Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Communion outside of the Mass. . .
Recently a piece in Forum Letter by the astute Gil Meilaender struck me as not so astute as I have come to expect from him. In it he berates all the emphasis upon the Sacrament of the Altar and equates it with that dreaded word, clericalism. Among other things he says: "By making celebration of the Lord's Supper the sine qua non of the church's life during this time of pandemic, it happens that pastors also magnify their own importance."
Meilaender is not alone. Other Lutherans have also been quick to point to a fairly recent past when the Divine Service was, as I loved to call it, a half-mass or dry mass because it ended at the offertory and skipped everything from the Sursum Corda to the ite missa est. These voices have been quick to tell us to slow down and give up the anxiety about not being together in the Lord's House. They have talked about the sufficiency of the Word (as if that was really what this was about) and the fact that love for neighbor might mean foregoing even the Sacrament and the weekly assembly on the Lord's Day. Again, the implication is that pastors are upset because it might seem that they are not all that necessary. I am not sure whose egos are getting in the way here but after working patiently and indigently for decades to make sure that the Divine Service was Word and Sacrament, it is more than a problem of pastor's self-importance to now suggest that it was never all that big a deal in the first place.
Surprise. Surprise. Rome is having a similar conversation. Some are suggesting that the meal emphasis of the Mass (whatever that means) was not all that helpful and may even obscure the real meaning of the Mass and that for many centuries people communed less frequently without that much of a problem. Further, some are suggesting that communion within the Mass is not or need not be normative and communion outside the Mass is worth restoring again. Some Romans have suggested that for a time reception of Holy Communion outside the Mass will once again be the norm. Maybe so but as a Lutheran I find it odd and curious that there is a problem with people expecting to receive Holy Communion in the Mass and that the only real solution to the pandemic problem and its aftermath is less frequent communion. For some the real center of the Mass is the sacrifice and not the sacramental eating and drinking. Perhaps Rome was tolerating more frequent communions and the expectation of communion within the Mass when the real problem is that communion actually gets in the way of what the Mass really is -- at least for Rome.
By the way, there are Lutherans who are objecting to Lutherans receiving the Sacrament outside of the Mass (Divine Service) because the Sacrament is either not all that necessary, the pastor is not a private chaplain to a few, or private communions betray the very essence of what the Divine Service truly is. A Eucharistic fast, in other words, is preferable to many small services multiplied enough to make sure any and all who wish to attend may attend. My response is that it seems we have some talking to do. . .
Rome will need to figure out where the expectation of communion within the Mass is a bad thing or could be a bad thing or not, whether or not frequent communion obscures the meaning of the Mass. Lutherans will need to figure out whether or not the and in the middle of Word and Sacrament means what we think it means or not. I refuse to suggest that the times in which the Sacrament was offered very occasionally and seldom represents anything but a low point in Lutheran sacramental theology and piety. I am not sure I was ever all that important to anyone but my family but my conscience is clear with respect to finding ways to keep the church doors open during this pandemic and serving those who wish to come the Word preached and the Sacrament administered (as many times as necessary until all who desire to receive both have received both). To those who might think otherwise, finding a way for this to happen is not an exercise in ego any more that declaring a Eucharistic fast is a choice borne of sinful self-importance. But I suspect that such conversations will not happen once things return to enough of the normal that parish life is busy with the usual.
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I don’t think any Lutheran argues that the Divine Service is intended to include both Word and Sacrament. Wittenberg celebrated weekly Communion, and Melanchthon wrote advice to pastors on encouraging more frequent reception of the Sacrament in their own congregations. The question is whether the rite is absolutely necessary as the main point of assembled worship. As the Confessions make clear, true worship is faith itself, not the liturgy or rites observed as means for quickening that faith. Churches have the right to have different rites, such as bi-weekly Communion vs. weekly Communion, without destroying the unity of faith.
One might ask a liturgical movement enthusiast why Luther himself communed every other Sunday if the Sacrament is the be and end all of all worship. Or why Matins and Vespers don’t include Communion if it’s absolutely necessary. Compare Chemnitz’s “The Lord’s Supper” with Sasse’s liturgical renewal inspired “This Is My Body.” Do they teach the same Lutheran doctrine? One teaches the Sacrament as a means of grace in which faith spiritually feeds on the forgiveness of sins and the body and blood seals this testament. One conflates John 6 with the unio mystica in an internal fusion of Christ and the believer that achieves a progressively sanctifying effect, not dissimilar to Roman Catholicism. No wonder frequency of Communion reception is such a concern for the liturgical movement. It’s not based on the “and” of the Lutheran Confessions at all. That is merely a sideshow.
To locate every other Sunday Communion as equivalent to a “low point in Lutheran sacramental theology” is tantamount to accusing Luther and Walther of not knowing what they were talking about. The liturgical movement is the real culprit here, since it essentially denies the activity of the Holy Spirit in ruling and working through the Word in the Church and hearts of Christians to create and maintain faith. Instead, the body of Christ becomes a substance of grace that infuses the believer with a progressive justification and sanctification. Salvation by grace alone, as in the JDDJ, doesn’t mean God’s favor and Christ’s righteousness which clothes us through faith, but an internal habitus granted through clerical rituals.
You say: As the Confessions make clear, true worship is faith itself, not the liturgy or rites observed as means for quickening that faith. Churches have the right to have different rites, such as bi-weekly Communion vs. weekly Communion, without destroying the unity of faith.
But the Augsburg Confession says we have not abolished the Mass and observe it with more diligence and reverence than Rome AND every Lord's Day and Holy Day and every day communicants desire to receive it. Were we lying then or have we changed our minds or was the period without weekly Holy Communion a low point in Lutheran history?
"frequency of Communion" that is how often one receives (even Luther) is a far different thing than how often the Sacrament is offered. One is a personal decision after reflection and preparation and discernment of the heart and the other is the doctrine of the faith in practice publicly in worship.
You say: The liturgical movement is the real culprit here, since it essentially denies the activity of the Holy Spirit in ruling and working through the Word in the Church and hearts of Christians to create and maintain faith
So the Sacrament is at odds with the Word? Or the first 1500 years of unbroken Christian practice is out of step with Lutheran theology? To say that the Word is sufficient is not to say the Sacrament is an optional added extra. To say the Sacrament is to be present with the Word in the Divine Service every week is not to say the Word is deficient. You argue as if we have to choose. No Lutheran does.
Besides it all, on the pages of this blog you can find argued that the Lutheran position is that we are the true evangelical catholics and our doctrine and practice do not depart from that which is catholic.
No, “Evangelical Catholic” is the name of a church party that aligns itself with the liturgical movement. It is not synonymous with Lutheran.
No one is setting Word and Sacrament in opposition. The Word is above the Sacrament, since the Sacrament is the visible Word. Evangelical Catholics would have this order reversed.
Read further in the Augsburg Confession on the Mass:
“For Christ's passion 25] was an oblation and satisfaction, not for original guilt only, but also for all other sins, as it is written to the Hebrews 10:10: 26] We are sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all. Also, Hebrews 10:14: 27]By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. [It is an unheard-of innovation in the Church to teach that Christ by His death made satisfaction only for original sin and not likewise for all other sin. Accordingly it is hoped that everybody will understand that this error has not been reproved without due reason.]
28] Scripture also teaches that we are justified before God through faith in Christ, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake. 29] Now if the Mass take away the sins of the living and the dead by the outward act justification comes of the work of Masses, and not of faith, which Scripture does not allow.
30] But Christ commands us, Luke 22:19: This do in remembrance of Me; therefore the Mass was instituted that the faith of those who use the Sacrament should remember what benefits it receives through Christ, and cheer and comfort the anxious conscience. For to remember Christ is to remember His benefits, 31] and to realize that they are truly offered unto us.
18] Wherefore our teachers must not be looked upon as having taken up this matter rashly or from hatred of the bishops, 19] as some falsely suspect. There was great need to warn the churches of these errors, which had arisen from misunderstanding the traditions. 20] For the Gospel compels us to insist in the churches upon the doctrine of grace, and of the righteousness of faith; which, however, cannot be understood, if men think that they merit grace by observances of their own choice.“
The Augsburg Confession insists that Lutherans have not departed from catholic doctrine and practice. Period. No caveats. That is the Divine Service every Sunday. There is no Lutheran identity apart from this claim other than a sectarian one.
The Sacrament IS the Word eaten and drunk. How can you separate the two and make one lower than the other? They stand side by side and always have and will except where Protestants make the Sacrament nothing and Rome makes the Sacrament everything. That is the Lutheran genius.
As far as what you quoted from the rest of the Augsburg Confession, what does that have to do with whether or not the Divine Service is the chief service of every Sunday and the Word and Sacrament are the hallmark of faithful worship? Lutherans who ditch the weekly Sacrament and who presume that a service of the Word only is faithful to their Confessions are making a mistake. The period of time when Lutherans abandoned the weekly Divine Service of Word and Sacrament IS a low point in Lutheran doctrine and practice. That does not mean that restoring the practice means the doctrine is automatically restored since both must be restored at the same time. The Lutherans of the past who offered the Sacrament of the Altar quarterly were wrong. Just plain wrong. They were not being Lutheran. It was a low point. Just as the Common Service had to restore liturgy that was lost, the Lutherans had to have their Lutheran understanding of the Divine Service restored and reflected in a weekly Eucharist.
Anonymous above, is the Divine SErvice just a liturgical rite or is it Scripture prayed and sung? Furthermore, to say the faith is the true worship of God is not to say anything against the Divine Service for the Spirit works through the Word and Sacrament to create, sustain, and grow faith in us.
“The Augsburg Confession insists that Lutherans have not departed from catholic doctrine and practice.”
True. Not the same as an Evangelical Catholic, a term invented in the 20th Century.
“The Sacrament IS the Word eaten and drunk.”
Sounds great. We’ve heard this kind of language on Lutheran blogs for years. But it’s not in the Confessions. Luther and Chemnitz don’t express themselves this way. Why do you, then? How do you “eat the Word?” Are you ingesting forgiveness in a way that makes the flesh and blood of Christ a substance that saves in a Capernaitic fashion? Where is this found in Luther?
You’re certainly not alone. We even changed the words of the Small Catechism from “It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins” to “It is not JUST the eating and drinking...”
See the difference?
Your perplexity regarding the quote from the Augsburg Confession speaks volumes. Christ has already reconciled the world, which is absolved through his resurrection. This is your justification. It is delivered to you through the Word and received by faith created and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. This is what we mean by the primacy of the Word in the Lutheran Church. The Sacrament awakens, strengthens, comforts, and is a testament to faith that firmly believes and relies on the forgiveness of sins that these benefits are yours.
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