Sunday, November 20, 2011

To have the Sacrament or not?

I read again Oscar Cullmann's Early Christian Worship and this quote jumped out at me.  "It is not as though the early Christians knew three kinds of service, as we are in the habit of imagining....serve of the Word and alongside of it, Baptism and the Lord's Supper.  It is rather that in the early Church there are only these two celebrations or services -- the common meal, within the framework of which proclamation of the Word always had its place, and Baptism."

In the NT and the Church that follows it in time, the breading of the bread in the Sacramental meal was from the beginning the basis and nature of all of the worship services of Christians.  The early Church did not know the distinction between a service of the Word (prayer and proclamation) but only the preaching that took place within the service of the meal.

Lutherans once knew and affirmed this.  The Order of Morning Service without Communion as generations grew up knowing in The Lutheran Hymnal represents not only a disconnect with early Church practice but a foreign and alien identity for Lutheran confession and theology as well.  In Lutheran theology and practice, the Service of the Word was provided for only if and when there were no communicants presenting themselves for the Table.  It was not a plan but a back up if no communicants came for the Lord's Supper. Nevertheless, what was at best a back up became the ordinary service on Sunday morning for Lutherans for generations and generations and this had its effect on the piety of Lutherans as well.  People's piety no longer flowed from or to the meal but because a piety of the Word almost exclusively and, in this way, did not distinguish itself much from the rest of Protestantism except the the belief in the Real Presence remained.  The sad fact, however, is that this believe in the Real Presence because more theory than reality since the Supper had been reduced to a quarterly observance among many Lutherans in America.

The sad and deteriorating effect of this upon Lutheranism has been revealed in the recent movement toward contemporary Christian worship and music in which Word, Sermon, Song, and Prayer have become the new ecumenical liturgy borrowed from evangelicals and non-denominationals but something alien and foreign to the Lutheran theology and practice of the Confessions.  When worship is primarily preaching and singing, there is no reason not to borrow forms and content from non-Lutherans if it is thought their forms and content works better than the Lutheran ones.  It is only when worship is sacramental, when Word and song form part of the liturgy of the Meal and not separate and distinct services or forms in and other themselves, that such borrowed liturgies are exposed for what they are -- defective and deficient.

While much has been done among Lutherans to reclaim their heritage of Word and Table and to practice the Divine Service in its full form with the sacramental liturgy being truncated, the fact remains that for many Lutherans today -- even those who use the hymnal -- the Sacrament is an optional extra and not that which is essential to what could or should happen on Sunday morning.  If statistics are correct, we have worked hard to restore the practice of the weekly Eucharist yet we have far to go in teaching and instilling a sacramental piety in the hearts, minds, and lives of Lutheran people.

For myself, if I am on vacation or away on Sunday morning, I will not attend a Lutheran church that does not offer the Sacrament of the Altar.  My family is of the same mind.  In fact, we have chosen to sit and watch others commune in parishes with good liturgy and faithful preaching which happen to be outside our communion fellowship instead of attending a congregation with which we were in fellowship but which did not offer the liturgy and the Sacrament on Sunday morning.  It was when my children made this observation and insistence that I understood what it meant to teach and raise up people in which  the Sacrament of the Altar is not optional to Sunday morning but essential to Lutheran piety and faith.


Janis Williams said...

Could this also be the reason so many consider worship to be our service to God (singing, praying - Baptist style, and preaching)? When we are expelling breath, we are like a little Adam, believing we are something (god). When we receive the Sacrament of the Table, we simply receive, and are served by God.

Anonymous said...

" ...I will not attend a Lutheran church that does not offer the Sacrament of the Altar... In fact, we have chosen to sit and watch others commune in parishes with good liturgy and faithful preaching which happen to be outside our communion fellowship instead of attending a congregation with which we were in fellowship but which did not offer the liturgy and the Sacrament on Sunday morning." While I understand the point you are trying to make here, are you saying that you attend a Roman or Anglican service for the sake of good form? When I am out of town, I will be sure and find an LCMS congregation celebrating the Blessed Sacrament, even if I must travel a bit. Correct me if I am wrong, but it would be ill-advised to attend a non-Lutheran service just observe "good liturgy".

Terry Maher said...

With all due respect:

Not having Communion every Sunday does not come from thinking it optional, or not essential. It comes from realising that it cannot, contra Rome's practice, be legislated into a requirement or make it a litmus test.

I cannot imagine going to a church with which I am not in communion -- meaning I do not believe what they teach -- because they are having a nice liturgy where people are communing though I cannot because of their official heterodoxy.

Formalism, nothing else. For which reason I hope the custom of first and third Sunday communion remains.

Anonymous said...

The real culprit in the LCMS is The
Lutheran Hymnal from 1941 to 1981 as
the only "official hymnal".

The Page 5 Divine Service without
Communion became the standard fare
on the liturgical menu for our laity.
During those 40 years in the dreary
wilderness a weekly Eucharist was
not available in the large majority
of our LCMS parishes.

Anonymous said...

What percent of LCMS congregations offer the Lord's Supper in every Divine Service on Sundays and festivals? What an awful thing that we have to ask if the Lord's Supper is offered. Just do it.

Terry Maher said...

Since when does "Do this as often as you drink it ..." become Do this every Sunday and festival.

Anonymous said...

Since when does "Preach the Gospel"..become Do this every Sunday and festival.

Nobody seems to question that a sermon is preached every Sunday so why question that Divine Service is offered every Sunday and on festivals?

Actually, read the Augburg Confession, Article 24, and you will note that Lutherans offer the Mass on Sundays and other festivals. It's always a good thing to offer the Holy Supper each Lord's Day.

Just do it.

Terry Maher said...

Actually it says every holy day.

I am not against weekly Communion, I am not for first and third Sunday Communion, I am against making any sort of rule about it. The Preface to the Small Catechism specifically says not to make a rule about it, and that if one needs that sort of thing then go back to the pope.

Anonymous said...

When a parish offers a weekly
Eucharist, then the laity have the
freedom to partake or not to partake.
Terry Maher does not want it to be
a legalistic requirement for anyone.

All Christians are not at the same
level of spiritual maturity and some
might not be ready for a weekly
Eucharist. Yet this does not mean
that a parish should not offer it.

Mike Green said...

We absolutely should not force people to attend the Lord's Supper weekly. Nor should we force those with cancer to receive all of their scheduled chemotherapy treatments. But what patient in his right mind would refuse it? If we understood the Eucharist and our own condition rightly, we would beg for Holy Communion daily.

Terry Maher said...

"The way to go about this is to tell them that if anyone does not seek or desire the Lord's Supper at the very least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not Christian, just as no-one is a Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel. ... do not set up any law concerning it, as the pope does."

"Do this as often as you drink it ..."

Terry Maher didn't say any of that. Martin Luther said the first, Jesus Christ the second. But Terry Maher will damn well sign his name to what he does say.

BrotherBoris said...

Terry: You need to put that quote from Luther in its proper context. Luther was speaking of the frequency of RECEPTION. Luther was stating that those who do not commune at least four times a year are despising the Sacrament and are probably not Christians. Luther was NOT speaking there of the frequency of CELEBRATION, which was every Sunday during his lifetime. It was simply a given fact for the first 100 years of the Lutheran Church's existence that the Sacrament of the Altar was celebrated every Sunday and Holy Day as Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession states.

Lutheran parishes in Luther's day didn't get to "vote" on how often the Eucharist would be celebrated. It simply was a given that it was celebrated every Sunday. It was simply part of what Lutherans did on Sunday, and just as important as the Sermon. It was the rise of Pietism that destroyed the every Sunday Eucharist in the Lutheran Church, not Luther's advice about receiving it a minimum of four times a year from the Small Catechism.

Josh Osbun said...

Terry: You are correct that AC XXIV says, "Every holy day." But for the Lutherans that included the feast days. How do we know this? Because AP XXIV states, "For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it."

Furthermore, offering the Sacrament of the Altar on a weekly basis is not legislating it into a legal requirement. Just because the Sacrament is offered it does not mean that one must partake. The person who wishes not to receive every week may sit in his pew and continue to sing hymns.

However, if the Sacrament is not offered, then the person who does wish to receive it on a weekly basis must submit to the legal requirement of not receiving it. So in fact, it is more legalistic NOT to offer the Sacrament weekly than it is to offer it weekly.

If you offer it weekly, then everyone who wishes to receive it may. But if you do not, then only those who do not wish to receive it are being served.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, never mind the catholic witness of the early church which practiced weekly Communion.

vergilius said...

"In Lutheran theology and practice, the Service of the Word was provided for only if and when there were no communicants presenting themselves for the Table. It was not a plan but a back up if no communicants came for the Lord's Supper."

I am curious about these statements. What are the primary sources for such assertions? They make little sense to me. Would a pastor know not to prepare the elements before the service based on whether or not people announced themselves beforehand for communion? Or did the pastor wait to see if anyone came forward, in which case the service of holy communion was already in progress anyway. If these statements are true, can any primary reference be cited to a Service of the Word being held in a 16th or 17th Lutheran church? It is hard to believe that there were never any communicants. Assuming that the Service of the Word was a backup plan for a last minute lack of communicants, does that mean that the pastor himself would not commune? If so, why not?

Rev. Bruce Lucas
Immanuel Lutheran Church
Monroe, MI

P.S. We have weekly communion, but not at each service.

Paul said...

"Liturgical Life in Leipzig" (great book)shows that 200 plus years after Blesseed Martin, the Eucharist, Sermon and Cantata were alive and well each Lord's Day.

Anonymous said...

"The Order of Morning Service without Communion as generations grew up knowing in The Lutheran Hymnal represents not only a disconnect with early Church practice but a foreign and alien identity for Lutheran confession and theology as well."

That was the big hiccup with TLH, which adopted so much of the Book of Commom Prayer which resulted in the Anglican/Episcopalian service of Morning Prayer without Holy Communion.

Terry Maher said...

Excellent argument Vicar Josh!

I'm not arguing for any set manner of frequency of reception, or of offering. I'm against "setting" any of them, in the sense that doing otherwise is less than Lutheran. If a parish wants weekly, every other week, or quarterly Communion, fine. It's when it becomes a badge of authentic Lutheranism that I get off the boat.

Even earlier in my lifetime, there were those who could remember frequent Communion as a novelty, and I'm talking RC here, where it was offered every damn day. This issue did not originate with Lutheranism nor is it unique to it. Frequency of offering and frequency of receiving do not, and historically have not, followed each other.

Anonymous said...

There is no sense in quibbling about this. Simply offer Divine Service each Sunday because the flock is in need of it and will receive it with joy and gladness. What a blessing to have the weekly Eucharist!

Josh Osbun said...

Terry: Thank you for addressing me as "Vicar." It made me realize that my Blogger profile was a couple of years out of date. It's been properly updated.

It's hard to deny weekly Communion as being a mark of true Lutheranism. This is what the Christians in Acts 2 were doing. This is what the catholic and orthodox fathers did. This is what the Lutheran fathers did. But now in Lutheranism in America we have decided that it's okay to offer it less frequently? That's a very serious disconnect. It goes against the model established by Scripture, the Confessions, and the writings of the fathers. How can a Lutheran claim the title of "Lutheran" while rejecting the practice of not just Lutherans but also of the whole catholic and orthodox tradition?

Just because it is offered it does not have to be received. But it must be offered before it can be received. And if it's not offered, then no one can receive it.

So Lutherans offer it every Lord's day, every feast day, and as often as the people ask for it.

Anonymous said...

"How can a Lutheran claim the title of "Lutheran" while rejecting the practice of not just Lutherans but also of the whole catholic and orthodox tradition?"

Good point. Those are the marks of a sect. We American Lutherans sometimes have a bit of tunnel vision thinking that the way it's done here is the way it was always done.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Just offer it as frequently as possible. There is no need to withhold the body and blood. Preach, teach, and administer. That is the way of Lutheranism. When you come to the end of your life you will never regret having received the Sacrament frequently, but you will regret not doing so.

Joe Herl said...

Pastor Lucas has some great questions. I'll do what I can to answer them.

The liturgical prescriptions in the early Lutheran church orders typically had a rubric after the sermon saying something like "If there are no communicants, the service is concluded with [a prayer, a hymn, and the blessing]." So the communion portion of the service wouldn't have been started at all.

How did pastor know there would be no communicants? Because Lutherans generally required communicants to attend private confession after Vespers the previous evening (although those living far from the church might go to confession early on Sunday so they wouldn't have to make two trips). If no one came to confession, then there were no communicants. The practice had the added advantage of letting the pastor know exactly how much bread and wine to consecrate so there would be no Body and Blood of Christ left over.

Historical records show that the number of communicants varied quite a lot from place to place. In Leipzig during Bach's day (early 18th century), there were so many communicants that confessional stations had to be set up all around the rather large church, and people would line up for confession from early Saturday morning right until Vespers. Such a large attendance presented a problem with the main service, which started at 7:00; namely, getting out in time for the noon service to start. That was because communion distribution could take up to three hours. But in other places, especially rural churches, it was apparently common for there to be no communicants. The church orders generally provided that in such instances pastors were to exhort the people from the pulpit to commune more frequently.

It's not hard to see, though, why people didn't commune all that often. First, there was the obligation to go to confession before communing. Luther didn't insist on it every time, but most churches that followed his teachings did. Second, before the Reformation, most people communed only once a year, at Easter. Mass was held every week (and during the week), but usually only the priest communed. So communing, say, four times per year would have been a large increase in the frequency of reception.

The Lutheran Service Book contains the rubric "If there is no communion, the service concludes with, etc." Early Lutherans would have been surprised at the notion that a church could plan not to offer communion. I suggested to the committee preparing the liturgy for LSB that they adopt the early Lutheran formula "If there are no communicants," because that would suggest that a noncommunion service is an exception rather than the rule, but it didn't happen.

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

vergilius said...

Thanks, Joel! That's exactly what I was looking for.


Anonymous said...

So it would seem Pastor Peters' (and other liturgical LCMS pastors and laity) call for private confession and frequent Communion have precedent in the early days of Lutheranism.

Not that that will fly with the LCMS "Willow Creek" congregations.

Terry Maher said...

Dr Herl is exactly right, and I am not unaware of those things. They do not constitute a reason for insisting on every Sunday Communion now.

The fact is, reception of Communion is entirely unconnected to offering of Communion, as I said before. And the Mass, though every single one of them has Communion and they are daily, typically had no communicants other than the priest. I mentioned before, even in my lifetime there were those who remember the push for frequent Communion as a novelty, and novelty it was. In fact, even yearly Communion had to be commanded, and remains to this day one of the Six Precepts of the (RCC) Church (the "Easter Duty").

It is in this context that Luther is speaking.

Also, there are Lutherans still around who remember the vestige of what Dr Herl mentions -- announcing for Communion on Saturday. As I remember its RC counterpart, the long lines for Confession on Saturday.

It simply does not apply to wrest every Sunday communion from statements made in a context of having Vespers, having Communion every Mass but nobody goes, not to mention the priest being the only one who actually communes in both species. What was happening was a recovery of what the Eucharist even is, from the chains into which it had been put in the Babylonian Captivity and remains to this day even with regular Communion now the norm in the RCC.

This insistence on every Sunday Communion is just liturgical fundamentalism pure and simple, picking and choosing what fits to support it from a past the rest of whose conditions are ignored let alone insisted upon.

I am for frequent Communion, I am for frequent Confession, and I am dead set against the sort of compulsion about it or setting written or unwritten rules about it such as Dr Luther and I came from, which is all this liturgical fundamentalism is. If you need that sort of thing or think it works go back to the pope, as Luther says.

Anonymous said...

Gee, the early church must have been made up of rank legalists since Communion was offered every Sunday. Seems to me that the Catholics and Orthodox have been more faithful in keeping that ancient tradition than us Lutherans.

You might also take a look at how many times you use the word "I", Mr. Maher. Are you the self-appointed spokesman for all things in our Synod?

Anonymous said...

What is the Scriptural and Confessional argument for not offering Word and Sacrament each Sunday? Answer: none. Simply, there is no reason not to offer Divine Service each Lord's day. What a joy and blessing to offer the means of grace, absolution, Gospel, body and blood each Sunday in Divine Service. This is the Lutheran way.

Terry Maher said...

I don't have any standing at all in the Synod, just a butt in the pew. "I" tends to happen when you put your name to what you write, Whoever You Are.

"This is the Lutheran way"? Don't make any sort of law concerning it, as the pope does. That's the Lutheran way.

Anonymous said...

Um, bit of a problem here. The Orthodox have always had weekly Communion too.

Last I looked, they don't have a pope.

If the Sacrament is all that Lutherans believe it to be, we should welcome having it every Sunday -- just as the early Lutherans did.

Anonymous said...

We offer Divine Service each Sunday, but do not require it. That's the distinction in the Bible and Book of Concord. That's really not hard to understand and comprehend. Thank God for faithful pastors and congregations that offer the means of grace each week on a regular basis. We can count on them.

Terry Maher said...

Actually they have several popes, but what the hey. Again, the point isn't against weekly Communion, but against making some sort of rule about it.

Anonymous said...

No, they do not have several "popes" -- the Holy Synod of Bishops is the supreme canonical authority in the Orthodox church.

What you don't seem to get is that the early Lutherans didn't need to make rules about Communion every Sunday. They just did what the church catholic has always done.

Lutheran Pastor said...

Soooo when the Lutherans confessed they had not abolished the Mass but have it every Lord's day, holy day, and every other time communicants wish to receive it... they were merely speaking descriptively and not suggesting at all that this was the norm for Lutheran parish life?????

Lurker said...

"I am for frequent Communion, I am for frequent Confession, and I am dead set against the sort of compulsion about it or setting written or unwritten rules about it such as Dr Luther and I came from, which is all this liturgical fundamentalism is. If you need that sort of thing or think it works go back to the pope, as Luther says."

How can you be for frequent Communion (reception) if the Sacrament is not offered weekly? In order to have one, you must have the other.

Me thinks you are far more of a libertarian than Luther. He found no problem in saying the Mass IS observed every Sunday, feast day, and when people come desiring to receive it; by your definition that constitutes legalism.

Terry Maher said...

No popes? Tell it to Shenouda III and Theodore II. There's Holy Synods all over too and throughout history. Oriental Christians, Eastern Christians, how's that working for you? Peter the Great set himself up a hell of a holy synod; they help when you've got an empire to run.

Frequent is not a precise term. In a situation where Communion is offered daily, even several times a day, but people rarely go frequent has a different context than when it is offered weekly or daily and all or nearly all go.

Our -- the pastors' -- ministry is something different than it was under the pope. Let's keep it that way, or go back to Rome.

Anonymous said...

No popes? Tell it to Shenouda III and Theodore II.

Neither of whom have jurisdiction over the entire Orthodox world.

Anonymous said...

Our congregation offers, but does not require communion on Sundays. It is not a requirement, but offered for those who wish for it. I'm glad to be a Lutheran who is served a regular diet of Word and Sacrament each week.

Larry Luder said...

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42-47) is the characteristics of a healthy church. Full blast worship requires it. Anything less is questionable. Jesus wants to give his gifts to us and we don’t allow it? No one makes anyone go up to partake. Jesus gives himself free to us beggars yet we suggest to Jesus to come back next week. It makes no sense to gather in a place without the Eucharist. Taste and see, God is good. For me, I’m in a Lutheran parish that offers the daily Eucharist

Terry Maher said...

All this AC stumping would be a lot more convincing if it weren't selective -- we do not for the most part retain the ceremonies previously in use but for the most part use our versions of Rome's new ones, we do not retain the customary readings but use our version of Rome's new ones.

Daily, weekly, first and third, monthly, quarterly, fine. Making a rule about it, not fine. Going somewhere where the Word and Sacrament are not held as we confess them because they are having their Sacrament, incomprehensible.

Pastor Peters said...

Terry, the only rule that is a concern is if receiving were required; a rule requiring the Sacrament be offered is not legalism since the "law" would be to offer "grace."

It seems that in this thread of comments the difference between requiring reception and offering the Sacrament is being blurred or ignored. Requiring reception is legalism. Requiring the Sacrament to be offered as the Divine Service (can we call it that without the Sacrament) is not legalism but good Lutheran confessional practice (evangelical and catholic as well).

Terry Maher said...

The distinction between offering and receiving, which is real, only masks other things that are selectively ignored. If one is going to hold offering it as the necessary norm for every service, then why the long-standing disconnect between offering and receiving?

Ie, why would Luther, in a context of its being offered every time every day, havve to push for a bare minimum of reception four times a year? Why would the RCC itself have to maintain at least yearly reception during Eastertime as the minimum? Precisely because in practice offering and receiving have been disconnected through a false piety of a works-based sense of righteousness. The Verba are all about receiving; that's what the offer is. Take, eat; take, drink; not here, maybe this time, maybe next time.

And it is precisely because though offering and receiving are distinct yet parts of one whole, that the Confessions are also quite clear about no-one being admitted to the table unless he has been examined. Who bothers about that to-day? Who even so much as announces for Communion except as to filling out a card that will indicate you did?

The fact is, refusing reception when offered should only happen in grave circumstances, since the only point of offering is to receive. Therefore, the push to simply have it offered is just litugicalism, a liturgical form of fundamentalism, which blurs and ignores the very words of Christ which are not Offer, but Take, Eat/Drink, and ignores the measures we are to take to facilitate reception.

Anonymous said...

The fact is that Lutherans have been heavily influenced by the surrounding American Protestant culture. Look at the new Lutheran congregations that model themselves on the evangelical style. You don't see too much emphasis on Sacraments at all, never mind whether the Sacrament should or should not be offered weekly.

The "Easter Duty" in the RC is old hat even if it is still on the books. Most Catholics receive much more frequently now. Luther was dealing with a situation in his own time. Frankly, your comments sound more legalistic than Rome's.

Anonymous said...

You can't receive what hasn't been made available.

Terry Maher said...

What is being made available has no provision for not being received -- take, eat/drink. The relatively recent frquent Communion in the RC despite centuries of being offered daily alone demonstrates there is NO connexion between offering and receiving, and the Verba make clear that the offer is to be received. Just offering weekly COmmunion is hyperliturgicalism pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

No connection between offering and reception in Rome but what about Lutheranism? For Rome you do not need to receive to benefit. Not so for Lutherans.

Terry Maher said...

Whoever You Are, the argument was proposed that the question is to offer Communion weekly, which does not mean one must receive weekly, which totally separates offering from reception and perverts the Words of Christ from Take, Eat to Offer,Decide.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about what Roman Catholics believe and practice. And don't worry about what Reformed believe and practice. Just be Lutheran and enjoy the Lord's Supper each Sunday. Offer it. Take it. Receive it. Be glad in it.