Well, we did have an enjoyable Christmas this year. Our children are growing up, so instead of going to the 6:30pm Family Mass at their school’s mass centre, we went to 8:30pm Lessons and Carols at their Lutheran Parish of St Paul in Box Hill. I then went to Midnight Mass in my parish, and in the morning we were back at St Paul’s so the rest of my family could make their Christmas communion. That also gave us time to have a relaxed Christmas Eve dinner of seafood together, before opening the first gift – a new Nativity set.
Midnight Mass at my parish was a bit of a disappointment. Except for four carols instead of four hymns, it was just spoken mass like any Sunday. No incense, no carols, no chant (not even sung congregational pieces of the liturgy), in fact, come to think of it, I didn’t even see a Christmas tree! The young woman who played the piano and led the singing was very good (a great talent, even), but she wasn’t given much scope for anything other than the carols. It was all over in 45 minutes.
Lessons and Carols at St Paul’s, however, was a great treat. The choir and organist there are top notch, and their selection was brilliant. I have listed the full program on my other blog, together with a discussion of one of the carols, “Est ist ein Ros”.
But what I wish to discuss here is another short piece they did, a setting of “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebel. This is a sublime setting, which they have used before at other services. BUT, you say, how can Lutherans sing the Ave Maria? I’m glad you asked.
Back when a former assitant pastor was at St Paul’s, he (who shall not be named so as not to embarass him) suggested that instead of “Sancte Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis…etc.” they should sing “Domine Jesu, Agnus Dei, ora pro nobis…etc.”
It works musically. But does it work theologically – either from a Catholic or a Protestant point of view? My thought is: NO.
Why is this? Because it demotes the role of Jesus as the One Mediator.
This arises from a point which Lutherans constatly miss about the Catholic practice of invoking Mary’s prayers. They say we treat her like God, because you can only pray to God. In fact, what we are doing when we invoke the sants is asking our brothers and sisters in Christ (living or dead) to “pray for us” THROUGH the mediatorship of Christ.
We fully recognise that the Scriptures say that both Jesus and the Spirit “intercede for us” at the right hand of the Father. That isn’t in dispute. But the fact is that “pray for us” is an invocation that the Christian tradition has always and only addressed to human beings. Nowhere in the whole tradition do we ask JESUS to pray for us – or the Holy Spirit for that matter. Thus, to replace Mary with Jesus in the Ave Maria as the opposite effect that Lutherans would want to achieve by such an alteration. Rather than exalt Jesus as the One Mediator, they demote him to an intercessor among others.
There is another, unrelated, idea that sprang to my mind while reflecting upon this. Protestants say that praying to the saints is a practice that is unallowable since nowhere in Scripture are we told that we should or can do so. I have tried elsewhere to explain why this is an allowable and venerable practice, and had my explanation dismissed as “speculation”.
The fact is – note this well – there is nowhere in Scripture where we are told to pray to Jesus either! Nor do we find anywhere in Scripture where Jesus is prayed to, rather than the Father through or in the name of Jesus (I am discounting here for the moment the places in the Gospels where blindmen and lepers etc pray “Kyrie eleison” to Jesus as he is passing by – that is not, in those contexts, strictly a prayer to the exalted Christ).
I do not wish to reject the devotional practice of prayer to Jesus – or the Holy Spirit, of course (it should be noted that in the liturgical tradition of the Church – with very few exceptions which prove the rule – prayer is always offered to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit). But I am saying that we justify the practice based on a theology of the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God, a theology that was worked out (speculated?) after the completion of the Scriptural writings.
Just another “tradition” that Protestants have not rejected, and which a strictly “sola scriptura” approach should reject.