What to look for in a Lutheran Congregation, #13

Someone asked how I would word a statement dealing with the reverent handling of the body and blood of Christ. Here is something I might say:

13. Remaining communion elements are handled reverently.

Lutherans believe that the body and blood of Jesus are sacramentally present in the bread and wine after the pastor speaks the Words of Institution. As such, it behooves all who handle the consecrated bread and wine before, during, and after the distribution to do so with reverence and godly fear. The Apostle Paul criticizes the Christians in Corinth for treating the Lord’s Supper as a common meal and exhorts those who partake to distinguish between sacramental and common bread (1 Corinthians 11). Paul’s teaching reflects the divine mandates to the Levitical priests to distinguish between the holy and the unholy, between the clean and the unclean. Just as there were severe consequences for those priests who failed to do so, so also are there serious consequences for “unworthy” recipients of the Bread and the Cup (i.e. those who fail to discern the body of Christ).

Practices that are inconsistent with this doctrine of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine of Holy Communion include mixing consecrated bread and wine with unconsecrated; pouring the left over blood of Christ into a toilet or a common drain; throwing plastic individual cups into the trash can without having first rinsed them out in a separate basin. Defenders of such practices argue that the intended use of the consecrated bread and wine is over, and therefore it can be treated as common bread and wine again. However, this argument is not based on Scripture or historic Church practice. The Scriptures do not specify when the sacramental presence in the bread and the wine ceases. Once common bread and wine have come into contact with God’s holiness, they cease to be common. This is not superstition, but rather it is born from a conscientious desire to put our doctrine into practice, or, to put it another way, to bring our practice into conformance with what we believe.

The best way to avoid this predicament is simply for the pastor and assistants to consume all of the remaining sacramental elements. Where this is not possible, it should be reverently stored in a fit receptacle until the next Communion or used for the communion of shut-ins. While this is a serious issue, it should be remembered that there are many faithful pastors who are otherwise orthodox in doctrine and practice, but perhaps were not properly trained in the reverent handling of the remaining Communion elements. Hasty judgment should be avoided.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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6 Responses to What to look for in a Lutheran Congregation, #13

  1. Carl Vehse says:

    “The Scriptures do not specify when the sacramental presence in the bread and the wine ceases.”

    Such a statement is misleading if it is understood in a way that would contradict the official understanding of the Missouri Synod and the Lutheran Confessions.

    The CTCR’s Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper (May 1983), provides the Missouri Synod’s understanding of the confessional Lutheran position on post-communion reverance in its reference to the Solid Declaration.

    “Our Lutheran Confessions, quoting from the Wittenberg Concord (1536), are lucid in their rejection of any view which would confer some extraordinary status upon the elements apart from their sacramental use: They confess, in accordance with the words of Irenaeus, that there are two things in this sacrament, one heavenly and the other earthly. Therefore they maintain and teach that with the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, distributed, and received. And although they deny a transubstantiation (that is, an essential change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ) and do not believe that the body and blood of Christ are locally enclosed in the bread, or are in some other way permanently united with it apart from the use of the sacrament, they grant that through sacramental union the bread is the body of Christ, etc. For they do not maintain that the body of Christ is present apart from the use, as when the bread is laid aside or reserved in the tabernacle or carried about and exposed in procession, as happens in the papacy (FC SD VII, 14-15)”

    In Footnote 16, the CTCR document also refers to Martin Chemitz, in his Ministry, Word, and Sacraments (trans. Luther Poellot, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981, p.121) where Chemitz also address the question of whether the body and blood of Christ are present in the consecrated elements that are not used for their intended purpose:

    “Christ did not institute this Sacrament in such a way that, even if no one uses it, or if it is changed into something else than He Himself commanded, it nevertheless is His body and blood, but in the very words of institution He prescribed the form of that which was commanded, how it is to be observer and used, and that not only for a time but to the end of the world, 1 Cor. 11:26. And use surely does not make a Sacrament, but the Word, ordinance, and institution of Christ. And there is a difference between the essence of a Sacrament and its use. But Christ so ordered and arranged the words of institution in the form of a testament, as He wanted the Sacrament to be an act in which bread and wine are taken, blessed, or consecrated, as they say, then offered, received, eaten, and drunk. And Christ says of that which is blessed, which is offered, received, eaten and drunk: This is My body; this is My blood. Therefore when the bread is indeed blessed but neither distributed nor received, but enclosed, shown, and carried about, it is surely clear that the whole word of institution is not added to the element, for this part is lacking: He gave [it] to them and said, Take and eat. And when the word of institution is incomplete there can be no complete Sacrament. In the same way it is also no true Baptism if the Word is indeed spoken over the water, but if there is no one who is baptized.”

    Thus, on the issue of whether the body and blood of Christ are present apart from the intended use of the consecrated elements the burden of proof is on the person who believes that the Missouri Synod and the Lutheran Confessions on this issue are in error and conflict with clear Scripture. And if that person is a Missouri Synod pastor, in providing that proof, he will follow the procedure he agreed to when he became a member of the Synod.

  2. Pastor Beisel says:

    Carl,

    Aside from your reservations about certain phrases in this post, do you agree with the substance of it, that the body and blood of Christ ought to be handled reverently, before, during, and after the distribution? I am willing to tweak it so as to not mislead people. But who are we to determine when the sacramental union ceases? I do not re-consecrate the bread and wine when I give communion to my organist after the Benediction (since she is handicapped and cannot easily come down the steps from the choir loft during the service).

  3. Carl Vehse says:

    I agree that the body and blood of Christ ought to be handled reverently during the Lord’s Supper. I also agree with the CTCR’s Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper, when it states:

    “The consecrated elements which remain after all have communed should be treated with reverence. This reverence has been expressed by Lutherans in various ways. Some have followed the ancient practice of burning the bread and pouring the wine upon the earth. Others have established a basin and drain –piscina– specifically for disposal of the wine. The elders or altar guild may also return the consecrated bread and wine to specific containers for future sacramental use, or the elders and pastor can consume the remaining elements. All of these practices should be understood properly. The church is not, thereby, conferring upon the elements some abiding status apart from their use in the Lord’s Supper itself.”

    But who are we to determine when the sacramental union ceases?

    According to FC SD VII, 15: “For they do not maintain that the body of Christ is present apart from the use, as when the bread is laid aside or reserved in the tabernacle or carried about and exposed in procession, as happens in the papacy.”

    And in 23:”It is true, indeed, that if you take away the Word, or regard it without the Word, you have nothing but mere bread and wine.”

    And again in 86-87: “And the use or action here does not mean chiefly faith, neither the oral participation only, but the entire external, visible action of the Lord’s Supper instituted by Christ, [to this indeed is required] the consecration, or words of institution, the distribution and reception, or oral partaking [manducation] of the consecrated bread and wine, [likewise the partaking] of the body and blood of Christ. And apart from this use, when in the papistic mass the bread is not distributed, but offered up or enclosed, borne about, and exhibited for adoration, it is to be regarded as no sacrament; just as the water of baptism, when used to consecrate bells or to cure leprosy, or otherwise exhibited for worship, is no sacrament or baptism.”

  4. Pastor Beisel says:

    Carl,

    Thank you for posting those quotes from the CTCR and the Confessions. Here is one from a letter from Luther to Simon Wolferinus (1543) in which he chastises him for giving the impression that the left-over Sacrament is no different than common bread and wine by mixing it with unconsecrated:

    “There is no doubt that it is not we who got it from you, but you who got it from us, that Sacraments are actions, and not persistent manufactures. But what is this peculiar rashness of yours that you would rather not abstain from this evil appearance which you know is a scandal, namely, that you mix the remains of [consecrated] wine and bread with [unconsecrated] bread and wine? By which example do you do that? Indeed, do you not see what dangerous questions you are raising, if you contend so much in this opinion of yours, that when the action ceases, the Sacrament [also] ceases? Perhaps you want to be considered a Zwinglian, and am I to believe that you are afflicted with the insanity of Zwingli, when you are so proudly and contemptuously irritating, with this peculiar and magnificent wisdom of yours? Was there no other way for you to avoid giving the suspicion to the weak and to the enemy that you are a despiser of the Sacrament, than to cause offense with this evil appearance that what is left of the Sacrament is to be mixed, poured in with [unconsecrated] wine? Why do you not imitate the other churches? … For you can do what we do here [in Wittenberg], namely, to eat and drink the remains of the Sacrament with the communicants, so that it is not necessary to raise these scandalous and dangerous questions about when the action of the Sacrament ends, questions in which you will choke unless you come to your senses. (Martin Luther, [First] Letter to Simon Wolferinus [1543], in Edward Frederick Peters, The Origin and Meaning of the Axiom: “Nothing Has the Character of a Sacrament Outside of the Use,” pp. 207-08 [WA Br. X, 340-341])

  5. Carl Vehse says:

    Luther’s first letter to Wolferinus needs to be put into context with Luther’s second letter to Wolferinus, in which Luther notes that his advice to Wolferinus regarding the pastor or other communicant consuming all the wine: “This is my opinion. I also know it is the opinion of Philip.” Luther’s preference “to eat and drink the remains of the Sacrament with the communicants” is one that is also included among the suggested practices in the CTCR document.

    Earlier I had quoted from the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, including part of VII.87. At the end of SD.VII.87 there is also this statement: “For against such papistic abuses this rule has been set up at the beginning [of the reviving Gospel], and has been explained by Dr. Luther himself, Tom. IV, Jena.

    There has been some speculation on the reference to Luther’s early Reformation explanation (Tom. IV, Jena).

    In his The “Lost (?) Luther Reference”, Siegbert W. Becker states: “From Volume IV of the German Jena edition it becomes evident that in 1528 Luther was asked several times for an opinion concerning the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It might be remembered that this is the period of the Saxon Visitation, which certainly belongs to ‘the beginning of the reviving Gospel.’ In answer to these requests Luther wrote two ‘opinions (Bedencken).’” [in Jena IV, fol. 316-317]

    After presenting the two original German opinions and their English translations, Becker concludes: “Moreover, the two ‘opinions’ from Luther, which are printed in the German edition fit all the words of the Formula paragraph in question. First, we have here a very definite rule concerning the proper and valid celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In its briefest form Luther’s rule simply states in effect: ‘No communicants, no Lord’s Supper.’ In the second ‘opinion’ Luther states the principle in a slightly expanded form, name, ‘When no communicants are present, no Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated.'”

    The phrase, “No communicants, no Lord’s Supper” would seem to be a succinct answer from Luther to your earlier question about determining when the sacramental union ceases.

  6. G. Flor says:

    The phrase, “No communicants, no Lord’s Supper” would seem to be a succinct answer from Luther to your earlier question about determining when the sacramental union ceases.

    Wrong. As Luther’s first letter to Wolferinus makes abundantly clear, leftover should not be seen as common bread and wine, undifferentiated from the unconsecrated elements. The phrase “no communicants – no Lord’s Supper” reffers to the private Roman Masses, celebrated wiithout any communicants present, without any intention of distribution, but simply to offer an incruent sacrifice of Christ. Applying it to leftovers ignores the fact that the leftovers were indeed consecrated for the proper use instituted by the Lord (to be distributed and received), and therefore they are a sacrament, and no word from commissions on theology or “theologians” can determine what Christ did not – that is, when the elements cease to be what He said they are, “This is my body, this is my blood.”
    God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Christ said “Take, eat; this is my body.” And it was His body from that moment, even though the first disciple had not yet received it into his mouth, for Christ did not say, “Take, eat; this will become by body.” Polu planasthe (Mark 12:27b).

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