As our discussion turned to the Mass, a young woman shared her own experience and stated that the whole point of Mass is to receive Communion. I offered a different perspective: The primary purpose of Mass is to worship God, to give him the glory and adoration that are his due. That holds true whether or not we receive Communion at Mass.
The author, a Roman Catholic, was relating a conversation among other Roman Catholics about worship and the Mass. What jumped out at me was the whole idea that we give God glory and adoration whether or not we receive Communion at Mass. It struck me as an appeal quite clearly to the Law. Giving God what He is due is the command and duty of the Law. Perhaps I have been a Lutheran too long. We would begin not with what we give to God but what God gives to us.
"Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to Him what He has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is His Name, which He put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are His. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where His Name is, there is He. Before Him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim Him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words He has used to make Himself known to us.
The rhythm of our worship is from Him to us, and then from us back to Him. He gives His gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. Finally His blessing moves us out into our calling, where His gifts have their fruition. How best to do this we may learn from His Word and from the way His Word has prompted His worship through the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day the living heritage and something new."
The rhythm of our worship is from Him to us and only then from us back to Him. If there is a Lutheran way of speaking about worship, it is surely this. It is the perspective of the Gospel. Who can worship Him without knowing Him, recognizing His gifts, and receiving what He has so graciously chosen to give? But more than this, it is the very receiving of His gifts that is the highest worship. This is our confession. According to Luther, the highest form of worship is to trust God. In his book, The Freedom of the Christian, published in 1520, Luther wrote,
"The very highest worship of God is this that we ascribe to Him truthfulness, righteousness and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted. On the other hand, what greater rebellion against God, what greater wickedness, what greater contempt of God is there than not believing His promise? For what is this but to make God a liar or to doubt that He is truthful—that is, to ascribe truthfulness to one's self but lying and vanity to God."
This faith is itself the work of the Spirit working in the Word and the result of the Spirit's work in Holy Baptism. Where such faith is born, it leads the faithful to that place where the absolution restores, the voice of God speaks, and the hand of God bestows His sacramental grace. It is a complete misunderstanding of God and His Word to presume that the worship of faith is not the worship that takes place around His Word and Table and it is the same misunderstanding that the worship of God's House is not about faith. He speaks and faith is born. He washes and the dead are raised from the womb of the baptismal water. He feeds and nourishes with the bread of the Eucharist and the hungry are fed eternal life.
The Roman Catholic author is absolutely correct. The Mass is not something they have to sit through in order to receive Communion. Neither is it for Lutherans. The gift is the efficacious Word that does what it speaks and the sacramental sign that actually delivers what it symbolizes. Yes, there are times when the Lutheran communicant may choose not to receive the Sacrament of the Altar but this is not surely the norm. Yes, in Rome there was and maybe still is a time when the communicant receives outside the Mass but this is not surely envisioned to be normative. The gifts of God for the people of God is not some affirmation of a theoretical gift but a real one, one that is both heard in the ear and believed in the heart and tasted in the mouth to nourish body and soul. For Luther to say faith is the highest worship is also to understand that the faith that receives with repentance and joy the very Word of the Lord preached and read into heart and mind and the body and blood of the Lord Jesus upon the lips is faith fulfilling the Lord's command and promise and gift. How this became two different things in Rome or in Lutheranism is a mystery to me. Faith is the highest worship and the highest worship of that faith is to receive the gifts of God with the God-given gift of faith and from that to respond with service, thanks, praise, and obedience. Why is this so hard?