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A church longing for changes

Sunday, July 3, 2022 (21:24)

As usual when we are in Vigala (not in Tallinn), I attended today to the Sunday service (armulauaga jumalateenistus) of the Lutheran congregation in Vigala. I liked the entry song Jeesus kutsub patuseid (KLPR 214). The mea culpa of the EELK is almost convulsive and took me getting used to during the first years, but I like the classical invitation to this text, which says “Õnnis on inimene, kelle patt on andeks antud, sellepärast tunnistame oma patud üles” (“Blessed is the human whose sin is forgiven, that’s why we confess our sins”). Compare this to the obsolete but mandatory “Tunnistagem oma patud üles, et meid peetakse vääriliseks seda püha ohvrit tooma” of the Catholic church.

I feel spiritually at home here in Vigala. Ly and I married here in June 2001, which was was celebrated by Lutheran pastor Kaido Soom and recognized by the Bishop as a ecumenical marriage with dispense of a Catholic priest. Our children were baptized as Lutherans and have grown up here. They participated in Sunday school here. I was myself an active Sunday school teacher here. Our older daughter made her confirmation here. I am elected member of the board (koguduse nõukogu) of this congregation. The Lutheran church is the major Christian confession for Estonia. I am sure that God wants me to be an active and official member of this congregation.

And for the first time since 2001 (in more than 20 years) I did not participate in the rite of the Eucharist. Because last Thursday and Friday I got the clear message from a priest in Tallinn, confirmed by the Bishop, that doing so would exclude me from Communion in the Catholic church. Nobody ever told me this. I read about it accidentally some months ago. And I still don’t understand it.

After the service, when I explained to a few members why I didn’t participate in the Eucharist and won’t participate any more from now on, we laughed: it’s a miracle that I am still alive after more than 20 years of acting against a rule of the Catholic church!

I can understand that the Catholic church does not accept Lutherans to the rite of Communion. She is more strict than the Lutheran church. The sacrament of Eucharist is a genial rite for confirming communion with the church: receiving the consecrated host from the priest confirms that the church accepts you as a member. Taking it and swallowing it confirms that you accept to be a member. It is like a weekly renewal of a membership contract. And it is in public because everybody (who comes to the Mass) can see it. I can endorse this rule even though it causes counter-productive emotions among both Catholics and Lutherans in Estonia, even though my own family members never come to a Holy Mass with me because of it.

But how could I cause harm when I also visit other religious communities and participate in their rites? I read Canon 844 and Ecclesia de Eucharistia. I admit that these texts are too complex for me, and so I decided to do as instructed: when the other members of the congregation approach the altar and receive what looks exactly like a Communion, I remain sitting in my pew and say the following prayer:

My Jesus, I believe that Thou art present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things and I desire Thee in my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though Thou wert already there, I embrace Thee and unite myself wholly to Thee; permit not that I should ever be separated from Thee. Amen. (St. Alphonsus Liguori)

I can live with this. I will continue to participate in the Sunday service when we are in Vigala. Because it helps me to grow and cultivate my faith. Because it helps me to announce the Gospel to those who need it.

Everything could be so easy if the Lutheran church was just another ecclesia sui iuris of the Catholic church! There is only one visible obstacle: the pastor of the Vigala congregation is Kristiina Jõgi, a woman. Another Lutheran pastor, a married father of three, told me recently (during a private meeting for the consultation phase) that he would consider converting to Catholicism if married people could be priests.

  • Yes, they say that this is impossible because of so-called “theological incompatibilities”.

  • Yes, they have been working on this for decades, without success so far.

  • Yes, accepting only celibate men as priests has a long tradition in the Roman Catholic church.

  • Yes, there are Catholic bishops like Joseph Bonnemain who “don’t expect women to get accepted as priests within then coming decades” (Schweiz: „Keine Priesterin am Horizont“).

But these “theological incompatibilities” are ridiculous. If our theologies separate us, then let’s review them. Theology is human-made science about God. Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time to make it (Aubrey De Grey). It would help both the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran church on their common synodal journey. Lutherans could finally get free from systemic biblicism. Dear fathers of the Synod on Synodality! We are in 2022! The Church is longing for changes! What are we waiting for?