Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, defines the Lord’s Supper as: “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” Furthermore, Luther teaches that our Lord’s words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” “show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Faith that believes in Christ, and His word that what we receive in the Lord’s Supper is His true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, receives the blessings and benefits that are given by Jesus in this sacrament. Whoever does not believe these words does not receive any blessing in the eating and drinking, but as St. Paul testifies in 1 Corinthians 11: 27: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
The Real Presence
The Words of Institution clearly state that the consecrated bread and wine of the Holy Communion are the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. These words are found in St. Matthew 26:26-28; St. Mark 14:22-24; St. Luke 22:19-20 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed the Real Presence in terms of the doctrine of “transubstantiation.” This doctrine makes use of ancient Greek philosophy to explain the miracle of the Real Presence. It states that the substance or basic reality of the bread and wine are no longer present while the outward appearance is not affected. Thus, the substance of bread is no longer bread but Christ’s body and the substance of the wine is Christ’s blood.
Some people have described the Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence as being “consubstantiation.” This teaches that after the consecration the substances of both Christ’s body and of the bread co-exit with each other. Other people have described the Lutheran position as being “impanation,” which is the theory that Christ’s body and blood are in the bread and wine, but hidden in such a way that they are received without changing the substances of the bread and wine.
Christians in the Reformed tradition deny that the words of institution should be taken in a literal sense and teach, instead, the “Real Absence” (!) of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament. This is done by making “is” mean “represents” or “body” mean “the sign of My body.” “Presence” (according to this error in belief) is effected then, not by Christ, but by the faith of the communicant. Some in the Reformed tradition will insist that they believe in a real presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, but they understand this as Jesus being present in a spiritual way only and that they commune with Him by spiritually ascending into heaven to where He is seated at the right hand of God.
The doctrines mentioned above are philosophical arguments that attempt to explain exactly how Christ’s body and blood are present in the Sacrament. Lutherans have always resisted philosophical arguments and merely assert the mystery of faith that this bread is Christ’s body and this wine is Christ’s blood. Believing and trusting His words, we affirm that His body and blood are truly, really, and substantially present without attempting to explain how this happens.
Following the Feast
Once consecrated, the bread and wine used in the Sacrament ARE the Body and Blood of Christ, and are, therefore not ordinary bread and wine. Luther states: “For as soon as Christ says: ‘This is My body,’ His body is present through the Word and power of the Holy Spirit. If the Word is not there, it is mere bread; but as soon as the words are added they bring with them that of which they speak” (Luther’s Works 36:341).
Following both ancient and Confessional Lutheran custom, the consecrated elements remaining following the distribution to the congregation are to be reverently consumed by the pastor and his assistants. This is the practice advocated by Luther, who said: “Whatever is consecrated is best consumed at the Mass in which it was consecrated. This leaves the least room for ‘impious questions.’” The pastor consumes the remaining elements because otherwise it would conflict with Christ’s clear Words of Institution that command that what is consecrated (i.e., namely His body and blood) is to be eaten and drunk. If, for some reason, a large amount of consecrated elements remains unconsumed after the communion, the pastor may reverently cover these elements with the veil and consume what is remaining after the service. However, in no case should consecrated elements be mixed with unconsecrated elements, i.e., putting the “bread” back in the box or pouring the “wine” back into the bottle!
What’s It Called?
At the time of the Reformation, Luther and others continued the practice of referring to the Lord’s Supper as the Mass, a term derived from the Latin phrase, “missa est.” This was a dismissal spoken by the priest to the people at the conclusion of the Divine Service that came to be associated, in a shortened form, to the Sacrament itself. These days, many Lutherans find the use of the name Mass to be somewhat offensive when referring to the Lord’s Supper due to its association with the Roman Catholic Church. When used with care and sensitivity to the feelings of others, Mass is still an acceptable name for the Lord’s Supper.
Other names by which the Lord’s Supper may be referred are: Holy Communion, the Sacrament, the Lord’s Table, the Breaking of Bread, the Eucharist, the Holy Supper, the Holy Meal, and the Body and Blood of our Lord. The service at which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated is properly referred to as the Divine Service. The Lutheran Confessions sometimes refer to it as the “Chief Service” to distinguish it from other services or “offices” that were also held on Sundays and other days of the week.
In the Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession it is said of the Mass: “In the beginning we must make the preliminary statement that we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are performed every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, such as the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.”
Since in the Lord’s Supper we receive our Lord Jesus’ very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins it is a great gift to us and is central to the Divine Service. The holy Christian church through out the ages has identified the Lord’s Day (Sunday) with the Lord’s Supper. As such the Lord’s Supper was never viewed as an occasional extra or as somehow not as important as the other means of grace (Word, Absolution, Holy Baptism). In the Supper, the Church, the Bride of Christ, sees herself clearly as the Body of Christ, being “one flesh” with Christ Jesus – a great mystery indeed (Ephesians 5). The Supper is our Lord’s last will and testament where we receive His life-giving mercy.
Also, since each day and each week we are in need of the Lord’s forgiveness and strength, we are therefore in need of the Lord’s Supper much in every way. Today, our increasingly less and less Christianly influenced culture threatens our faith daily, along with the help of Satan and our own sinful desires (old Adam). In the Christian Questions and Answers in the Small Catechism, Luther writes the following, admonishing us to frequently receive the gift of Communion: “What should admonish and incite a Christian to receive the sacrament frequently? In respect to God, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord should move him, and in respect to himself, the trouble that lies heavy on him, on account of which such command, encouragement, and promise are given.”
With regard to the Lord’s Supper, Our Saviour exercises the practice of Closed Communion, in which only the communicant members of Our Saviour and visiting communicant members of congregations in fellowship with Our Saviour are permitted to receive the Sacrament. The term “Closed Communion” comes from the ancient Church practice of dismissing from the service, just prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, all who were not instructed and baptized in the Christian faith. They would be given a blessing before leaving the church and then the door to the church would be closed and locked.
The Sunday morning bulletin has the following statement on the cover page:
Central to the service of worship this morning is the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
If you have not previously communed at Our Saviour and are a member of a Lutheran Church-Canada congregation or a congregation which is in fellowship with the LCC, we welcome you to commune with us. Please announce your intention to commune to the Pastor before the service.
It is a consequence of the sad divisions in Christianity that we cannot extend to those Christians who are not fully united with us a general invitation to receive Communion. We believe that the celebration of Holy Communion signifies a oneness in faith, life, and worship for those who commune together. Reception of Holy Communion by Christians not fully united with us would imply a oneness which does not yet exist, and for which we must all pray.
There are those who may view this practice as being unloving. It is, in fact, the only loving course of action if one truly believes what St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 about being able to discern the body of the Lord in the Sacrament, lest the judgment of the Lord fall upon him. The congregation of Our Saviour Lutheran Church does not wish anyone to suffer the condemnation of the Lord for profaning the body and blood of Christ, and so we ask that those not instructed in the teaching of the Lutheran Church refrain from coming forward to receive the Lord’s Supper. We will happily work with anyone who wishes to be instructed and confirmed in the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith.