Thursday, February 13, 2014

But if that is really true...

It happened that the chalice caught in the distribution and spilled at the rail.  When I saw it, I got down on my knees and cleansed the floor with the purificator.  It held up the distribution and those at the rail watched as I cleansed the floor -- some with wide eyes, some with horror at the spill, and others wondering what was the big deal...  Later a person who had been at the rail asked me about it.  I explained it and mentioned the story of Luther who hacked out part of the chancel because of a spill.  And then came the shock.  "You mean it really is the blood of Christ?"  But of course.  "But if that is really true, then..."

Ahh... But if...  That is exactly the point.  Much of our practice at worship is like it is not really true but merely a sign and symbol of an absent reality.  I do not fault the person because I know that part of the problem is the generation and the lack of real catechesis on the Eucharist and the Real Presence.  But it was amazing to see the transformation in the face of the person as they began to unfold in their mind "if is really true, then..."

  • "If it is really the body and blood of Christ, why do some Lutherans NOT have the Sacrament weekly?"
  • "If it is really the body and blood of Christ, how can we come and go from the rail as if nothing had happened there?"
  • "If it is really the body and blood of Christ, why don't we treat the elements with more respect and act more seriously about communing?"
  • "If it is really the body and blood of Christ, why would you NOT commune every time it is offered?"
I love it when it begins to sink in and the reality of it all almost overwhelms the mind and heart...  If is it really the body and blood of Jesus...  And that is the whole point.  It is whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we believe it or not, and whether we receive it or not.  When the reality of the Real Presence hits home, suddenly close(d) communion makes sense, preparation before communing makes sense, the sanctus bell makes sense, the elevation makes sense, the care given to the distribution makes sense, and the reverential care of the reliquae (what remains at the end of the distribution) is important...

But if...  I only wish we took all of the faith seriously.  Either it is true and all of it or none of it and it is not worth believing.  That is the whole point.  We cannot piecemeal away the truth or pick and choose the things of God and His revelation as if they were options, we come on bended knee confessing, praying, hearing, responding, adoring, receiving, and departing with nothing less than God in our midst, speaking through the voice of the Pastor, and feeding us the heavenly meal that prefigures what is to come even as it bestows the promised gifts of Calvary.

How might we Lutherans be different if we believed and acted as if it were really true... which it is.


Unknown said...

What is the correct Lutheran procedure to deal with an instance where the chalice is spilled? What do you do with the blood? Is it no longer blood at that point? Does it magically revert back to wine?

The EO would take any garment that is covered with the blood and body and first wash it in holy water and then wrung out in a sacred space. Only in dire circumstances would the clothing be burned.

The reverence or lack thereof of Lutherans to the Eucharist is not only in receiving but also in preparing. There is no fast, there is no praying; you just take. So what do you expect?

Anonymous said...

Unknown: very similar to the way it was on that first Maundy Thursday, when our Lord was the celebrant. He even communed Judas.
However, we Lutherans do pray, but since we very rarely fast, we combine the two and pray fast.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
3869962 7

Anonymous said...

Fasting is not unknown among Lutherans (though not necessarily the 12 hour fast of the Orthodox). There are prayers before receiving the Sacrament (in the hymnal and Sunday bulletin), and there is the discipline of the Catechism's Christian Questions and Answers for those who commune. I would not presume that all Lutherans observe this always (do the Orthodox?) but to say that Lutherans have no preparation is blatantly false.

Unknown said...


What does communing Judas have to do with anything? ANd you didn't answer the question. What happens when the blood is spilled?

Anonymous, one prayer before communion? YOu consider that preparation? Even if the Orthodox don't all have prepare, at least the Orthodox has a strong established tradition of preparing for communion. Never, when I was a Lutheran, was I ever instructed in any way to prepare for communion. NEVER.

William Tighe said...

One might recall Luther's own behaviour on one of the two occasions (IIRC) towards the end of his life when he spilled the chalice: he got down on the floor and licked up all of the spilled sacrament he could, then he has wood shavings planed off the part of the communion rail on which it spilled to be burned, and he had the sleeve of the garment of the women whom he was about to commune when the accident happened, and on which some had spilled, removed and burned also.

Chris Jones said...

I have been Orthodox, and I am now Lutheran (10 years Orthodox, 20 years Lutheran). On this point I have to say that our Orthodox friend is correct. We Lutherans have no practice whatsoever with respect to preparation for Holy Communion.

I was catechized into the LCMS in a self-consciously "confessional" congregation, where the Lord's Supper is celebrated every Sunday and the ceremonial is fairly "high Church" by LCMS standards. During that catechesis I was given no instruction concerning preparation for Holy Communion. After being a member of that congregation for about five years, I moved across the country and joined a much more "middle of the road" LCMS congregation -- communion twice a month, and a ceremonial style I would describe as "generic Protestant." After 15 years at that congregation I have transferred to another which is much more "liturgically serious."

In none of those congregations have I ever received any instruction about preparation for Holy Communion. In my own personal piety I continue to use some of the prayers of preparation that I learned as an Orthodox ("I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ ..." etc). But I have no specifically Lutheran practice because I was given none.

In the Orthodox Church, a person who intends to receive the Mysteries is expected to attend Vespers the evening before the Liturgy; to have gone to confession on a regular basis; to pray the customary pre-communion prayers; and to fast from midnight before receiving. Not all Orthodox are equally strict in their observance of this practice, but all do at least some of it. We Lutherans, on the other hand, just show up and receive the sacrament as if it were a matter of right.

I am not sure that our practice is as salutary as it might be.

Anonymous said...

Unknown #1: I wanted to point out that what many Christian denominations consider to be the law surrounding the Eucharist, was not practiced when it was instituted. For an official statement on how to handle the elements, please see:
I freely admit that the Orthodox have a tradition of preparing for communion that we Lutherans lack. However, if you were never instructed in any way how to prepare for communion, that is not the fault of the Lutheran Church, but of the individuals in whose care your were. At the same time, we confess that the benefit of communion comes from our Lord’s words, which He spoke at the Institution, and the eating and drinking of His true body and blood. Whatever we do before or after does not contribute to that benefit. It is our expression of respect, confession, praise, worship and thankfulness, but how you do that, or how long you do it do not affect what our Lord does for us in the Sacrament. But I know of no Lutheran church in which there is just “one prayer before communion.” The Confessions and Absolution that begin the service and everything that follows are part of the preparation.
By the way, I grew up a Lutheran in an Orthodox family so I am not totally ignorant about the problem.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Every seminarian is instructed in this in pastoral practice and worship and the written record is pretty clear about communion preparation, care of the elements, and such. That they disregard this or deem it not important is a problem of discipline and not of faith.

That the hymnal has published prayers, questions and answers for the communicant's preparation, orders for corporate and private confession ought to say that the church is not at fault but the individuals on either side of the altar who choose to ignore these. I cannot believe that someone who was not instructed in the faith would not have perused the hymnal on his or her own to find these prayers and preparations.

Anonymous said...

I was raised LCMS but now attend a Continuing Anglican Church (Anglican Province of America). A recent communion experience left quite an impression on my wife and I. While kneeling next to my wife at the rail to receive Holy Communion, the priest was placing the communion wafer in the palm of my wife's hand when a small sliver of host fell on the tip of her finger of her outstretched hand. He stopped and meticulously pushed the sliver of host to the center of her palm with the primary host. It was clear this "sliver" of host was also the body of Christ and needed to be consumed with the regular host - and it was. For my wife and I, this was a teaching moment better than any class we could have taken. (Not that classroom instruction isn't valuable as well.)

Growing up in the LCMS, there was reverence about communion but nothing like what I have experienced in our Anglican parish. We had no chalice - just the small plastic disposable cups. These cups were tossed in a basket upon leaving the rail - some with small amounts of Christ's blood still in them. (My hunch is these disposable cups were tossed in the trash.) My Lutheran pastors never kneeled/genuflected during the words of institution. There were no Sanctus bells rung. They did not consume the remaining consecrated wine. I understand the lack of kneeling, chalice, and bells did not negate the validity of the communion I received as a Lutheran. But a more serious practice would certainly assist the laity in understanding the holiness and awe of this sacramental mystery.


jonathanpaulmayer said...

I am not a theologian, so I do not submit this comment with any authority. But I know that other Lutherans, for instance, many in the ELS/WELS, believe that the elements are only the body and blood of Christ when used as intended, that is, when they are consumed. Because Lutherans do not believe that the elements are "transubstantiated" into the body and blood, it is at best a gray area when the wine is spilled, or when a few drops remain in discarded plastic cups, etc.

I would certainly prefer to ere on the side of reverence, however. I do not think there should be anything casual about the Eucharist.

nllinke said...

A number of years ago while at the communion rail at our church, the pastor who was handling the chalice was having a little bit of trouble and was unknowingly spilling dots of wine/blood all along the rail. The presiding pastor (who is now 4th V.P. of our synod) looked at his cohort a bit sternly, pointing out the spilled trail, which by now was quite a ways down the rail. It was a serious and sober moment. The one holding the chalice then proceeded to gently place his tongue over each spilled dot to lift that spilled wine/blood off the rail and consume it, completely. It reduced me to sobbing tears to watch. Never a more powerful lesson in the reality of what we were doing there. I will never forget it.

Unknown said...

Yeah; WELS/ELS are receptionists, and they're wrong for believing such:

Consecrationism might seam papist, but the popes not wrong about EVERYTHING.