Saturday, December 24, 2011

Can it be Christmas without the Christmass?

It is astonishing to me how many LCMS congregations will not have the Sacrament on Christmas.  In my early childhood the Sacrament was quarterly, later monthly, and now a couple of times a month.  In that evolution has come the restoration not only of catholic practice but of the high esteem and place of the Sacrament without the devotional life of the people.  Admittedly it is not a new development but a restoration.  I have blogged about it before.  But it seems that for a number of Missouri congregations, the Sacrament has not yet made it to Christmas.  My home congregation now has the full Divine Service on Christmas Day (not on Christmas Eve).  There are many without Christmas Day services and without the Sacrament on Christmas Eve.  I wonder why?

In my own case, many "regulars" from my parish will be absent from our Christmas celebrations due to travel and family gatherings far away.  This has always been true.  Nevertheless, we will have upwards of 500 on Christmas Eve and another 100 or so on Christmas Day and all the services are the full Divine Service.  There are those who believe that close(d) communion makes it hard to offer the Sacrament on those occasions when many non-members will be present.  I wonder why?  We have not had this problem.  Of the 400 or so who will commune, all but a handful are well known to me.  Some are family members who grew up in this parish and have returned home to celebrate with family.  Some are the C & E folk whose church attendance seems forever linked to December 25 and the current date of Easter.  Some are the new folks for whom Christmas has been the occasion to begin establishing or renewing their relationship with a local Lutheran congregation (often military families).  Only a few dozen are the technical strangers whom no one knows.  That is why I am accessible before the service to seek them out and find out who they are and help them determine if they are welcome to commune.  All but a few have been understanding and agreeable with this process over the 32 years I have served as a Pastor.  About the only ones who have tried to make or cause offense over it are those who knew better than to commune (I remember a Unitarian minister and his family, for example, and still to this day cannot understand why he even came!).

Some are troubled with the length of the service when so many are in the pews.  We plan on about 80-90 minutes for each liturgy -- filled with choir music and the full Divine Service.  We do make a nod to more efficient communion by going to a continuous distribution (part of our rail is obscured by Christmas trees).

Some hold special services designed for folks outside the Church.  I suppose this is one I could understand but even then it might tell those outside our communion a bit more about who we are by having them witness the high regard of the Sacrament of the Altar.

I would hope and expect that all our congregations will hold a Christ Mass on Christmas.  Can we do less?  Is it Christmas without the Christ Mass?


Fallhiker said...

I am pleased to report our congregation celebrates communion at almost every service... to include Thanksgiving eve (which used to be Thanksgiving Day, at this service we actually use bread instead of communion wafers and everyone brings a loaf of bread places it upon a table near the alter and when we leave each family picks up a loaf ((not the one they brought)) and at their Thanksgiving meal says thanks for the family who provided the bread for that meal), Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Advent services. Perhaps this is because of having a more mature (elderly) congregation

Anonymous said...

cool idea!

Terry Maher said...

Yes, it can.

"Christmas" is a specifically English name for the feast; a literal equivalent to "mass" is not in the feast's name in other languages. Therefore, there is no argument for how a feast is to be celebrated per se from how it is called in one language.

Nonetheless, I am glad my parish will have Communion at services later, would lay that down as a law for no-one, and wish you and my fellow commenters a Merry Christmas!

Janis Williams said...

As one from the hinterlands of Evangelicalism I know this will "knot some knickers" in the LCMS.

Close(d) communion is a good idea. We had close communion in my childhood Baptist church (just no real sacrament). You're supposed to snicker here.

To prevent someone taking the sacrament to their harm should be the main purpose of close communion. Secondary to that is the idea that everyone is "on the same page."

Now that I am a Lutheran, I do hold to the Book of Concord. However, as visitors with the intent of becoming members we were allowed to participate at the rail. This was a grace to us. We had been instructed and come to understand the truth of the Sacrament of the Table. We understood what we were doing and what was happening. I am not saying we'd never become Missouri Synod Lutherans had we been turned away.

I am saying that sometimes it is a good thing to "loosen up" (so long as there is instruction and understanding). With many evangelicals wounded by their fellowships, and many coming to know the real truth of the Lord's Supper, there is healing in careful and judicious relaxing of canons.

Janis Williams said...


I'm not saying to commune just visitors who claim to understand the Sacrament. I am saying this is for those who desire membership, understand the Sacrament, but may not be completely through all catechetical instruction yet.

Please don't rip me to shreds on Christmas Eve?

Jeremy Loesch said...


You raise an excellent point. I treat the folks that desire to join the congregation as individuals. After talking with them and after they determine what their desires are, I invite them to commune after being taught what it is that is happening, what we are receiving, what it is for. Official joining of the congregation often comes later. I try to treat them gracefully.

Interesting comment. Merry Christmas.


Anonymous said...

"to prevent someone from taking
Holy Communion to their harm is
the main purpose of "close communion"

We as Christians are not to judge
the participants of the LORD'S
supper. IF they believe that Christ
shed his blood for their sins on
the cross and come to receive His
forgiveness, then they are welcome.

BrotherBoris said...

I don't understand why the practice of Close Communion keeps some LCMS parishes from celebrating the Eucharist on Christmas Eve. Is that really the reason? We practice Close Communion in the Orthodox Church and that doesn't deter us at all from celebrating the Eucharist. If people are offended by our policy of Close Communion, we let them be offended, although I think we try to be nice about it. I've also attended ELS and WELS churches that practice Close Communion, and it doesn't offend me. It's just part of who they are. And they are upfront about it. It seems to me if people are squeamish and apologetic about Close Communion, perhaps they really don't believe in it down deep. Otherwise, why apologize for something that you believe?