (SA II.ii.16).

Pilgrimages: "Here too, the forgiveness of sins and God's grace were sought, for the Mass controlled everything. Pilgrimages, without God's Word, have not been commanded." (SA II.ii.18-19).

Monastic societies
: There had developed elaborate provision for the perpetual saying of Masses, to benefit both living and dead, and thus Luther rejects these as well, "nothing but a human trick, without God's Word . . . contrary to the chief article on redemption." (SA II.ii.21).

: Bits and pieces of holy persons, things and places had become objects of devotion, even worship: "So many falsehoods and such foolishness are found in the bones of dogs and horses that even the devil has laughed at such swindles. . . . Since they are neither commanded nor counseled, relics are entirely unnecessary and useless. . . Worst of all, these relics have been imagined to cause indulgence and the forgiveness of sins." (SA II.ii.22-23).

Indulgences: Luther concludes his review of the various abuses and false practices that grew up around Masses with a scathing rejection of indulgences: "By indulgences, the miserable Judas, or pope, has sold Christ's merit, along with the extra merit of all saints, of the entire Church, and such things." (SA II.ii.24).

And he concludes, once more, driving home the point that all these things must be rejected as being contrary to the chief article: "For Christ's merit is obtained not by our works or pennies, but from grace through faith, without money and merit. . . not through the pope's power, but through the preaching of God's Word" (SA II.ii.24).

Luther launches into several more paragraphs rejecting the invocation of saints as "one of the Antichrist's abuses that conflicts with the chief article and destroys the knowledge of Christ." (SA II.ii.25). It is the most clear and concise explanations of why the Church should never invoke, or pray to, saints. The article concludes with Luther's firm rejection of the Mass:

"We cannot tolerate the Mass or anything that proceeds from it or is attached to it. We have to condemn the Mass in order to keep the Holy Sacrament pure and certain, according to Christ's institution, used and received through faith." (SA II.ii.29).

Questions that come to mind as reading this article include:

Does the Roman Catholic Mass today still warrant Luther's strong words of rejection and condemnation? Has Rome fundamentally changed in its understanding of the purpose and use of the Lord's Supper? Is it wise for Lutherans today to use the word "Mass" when describing the chief service of the Word and Sacrament? How can the Lutheran Divine Service become similarly misunderstood and abused by God's people? How does the "chief article" help us understand the purpose and meaning of the chief service of Christian worship: the Lord's Supper?


John Wurst said...

Question 4 states, "How can the Lutheran Divine Service become similarly misunderstood and abused by God's people?"

I think one of the big problems we have today, and this may be specific to men going to their Call out of the seminary, is they are faced with past traditions and customs within the Divine Service without knowing "WHY" they are doing such things.

A very good friend taught me that traditions are good and honorable as long as we know we are doing them. When we fail to remember "WHY," then our traditions are no longer God pleasing and become the most simplified version of idolatry because "that's the way we've always done it!"

Yes, I think the Divine Service in the LCMS can be misunderstood and confusing to the people if the reasons why things are being done are not explained.

For example, at the end of Holy Week, I had a member (A) inform me about the remarks of another brother (B) concerning the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunrise services. Brother "B" was so upset at the stripping of the altar, the closing of the Book, and the Service of Light that he left church each of the three days pinching his nose and saying "stinky." This better not continue or I'm out of here.

A use or misuse can be misunderstood and confusing if the people do not udnerstand what is going on. If they do not understand, then it is an abomination to them because it goes against their traditions.

I think we always have to remember to teach, teach, teach, teach, and teach some more so the Church understands and grows in the reasons and history of why things are being done in the Divine Service.

Just some humble observations by one who waits.

In Christ's service,


gage said...

Sadly, things like purgatory and indulgences are still beliefs and practices in the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the absurd notions that surrounded them are dispelled, but there is still the Semi-Pelagianism (the need to interject man's action alongside God's). There are still masses for the dead, and Luther's remark is insightful that an institution for the living was used more for the dead.

Of course, one can applaud the Roman Church for purifying its understanding of what the Sacrament of the Altar is really for, feeding Christ's people with His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, but that understanding is still sidelined.

The Roman Church today recognizes the truth of Hebrews 7:27; 9:26, 28 that Christ offered Himself as the Sacrifice for sin once for all, but they believe that in the mass this sacrifice is made present to the church so the priest and the people can join into Christ's action of offering Himself in sacrifice. It might be thought of as a "concelebration" so to speak. Luther would still have a real problem with this doctrine as well he might because we cannot even cooperate in our own regeneration let alone in Christ's singular act of Redemption.

I agree with John Wurst who said that there is the problem with us not knowing why we are doing certain things in the divine service, and that indicates that it is important that God's people be instructed. I remember my first exposure to high liturgy, but I studied to understand it and see where it can enhance worship.

Cranky said...

It is my humble opinion that even though Rome has tried to change the language that they use in talking about the mass in order to make it more palatable to others, it is still the same Roman Mass with no changes. Luther would see through all this in my opinion.

Hoffster said...

Good comment John regarding the need to teach our people about what we are doing in the Divine Service. Could it be that ignorance of the Divine Service, by clergy and laity alike, is part of the reason why many Lutherans are abandoning the Divine Service, in whole or in part, for a generic Protestant (and non-sacramental) kind of liturgy?

Clint Hoff

John Wurst said...


If we place ignorance on the table as a reason for leaving the D.S. for generic "make me feel good" (religion), then I would think that those abandoning the D.S. because of ignorance need to repent for sinning against the 1st Commandment (idolatry) and repent again for self-worship (the make me feel good stuff).

This may sound harsh but the fact remains when we put someone or something before the Almighty God it is idolatry. When we say to God that His Word, His teaching (sermon), His washing and regeneration, His body and blood, and His blessing are no longer needed, we are just like Adam and Eve and have sinned against God and His Word and separate ourselves from God and His love. This is very dangerous as the Holy Scriptures tell us the reward for unrepentant sinners and the self-righteous people of this world - eternal damnation.

The D.S. is a place and time when God serves us. He feeds us His Word. He teaches about daily living and what we need to remain strong and courageous in the face of temptation. He forgives us. He blesses us as He sends us on our way home. I find it impossible to even imagine that ignorance would be a good reason to leave all this behind for a place that provides no nourishment whatsoever.

Clint - you hit on a very good point. A friend of mine recently said to me that the reason our Lutheran churches are empty and the reason we have men at the seminaries waiting on Divine Calls is because our brothers and sisters have abandoned the D.S. for "make me feel good" Evangelical worship.

I think ignorance needs to be disected further to examine the root cause of this sin so our Lord can teach how to stop the bleeding and bring healing to those who suffer from this affliction called - IGNORANCE.

+ SDG +

Joanne said...

Two things make me think that the Reformation has had a significant influence on the RC Mass since Luther wrote about it in these Articles.

1. In Luther's sermon On Confession and the Lord's Supper he mentions several times that the laity under the pope take communion once a year at Easter. Elsewhere, I've read complaints from English laity about having to take communion every Sunday under the reformers. They requested to return to the Roman tradition of communing once a year at Easter.

2. Before the iconoclasts, St. Mary's Church in Wittenberg had 19 altars in it. It's not a big church; it's a parish church. Yet 19 altars were needed to say all the Masses. Private masses.

The RC doctrine may be the same, but practice has changed. Today, finding active Catholics who take communion only once a year and finding average parish churches with 19 altars is a difficult task.

Josh S said...

If Rome has started teaching that the Lord's Supper is for receiving the forgiveness of sins, it's not reflected in the Catechism.

Gage said...

I think that Josh's clarification is accurate. I heard the evangelical meaning of the Lord's Supper from some Roman Catholics but I too did not read it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is an authoritative statement of what the RCC teaches.

Jim said...

It seems to me that, among other things, the RCC Catechism teaches that you receive forgiveness from the Supper:

"1393 [. . .] For as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord. If we proclaim the Lord's death, we proclaim the forgiveness of sins. If, as often as his blood is poured out, it is poured for the forgiveness of sins, I should always receive it, so that it may always forgive my sins. Because I always sin, I should always have a remedy."

The catechism does go on to state that reception of the Supper only forgives venial sins, not mortal ones, which it says properly belongs to the sacrament of reconciliation.