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Tuesday, December 23, 2008 

Lutherans Do That?

I was at a Christmas party before I left for Texas and as is the norm I was asked to say grace before we began our meal. Oh wait, I’m gonna need to give y’all a bit of background.

My nickname at this former coworker’s home is “Father Frank.” He’s called me this for quite a while and really I don’t mind, after all, I’ve been called worse.

It was a pretty mixed crowd theologically with a few evangelicals and nondenominational types but for the most part the crowd was Roman Catholic. The missus and I are always happy to represent the Lutherans.

Anyhoo, I was asked once again to say grace and said “sure why not!” So, I crossed myself and said the prayer from the Small Catechism.

The eyes of all look to You, O Lord; and You give them their food at the proper time; You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these Thy gifts, which we take from Thy bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

What drew the biggest reaction was the fact that a Lutheran crossed himself! Wow, you’d think in a room of Romans that they would be used to that. Apparently not.

Even my former coworker’s wife looked a bit puzzled and asked; “Lutherans Do That? Lutherans know how to do that?”

Yes we do know how to do that. We cross ourselves in remembrance of our Baptism where the Lord through the simple element of water and the word of God marks us as heirs of eternal life.

What I thought was hilarious about the incident was that both evangelicals and Romans got a bit uneasy. Evangelicals think that such a practice looks too Roman and that any ritual not prescribed in the Bible must be avoided. I think the Romans may have gotten a little nervous with not being the only catholics in the room.

I’m cool with the latter.

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Great story.

I'm the only one in my church that makes the sign of the cross, except our Pastor.

Just not the custom 'round here, I guess.

Someone once told me that Lutherans do the sign of the cross a little different that the RC do - starting on the opposite shoulder, maybe? any help here?

It depends… most Romans cross themselves from left shoulder to right. Most Lutherans (as well as the Orthodox) are taught to do it from their right to left.

I was never properly catechized by a liturgista so I do it like my Roman brothers. I know there are some who might get uptight with me “doing it wrong” but oh well.

I do believe you are correct, Frank - the Roman laity do it the way they do because they mirror the motion of the Priest. Why the Orthodox & Lutherans don't, I don't know...

I do it (one of the very few in my congregation to do so - it took me a while to not feel self-conscious about it...), but it's a relatively new (within the past 6-7 years) thing for me, as I wasn't taught it growing up Lutheran.

Oddly enough, though, my wife, who was raised RC, doesn't. Funny how that works, eh?

Oh man, with the press of stuff I'm just seeing this now. Hope I'm not too late to the party.

I just love it when eating with RCs and they get all ecumenical and say a generic Protestant "grace" with no Sign of the Cross. I love to ask if I can say a Lutheran grace, then do the LC one Sign of the Cross and all -- exactly what was taught to me as a pre-conciliar RC! They flip.

Of course, we're (the boys and I) quite OK with "Come, Lord Jesus ...", but what better non-academic way to show this is no new church or doctrine etc, just like the BOC shows.

Here's the deal on the which shoulder first thing. The idea was to have your hand more or less over your heart when you say "Spirit" in "Holy Spirit".

For centuries the liturgical language in the West was Latin, and in Latin a noun precedes its adjectives, so it's "spiritus sancti" and you touch the left shoulder first. The liturgical practice was followed also when saying it in the local language, for example English or German where the adjective precedes the noun, "Holy Spirit" or "heilige Geist". That continues now with Latin rare even in the RCC.

In the East, Greek has the adjective before the noun too, so "holy" is the right shoulder and "spirit" is the left, just as it would be if we adapted the practice to English rather than following the Latin order even when speaking the vernacular.

So the East isn't doing it wrong at all! It's we in the West who for the most part continue Latin liturgical practice even in the vernacular, even in worship in the vernacular! Which is OK too, as the East always went with vernacular languages whereas the West kept Latin liturgically long after it ceased being the vernacular.

“Hope I'm not too late to the party”

PE, you’re never late and the door is always open. Thanks for the former RC perspective as well as the history lesson.

Thanks Frank! For the record, here's the same prayer Luther gives in the LC but in the wording traditionally taught to English speaking Catholics:

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, through Christ Our Lord.

What a hoot when my wife and I were WELS in a family half LCMS and half RC. At family meals, if an RC said grace, here comes exactly what Luther suggests in the LC, and if an LCMS said grace, here comes "Come, Lord Jesus ...", and we as WELS weren't supposed to join in either way!

On a bright note, we went to a different LCMS parish for Christmas Eve, and for the first time in 12 years as a Lutheran someone else besides me MADE the Sign of the Cross in the congregation. I suppose the HUGE crucifix on the wall, the completely Christocentric sermon, the first mass of Christmas right out of LSB (also my first time where that was the parish service book) and liturgical tradition might have been bigger clues, but hey.

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
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