Saturday, August 10, 2013

Want to Have an Encounter with an Angel?

Angels have been in the news again this week because of the mystery surrounding the appearance of an unknown priest at the scene of a serious car accident in Missouri.  If you haven't read about it yet, here's an example of one of the many news stories about the event:

I'm not going to speculate regarding the nature of this event, although it is intriguing.  The point of this article is that we don't have to get into a traumatic situation, like a car crash, to have an encounter with the angels. 

Chapter 19 of the Rule of St. Benedict notes that when we join in the daily prayer of the Church, our voices are in harmony with the voices of the angels:

"We believe that God is everywhere, and the Lord sees both good and evil in all places. Without doubt, we believe this is so especially when assisting in the Divine Office. Remember the prophet: 'Serve the Lord in fear' (Ps. 2:10), and 'Sing His praises with understanding' (Ps. 47:7) and also 'In the sight of angels I will sing praise to You' (Ps. 138:1).  Let us consider our place in sight of God and of his angels.  Let us rise in chanting that our hearts and voices harmonize."

The same is true with the Eucharist.  At the conclusion of the preface, the celebrant chants: "With all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn..." This leads into the singing of the Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might..."), which is the song sung by the seraphim in the presence of the Lord (Isaiah 6:1-3).

Skepticism about angels abounds in modern society, no doubt caused in part by the image that many people have of angels, which has been shaped by art and movies.  ("Its a Wonderful Life" and "Angels in the Outfield" are two examples of cute, but misleading, depictions of angels).  Angels play a crucial role in the Biblical story, though, as they serve as messengers of warning (Genesis 19 - the story of Sodom and Gomorrah) and hope (Luke 1:26-38 - the appearance of the angel to Mary).

In the daily life of a Christian, the presence of angels around us should give us comfort, for as noted by Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, they are "standing before the throne of God, live a common life with us, and are united by the bonds of love." (from "Jacob's Ladder: On Angels" p. 164).

(The icon at the beginning of this article is found at Bethel Lutheran Church, University City, Missouri - you can read about it here:     

UPDATE 8/13/13: The mystery priest has been identified.


  1. Everything you say in this post is beautiful and I agree with it 100%. Just one problem: Our beloved Saint Benedict of Nursia lived during the years 480 to 547, about 40 miles east of Rome. Long ago and far away.

    Before the Sanctus, you say "...the church on earth...." Well, what about the "the church on earth" in the year 2013, not 480 or 547; and in the whole world, not just a little piece of it?

    Here is an article from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette about the upcoming ELCA Churchwide Assembly. It is titled: "Pittsburg to host gatherings of split Lutherans." Really, this doesn't make the Lutheran Church look too good to anyone in Pittsburg who may the thinking of joining, does it? The words "gatherings" and "split" in the same phrase sound like a joke. Jesus himself says a sign of his truth is unity of believers: "...that all of them may be one... so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

    The church is badly split. One pastor commenting on your blog said it is because Martin Luther was "kicked out" -- excommunicated -- from the Catholic Church. Aren't we being, after 500 long years, a bit childish?

    The Line of Apostolic Succession is broken. This is serious. How can we fix it?

  2. Oops... I just noticed I spelled "Pittsburgh" wrong. Sorry!

  3. Thanks for the link to the article - its a pretty good summary of the current situation in American Lutheranism. I had friends who were there last week at the NALC assembly, and friends who will be there this week at the ELCA assembly.

    If you haven't already done so, I recommend that you read the reports from the 10 rounds of the North American Lutheran/Catholic dialogue since Vatican II. I have all of them on my shelf - haven't read them all, but have at least skimmed the key parts. They're a great example of how to reconcile old misunderstandings.

  4. Since I have heard little or nothing about these Dialogues, I have not thought much about them. I just checked on-line. The last up-date was in November of 2011. What stands out to you from the Dialogues? They have not effected any visible or perceptible change.

    from Wikipedia --

    Two groundbreaking events of this dialogue was a joint statement on the doctrine of Justification by Faith in 1983 and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) on October 31, 1999.

    In the wake of the JDDJ of 1999, round XI, "The Hope for Eternal Life" is seen as a precursor leading up to a shared Lutheran/Roman Catholic commemoration of the October 31, 2017, 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of his 95 Theses.[citation needed] While some have hoped for an agreement on interim Eucharistic sharing by the anniversary in 2017, the very fact that a "shared commemoration" is possible would have been virtually unthinkable 50 years ago.

    The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) has also participated in the first 9 discussions with the Roman Catholic Church and will also participate in the upcoming 11th round. Unlike the ELCA, however, the LCMS has not come to an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church due to what the LCMS considers to be crucial differences in the understanding of faith, grace, sin, etc. It was not invited to the 10th round of talks by the Roman Catholic Church.

  5. There have been a number of visible changes in relations due to the various post-Vatican II dialogues. Just a few examples - we recognize each other's baptisms now - previously, it was Catholic custom to conditionally baptize Protestant converts. Popes have spoken in Lutheran churches, and Pope John Paul II praised Luther on the 500th anniversary of his birthday, calling him a man of "profound religiousness." At weddings, funerals, and ecumenical prayer services, Lutheran pastors have been a part of worship in Catholic Churches, and Catholic priests in Lutheran churches. Catholics and Lutherans study at each other's colleges and seminaries. Those things were not possible just a few decades ago, but now occur regularly due to the increased understanding and close relations that have occurred due to the various dialogues on international national, and local levels.

    As someone interested in Catholic/Lutheran reunion, you really should read the joint statements issues by the joint discussion groups, as well as the research papers that were submitted as a part of the dialogues. They are a goldmine of information about history and theology by leading scholars on both sides.

    Substantial agreements were reached in areas such as the nature of baptism and communion. Even when agreement was not reached, the scope of the difference has been considerably narrowed. Here's an example of a marked narrowing of the gap, in this remarkable statement from Round Ten of the dialogues on Koinonia:

    "107. Catholic judgment on the authenticity of Lutheran ministry need not be of an all-or-nothing nature. The Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II distinguished between relationships of full ecclesiastical communion and those of imperfect communion to reflect the varying degrees of differences with the Catholic Church.(164) The communion of these separated communities with the Catholic Church is real, even though it is imperfect. Furthermore, the decree positively affirmed:

    Our separated brothers and sisters also celebrate many sacred actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each church or community, and must be held capable of giving access to that communion in which is salvation.(165)

    Commenting on this point, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote in 1993 to Bavarian Lutheran bishop Johannes Hanselmann:

    I count among the most important results of the ecumenical dialogues the insight that the issue of the eucharist cannot be narrowed to the problem of 'validity.' Even a theology oriented to the concept of succession, such as that which holds in the Catholic and in the Orthodox church, need not in any way deny the salvation-granting presence of the Lord [Heilschaffende Gegenwart des Herrn] in a Lutheran [evangelische] Lord's Supper.(166)

    If the actions of Lutheran pastors can be described by Catholics as "sacred actions" that "can truly engender a life of grace," if communities served by such ministers give "access to that communion in which is salvation," and if at a eucharist at which a Lutheran pastor presides is to be found "the salvation-granting presence of the Lord," then Lutheran churches cannot be said simply to lack the ministry given to the church by Christ and the Spirit. In acknowledging the imperfect koinonia between our communities and the access to grace through the ministries of these communities, we also acknowledge a real although imperfect koinonia between our ministries."

    The agreement statement can be read here:

  6. Pastor Jay: Thank you for all this information. I have been a Lutheran convert to Catholicism since 1974. In my own person I have lived most of this. Nothing here really surprises me. In 1974, I was told that the Catholic Church recognizes Lutheran Baptism, but I had to present a Baptismal Certificate. It was my understanding at the time that the CC had always recognized Non-Catholic Baptism -- conditional Baptism is for persons who are not sure if they were baptized or not.

    Cardinal Ratzinger sums it up: "imperfect koinonia between our ministries."

    "In acknowledging the imperfect koinonia between our communities and the access
    to grace through the ministries of these communities, we also acknowledge a real
    although imperfect koinonia between our ministries."

    I believe we are at a unique time in history. As individual Christians, let's take a fresh look. Can the ELCA position on gay clergy be reconciled with Catholic teaching?