The Administration and Reception of the Lord’s Supper:
Some Guidance from the Lutheran Confessions

(Confessional quotations are from The Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert
[Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000].)


WHO SHOULD OFFICIATE AT THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER?

Concerning church government it is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call. (Augsburg Confession XIV [German])

For the church has the mandate to appoint ministers, which ought to please us greatly because we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it. (Apology XIII:12)

The gospel bestows upon those who preside over the churches the commission to proclaim the gospel, forgive sins, and administer the sacraments. In addition, it bestows legal authority, that is, the charge to excommunicate those whose crimes are public knowledge and to absolve those who repent. It is universally acknowledged, even by our opponents, that this power is shared by divine right by all who preside in the churches, whether they are called pastors, presbyters, or bishops. (Treatise 60-61)

According to the gospel the power of the keys or of the bishops is a power and command of God to preach the gospel, to forgive or retain sin, and to administer and distribute the sacraments. For Christ sent out the apostles with this command (John 20[:21-23]): “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. ... Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The same power of the keys or of the bishops is used and exercised only by teaching and preaching God’s Word and by administering the sacraments to many persons or to individuals, depending on one’s calling. (Augsburg Confession XXVIII:5-8 [German])

[Those who] hold office in the church...represent the person of Christ on account of the call of the church and do not represent their own persons, as Christ himself testifies [Luke 10:16], “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they offer them in the stead and place of Christ. (Apology VII/VIII:28)

...the one minister who consecrates gives the body and blood of the Lord to the rest of the people, just as a minister who preaches sets forth the gospel to the people, as Paul says [1 Cor. 4:1], “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries,” that is, of the gospel and the sacraments. And 2 Corinthians 5:20, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ...” (Apology XXIV:80)

...as Chrysostom says in his Sermon on the Passion, “Christ prepares this table himself and blesses it; for no human being makes the bread and wine, which are set before us, the body and blood of Christ. Rather Christ himself, who was crucified for us, does that. The words are spoken by the mouth of the priest, but when he says, ‘This is my body,’ the elements that have been presented in the Supper are consecrated by God’s power and grace through the Word. Just as the saying ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ [Gen. 1:28] was said only once and yet is continually effective in nature, causing it to grow and multiply, so these words were said once. But they are powerful and do their work in our day and until his return, so that in the Supper as celebrated in the church his true body and blood are present.” And Luther says: “This command and institution of his have the power to accomplish this, that we do not distribute and receive simply bread and wine but his body and blood, as his words indicate: ‘This is my body, this is my blood.’ So it is not our work or speaking but the command and ordinance of Christ that make the bread the body and the wine the blood, beginning with the first Lord’s Supper and continuing to the end of the world, and it is administered daily through our ministry or office.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VII:76-77)


HOW OFTEN SHOULD THE LORD’S SUPPER BE ADMINISTERED?

Now since the Mass...should be a Communion where the priest and others receive the sacrament for themselves, we celebrate it in this fashion. On holy days and at other times when communicants are present, Mass is celebrated, and those who desire it receive the sacrament. Thus, the Mass remains among us in its proper use, as it was observed formerly in the church. This can be demonstrated from St. Paul (1 Cor. 11[:23-33]) and from many writings of the Fathers. For Chrysostom tells how the priest stands every day and invites some to receive the sacrament, but forbids others to approach. (Augsburg Confession XXIV:34-36,39 [German])

Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved. (Apology XXIV:1)


WHO SHOULD RECEIVE THE LORD’S SUPPER?

[The Catechism] has been designed and undertaken for the instruction of children and the uneducated. ... It contains what every Christian should know. Anyone who does not know it should not be numbered among Christians nor admitted to any sacrament, just as artisans who do not know the rules and practices of their craft are rejected and considered incompetent. For this reason young people should be thoroughly taught the parts of the catechism (that is, instruction for children) and diligently drilled in their practice. (Large Catechism, Brief Preface: 1-3)

Therefore, my dear sirs and brothers, who are either pastors or preachers, I beg all of you for God’s sake to take up your office boldly, to have pity on your people who are entrusted to you, and to help us bring the catechism to the people, especially to the young. ... To begin with, teach them these parts: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc., following the text word for word, so that they can also repeat it back to you and learn it by heart. Those who do not want to learn these things – who must be told how they deny Christ and are not Christians – should also not be admitted to the sacrament, should not be sponsors for children at baptism, and should not exercise any aspect of Christian freedom... (Small Catechism, Preface: 6,10-11)

...we must speak about the...sacrament...under three headings, stating what it is, what its benefits are, and who is to receive it. All this is established from the words Christ used to institute it. So everyone who wishes to be a Christian and to go to the sacrament should know them. For we do not intend to admit to the sacrament and administer it to those who do not know what they seek or why they come. (Large Catechism V:1-2)

...the custom has been retained among us of not administering the sacrament to those who have not previously been examined and absolved. At the same time, the people are diligently instructed how comforting the word of absolution is and how highly and dearly absolution is to be esteemed. For it is not the voice or word of the person speaking it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin. For it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. ... Concerning confession, it is taught that no one should be compelled to enumerate sins in detail. For this is impossible, as the psalm [19:12] says: “But who can detect their errors?” And Jeremiah [17:9] says: “The human heart is so devious that no one can understand it.” Miserable human nature is so mired in sins that it cannot see or know them all. If we were absolved only from those sins that we can enumerate, we would be helped but little. That is why it is not necessary to compel people to enumerate sins in detail. This was also the view of the Fathers, as one finds it in dist. 1 of Concerning Confession where these words of Chrysostom are quoted: “I do not say that you should offer yourself up in public, or accuse yourself, or plead guilty before another person. Instead obey the prophet who says, ‘Reveal your way to the Lord’ [Ps. 37:5, Vulgate]. Therefore confess to the Lord God, the true judge, in your prayer. Do not speak your sin with the tongue, but in your conscience.” (Augsburg Confession XXV:1-3,7-11 [German])

...the Mass is celebrated among us with greater devotion and earnestness than among our opponents. The people are instructed more regularly and with the greatest diligence concerning the holy sacrament, to what purpose it was instituted, and how it is to be used, namely, as a comfort to terrified consciences. In this way, the people are drawn to Communion and to the Mass. At the same time, they are also instructed about other, false teaching concerning the sacrament. (Augsburg Confession XXIV:9,7 [German])

[The Smalcald Articles] set forth the basis and reason why we departed from the papist errors and idolatry and why we should have no fellowship with them – and also why we could reach no compromise with the papacy and did not intend to do so. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Rule & Norm: 7)

...Dr. Luther...wrote: “I regard them all as being part of the same cake” (that is, as sacramentarians and fanatics), “as indeed they are. For they do not want to believe that the Lord’s bread in the Supper is his true, natural body which the godless person or Judas receives orally just as well as St. Peter and all the saints. Whoever (I say) does not want to believe that should not trouble me...and should not expect to have fellowship with me. That is final.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VII:33)


HOW OFTEN SHOULD THE LORD’S SUPPER BE RECEIVED?

...now that we have the right interpretation and teaching concerning the sacrament, there is also great need to admonish and encourage us so that we do not let this great a treasure, which is daily administered and distributed among Christians, pass by to no purpose. What I mean is that those who want to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently. (Large Catechism V:39)

...it is certain that most people in our churches use the sacraments – absolution and the Lord’s Supper – many times during the course of a year. Moreover, those who instruct the people about the worth and fruits of the sacraments do so in such a way as to invite the people to use the sacraments frequently. ... Also, excommunication is pronounced on the openly wicked and on those who despise the sacraments. ... However, we do not prescribe a set time because not everyone is prepared in the same way at the same time. ... Christ says [1 Cor. 11:29] that “all who eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” Our pastors, accordingly, do not force those who are not ready to use the sacraments. (Apology XI:3-5)

...we should not compel anyone to believe or to receive the sacrament and should not fix any law or time or place for it. Instead, we should preach in such a way that the people make themselves come without our law and just plain compel us pastors to administer the sacrament to them. This can be done by telling them: You have to worry that whoever does not desire or receive the sacrament at the very least around four times a year despises the sacrament and is no Christian, just as anyone who does not listen to or believe the gospel is no Christian. For Christ did not say, “Omit this,” or “Despise this,” but instead [1 Cor. 11:25], “Do this, as often as you drink it. ...” He really wants it to be done and not completely omitted or despised. “Do this,” he says. Those who do not hold the sacrament in high esteem indicate that they have no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no dangers, no hell. That is, they believe they have none of these things, although they are up to their neck in them and belong to the devil twice over. On the other hand, they indicate that they need no grace, no life, no paradise, no heaven, no Christ, no God, nor any other good thing. For if they believed that they had so much evil and needed so much good, they would not neglect the sacrament, in which help against such evil is provided and in which so much good is given. It would not be necessary to compel them with any law to receive the sacrament. Instead, they would come on their own, rushing and running to it; they would compel themselves to come and would insist that you give them the sacrament. For these reasons you do not have to make any law concerning this, as the pope did. Only emphasize clearly the benefit and the harm, the need and the blessing, the danger and the salvation in this sacrament. Then they will doubtless come on their own without any compulsion. (Small Catechism, Preface: 21-24)

...we have a clear text in the very words of Christ, “Do this in remembrance of me.” These are words that instruct and command us, urging all those who want to be Christians to partake of the sacrament. Therefore, whoever wants to be a disciple of Christ – it is those to whom he is speaking here – must faithfully hold to this sacrament, not from compulsion, forced by humans, but to obey and please the Lord Christ. ... Indeed, precisely his words, “as often as you do it,” imply that we should do it frequently. And they are added because he wishes the sacrament to be free, not bound to a special time like the Passover, which the Jews were obligated to eat only once a year, precisely on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first full moon, without variation of a single day. He means to say: “I am instituting a Passover or Supper for you, which you shall enjoy not just on this one evening of the year, but frequently, whenever and wherever you will, according to everyone’s opportunity and need, being bound to no special place or time”... (Large Catechism V:45,47)

...it is most necessary that we know what we should seek and obtain there [in the Lord’s Supper]. This is clear and easily understood from the words... “This is my body and blood, given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” That is to say, we go to the sacrament because there we receive a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because the words [of Christ] are there, and they impart it to us! For this reason he bids me eat and drink, that it may be mine and do me good as a sure pledge and sign – indeed, as the very gift he has provided for me against my sins, death, and all evils. Therefore, it is appropriately called food of the soul, for it nourishes and strengthens the new creature. For in the first instance, we are born anew through baptism. However, our human flesh and blood...have not lost their old skin. There are so many hindrances and attacks of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint and at times even stumble. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger. For the new life should be one that continually develops and progresses. But it has to suffer a great deal of opposition. The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attack the old creature, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about at every turn, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or lose heart and become indifferent or impatient. For times like these, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment. (Large Catechism V:22-27)

Here stand the gracious and lovely words, “This is my body, given for you,” “This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words...are not preached to wood or stone but to you and me... Ponder, then, and include yourself personally in the “you” so that he may not speak to you in vain. For in this sacrament he offers us all the treasures he brought from heaven for us, to which he most graciously invites us in other places, as when he says in Matthew 11[:28]: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Surely it is a sin and a shame that, when he so tenderly and faithfully summons and exhorts us for our highest and greatest good, we regard it with such disdain, neglecting it so long that we grow quite cold and callous and lose all desire and love for it. We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine that aids you and gives life in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body is helped as well. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison that would kill us if we ate of it? Of course, it is true that those who despise the sacrament and lead unchristian lives receive it to their harm and damnation. To such people nothing can be good or wholesome, just as when a sick person willfully eats and drinks what is forbidden by the physician. But those who feel their weakness, who are anxious to be rid of it and desire help, should regard and use the sacrament as a precious antidote against the poison in their systems. For here in the sacrament you are to receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and brings with it God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death, the devil, and every trouble. (Large Catechism V:64-70)

...Christ...is present especially with his church and community on earth as mediator, head, king, and high priest. He is not halfway present, nor is just half of him present. The entire person of Christ is present, to which belong both natures, the divine and the human. He is present not only according to his deity, but also according to and with the assumed human nature, according to which he is our brother and we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone [Eph. 5:30 in the Vulgate; cf. Gen. 2:23]. He instituted his Holy Supper as a certain assurance and confirmation of this, that also in the nature according to which he has flesh and blood he wants to be with us, to dwell in us, to work in us, and to exert his power for us. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VIII:78-79)

For Paul expressly teaches in 1 Corinthians 11[:27] that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner” is sinning not only against bread and wine and not only against a sign or symbol or figure of the body and blood. Such a person is “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” Jesus Christ and dishonors, misuses, and desecrates Christ, who is present there... The ancient Christian Fathers and teachers of the church unanimously understood and explained this passage in this way. Paul means that not only the pious, godly, and faithful Christians but also the unworthy, godless hypocrites, such as Judas and his kind, who participate in no spiritual sharing with Christ and who go to the table of the Lord without true repentance and conversion to God, also receive the true body and blood of Christ orally in the sacrament. Thus, they sin grievously by eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ unworthily. ... It is essential to explain with great diligence who the unworthy guests at this Supper are, namely, those who go to the sacrament without true contrition or sorrow over their sins and without true faith or the good intention to improve their lives. With their unworthy eating of Christ’s body they bring down judgment upon themselves, that is, temporal and eternal punishments, and they become guilty of Christ’s body and blood. The true and worthy guests, for whom this precious sacrament above all was instituted and established, are the Christians who are weak in faith, fragile and troubled, who are terrified in their hearts by the immensity and number of their sins and think that they are not worthy of this precious treasure and of the benefits of Christ because of their great impurity, who feel the weakness of their faith and deplore it, and who desire with all their heart to serve God with a stronger, more resolute faith and purer obedience. As Christ says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” [Matt. 11:28], and, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” [Matt. 9:12]. “God’s power is made mighty in the weak” [2 Cor. 12:9], and Romans 14[:1,3], “Welcome those who are weak in faith...for God has welcomed them.” For “whoever believes in the Son of God,” whether weak or strong in faith, “has eternal life” [John 3:16]. Moreover, this worthiness consists not in a greater or lesser weakness or strength of faith, but rather in the merit of Christ, which the troubled father with his weak faith (Mark 9[:24]) possessed, just as did Abraham, Paul, and others who have a resolute, strong faith. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VII:60,68-71)

Many among us celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s day after they are instructed, examined, and absolved. (Apology XV:40)


APPENDICES

Should anyone request my counsel in this way, then I would give this advice: ... that you should celebrate one or two Masses in the two parish churches on Sundays or holy days, depending on whether there are few or many communicants. Should it be regarded as needful or good, you might do the same in the hospital too. ...you might celebrate Mass during the week on whichever days it would be needful, that is, if any communicants would be present and would ask for and request the Sacrament. This way we should compel no one to receive the Sacrament, and yet everyone would be adequately served in an orderly manner. If the Ministers of the Church would fall to griping at this point, maintaining that they were being placed under duress or complaining that they are unfitted to face such demands, then I would demonstrate to them that no merely human compulsion is at work here, but on the contrary they are being compelled by God Himself through His Call. For because they have the Office, they are already, in virtue of their Call and Office, obliged and compelled to administer the Sacrament whenever people request it of them, so that their excuses amount to nothing; just as they are under obligation to preach, comfort, absolve, help the poor, and visit the sick as often as people need or ask for these services. (Martin Luther, Letter to the Nürnberg City Senate; quoted in John Raymond Stephenson, “The Holy Eucharist: At the Center or Periphery of the Church’s Life in Luther’s Thinking?”, A Lively Legacy: Essays in Honor of Robert Preus [Fort Wayne, Ind.: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1985], pp. 161-62)

I wish, and it ought to be so, that no mass at all would be celebrated except at such times as the people were present who really desired the sacrament and asked for it, and that this would be only once a week or once a month. For the sacrament should never be celebrated except at the instigation and request of hungry souls, never because of duty, endowment, custom, ordinance, or habit. (Martin Luther, “Receiving Both Kinds in the Sacrament,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 36 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959], pp. 256-57)

With reference to your question concerning the communication of the sick, I think that you have been sufficiently instructed by the custom of our Church [in Wittenberg], with which you have been conversant for such a long time. Yet I wish and am of the opinion that private Communion should be abolished everywhere – namely, that the people should be told in sermons to receive Communion three or four times a year in order that, strengthened by the Word, they may afterward fall asleep, no matter what the cause of death may be. For private Communion will increasingly impose an intolerable and impossible burden, especially in time of pestilence. And it is not right that the Church should be required to peddle the Sacraments, particularly in the case of those who have despised them for a long time and who then expect the Church to be ready to be of service to them, although they never rendered it a service of any kind. However, since this practice has not yet been established, you must do what you can. Meanwhile, as you have done, you should administer Communion to the sick alone when it does not please you to receive Communion with them, but you should explain that you are doing this as a temporary expedient and that you will not continue to do this for them forever inasmuch as something will certainly be decided about this matter. (Martin Luther, Letter to Anthony Lauterbach [Nov. 26, 1539], Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960], p. 305)

[Luther went] to the Lord’s Supper usually every fourteen days or at most three weeks... (Veit Dietrich, Letter to Philip Melanchthon; quoted in Hans Preuss, “Luther as Communicant,” Lutheran Church Quarterly, Vol. XIV, No. 2 [April 1941], p. 198)

...fellowship at the Lord’s table is a testimony of consensus, harmony, and unity in doctrine and faith, as Paul says: “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17)... (Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978], p. 302)

...Christ...did not want to permit believers to use Communion arbitrarily, so that it would make no difference whether they used it occasionally or not at all or when they pleased, as one does in matters indifferent. For He does not say: “When it pleases you,” as in indifferent matters, but says: “As often as you do this.” It is not the same as with Baptism; we are baptized only once, but it is not sufficient to use the Lord’s Supper only once. For He says: “As often as,” in order that we may eat of that bread and drink of that cup as often as we recognize and feel that that medicine and remedy which our Good Samaritan pours into our wounds is useful and necessary to us, so long only as we examine ourselves lest we receive it to judgment. For the rule about when and how often one should go to Communion must be taken: I. From the teaching about the fruit and power of the Eucharist, namely, when and as often as we recognize that we have need of this power; II. From the teaching about self-examination, lest we receive it unworthily. On this basis people are to be taught, admonished, and exhorted to more diligent and frequent use of the Eucharist. For because Christ says: “As often as you do this,” it is wholly His will that those who are His disciples should do this frequently. Therefore those are not true and faithful ministers of Christ who in any manner whatever lead or frighten people away from more frequent use and reception of the Eucharist. There are beautiful examples of frequent use of the Eucharist from the true antiquity. Some had the custom of receiving the Eucharist daily, some twice a week, some on the Lord’s day, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, some only on the Lord’s Day. Testimonies to this are found with Jerome, in the epistle to Lucinius; with Ambrose, on 1 Tim. 2; with Augustine, Letter No. 118; De fide ad Petrum, ch. 19; De ecclesiasticis dogmatibus, ch. 53; with Socrates, Bk. 5, ch. 22. (Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, pp. 330-31)

Because it has been accepted as a practice in the Christian church that in the public assemblies of the church after the preaching and hearing of the Word this Sacrament is celebrated, therefore, this custom must not be departed from without urgent necessity. ...it is...clear from Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20,33, that when the Christians did gather at one place, they were accustomed to celebrate the Eucharist. (Johann Gerhard, Harmonia Quatuor Evangelistarum [Frankfort and Hamburg, 1652], Vol. II, p. 1085; quoted in Kurt Marquart, “Liturgical Commonplaces,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 4 [October 1978], pp. 336-37)

The first Christians celebrated it [the Holy Supper] almost daily; especially in times of persecution, in order to be daily ready for death. ... The Holy Supper was regarded as the most glorious divine Armory, in which one receives the most invincible weapons for the spiritual battle. ... The Holy Supper with the body and blood of Jesus Christ is the new Tree of Life, which stood in Paradise, which Christ has now again planted in His kingdom of Grace. ... O adorable, comforting mystery! The holy flesh of God, which the angels adore and the archangels reverence, becomes a Food for sinners! Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad, but still more the believing soul, which enjoys such great gifts! (C. F. W. Walther, Gnadenjahr [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1890], pp. 209 ff.; quoted in Kurt Marquart, “The Word As Life,” Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. VIII, No. 3 [Spring 1968], pp. 51-52)

A morning service on Sundays or festivals without communion is like a broken column... God is rich toward all who seek him, and those who come to his table shall be satisfied with the abundance of his house. Nor ought anyone to say that frequent celebration serves to bring the Sacrament into contempt, for those who are rightly prepared will always hunger for this bread and thirst for this drink; and the more frequently that they commune, the firmer becomes the persuasion that all of the earthly life is only a preparation for the celebration of the great Supper on High. ... It should not often occur that the Communion is altogether omitted from the morning service. (Wilhelm Loehe, Agenda for North American Congregations; quoted in Christian Worship: Handbook [Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1993], p. 44)




Communion Frequency in the Lutheran Confessions

Martin Chemnitz on the Frequency of Holy Communion

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