Martin Chemnitz on the Frequency of Holy Communion

The following passages show with what spirit the public gatherings of the church were to be approached and how the people were to behave in them: 1 Cor. 11:17; Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 5:4; Lev. 26:2; Is. 1:13; 1 Cor. 14:26,40. The words of the Decalog teach us that the soul must be called away from all other concerns and give itself entirely over to the public divine services. In Matt. 18:20 Christ repeats the promise given in Ex. 25:8 and Ezek. 37:26, “I will be in the midst of them and I will hear.” In 1 Cor. 14:24-25: “A person who comes into the church should be convinced, so that he will report that God truly is among us.” At this point we might add testimonies which show what pious people should be doing in the public meetings of the church. They include the following: (1) Acts 13:14-15, the words of the prophets are read every Sabbath; cf. Acts 15:21; 20:7; 13:44 ff. (2) There were prayers, Acts 16:13; Luke 1:10; 1 Tim. 2:1, 8. (3) They praised God with psalms and encouraged one another, Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:26; Ps. 42:5. (4) The Lordís Supper was administered, 1 Cor. 11:20 ff.; Acts 2:42; 20:7. (5) They collected alms, 1 Cor. 16:1-2. (Loci Theologici [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989], Vol. II, p. 392)

...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. (Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978], pp. 330-31)

[In] the ancient church, ...every day, or certainly every Lord’s Day, the whole fellowship communicated, and indeed often in so great a multitude that the largest churches were not able to contain them all at one time, so that it was often necessary to repeat the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on the same day, as Pope Leo shows, Letter No. 81. (Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, p. 366)

How often is the use of this Sacrament to be repeated by Christians? Christ did not want the use of this Sacrament to be bound either to a certain time or to certain days, except that Paul says that the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated when the church gathers to commemorate the death of the Lord, 1 Co 11:18-26. But it is certain that God wants us to use this Sacrament not only once, as we are baptized once, but often and frequently, 1 Co 11:26. For Paul has this in mind, that the Lord’s Supper followed in place of the paschal lamb of the Old Testament. And the paschal lamb was indeed eaten on a certain day and that only once a year. But on the other hand Paul says of the Lord’s Supper: As often etc.; with this term he wants to indicate that the use of this Sacrament is neither bound to a certain day, nor yet should it be only annually or by way of anniversary, like the eating of the paschal lamb, but often and frequently. Therefore, you ask, how often would be enough to have been a guest of this Supper? It is not for any man to give a specific answer to this, either with a number or with a certain measure, other than as often as a troubled conscience feels and recognizes that it needs those benefits that are offered in the Supper for comfort and strengthening. Consciences are therefore not to be forced but aroused to frequent use of this Supper by earnest admonition and by consideration of how necessary [and] likewise how salutary and profitable the use of this Supper is for us. But he that does not attend this most holy table thereby clearly shows that he is a Christian in name rather than in fact, namely that he is one who neglects and despises the command of his Savior, who says: Eat, drink, and do this as often etc. (Ministry, Word, and Sacraments [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981], p. 128)

“Chemnitz, the greatest theologian of the Sixteenth Century”
-- Theodore E. Schmauk

Communion Frequency in the Lutheran Confessions

The Administration and Reception of the Lord’s Supper

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