Good, Bad or Indifferent: What Do You Think?
I was recently viewing church web sites and bumped into this photograph, as I have in the past. It is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, holding the infant Christ, a very beautiful one at that. Quite beautiful. I like it a lot. However, it is to be found in a Lutheran church’s nave, where the people gather for Divine Service. One notices lit candles before it. Here is an interesting case study in adiaphora. I’m not mentioning the church’s name, for that is irrelevant. What are the issues here?
Given the long association of lit candles before a statue of the Blessed Mother of Our Lord with the Marian cult in the Roman Catholic Church and the evils associated with it, what do you think? Is it good, bad or indifferent that one should have a statue of Mary with burning candles in front of it?
The burning candles are what are known as "votive" candles and, in the Roman Church, represent the prayers that have been said to the particular saint before whom they are lit. In this case, Mary. Lutherans use candles. We have statues. Are statues of Mary out? Candles out? Put them together and is there any issue? How best to think through these issues?
The church web site on which this photo appears states that the statue is Christ, being held by Mary, which of course is true, the photo from the site however is titled "Theotokos" — God Bearer — the ancient [entirely correct] description of Mary. The other picture here is of a statue of Christ being held by St. Mary is one I took in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Worms, Germany.
The issue here goes back to what I have written about before. Congregations that love the historic liturgy and worship life of the church are no more free to "do their own thing" than congregations that want to imitate the local E-Free congregation, with hand waving and other such American pop-Christianity practices. The principles of liturgical life together espoused and set forth in our Lutheran Confessions are very clear that we do in fact have obligations to one another in matters liturgical. At the time the Lutheran Confessions were written, as the church orders authored by the same men who authored the Formula of Concord make clear, it was commonly understood that decisions regarding practices and liturgy were made together, and there were mutual obligations. Simply because a pastor, or a smaller group of pastors, determine that in their Lutheran Church they are going to follow what they perceive to be "better" or "more Lutheran" customs is no reason for them to do it.
Is it good, right and salutary for a congregation that is pledged to the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord to feature a statue of Mary, with burning candles, in its sanctuary? Are we to regard this as yet another way we Lutherans can "rehabilitate" a practice from the Roman Church, much as some claim we should and can do with Corpus Christi festival? Is this an appropriate way to make sure Lutherans do not throw the Blessed Lady out with the bath water of anti-Roman polemic? What do you think?