Concerning the Sacramental Union in the Lord's Supper Pr. Heath R. Curtis I. Summary of my Teaching My teaching is rigidly biblical.
I take Jesus at his Word. When he says that the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood, I believe him. His Word makes the sacramental union, not any human action of receiving, elevating, chanting, etc.. Furthermore, I wish to avoid "all presumptuous, frivolous, blasphemous questions" (FC SD VII.127) regarding fixing the moment and duration of the sacramental union. However, to say that the presence of Christ, i.e. the sacramental union, does not take effect until the elements are consumed is to change the Word of Christ from "This is My body" to "This will be My body." Therefore, I deny that only bread and wine sit on the altar after Our Lord has spoken his Word of consecration over the elements through his called and ordained servant in a divine service where the intent is to conduct the Lord's Supper according to the Lord's institution through its whole action. To ask such questions as "which syllable makes the presence" and so on are precisely those "presumptuous, frivolous, blasphemous questions" which are to be avoided. Regarding the sacramental union and elements not consumed during the celebration in which they are consecrated I believe the following. As in fixing the precise instant of the beginning of the sacramental union, I believe it is "presumptuous, frivolous, and blasphemous" to seek its end. Rather, I agree with the historic Lutheran practice of consuming all the consecrated elements at the celebration in which they were consecrated. If this is absolutely not feasible, I agree with the rubrics of our Church which have been in force since 1955, which state that all consecrated wine should be reverently poured into the earth and all consecrated bread should be reserved for the next communion and never mingled with unconsecrated bread. I know that some Lutherans have dared to say that after the very end of the distribution the consecrated elements are simply bread and wine. I believe that this is introducing speculation and "presumptuous, frivolous, and blasphemous questions." We certainly have no Word from Our Lord which would revoke His sacramental presence (This is my Body until. . .) and in the case where the consecrated hosts (and in the parish where I serve, and many others, consecrated wine as well) are reserved for distribution to the sick and homebound by laymen or for the next weekly celebration how can we even say that the distribution of those elements is at an end? Therefore, to avoid all such "presumptuous, frivolous, blasphemous questions" we should preferably follow the instructions of the Lord (Take, eat; Take, drink) and consume all elements at the celebration in which they were consecrated; elements reserved for distribution to the sick and homebound cannot but be treated as all other consecrated elements. I deny that the Words of Institution may be used as a magical formula to effect the presence of Christ for a purpose alien to Christ's institution. Thus, for example, the Words do not effect the presence of Christ when they are spoken by Satanists in a "Black Mass," or by a papist priest when he speaks the Words apart from any context or intention of ever distributing the elements (that is, of having the Lord's Supper) but rather solely for the purpose of adoring the Eucharistic Christ [note in 2009: to be fair, I don't think this is really their practice. I think even what is put in a monstrance is eventually consumed], or by a Zwinglian who uses the Words of Institution and even distributes the elements but openly proclaims before the "celebration" that the Lord's body is really absent from the elements. II. Support for my Teaching from the Bible, the Confessions, and orthodox Lutheran teachers. What follows are texts supporting my belief with my commentary.
The Words of Institution from Matthew 26:26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of
you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 Our Lord does not make his Word of consecration contingent on the disciples' eating and drinking: he does not say, "If (or When) you eat this it will be my Body and Blood," but simply, "Take, eat, this is my Body; this is my Blood." Indeed, here in Matthew 26:28 the word "for" (gar in Greek) indicates that the blood of Christ is distributed and drunk not "in order that" it be His blood, but because it already is His blood. I Corinthians 10:16 "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is not a communion of the body of Christ?" Here Paul clearly says that the cup is a communion of the blood of Christ even when it is blessed with the Words of Christ, not only when it is consumed. Likewise, the bread is a communion of the body of Christ when it is broken not only when it is consumed. Indeed, Paul does not even mention eating and drinking here! Augsburg Confession, Article X "1] Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed 2] to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise." Please note that the Body and Blood are present when distributed, not merely when consumed. Apology Article X "55] And we have ascertained that not only the Roman Church affirms the bodily presence of Christ, but the Greek Church also both now believes, and formerly believed, the same. For the canon of the Mass among them testifies to this, in which the priest clearly prays that the bread may be changed and become the very body of Christ. And Vulgarius, who seems to us to be not a silly writer, says distinctly that bread is not a mere figure, but 56] is truly changed into flesh." Here we can see that the Confessions even speak of a "change" (Metabasis) of the elements, while, of course, denying the Roman teaching of a transubstatiation wherein Aristotelian theories about substance and accidence are imported to say that the bread ceases to exist. The comments of our sister church body, The Lutheran Church-Canada are apropos here (Holy Communion: Terms and Practices. from the LCC's CTCR, 1999):
"Can we say that the bread and wine are "changed". into the "transubstantiation". (the bread and wine changing into the normally have not used the term change, but have approvingly quoted those who use the term. 2 But can the term be was not there before? What? considered wrong? In the Supper is something present which Body and Blood of Christ? Roman Catholics do, talking about Body and Blood) and so do the Eastern Orthodox. Lutherans
So, a change does take place. Bread and wine are not changed into something else. Something else, however, is now present, as the bread and wine become the vehicles for the Body and Blood which Christ gives us.
Apol. X.2, citing "Vulgarius". (the eleventh century theologian Theophylact),
who notes that the bread "is truly changed into flesh." Martin Chemnitz, one of
the authors of the Formula of Concord and ardent defender of the Real Presence, demonstrates how the term, if used, must be understood. He studiously avoids the term when contrasting the Lutheran view with Rome's view, while at the same time noting that Christ gives us something that was not there before: "Therefore it is not a man, the minister, who by his consecration and blessing makes bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, but Christ Himself, by means of His
Word, is present in this action, and by means of the Word of His institution, which is spoken through the mouth of the minister, He brings it about that the bread is of Trent Part II, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1978), 229. However, later, as he contrasts the ancient Church's understanding with the Roman understanding, he notes (and accepts) the concept, saying "The ancients make His body and the cup His blood . . . ." Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council
mention simply of mutation and conversion of the elements in the Lord's Supper. This they understand and explain this way, that after consecration it is no longer common bread and ordinary wine but is the Eucharist, which is made up of two things, an earthly [bread and wine] and a heavenly [Christ's body and blood], a visible and an invisible . . . " (254). To use the word "change", with that understanding is certainly permissible."
As our brothers in the LCC have ably shown us here, the main author of the Formula of Concord, Martin Chemnitz, teaches that after consecration it is no longer common bread and ordinary wine, but the Eucharist of the Lord's Body and Blood. We turn now to consider Chemnitz' other great confession of this doctrine in the Book of Concord itself. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VII.73-90 This crucial section of the Formula will be treated paragraph by paragraph with my comments following each paragraph. 73] Since a misunderstanding and dissension among some teachers of the Augsburg Confession also has occurred concerning consecration and the common rule, that nothing is a sacrament without the appointed use [or divinely instituted act], we have made a fraternal and unanimous declaration to one another also concerning this matter to the following purport, 74] namely, that not the word or work of any man produces the true presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Supper, whether it be the merit or recitation of the minister, or the eating and drinking or faith of the communicants; but all this should be ascribed
alone to the power of Almighty God and the word, institution, and ordination of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note that it is no human action but only the word, institution, and ordination of Jesus Christ which "produces the true presence." 75] 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 [their force, power, and efficacy endure and avail even to the present], 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 [wine], and the consecrated bread and cup [wine] 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. 76] As Chrysostom says (in Serm. de Pass.) in his Sermon concerning the Passion: Christ Himself prepared this table and blesses it; for no man makes the bread and wine set before us the body and blood of Christ, but Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The words are spoken by the mouth of the priest, but by God's power and grace, by the word, where He speaks: "This is My body," the elements presented are consecrated in the Supper. And just as the declaration, Gen. 1, 28: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth," was spoken only once, but is ever efficacious in nature, so that it is fruitful and multiplies, so also this declaration ["This is My body; this is My blood"] was spoken once, but even to this day and to His advent it is efficacious, and works so that in the Supper of the Church His true body and blood are present. We note again that where Christ's Words are used, his body and blood are not only received but also "present, and distributed." 77] Luther also [writes concerning this very subject in the same manner], Tom. VI, Jena, Fol. 99: This His command and institution have this power and effect that we administer and receive not mere bread and wine, but His body and blood, as His words declare: "This is My body," etc.; "This is My blood," etc., so that it is not our work or speaking, but the command and ordination of Christ that makes the bread the body, and the wine the blood, from the beginning of the first Supper even to the end of the world, and that through our service and office they are daily distributed. Again, we not only receive but also "administer" the body and blood.
78] Also, Tom. III, Jena, Fol. 446: Thus here also, even though I should pronounce over all bread the words: This is Christ's body, nothing, of course, would result there from; but 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 [because these words, when uttered, have this efficacy], 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. Here we see the Lutheran understanding of Jesus' command "This do." Jesus commanded his called servants in the Church to speak the Word of Institution and distribute his body and blood. 79] 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. 80] 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], 81] 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, 82] and [besides] 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. Here we see again the Lutheran teaching on the "This do:" namely, Christ commanded the servants of Church to speak his Words of Institution. Also note that the Words are spoken "In order that the body and blood" be administered which can take place in "no other way" than through the recitation of the Words of Institution. Not the human eating or the drinking, but the Words of Christ produce His Real Presence. 83] However, this blessing, or the recitation of the words of institution of Christ alone does not make a sacrament if the entire action of the Supper, as it was instituted by Christ, is not observed (as when the consecrated bread is not distributed, received, and partaken of, but is enclosed, sacrificed, or carried about), but the command of Christ, This do (which embraces the entire action or administration in this Sacrament, 84] that in an assembly of Christians bread and wine are taken, consecrated, distributed, received, eaten, drunk, and the Lord's death is shown forth at the same time) must be observed unseparated and inviolate, as also St.
Paul places before our eyes the entire action of the breaking of bread or of distribution and reception, 1 Cor. 10, 16. These paragraphs have been misquoted out of context to allow for receptionism. Some say that since the Formula says that the entire action of the Supper is needed for a valid Supper, then the presence of Christ is not effected until the last part of that action is observed. In saying this some Lutherans have again fallen into Aristotelian theories of form and action. However, the text itself tells us what the text means: what is excluded here is the Romanist practice of "consecrating" elements for the sole purpose of Corpus Christi processions or the papal "sacrifice of the Mass." Since these "celebrations" do not intend to follow Christ's institution, they are not the Lord's Supper merely because they ape the Words of Christ. Likewise, a group of Satanists gathering to mock the Lord's Supper would not have the Lord's Supper even if they recited the Words and distributed and ate the "consecrated" elements. Also the paragraphs have been badly misinterpreted through a basic mistake in logic. The paragraph says that "If the entire action of the Supper as instituted by Christ is not observed, then the recitation of the Words alone do not make the sacrament." The error in logic may be easily seen: Let A be: The entire action of the Supper as instituted by Christ is observed. Let B be: The recitation of the Words alone do make the sacrament. The Confessions state: If not-A, then not-B. The paragraph does not say anything at all about a celebration in which the whole action of the supper is to be carried out. As we have seen above, in such a celebration it is indeed Christ's Word alone which produces the Real Presence. To conclude otherwise from these paragraphs is to make the following error: Given: If not A, then not B. Given: A. Therefore: not B. A further example of the same error may help make this clear: Let A be: this ice cream is above 32 degrees F Let B be: this ice cream is melted. Given: If this ice cream is not above 32 degrees F, then it is not melted (If not A, then not B). Given: The ice cream is above 32 degrees F (A). Therefore: it is not melted (not B). Clearly this is faulty reasoning. 85] [Let us now come also to the second point, of which mention was made a little before.] 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. 86] 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. 87] 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. 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. This is simply a further explanation of what I said above on paragraphs 83-84. The statement that nothing is a sacrament apart from the institution is stated against Romanist misuse and bad intent – it says nothing at all about when the sacramental union is in effect during or after a valid Supper. 88] Meanwhile, however, we must call attention also to this, that the Sacramentarians artfully and wickedly pervert this useful and necessary rule, in order to deny the true, essential presence and oral partaking of the body of Christ, which occurs here upon earth alike by the worthy and the unworthy, and interpret it as referring to the usus fidei, that is, to the spiritual and inner use of faith, as though it were no sacrament to the unworthy, and the partaking of the body occurred only spiritually, through faith, or as though faith made the body of Christ present in the Holy Supper, and therefore unworthy, unbelieving hypocrites did not receive the body of Christ as being present. 89] Now, it is not our faith that makes the sacrament, but only the true word and institution of our almighty God and Savior Jesus Christ, which always is and remains efficacious in the Christian Church, and is not invalidated or rendered inefficacious by the worthiness or unworthiness of the minister, nor by the unbelief of the one who receives it. Just as the Gospel, even though godless hearers do not believe it, yet is and remains none the less the true Gospel, only it does not work for salvation in the unbelieving; so, whether those who receive the Sacrament believe or do not believe, Christ remains
none the less true in His words when He says: Take, eat: this is My body, and effects this [His presence] not by our faith, but by His omnipotence. 90] Accordingly, it is a pernicious, shameless error that some from a cunning perversion of this familiar rule ascribe more to our faith, which [in their opinion] alone renders present and partakes of the body of Christ, than to the omnipotence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Here again, it is the Word and Institution of Christ that makes the sacrament, not our actions. Luther, St. L. XX:1034 "For although body and bread are two distinct natures, each taken by itself, and when they are separated, neither of course is the other, nevertheless, when they are united and become an entirely new thing, they lose their distinction as far as that new unity is concerned and in so far as they become and are one thing. Therefore they are also called and spoken of as one thing, without one of the two having to perish and cease to be, but both bread and body may remain; and because of the sacramental union it is right for Christ to say: 'This is My body," while pointing with the word 'this' to the bread; for now it is not more common bread in the oven, but flesh bread or body bread, that is bread which has become a sacramental substance and a unit with the body of Christ. And so it is right to say of the wine in the cup: 'This is my blood," pointing with the word 'this' to the wine; for it is no longer mere wine in the cellar, but blood wine, that is wine which constitutes a sacramental unit with the blood of Christ." Note that for Luther it is the "wine in the cup" which is truly the blood of Christ. Luther: LW 37: 116 But I should like to hear and see the man who could interpret this quotation to the effect that nothing but bread and wine are present in the Supper. There stands Irenaeus, saying that the bread is not ordinary, common bread, inasmuch as it has been named or called by God, but “eucharist,” as the ancients spoke of the sacrament. But what can this “naming” be, with which God names the bread? It can be nothing else than the word which he speaks, “This is my body.” There, indeed, he names it, and gives it a new name which it did not have before when it was ordinary bread; and he says, “Let this bread, after this naming or word, consist of two things, the one earthly—i.e, bread, which is produced from the earth, as Irenaeus says here—the other heavenly,” which must certainly be Christ’s body, which is in heaven. What other sort of heavenly thing can be in the sacrament along with the earthly thing, which by God’s naming or word is present? Here Luther clearly states that "after this word" Christ's body and blood are present. One does not have to wait for the distribution. I would also refer you to the chapter entitled "The Consecrations and Its Effects" in the book The Lord's Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz by Bjarne Teigen. This chapter lays out
clearly the orthodox teaching of Lutheranism on this matter and explains the rise of receptionism and why it should be rejected. I can make copies for any who do not own the book. Finally, I include a brief note on the origin of receptionism within Lutheranism written by Pr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes, STM, a friend of mine studying for his PhD in Reformation Studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan [note in 2009: It's now officially Dr. Mayes: congrats, Ben.]. My thanks go to Ben for reviewing this document and providing many suggestions and improvements. "The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was weakened in the Lutheran Church during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 17th century, theologians like Johann Gerhard and Friedrich Baldwin held closer to Luther’s doctrine, that the bread is the Body, while more commonly the Lutheran theologians expressed themselves with Melanchthon’s terms, saying that the sacrament is an action and emphasizing that the Lord’s Body is received when people eat the bread.1 By the time the LCMS was founded in the mid-19th century, Melanchthon’s receptionism was considered the genuine Lutheran doctrine by all confessional Lutherans.2 In the 20th century, Luther’s doctrine of the Sacrament was rediscovered first in Germany and then in America.3" This shift from Luther to Melanchthon, and the prevalence of receptionism in American Lutheranism was news to me when Ben shared these facts with me. I had always been taught along the lines of Luther and Chemnitz, and obviously still take my stand there. I have attempted to demonstrate in this brief paper that this doctrine is also that of the Scriptures and Confessions and I hope that it will be fully recaptured in American Lutheranism. I humbly submit this document as a summary and defense of my beliefs and look forward to discussing these matters with any who wish to gather around the Word of the Lord together. In Christ, Pr. Heath R. Curtis
E. F. Peters, "Origin and Meaning of the Axion: Nothing has the Character of a Sacrament Outside of its Use" in 16th century Lutheran Theology," ThD Thesis, Concordia Seminary St. Louis, 1968: 459-464. 2 For example, C. F. W. Walther, Pastoral Theology, John M. Drickamer, trans. (New Haven, MO: Lutheran News, Inc., 1995), 134. 3 See Sasse, This Is My Body; Tom G. A. Hardt, On the Sacrament of the Altar (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1984); Bjarne Wollan Teigen, The Lord's Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz (Brewster, Mass. : Trinity Lutheran Press, 1986).