Lenten Catechesis—Monday of Lent 5


The Keys

The authority of the Keys [Matthew 16:19], or the authority of the bishops—according to the Gospel—is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. Christ sends out His apostles with this command, “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you … Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (john 20:21-22). And in Mark 16:15, Christ says, “Go … proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.”

This authority is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, either to many or to individuals, according to their calling. In this way are given not only bodily, but also eternal things: eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. These things cannot reach us except by the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, “The Gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone that believes” (Romans 1:16). Therefore, the Church has the authority to grant eternal things and exercises this authority only by the ministry of the Word.

The only authority that belongs to the bishops is what they have according to the Gospel, or by divine right, as they say. For they have been given the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. They have no other authority according to the Gospel than the authority to forgive sins, to judge doctrine, to reject doctrines contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the communion of the Church wicked people, whose wickedness is known.… According to this Gospel authority, as a matter of necessity, by divine right, congregations must obey them, for Luke 10:16 says, “The one who hears you hears Me.” But when they teach or establish anything against the Gospel, then the congregations are forbidden by God’s command to obey them.
—Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII: 5-7, 8-10, 21

Lenten Catechesis from Treasury of Daily Prayer © 2008 Concordia Publishing House.
Used with permission.
All rights reserved. www.cph.org

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TDPDaily devotions for every day of the church year, including Scripture reading, hymn, Psalm, a historical devotion, and prayer, can be found in THE TREASURY OF DAILY PRAYER on sale now from Concordia Publishing House.

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Lenten Catechesis—Fifth Sunday in Lent



This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
— John 20:22-23

Lenten Catechesis from Treasury of Daily Prayer © 2008 Concordia Publishing House.
Used with permission.
All rights reserved. www.cph.org

—————————— + ——————————

TDPDaily devotions for every day of the church year, including Scripture reading, hymn, Psalm, a historical devotion, and prayer, can be found in THE TREASURY OF DAILY PRAYER on sale now from Concordia Publishing House.

PrayNowDaily devotions can also be downloaded to your iOS and Android device using the PrayNow app, available from Google Play or Amazon.com.

Ash Wednesday 2013



Man, yesterday was great. I went out early to that supermarket that bakes fresh 7 days-a-week and picked up Pączki for the family for breakfast. Friends introduced us to this Polish Tuesday-before-Ash Wednesday tradition and we have enjoyed Pączki Day for over 30 years. In a similar vein German Americans have traditionally celebrated with a traditional doughnut called Faschnacht. If you background leans a little more to being English, yesterday would have been Pancake Day.

Whatever the cultural variation, the day had a purpose, eating rich foods on the Tuesday-before-Ash Wednesday was a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, which were traditionally fasted from during Lent.

And then let’s not forget those who celebrate Fat Tuesday with a party or carnival—for two weeks St. Louis French quarter, Soulard, has been host to the second largest Mardi Gras in the country—and Mardi Gras is simply French for ‘Fat Tuesday.’ Just about wherever Lent is celebrated, Fat Tuesday traditions have grown up.

Like many traditions, while the ‘fun’ and ‘traditional’ aspects endure and are celebrated far and wide, the reason for the tradition is largely forgotten or set aside as no longer relevant. Why would Christian households commit the day before Ash Wednesday to emptying the pantry of butter, fat, and sugar? The answer is not in the donuts or the pancakes, or the rich Mardi Gras foods—as much as we like them. With the pantry cleaned out, the Christian family is prepared for the traditional fasting that is associated with Lent.

A few of the liturgical traditions still remember or use the old term Shrove Tuesday. ‘Shrove’ means to have been shriven before Lent, an old English way of saying to [be prepared] to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession. Here then is the other traditional aspect of Lent: that is confession so that one may obtain absolution for sin. Lent prepares us to approach the Cross on Good Friday, approach shriven, approach having contemplated our sins, not just to have made a list of them, but to have pondered anew the great need we have for a Savior from our sin; to contemplate the gravity of our sin—sin so deep, so dark, that it required nothing less than that the Son of God would die that we could be reconciled to God.

Ash Wednesday is set aside yearly as a day of repentance, a day to contemplate your sins and to be sorry for your sins. Not matter your Christian tradition, it is not too late to be shriven—and it doesn’t require you to go to IHOP or Drive-In Donuts. Repent! Hold up your life, your thoughts, your pet sins before the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments and see how far we are from His holy will.

But to recognize sin is not enough, to make a list of all our sins, even if we could, is not enough. Repentance, true repentance, requires that you turn away from your sin. To turn away from excess during Lent just to pick it up again in spades after Easter is no true Lenten discipline. In the same way, to confess your sin, but not turn aside from it, to not change your life, your actions, your sinful behavior, but to return to them—that is not true repentance. Empty ‘sorrys’ come so easily off our lips. Like many who celebrate Fat Tuesday with no intention of being shriven, we throw ‘sorrys’ around with no understanding or intention to do anything really different. Your “I’m sorry,” no matter how heartfelt, is insufficient if it is not joined with the change needed to not commit that sin again.

God despaired of our sin. Yet, instead of acting in righteous judgment against us, He sent His Son to die for our sin, so that we might live with Him forever. The weight of your sin–my sin, the heavy yoke of it, crushed the Lord on the cross, so that we would not have to be crushed into the grave forever. He drank to the dregs the bitter cup of God’s wrath against our sin, so that in true faith we receive the sweet cup of blessing in Christ.

While we turn our attention to confessing our sin on this Ash Wednesday, all the more let us turn our lives to lives of repentance-lives where we continually hold ourselves accountable to God and to each other, lives where we sorrow over sin AND seek the God-given strength to turn from our sins. This is the work the Holy Spirit does in us, the daily drowning of the old sinful man and the bringing forth of the New Man—this is the daily remembrance of our Baptism that strengthens us.

Confession has two parts, first, to confess our sins, and second to receive absolution. Absolution, the sweet word of God that announces that your sins are forgiven. Absolution, the sweet Gospel that on account of Christ, God sets aside the punishment of your sin.

It’s Ash Wednesday. Repent! Then hear the Word of forgiveness with the assurance that your sins are truly forgiven by God in heaven.


Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (L22)

Previous Post on Ash Wednesday

What are Ember Days?

The publication of Treasury of Daily Prayer included an essay on the Ember Days, and this has lead to some questions, both to me as the author of the essay and the general editor of the book, and on various e-mail lists. This is a legitimate question, especially in the Lutheran community that, by and large, has probably not heard of them or think of them as something only quirky liturgical extremists do. So maybe we should extend the question to: what are Ember Days, and why would a Lutheran care?

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a entry for Ember Days, but it leaves much unanswered. Actually, the conservative Catholic site, Fisheaters, has a very fine article on the origin and development of Ember Days in the Roman Church. Pulling liberally from the article on Fisheaters as well as from my essay in Treasury of Daily Prayer, we can understand Ember Days as the time set aside four times a year to focus on God through His marvelous creation: seeking God’s blessings upon the fruits of the earth and acknowledging that all food comes from Him. The three days of each Embertide were marked by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving as prescribed by the church. These quarterly periods take place around the beginnings of the four natural seasons:

Winter — Advent Embertide

Spring — Lenten Embertide

Summer — Whit Embertide

Autumn — Michaelmas Embertide.

These four times are each kept on a successive Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and are known as “Ember Days” (supposedly a corruption from Latin, quatuor tempora = four times, corrupted to quatember, then to ember). The first of these four times comes in Winter, after the the Feast of St. Lucy; the second comes in Spring, the week after Ash Wednesday; the third comes in Summer, after Pentecost Sunday; and the last comes in Autumn, after Holy Cross Day. Their dates can be remembered by this old mnemonic:

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which for those of us who don’t think in Latin:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost,
are when the quarter holidays follow.

The handy shortcut for remembering the holidays that herald the Ember Days is “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.”

Well, as I said, good information at Fisheaters about the origin and development of the Ember Days in the Roman Catholic tradition.

The Ember Days comprise the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday:

following the Commemoration of St. Lucia (December 13).

of the week following the first Sunday in Lent;

of the week between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday;

following the Feast of the Holy Cross (September 14);

Then came the Reformation.

In the Church of the Reformation, the Ember days marked a season of piety especially devoted to preaching on the Catechism.

Martin Brecht writes: “In Wittenberg it appears that Pastor Bugenhagen treated the catechism four times a year. When he was in Brunswick in 1528, Luther substituted for him at the task” Martin Luther, Martin Brecht (Minneapolis:Fortress Press, 1994) II:274.

In the editor’s preface to the last of Luther’s 1528 series of sermons on the Catechism we hear Luther: “It has hitherto been our custom to teach the elements and fundamentals of Christian knowledge and life four times each year.” Luther’s Works – American Edition

The Ember Days were originally days of prayer, repentance, and fasting. After the Reformation, the Ember Days themselves became for Lutherans one of the roots of the evangelical “days of repentance” Paul Graff.

Pastor Benjamin Mayes, a colleague of mine, did a little bit of work in the German sources. Some of this was for his presentation of the Ember Days’ propers for the Brotherhood Prayer Book, some specifically to help me in the Treasury’s presentation. Pastor Mayes:

In Braunschweig 1657/1709, the Ember Days had the order of service for a day of repentance as their liturgy (I:221). Here, all four [sets of] Ember Days were expressly retained (I:228). Some areas put their days of repentance on other days, not necessarily on the Ember Days.

“The ‘repentance services’ are either simple prayer hours held on certain days of the week, or services similar to the chief service on certain high ‘days of repentance, prayer, and fasting.’ These prayer hours cannot, as already mentioned, be confused with the prayer hours already described–occurring one or several times weekly, i.e. morning and evening devotions –although they are very similar in their structure. The prayer hours in question here are in the whole more or less similar to a public festival of repentance. Hymns of repentance are often prescribed. In the prayers, one asks to be forgiven of guilt (Litany) and spared from punishment (war and other distresses, collect for peace and ‘Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord’). In short: these prayer hours –whether daily, whether once or more weekly, whether monthly, such as depending on the change of the moon, whether quarterly, such as depending on the Ember Days, (also perhaps with the command to fast,) or otherwise regularly repeating–give these days a character completely their own, so that such a day becomes itself a day or prayer (day of repentance).” (I:221)

Even in the 16th cent., the Lutherans in north Germany regularly observed the Ember Days as Days of Repentance. (I:225).

[In preparing the] Brotherhood Prayer Book, I researched Roman, Anglican, and German Lutheran books. Often I didn’t find much in the way of special propers or rubrics for the Ember Days. Some of them have their own readings and collects which have the theme of the season they’re in. This is especially the case for the Lent Ember Days (after Invocavit) and the Pentecost Ember Days (during the octave of Pentecost), because those days have proper readings anyway. (Here by proper readings, I mean a distinct set of propers for office and mass.)

Here’s what the 1613 Magdeburg Cathedral Service Book has for propers on the Ember Days.

Wednesday after Advent 3: Invitatory and antiphons and responsory with an Advent theme or from the ordinary. Collect as in the Brotherhood Prayer Book. It is not marked as being an Ember Day. The readings appear to be a lectio continua. Antiphon for Magnificat: O Antiphon.
Friday after Advent 3: Same as above, except: Antiphon for Benedictus, same as Brotherhood Prayer Book text edition, p. 235. Different collect.
Saturday after Advent 3: Same as Wednesday, except: Antiphon for Benedictus: “Behold how glorious is he who goes forth to save the peoples.” Different collect.

Wednesday after Lent 1 (Invocavit) is listed as an Ember Day. Matins: Reading as in BPB, p. 255. Antiphon for Benedictus as in BPB (ant. for Magn.). Collect from Quinquagesima (which is very similar to the collect in BPB, p. 255). Vespers: Lectio continua from Gen. 44. Ant. for Magn.: “If anyone does the will of My Father, he is my brother, sister, and mother.” Collect from Sunday.
Friday after Lent 1. Not listed as Ember Day. Ant. for Ben. “Lord, I do not have a man, that when the water is moved, he may cast me into the pool.” Lectio continua. Vespers: Ant. for Magn., same as BPB, p. 255. Lectio continua. Collect from Sunday.
Saturday after Lent 1. Not listed as Ember Day. Lauds: Ant. for Ben., same as BPB (ant. for Magn.). Lectio Continua. Collect for Peace (same as in TLH Vespers). Vespers: Lectio continua. Ant. for Magn., same as at Matins.

Wednesday in the Octave of Pentecost. Not listed as Ember Day. Matins: Reading same as BPB, p. 279. Lauds: Ant. for Ben. “When the dies of Pentecost were completed, alleluia, praise came to Jerusalem, alleluia, to Zion.” Collect from Sunday. Vespers: Lectio continua. Ant. for Magn. “On the last day of the feast, Jesus said, Whoever believes in me, rivers of living water will flow from his belly, and He said this concerning the Spirit, whom there were to receive, who believe in Him, alleluia.” Different collect.

Well, that gives you a taste of what’s going on in the Magdeburg Cathedral.

Martin Chemnitz, in the Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel KO, which is referenced above, writes:

Also, since up to the present the quatember [fasts] have been conducted in papal fashion, henceforth all pastors and preachers in the cities shall at every quatember, instead of the regular preaching, for fourteen consecutive days, take up the catechism and divide it up, that all of it may be set before the people and usefully explained throughout. And they shall also earnestly admonish the people that they, together with their children and domestic servants, be diligent in attending such useful and very necessary teaching and not be absent.

And also during the quatember mentioned the pastors [pfarner] in the villages shall be diligent, so much as the time and place permit, to very carefully explain and inform the people regarding the catechism, which is a measure of all preaching.

Taken together, this is the basis for the suggestion to treat the Ember Days as “A Day of Humiliation and Prayer” and for promoting the Ember Days as a time to give special attention to the elements and fundamentals of Christian knowledge and life found in the Catechisms. Review and meditation on the Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism could be added to one’s daily devotion: Wednesday: Ten Commandments and Creed, Friday: Lord’s Prayer and Holy Baptism, Saturday: Confession and Sacrament of the Altar

confessionThe traditional themes of repentance can be used in one’s personal daily prayer in a way that is already familiar, as a Day of Supplication and Prayer. (Propers appointed for a Day of Supplication and Prayer can be found in the LSB: Altar Book, page 992.) Hymns of confession and absolution would be suitable. The appointed lectio continua readings of daily prayer is retained. In prayers, it would be fitting of the days to ask to be forgiven of guilt (cf. the Litany), to be spared from punishment (war and other distresses), and to pray the collect for peace (Vespers, LSB, 233).

In the Lutheran congregation Individual Confession and Absolution could be offered quarterly on the Saturdays of the Embertides. More challenging, but no doubt it would garner great rewards in faith and understanding, would be to reestablish the practice of Luther, Bugenhagen and others “to teach the elements and fundamentals of Christian knowledge and life four times each year.

How Lutherans Worship – 6: Excursus: More on Confession and Absolution

There are some who think about things like the historic liturgy who get stuck on the “historic” aspect. Some have been heard, from time-to-time posit that the Preparation (consisting of Confession and Absolution, How Lutherans Worship -3) has been grafted onto the historic liturgy, and thus can be omitted altogether from the celebration of the Divine Service. Some modern hymnals have even tried to “restore” the liturgy by removing the Preparation rite to separate pages from the Divine Service proper. I will admit that such statements at one time swayed me. And that caused me to believe that the corporate Confession and Absolution as we see it in the Preparation was of less value. It is true that most properly the historic liturgy begins with the Introit. And it is true that the rubrics do legitimately allow the omission of the Preparation at certain times, like when Holy Baptism is celebrated at the beginning of the Service. Yet I no longer support that the Preparation should be omitted from the regular celebration of the Divine Service.

Historic background.

It is inaccurate to maintain that Martin Luther predicated worthy participation in the Lord’s Supper upon confession and absolution. What Luther did expect is that the anyone coming to Holy Communion should examine his or her doctrine and life. For this he gave us Christian Questions With Their Answers (Small Catechism, CPH 1986, pgs 40-44, 2005 Edition). The reality is that the practice of examining one’s doctrine and life as preparation for participation came to be equated with the statement from The Apology of the Augsburg Confession “The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved” (Apology XXIV [XII]:1). Examination of one’s own doctrine and life was replaced by confession. Confession and absolution became the benchmark for worthy participation.

Historically, confession and absolution had been most commonly handled on an individual basis in a private setting. Yet even Luther’s day a corporate setting had developed whereby those who desired Holy Communion but had no specific or troubling sin that would drive them to individual confession could attend a service of confession and absolution on the Friday before the Divine Service. This corporate service was not intended to replace private/individual confession and absolution, but in most places, and over time, it did just that. In the past century we have lost our understanding of, and use of, the Service of Corporate Confession as a preamble and preparation for the Lord’s Supper. In its place it has become generally accepted that Confession and Absolution takes place before the Divine Service. I believe that this change has been accompanied by a pervasive loss of understanding and appreciation for blessing and benefit of private/individual confession and absolution – but this belongs to a different discussion.

Considerations for our day.

There is value in the corporate confession and absolution of the Preparation that causes me to not generally omit it. The liturgy of the Preparation puts Christ and the need for his work of salvation at the center of the worshiper’s contemplation right at the beginning of the Service. Not only is the doctrine and reality of original sin given voice, but the actual sin of the individual, the sins of commission and omission, are recognized and brought forward before God in repentance. The text leads the worshiper, for a time, into the darkness that is not only our common human condition, but individually our suit of filthy rags. It then leads us to recognize and call upon Jesus as our only “cure” for the sin that sickens us and would otherwise leave us a spiritual corpse.

Then, in the Absolution, the pastor clearly stands as the administrator of the Office of the Keys. By these words, whether spoken upon the individual or corporately, he actually forgives sin by the command and in the stead of Jesus Christ. The grace of God that called us to himself in Baptism is announced. And Luther’s words hold true, so that whether individually or corporately we receive forgiveness from the pastor as from God himself.

I will lament with you, and the Church, the loss of individual confession and absolution, and I certainly want to see our people regain and value this practice. I will also lament the loss of the practice of announcing one’s intention to attend the Lord’s Supper and I would think it a blessing for pastor and congregation to have such a practice restored. I would think it a blessing beyond measure that a congregation would participate in a service of confession and absolution on a Friday evening before the Divine Service. The reality is that we are not to this point in most of our Lutheran parishes. While we continue to teach and learn to that end, we take comfort in what the Preparation imparts to our celebration of the Divine Service.

With that, let us move on to our discussion of the Service of the Word.

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How Lutherans Worship – 3: Confession and Absolution

Moses was told to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Even so, we must cast away our sins to stand in the presence of God, as the Psalmist reminds us, “Who shall stand in his holy place? He that has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24).

The Didache (a 1st century Christian writing) admonishes the early Christians, “Assemble on the Day of the Lord, break bread and celebrate the Eucharist, but first confess your sins.”

The Apostle John declares. “If we confess our sins he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

to say what is true, a disclosure of one’s sins

Corporate (or General) Confession

In the Confession of Sins, we are taught to admit, or confess, sin and the guilt of sin. We are saying “amen,” or “yes, yes, this is true” to God’s righteous judgment against our sin. This is some of the hardest schooling that the liturgy will do because the natural man, the sinful nature, does not want to give up control. Together we, with the Invocation and the Confession of Sins, deny ourselves, and trust in Christ.

As Christians, our lives are to be lives of continual repentance as God promises eternal forgiveness. So we come in penitence and faith and confess our sins.

Psalm 51:1-4, 14
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. …Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


Silence for reflection on God’s Word and for self-examination.

Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.

The expression, “we are by nature sinful and unclean,” comes from Article II:1 of the Augsburg Confession, and is unique to Lutheranism in its structuring of the preparatory rites. The statements made in this prayer of confession are summary of Romans 7:14 – 8:14.

Psalm 32:5
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.


John 20:22-23
[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

The Absolution is the announcement of forgiveness to the penitent sinner. Our Lord declares through the mouth of his servant, the pastor, that by his grace and mercy our sins are forgiven. The Absolution speaks God’s Word into our ears in a most personal way. Through these Gospel words we receive the salvation earned by Christ upon the cross of Calvary, every sin covered by his blessed death.

to forgive, to set free from the consequences of guilt

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Word I announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Heavenly peace and joy in the soul replaces the trembling and anguished conscience previously burdened by sin. With clean hands and a pure heart we are now prepared to stand before the holy presence of God (Psalm 24).

Other Scriptural References:
Matthew 11:28
Matthew 26:27
Mark 14:23
Luke 22:17, 18
1 Corinthians 11:24
Psalm 154:8

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