On Reserving the Elements of Holy Communion
There has been a bit of a buzz across the Lutheran Blogosphere with the [thankfully few] pastors who are committed to insisting that the bread and wine that remains after the Divine Service, remain perpetually the body and blood of Christ. One chap delivered himself of the opinion that in spite of what Luther and Chemnitz has to say on the practice, and what our Confessions have to say about it, it is not what they say that counts here, but what they don’t say that really matters. This strange argument from silence, shaky as it is, is being put forward as a legitimate reason to reserve the elements after the Sacrament, regarding them perpetually to be the body and blood of Christ. Here is my response to these latest musings.
I’m really quite puzzled why men who have pledged themselves to the Lutheran Confessions, who have read how Martin Luther is appealed to as the “chief teacher of the churches of the Augsburg Confession,” and whose writings on the Lord’s Supper are specifically held up in the vein of: “For more on this, read Luther” in the Confessions, can, in my opinion, be so dismissive of Luther’s position. The “lost Luther reference” has been returned to an English edition of the BOC, adding even more weight to the position of our chief teacher on these matters.
The entire freight/weight of the issue as addressed in the Confessions stands firmly against reservation, for any reason. Further, an argument constructed to support reservation based on the silence of our Confessions is even more difficult for me to understand.
Why can we not agree that we should consume what has been consecrated, as our Lord would have us do? Even if we are not of the same mind about what it may be after the Divine Service is over, we can say without any doubt what it is in the action and proper use of the Supper, as the Formula makes abundantly clear.
Dismissing Dr. Ziegler’s excellent study is unfortunate. Some, sadly, describe what I can only describe as disdain for Lutheran fathers and traditions. They are permitting, in my view, a romanticized view of the Early Church to trump the proper teachings and traditions and opinions of our Lutheran fathers, who are more than worthy of our respect and honor. It is as if the first five hundred year of writings, good as they might be, are far superior to our own Lutheran fathers and their teachings.
Martin Luther and our fathers all agree that we are to consume what is consecrated. If we do happen to have consecrated elements left [something that apparently, just as our fathers warn, leads to foolish questions and useless speculations], we should treat them with great reverence and respect. But when we commune the sick and shut-in, I believe it is very poor pastoral practice not to consecrate the elements and speak the Word of our Lord, a consecrating Word, in their hearing. Let them hear the Lord saying into their years, “This is my body…this is my blood…for you.” A conditional consecration, or a mere assurance of consecration, is most unfortunate, along the lines of an assurance of absolution, rather than the absolving words themselves.
I particularly am troubled by the patronizing attitude, as I perceive it, and forgive me if I misunderstand this, when I hear pastors say that they repeat the Verba, “for the communicants faith.” In other words, what I’m hearing them to say is, “Of course I the pastor know what this is, but for the benefit of the weak in faith, who seem to have a need to hear the Verba repeated, I say them.” This is an attitude that is contrary to our Confessions, which make it very clear that there is never to be a celebration without the Verba.
If in fact the Verba are repeated, not by way of assurance, or along the lines of, “We said this on Sunday” but as they are from our Lord, then I suppose this is, in the final analysis a moot point, since, despite what the pastor’s speculation might be, the fact is that the communicant has the sure and certain promise of their Lord, whose words have just been put into their ears, and that Word creates, and gives, what it says. Therefore, pastoral speculations aside, there is a consecration and our Lord’s Word of Promise and Institution are being said and the body and blood of Christ are under the bread and wine.
So, finally, if some pastors insist on regarding the bread and wine after the benediction in the Divine Service to be the body and blood of Christ and do not shut it up, reverence it, adore it, pray to it and otherwise misuse it, but distribute it to the sick and shut-in, saying the Words of Institution as declaration and promise, not as mere assurance, or “for those whose faith require it,” then we should not be too opposed to their opinions about the bread and wine that remain after a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as long as they remain just that: private opinions and speculations. And as long as they speak the word of our Lord as they are to be spoken: consecrating and instituting words of promise, declarations, not mere assurances.