At the Last Supper, Jesus “took bread.” But what bread? No matter how many paintings have a loaf or how many clip art images have a loaf, we all know that this bread that Jesus took was the unleavened bread of the Passover. There is a distinct difference between that unleavened bread of Passover and a loaf, less so between the unleavened bread of Passover and the individual hosts ordinarily used in the Divine Service.
Of course, there is evidence, not necessarily from the earliest custom, for the Church to use what we might call a loaf which was distributed in bits torn from the loaf. That this was normative is simply untrue. Christians typically used what the Passover required. Unleavened bread was the norm (at least in the West, where this has pretty much been true always).
The individual hosts are said to have been invented in the 7th century. The legend says a pious monk who had apparently given up a fire for Advent was left with the problem of preparing the bread for the Christmas Mass. As was typical of the time, this ended up being less a mechanical dilemma than a spiritual one for the monk -- can you bake bread in an over and not be also warmed by it? A blacksmith formed some broad iron tongs with baking plates that enabled him to bake the bread without being also warmed by the fire. You guessed it. What emerged were not loaves or even buns but flatbread -- like the Passover bread. The tongs kept the bread flat and the baking resulted in a cracker like consistency. You might have expected his superiors to be disappointed with the result but apparently they liked it. It was easier to use and had a longer shelf life than the loaf. Within years, everyone was using what the good monk invented. At least that is the mythology. What is true is that by the end of the 8th century, individual hosts or larger hosts broken into smaller hosts had become normal. Alcuin of York spoke in them favorably at the end of the 8th century. The practice developed a theology. Later it was noted that the Old Testament explicitly forbade leavened bread for sacrifices. So now we had a practice and a precedent. The innovation became an industry. Molds were produced to produce these hosts in masse. Some voices were not pleased. Some "traditionalists” apparently wanted to continue leavened loaves but in the blink of an eye, chronologically speaking, these hosts became the ordinary bread of the Sacrament.
In contrast, the individual cups that have become normative outside of Rome were never conceived or desired until the early 20th century and then by those who had issues with wine, preferring the new found invention of grape juice and thus queasy about the lack of alcohol to act as a cleansing agent in the passing of the cup. Again, industry marketed what the people wanted and we ended up being driven to individual cups by fear of touching the same chalice more than by anything else. A hundred years later, the pandemic only sealed the concerns of people for a safe way to commune without touching. That said, there is no evidence that individual cups are safer and at least as much evidence that they may be touched by more hands (the usual suspects in the transmission of anything) and therefore less clean than the chalice. But that is something to which I have written in the past. Suffice it for now to admit that individual hosts and individual cups are not of the same origin or kind of innovations, nor are they equivalent. Jesus Himself took the bread and broke it and gave His body to the disciples; He did not take the cup and turn it into many cups when He distributed the blood to those same disciples. One thing I will say, the hermetically sealed versions mass marketed to those who have no regard for what the Sacrament is have no place in our churches.
Individual communion cups were used near the end of the 19th century in churches that used grape juice. LCMS churches began using individual communion cups in 1918 during the influenza (H1N1 virus) pandemic.
In its 1983 doctrinal report, "The Theology and Practice of the Lord's Supper", the CTCR stated: "In the absence of a specific Scriptural mandate, either method of distribution, when performed in a reverent manner, is acceptable."
More information is given in these (and other) previous Pastoral Meandering posts:
Pastoral Meanderings October 20, 2017 at 12:30 PM blog post
Pastoral Meanderings October 20, 2017 at 12:37 PM blog post
Pastoral Meanderings October 20, 2017 at 12:42 PM blog post
Pastoral Meanderings April 12, 2018 at 12:26 PM blog post
Pastoral Meanderings April 13, 2018 at 10:50 AM blog post
In some LCMS churches, there are two or more common cups ("individual common cups") used during the distribution of the Lord's Supper. In addition, individual communion cups (contained in communion kits) are used by pastors during visitations to shut-ins and individuals in hospitals, etc.
Luther taught the ubiquity of Christ. Christ is already everywhere and nowhere. His body and blood are not circumscribed by anything. And so this creates odd liturgical debates among Lutherans who orient themselves towards traditional catholicity. The root of these differences lies in Luther’s Christology. Luther probably would not have cared less about single vs. individual cups, since Christ is already present in both, and it is the Word and institution that matters:
“I said above that the right hand of God is everywhere, but at the same time nowhere and uncircumscribed, above and apart from all creatures. There is a difference between his being present and your touching. He is free and unbound wherever he is, and he does not have to stand there like a rogue set in a pillory, or his neck in irons.”
“He also now exceeds any grasp, and you will not catch him by groping about, even though he is in your bread, unless he binds himself to you and summons you to a particular table by his Word, and he himself gives meaning to the bread for you, by his Word, bidding you to eat him. This he does in the Supper, saying, “This is my body,” as if to say, “At home you may eat bread also, where I am indeed sufficiently near at hand too; but this is the true touto, the ‘This is my body’: when you eat this, you eat my body, and nowhere else. Why? Because I wish to attach myself here with my Word, in order that you may not have to buzz about, trying to seek me in all the places where I am; this would be too much for you, and you would also be too puny to apprehend me in these places without the help of my Word.” (Luther’s Works vol. 37: 68, 69)
It is quite frankly relatively simple to resolve any Lutheran debate about sacramental practices with reference to our Christology. Is Christ present in the elements at the consecration? Yes, and he is present before the consecration as well! What if we drop the wafer? God is not circumscribed! Is Christ present in a reliquary with hosts, if we felt like having one? Yes, Christ is everywhere. But he is not there for you to circumscribe and venerate. What if we put the leftovers in Tupperware? Go ahead, Christ’s body and blood are for you in the Supper, not Tupperware. Should I be troubled by throwing an individual cup with leftover wine in the trash? Christ is everywhere, heaven is his throne and the earth is his footstool. He is not circumscribed by your throwing a plastic cup anywhere.
What does the presence of Christ everywhere have to do with the specific locus of His presence in the bread and wine of His Holy Supper? Nothing. Christ is present everywhere but is accessible where He has placed is promise. The Eucharist is one of those places. There is no promise attached to His presence everywhere except to the places where He has put His promise -- the means of grace.
It’s relevant because Lutheran Christology is not the same as Roman Catholic or Reformed Christology, which necessitates the body of Christ to be circumscribed in a place, far above us in heaven. Therefore, it either takes a miracle of transubstantiation, which replaces the circumscribing essence of bread with the essence of the body of Christ, or a spiritual ascent of the soul to commune with the body of Christ in heaven.
Lutherans teach that neither is biblical nor necessary. Christ’s body participates in the full communication of attributes of the divine Trinity. He is indeed “sufficiently near” and with us always. As Luther says,
“The Scriptures teach us, however, that the right hand of God is not a specific place in which a body must or may be, such as on a golden throne, but is the almighty power of God, which at one and the same time can be nowhere and yet must be everywhere. It cannot be at any one place, I say. For if it were at some specific place, it would have to be there in a circumscribed and determinate manner, as everything which is at one place must be at that place determinately and measurably, so that it cannot meanwhile be at any other place. But the power of God cannot be so determined and measured, for it is uncircumscribed and immeasurable, beyond and above all that is or may be.
“On the other hand, it must be essentially present at all places, even in the tiniest tree leaf. The reason is this: It is God who creates, effects, and preserves all things through his almighty power and right hand, as our Creed confesses. For he dispatches no officials or angels when he creates or preserves something, but all this is the work of his divine power itself. If he is to create or preserve it, however, he must be present and must make and preserve his creation both in its innermost and outermost aspects.
“Therefore, indeed, he himself must be present in every single creature in its innermost and outermost being, on all sides, through and through, below and above, before and behind, so that nothing can be more truly present and within all creatures than God himself with his power.” [Luther’s Works vol. 37: 57-58]
Yes, Christ promises to be present for us in the Sacrament. But the reason that Hunnius declared that the body of Christ is manifested as specifically present for us in the act of eating and drinking only is because this is the consequence of biblical exegetical Lutheran Christology. “Take eat my body.” This is the biblical dominical promise. There is no promise concerning altars, patens, consecrations, reliquaries, single chalices, Tupperware, duration of presence etc. And so the liturgical questions surrounding such issues are in essence questions that are foreign to Lutheranism. That Lutherans debated these issues during the Reformation in coming to terms with evangelical theology is true. However, there is no real fundamental difference, in fact there is remarkable uniformity albeit with differing emphases, between what Melanchthon, Luther, Chemnitz, Hunnius, and Gerhard say about Christology and the Sacrament.
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