We believe and teach
– that the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar are the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, which are given to us Christians for the remissions of sins, eternal life and salvation;
– that the body and blood of Christ in a wonderful and supernatural way are united with the bread and the wine, when Christ’s words of institution are pronounced over them (consecration);
– that this sacramental union means that bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood and Christ’s body and blood are bread and wine (unio sacramentalis);
– that the Sacrament of the Altar is a divine, holy and adorable sacrament;
– that body and blood of Christ are present during the whole sacramental act until all the consecrated elements have been consumed according to the command of Christ;
– that God through this Sacrament wants to strengthen our faith in the Gospel and give us power to live a holy life;
– that the Sacrament of the Altar is a sacrament of unity which for the common celebration assumes joint and unanimous confession to Christ and his doctrine.
The Sacrament of the Altar or the Lord’s Holy Supper occupies a central place in the divine service of the Lutheran Church. As it was done in the ancient church the mass is celebrated every Sunday with great reverence. A morning service or “high mass” (as we say in Sweden) without the mass or the Lord’s Supper is a mutilated service that does not live up to its name.
The Holy Supper gives us, like the other means of grace, the remissions of sins. But above that the Holy Supper gives a wonderful individual confirmation or pledge of forgiveness, namely the body and blood of Christ, sacrificed on Calvary in atonement for our sins.
The main thing in the Sacrament, the very thing that creates the great miracle of the Holy Supper, is the act of consecration: the reading of the words of institution over the bread and wine. These words are the not the priest’s words, but Christ’s own powerful and creative words, which immediately give what they say. Their effect is that bread and wine is no longer just bread and wine, but also the true body and blood of Christ. When Christ instituted the Holy Supper and gave this meal to the Church, He did it with the commandment: “do this in remembrance of me.” This commandment means that we shall take bread and wine (and nothing else), just as Jesus did, say what He said over the bread and wine and then celebrate this meal in the joy of faith and in humble gratitude for His atoning sacrifice unto the remission of our sins. The consecration is thus no subordinate liturgical matter, but the very thing with which the Sacrament stands or falls. When it is not performed, no celebration of the Holy Supper takes place, but only and ordinary meal with bread and wine. Even here the words of St. Augustine are applicable. “When the Word is joined to the element, it becomes a Sacrament.”
The Lutheran view on the Bible as the only source and standard for Christian faith manifests itself clearly also in the doctrine of the Supper. It separates the Lutheran Church from the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that the elements are changed to be only the body and blood of Christ, as well as from the Reformed Churches, who assign to the bread and wine in the Holy Supper merely a symbolic function.
Lutheran faith defends itself against all religious speculations and attempts to give any philosophical or rational explanations of the divine mystery of the Holy Supper. We hold to the literal sense of what is said in the words of institution. God must be taken at His Word. When Christ takes the bread and says: “This is my body”, then every part of His body really is there – not as a symbol, but in entirety. The Sacrament is, according to the plain sense of the words, both bread and wine and the body and the blood of Christ joined to one. This sacramental union, unio sacramentalis, is a kind of time limited incarnational wonder. Just as we can say of the person of Christ: “This man is God” and “This God is man”, we also in the Holy Supper can say: “The bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood”, and “Christ’s body and blood are bread and wine”.
Because of this sacramental union, which begins at the recitation of the words of institution, adoration of Christ in the form of bread and wine is both possible and allowed without being some kind of idolatry. Christ is really resting on the altar – that’s why we call it “The Sacrament of the Altar” – and He is worthy of all our faith and adoration. The elevation – the old liturgical custom of the priest lifting up the Sacrament before the congregation – is a fine expression of such faith and adoration.
That the sacramental presence of Christ does not take place or become sure until we receive the Sacrament with our mouth is a delusion called “receptionism” or “Philippism” (after the deviations in this direction of Philip Melanchton). It’s a doctrine that seriously undermines the power of the words of institution and instead lets our reception create the Sacrament.
Since all consecrated elements are the body and blood of Christ, of course they should also be consummated during the mass. The mass is over when the consecrated gifts are distributed. It always belongs to the responsibility of a Lutheran priest to be well informed of the number of those who intend to go to the Communion, then set aside enough bread and wine for the celebration and finally also see to it that nothing consecrated is left over after the communion. To throw away, reserve or use the consecrated elements for adoration or other purposes are directly against the express command of Christ: “Take and eat.”
Our eating and drinking at the sacred meal of the Lord’s Supper takes place partly in a physical way with our mouth when we receive the body and blood of Christ, sacrificed for us on Calvary, and partly in a spiritual way with our faith when we receive the remission of sins for Christ’s sake.
The true body and blood of Christ are received in a heavenly and supernatural way – wonderfully but incomprehensibly to reason. This miraculous gift of grace is given wholly and in an indestructible way to each of the communicants. The body and blood of Christ can never be torn apart in the Sacrament or broken down as ordinary food by our eating and drinking. Thus, the Holy Supper is no kind of “cannibalistic” or “Capernaitic” eating (as the people in Capernaum grossly misinterpreted Jesus, John 6:51 ff.).
The Sacrament of the Altar is instituted to be eaten and drunk for the remissions of sins. It is a meal for poor sinners longing for the grace of being guests, justified by faith, at the table in the Kingdom of God. However strong and right we may believe in the miracle of Christ’s real presence in the bread and wine, the Sacrament will be of no use to us if we do not by faith receive the grace and peace which are here given and are so strongly and wonderfully confirmed. The Holy Supper is thus for believers, not least for those who have a weak and wavering faith, that they might be strengthened in faith and refreshed to follow Jesus and to live according to His will. It is always a missa fidelium, a mass for the believers. To attend the Holy Communion with an unrepentant mind or in a thoughtless way, without asking for what the Sacrament is and gives, is a serious misuse of Christ’s holy body and blood – a sin that falls under God’s severe judgement (1 Cor. 11:27 ff.).
On the question whether the Holy Supper could be given to babes, we answer that there are no doctrinal impediments to do so that could be gathered from the Bible. If infants can receive the Gospel in the Baptism, they can also receive the same Gospel in the Holy Supper. As Lutherans, however, we still do not usually give the Holy Supper to babes. We simply believe that the grace of Baptism is enough for them. They don’t need the Holy Supper when they are so small. Neither does the Bible teach that infant communion is necessary. In Martin Chemniz’s famous Examen Concilii Tridentini in the sixteenth century we clearly find that infant communion was not generally condemned by the Lutherans, only regarded as an unnecessary thing.
The service for children and young people’s confirmation as a preparation for their first communion is not a sacrament. This rite is neither mentioned nor commanded in the Scripture. However, we gladly keep it as a good and useful church order.
In an orthodox Lutheran church communion fellowship and doctrinal fellowship should always coincide. They presuppose each other. In the Holy Supper we are one with Christ, one with the other communicants and one with all the faithful in the heavenly glory. The Sacrament of the Altar is to a very great extent the Sacrament of the visible unity where differences in doctrine must not be tolerated. The Word of God forbids all altar and pulpit fellowship with those who teach otherwise (see the section “Of Church Fellowship”). Therefore, the table of the Lord should be open only for the members of the congregation, for them that have been instructed and confess Christ and the doctrine of his Church – or as the Augsburg Confession puts it: “them that have been previously examined and absolved” (Art. XXV). In that way the Lord gathers his faithful ones around himself in the most venerable and holy Sacrament of the Altar to strengthen them with the Gospel and keep them together in one and the same faith.
The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26, see also Matt. 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20)
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16‑17)
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)
The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. (John 6:37)
Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (1 Cor. 11:27-29)
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. (1 Cor. 10:21)
What the Lutheran Confessions say
Of the Supper of the Lord they [our churches] teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise. (AC X, Trigl. p. 47)
Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. ‑ ‑ ‑ The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us. (AC XXIV, Trigl. p. 65)
For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. (Ap XXIV, Trigl. p. 383 f.)
Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar?
Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink. And as we have said of Baptism that it is not simple water, so here also we say the Sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine, such as are ordinarily served at the table, but bread and wine comprehended in, and connected with, the Word of God.
It is the Word (I say) which makes and distinguishes this Sacrament, so that it is not mere bread and wine, but is, and is called, the body and blood of Christ. For it is said: Accedat verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum. If the Word be joined to the element, it becomes a Sacrament. This saying of St. Augustine is so properly and so well put that he has scarcely said anything better. The Word must make a Sacrament of the element, else it remains a mere element. Now, it is not the word or ordinance of a prince or emperor, but of the sublime Majesty, at whose feet all creatures should fall, and affirm it is as He says, and accept it with all reverence, fear, and humility.
With this Word you can strengthen your conscience and say: If a hundred thousand devils, together with all fanatics, should rush forward, crying, How can bread and wine be the body and blood of Christ? etc., I know that all spirits and scholars together are not as wise as is the Divine Majesty in His little finger. Now here stands the Word of Christ: Take, eat; this is My body; Drink ye all of it; this is the new testament in My blood, etc. Here we abide, and would like to see those who will constitute themselves His masters, and make it different from what He has spoken. (LC, Trigl. p. 755)
Just as in Christ two distinct, unchanged natures are inseparably united, so in the Holy Supper the two substances, the natural bread and the true natural body of Christ, are present together here upon earth in the appointed administration of the Sacrament. Al–though this union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine is not a per–sonal union, as that of the two natures in Christ, but as Dr. Luther and our theologians… call it sacramentalem unionem, that is, a sacramental union. (FC SD. VII, Trigl. p. 985)
For the true and almighty words of Jesus Christ which He spake at the first institution were efficacious not only at the first Supper, but they endure, are valid, operate, and are still efficacious, so that in all places where the Supper is celebrated according to the institution of Christ, and His words are used, the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed, and received, because of the power and efficacy of the words which Christ spake at the first Supper. For where His institution is observed and His words are spoken over the bread and cup, and the consecrated bread and cup are distributed, Christ Himself, through the spoken words, is still efficacious by virtue of the first institution, through His word, which He wishes to be there repeated. - - -
Also [Luther writes]: … when in the Supper we say, according to His institution and command: “This is My body,” it is His body, not on account of our speaking or word uttered, but because of His command – that He has commanded us thus to speak and to do, and has united His command and act with our speaking.
Now, in the administration of the Holy Supper the words of institution are to be publicly spoken or sung before the congregation distinctly and clearly, and should in no way be omitted [and this for very many and the most important reasons. First,] in order that obedience may be rendered to the command of Christ: This do [that therefore should not be omitted which Christ Himself did in the Holy Supper], and [secondly] that the faith of the hearers concerning the nature and fruit of this Sacrament (concerning the presence of the body and blood of Christ, concerning the forgiveness of sins, and all benefits which have been purchased by the death and shedding of the blood of Christ, and are bestowed upon us in Christ’s testament) may be excited, strengthened, and confirmed by Christ’s Word, and that the elements of bread and wine may be consecrated or blessed for this holy use, in order that the body and blood of Christ may therewith be administered to us to be eaten and to be drunk, as Paul declares [1 Cor. 10, 16]: The cup of blessing which we bless, which indeed occurs in no other way than through the repetition and recitation of the words of institution. - - -
To preserve this true Christian doctrine concerning the Holy Supper, and to avoid and abolish manifold idolatrous abuses and perversions of this testament, the following useful rule and standard has been derived from the words of institution: Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum (“Nothing has the nature of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ”) or extra actionem divinitus institutam (“apart from the action divinely instituted”). That is: If the institution of Christ be not observed as He appointed it, there is no sacrament. This is by no means to be rejected, but can and should be urged and maintained with profit in the Church of God. 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, the consecration, or words of institution, the distribution and reception, or oral partaking of the consecrated bread and wine, 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. (FC SD, VII, Trigl. p. 999 ff.)
But it must [also] be carefully explained who are the unworthy guests of this Supper, namely, those who go to this Sacrament without true repentance and sorrow for their sins, and without true faith and the good intention of amending their lives, and by their unworthy oral eating of the body of Christ load themselves with damnation, that is, with temporal and eternal punishments, and become guilty of the body and blood of Christ.
For Christians who are of weak faith, diffident, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the greatness and number of their sins, and think that in this their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and the benefits of Christ, and who feel and lament their weakness of faith, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience, they are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament [and sacred feast] has been especially instituted and appointed; as Christ says, Matt. 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Also Matt. 9:12: They that be whole need not a physician, but they that be sick. Also [2 Cor. 12:9]: God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Also [Rom. 14:1]: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye [14:3], for God hath received him. For whosoever believeth in the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith, has eternal life [John 3:15f.]. (FC SD VII, Trigl. p. 997)
We warn against
all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scripture teach, for example,
– that the bread and wine in the Holy Supper are only symbols for the body and blood of Christ (Reformed deviation);
– that the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine when they in the mass become the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation, Roman deviation);
– that the words of institution do not have any immediate effect when they are recited in the mass, but are only a general promise of Christ’s body and blood being present when the communicants receive them (Philippism or receptionism);
– that adoration of Christ in the Sacrament is forbidden and a kind of worship of bread (Reformed and Philippistic deviation);
– that consecrated elements that sometime happen to be left over at the end of the Holy Supper do not stand under the command of Christ to be eaten and drunk as a sacrament (Philippism);
– that the table of our Lord should be open to all who want to participate, irrespective of what they believe or confess (false ecumenism or unionism).
Lord, it is true that I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but I need and desire your help and grace to make me godly. I now come to you, trusting only in the wonderful words I have just heard, with which you invite me to your table and promise me, the unworthy one, forgiveness of all my sins through your body and blood if I eat and drink them in this sacrament. Amen. Dear Lord, I do not doubt the truth of your words. Trusting them, I eat and I drink with you. Do unto me according to your words. Amen