Martin Luther (3): Another Strike

The monastery reverberated with the chants of the strictly ordered Augustinian monks. A special ceremony was on schedule for the day—a new monk would say his first mass. Becoming a monk was one sure way to be certain of going to heaven. This suited the new monk, Martin Luther, very well. Even though a lightning strike had helped him decide to enter the monastery, he was consumed with being sure he was saved. The Church of Rome taught that this was the surest way.

Luther had been selected to be a priest shortly after becoming a monk. The day of performing his first mass had been postponed to allow his father to be present for the occasion. Now the day had come. Martin’s father was extremely angry with his son for becoming a monk. He and his wife had planned on Martin earning a good living to support them in their old age. Still, as was the custom of parents in those days, Hans Luther came to witness this significant event in his son’s life.

And significant it was. The mass is a drama and ritual in which it is believed that Christ is brought down from heaven to earth. Just as a magician might change a scarf into a live rabbit, by saying just the right words the priest changes the bread and wine into the physical body and blood of the Son of God. This is no small feat. Martin Luther, as a conscientious new priest, was well aware of the power that was now in his hands.

As Martin recited the words for the mass, he was suddenly struck by the infinite majesty and glory of God. Who was he, a sinful, miserable little pygmy, to be telling God what to do? Come down now, God, and become this bread and wine! A bolt of lightning had earlier knocked him to the ground. That experience was not unlike the sense of God’s holy majesty that struck him now. He trembled at the thought.

Somehow Martin Luther finished his first mass. For a time he would become accustomed to performing the ritual, but the thought of God as God—and man as man—had truly been impressed upon his soul. The effects of this strike never left him.