Absolution and Examination, not confirmation, required for Holy Communion

I’m working my way through the Confessions again, reading the words more carefully than I have before, not because I am in doubt about anything in them, but because other people have cast aspersions on them over the last year or so. I think it is good to go over the words and paragraphs slowly and carefully whether you are reading the Confessions, the Bible, or anything that deals with theology. Wallace Schultz made a great analogy a few years back between Luther’s reading of the New Testament and a slave’s reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. In each case there is captivity and freedom at stake. A wrong interpretation/reading of the New Testament could lead one right back into captivity rather than grant freedom as it is meant to do. I’m using the reading schedule provided in McCain’s edition of the Book of Concord. The portions are small enough that if I miss a few days due to travel or other things, it is not so hard to go back and catch up. One of these days I hope to be able to read at least the Latin. But for now, English will suffice.

I was hoping someone might be able to answer a question I had on the article on Confession. At the very beginning of the article, the Augsburg Confession says that “The body of the Lord is not usually given to those who have not been examined and absolved.” I wondered if this examination and absolution was something that the Reformers thought was necessary every time a person wanted to go to the Sacrament, or once before first-communion. I have practiced the latter, but not the former. I know that Fritz’ Pastoral Theology speaks about the benefits of regular “interviews” with those who are communicants, although he says that for some it may not be required but once in a lifetime. Maybe it was Luther who said that. I can’t remember off the top of my head.

It seems to be fairly clear, however, that for the Christians of the Augsburg Confession, confirmation was not a requirement for admittance to the altar, rather, absolution and examination. Of course, examination presupposes some kind of instruction, ideally by the parents. I look forward to any answers anyone might have to my question.

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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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5 Responses to Absolution and Examination, not confirmation, required for Holy Communion

  1. Caspar says:

    We discussed this in Confessions Study here in Michigan a little while back. Pr. Al Collver tells me Luther discusses it in the American Edition volume 53, pages 32-34, Formula Missa 1523.

  2. Lawrence says:

    Some would argue this could be self-examination during Worship service leading up to (or part of) the normal confession/absolution proceedings during the liturgy.

    I’m not saying this is right. It just seems to be one of the common practices at present.

  3. Rev. Benjamin Mayes says:

    An examination of one’s understanding of the faith was a big part of private confession in those days. Our practice of examination before confirmation plays a similar role.

    Instruction was especially carried out by the pastor during private confession and during catechism services. These were mainly sermons, but also included some question and answer repetition by the catechumens.

    For more info, you could look at Graff, Geschichte der Auflösung; or Zeeden, Katholische Überlieferungen in den lutherischen Kirchenordnungen des 16. Jahrhunderts.

    I don’t think Luther required private confession before every communion, but this in fact became the practice in many Lutheran territorial churches, as I recall (perhaps as a simple continuation of Medieval practice?). I think the confessions bind us to an examination of communicants and absolution once before they are admitted to the altar. This is our historic way of distinguishing those who may commune from those who may not on the basis of how they confess the faith in word and deed (close/d communion).

  4. Caspar says:

    Thanks, Pr. Mayes. That’s what I remember us discussion at Confessions Study. I hope you’re enjoying your new home in St. Louis. It’s been a cold fall up here in Michigan. You probably heard they got a foot of snow not far north of where you used to live!

  5. Kepler says:

    Pastor Beisel,

    There was a very good book published on the historical practices in Nürnberg which I reviewed on my blog here. The book is well worth owning.

    Suffice it to say, however, that in Nürnberg, “examination” did not mean “self-examination.”

    Cheers,

    Kepler

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