11 August 2010

The Communion

Offered for your consideration, comment and correction:

The communal nature of the Sacrament does not derive from the communal gathering of the Church; but, rather,

The communal nature of the Church derives from the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament.


William Weedon said...

Das ist gewisslich wahr.

Susan said...

Discussion? What's to discuss? I thought it was obvious.

jWinters said...

I like it...but...

Reading it with a critical eye, I think it could be used, by extension, to say something you don't want to say.

Could this be used to advocate a "y'all come" approach to the sacrament? I'm just saying that because as a layman I think I could interpret it as:

"If I take the Body and Blood, I am in community, I don't have to be in community to take the Body and Blood."

That was just my first impression. I may have misread.

in Christ,
Pastor Jay Winters
University Lutheran
Tallahassee, FL

Robbie F. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robbie F. said...

I believe it's a faithful statement, but as Pr. Winters points out, beware lest by saying "everyone who partakes of Christ's body and blood is in communion together" you imply that a denial of altar fellowship is meaningless (because "everyone's communing together when they take the Sacrament at their own church anyway"). I have heard at least one LCMS pastor draw this inference & as a result, he reduced the concept "closed communion" to the absurd.

Maybe we also need to articulate that when we close our altar to a given church or individual, we are not denying that they receive Christ's body and blood when they commune at some other church; rather, we are bearing witness to them that we do not condone what they do or teach & challenging them to repent.

Chad Myers said...

More to Robbie's point: Paul said that those who eat and drink unworthily eat and drink to their death. So, by disallowing them communion, you are protecting them from profaning the sacrament while they are in their current state of sin/heresy/whatever. It's like not driving your alcoholic friend to the bar so he can get loaded. Are you being mean? No! Indeed you are being very kind.

As long as we do it with lovingness and kindness and explain why we are preventing them from making further error, we can be sure we are helping the (even if they get angry about it).

Christopher Esget said...

I think I understand what you're trying to say, but I can't agree with it as written. The first proposition begins "The communal nature of the *Sacrament*" while the second states "the communal nature of the *Church*." So it's not a one-to-one comparison.

The deeper problem, though, is its allowance for the idea that "communion" is a matter between me and Jesus. The Sacrament of the Altar is more than my communion with the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is also the individual's communion with the body of Christ which is the Church. (Hence, altar fellowship is church fellowship.) Thus communion should ordinarily be done in the context of the church's gathering, and not privately (unless circumstances demand it, such as for the homebound). Which I imagine you would agree with.

I would reword it to something like this: "The communal nature of the Church does not derive from the mere gathering of people, but from their union with Christ, the koinonia in His body and blood."


Susan said...

Pastor Esget, I'm trying to figure out what Rick wrote that's leading you to say communion isn't just between me & Jesus. I didn't think anything he said would suggest that the Supper is an individualistic thing.

Christopher Esget said...


The propositions seem to make "the communal gathering of the Church" unimportant; what matters is "the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament." It separates reception of the Sacrament from the communal gathering of the Church. The was surely not intended, but it's the first thing that struck me upon reading it.

If you had the second part of the statement alone, I could completely agree with it. By making it a "not this, but that" argument, the "communal gathering of the Church" is rendered - what, exactly? Unimportant? Irrelevant? I don't know. And that, I think, is where the statement needs a great deal more clarity. In addition to the problem of having different subjects in the first and second parts of the statement.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for the comments thus far. I hope there will be more, and more discussion betwixt and between others, as well.

I'm not addressing the question of admission to the Sacrament. For the sake of clarification, I don't suggest that anyone should be allowed to commune, and that by such communing would become a member of the Church. Those who receive the Sacrament are the disciples of Jesus, that is, those who are baptized and catechized in and with the Word of Christ Jesus.

The fellowship of the Church is also measured or demarcated by the Church's common confession of the Lord's catechesis. Admitting someone to the Holy Communion apart from such catechesis and confession would be like welcoming a stranger into your home and giving him free access to your wife and children.

Pastor Esget, I'm going to have to think about your critique. I seem to have given a false impression, which I would certainly want to avoid. I do not suggest (or do not wish to suggest) that the communal gathering of the Church is unimportant. Far from it. I would regard the communal gathering of the Church to be one of the blessed fruits of the Sacrament.

My intent is to suggest the nature of the relationship between the "communal nature" of the Lord's Supper and the "communal nature" of the Church. To that I have offered that the Sacrament -- the Lord's Supper, the Mass, the Holy Communion -- is not communal because it is celebrated within the communal gathering of the Church. I would offer that it is communal because it is a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, irrespective of whether there are two or three or thirty or three hundred communicants gathered to receive it. The gathering of the Church is communal because of its participation in the Sacrament, and not inherently in itself apart from the Sacrament.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Church fellowship and the communing of the hospitalized or homebound both point to this same thing, in my opinion. That is to say, the homebound or hospitalized member is no less a member of the Body of Christ, no less a member of the Church's Communion in Christ, than are those who happen to commune at the same "table" or within the same Divine Service, or even within the same congregation.

Likewise, the fellowship that we share as brother pastors and sister congregations is not only a product of our common confession, but is located especially in our common participation in the Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ (as also in one Holy Baptism). The "communal nature" of our fellowship or communion derives from and resides in the Holy Communion of the Church in the one Bread which is the Body of Christ and the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood. That remains so, even when we are separated by great distances of space or time.

The Communion that we share as fellow members of that one Body bears fruit in a common celebration and participation in the Sacrament, wherever that is possible. It would surely be offensive to deliberately divide the one communion of the Church where it would not be necessary.

By the same token, it seems to me, insisting that the communal nature of the Sacrament depends upon the communal gathering of the Church, is to make the Tree dependant on its fruits, the Lord dependant on His Church. To insist, instead, that the fruits derive from and depend upon the Tree, and that the Church depends upon her Lord, is not to say or suggest that either the fruits or the Church are of no consequence or importance.

Those who deliberately absent themselves from the communal gathering of the Church should be gently called to repentance and recalled to that gathering, rather than facilitated in their separation from the Body of Christ. But those who are prevented by fraility and weakness from being with the congregation in its gatherings, should not be cut off from the Church's communion, but rather drawn into it through the same Ministry of the Gospel, the same preaching and the same Sacrament. The pastor who communes the shut-in at home, therefore, is not denying or sinning against the communal nature of the Church and Sacrament, but is bringing the Communion of Christ and His Church to one of His dear members. There, where two or three are thus gathered in the name of Christ Jesus, He Himself is also, with all the fruits and benefits of His holy Cross and Passion, and with the fullness of His Body, the Church.

I do not advocate or recommend that a pastor should celebrate and receive the Sacrament alone, or by himself, in isolation from any other communicants. For though the pastor is, by virtue of his office, both minister and disciple, he is drawn out of himself by the very people he is called to serve with the Gospel. The administration of the Sacrament necessitates that there be one who is handing over and one who is receiving. The pastor does both when he communes himself, but he does so rightly within the liturgical context of giving to others who receive from him.

I hope these responses and additional comments help to clarify my offered thesis. And, again, I welcome your consideration, comments, and corrections, as the case may be.

Thanks again for the feedback and input already proferred.

Christopher Esget said...

Pr. Stuckwisch, thanks for your clarifications. The problem, I think, is in defining "frailty and weakness" and what constitutes an absence significant enough to warrant a communion separate from the ordinary masses the church offers. (I can't be the only one to have had "shut-ins" who could come to church but prefer the special treatment of a private communion.) In the normal course of events, I do not think it practical nor healthy to offer individual communions to those who miss on occasion but can routinely come to the public services, by way of example.

Ideally a daily mass would help with that particular problem, but most churches cannot sustain such a thing.

Christopher Esget said...

I wish I could remember the precise quotation and context where he said this; I wish I could ask him now. I recall the sainted Prof. Marquart saying something along the lines of communion being open to all members of the church; that we do not have private services for some communicants. Obviously the homebound fall into a special category, and there's another blog where y'all can go to argue about the reservation of the host for that purpose (although that does affect, in my mind, the treatment of the homebound for the purposes of discussing private masses).

My colleague Fr. Charles McClean recently told me to set aside my scruples and commune a Christian who was in deep distress as part of his individual pastoral care. I did it, but was and remain troubled by it. I have always operated under the principle that any mass is open to all eligible communicants, and that any communion offered in the church should be announced to the congregation. (It's why I don't commune only the bride and groom at a nuptial mass.) Perhaps I'm way off base and took Prof. Marquart's statement much further than he intended.

I suspect, Pr. Stuckwisch, that we do not disagree with each other but are trying to protect different concerns.

Robbie F. said...

I don't think Rev. Marquart's principle should be taken to forbid communing an individual, on a one-time basis, who is in deep distress. I think this is a case where the Shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and goes out in search of the one that is lost.

For the most part it should be sufficient to say, "Our door is open, if you want this service, come and get it at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday." Where allowances must be made for human weakness is the occasional case where someone needs you to go to them personally, make the same offer, and urge them to take it. This could also be an opportunity to practice the keys privately.

R. Fish, St. Louis

Christopher Esget said...

I don't think Rev. Marquart's principle should be taken to forbid communing an individual, on a one-time basis, who is in deep distress.

That's what Fr. McClean told me. I'm sure you're both right. I could see that "one-time basis" in the case of others become a routine thing, which is another concern of mine.

And now, I really must hammer out that sermon for tonight!

Susan said...

Pastor Esget, maybe I'm misunderstanding something critical, but to me it doesn't seem to say anything about importance to talk about whether something causes or is caused by.

This certainly isn't a perfect analogy, but it's like "neither is before or after another, neither is greater or less than another" even though the Son is begotten of the Father. They're intertwined; you can't have one without the other; but still, one is the "source" of the other. It would be naughty to talk about having the Church without the Sacrament OR the Sacrament without the Church; nevertheless, one sorta "creates" the other. As Pr S stated with his tree/fruit analogy, that doesn't make one irrelevant.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Brother Christopher, be at peace in your conscience, my dear friend. You did not proceed recklessly or wrongly in giving the Sacrament to an individual in his distress. The sort of questions and caveats you raise are necessarily matters of pastoral discernment and discretion. It is, as always, a part of dividing the Law and the Gospel, but leaving the Gospel to predominate and Christ to hold the center (and, indeed, to be the Center).

I agree that all eligible communicants should be welcome to Communion wherever the Mass is celebrated. That is no less true in the case of visiting an individual than it is when celebrating the Divine Service in the midst of the congregation at a regularly scheduled time.

But it is not the congregation's schedule that establishes the Supper or its administration. It is given and received by and from the Word of Christ, through the Office that He has established, by the man he has called and ordained to be a steward of His Mysteries. Where such a man speaks and acts in the name and stead of Christ, it is Christ who speaks and acts, and there His Church is gathered, whether in small or large numbers, and nothing is lacking.

It would indeed be meet, right and salutary for the Church to offer the daily Mass, that communicants might have that privilege to avail themselves of the Sacrament as often as their hearts longs for it in repentant faith. Where the Church is unable to do so, because of her own fraility and weakness under the Cross in this vale of tears, I am of the opinion that communicants may and should seek the Sacrament from their pastor in their need, as also in the case of Holy Absolution. This is the very sort of thing I understand Luther to say and urge in his liturgical writings.

We are all limited by our finitude, and constrained by our respective stations in life. Thus, none of us can do all that we would prefer to do. That is true, not only for pastors and their congregations, but also for their individual members. There are those who avoid the gathering of the congregation -- and they ought to be admonished and called to repentance. Others are prevented by weaknesses of the flesh that are not deliberate or willful sins, but are the ravages of sin within and without -- the very sort of thing that does and ought to drive a Christian to the Supper. Some are prevented by the demands of their stations in life, who yet desire to be served by the Ministry of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. So there is, indeed, a need for pastoral discernment and discretion, and for pastoral care.

It is required of a steward that he be found faithful. As we have recently heard from St. Luke, the faithfulness of those who are stewards of Christ and His Mysteries is found precisely in giving His good gifts away to His debtors. A pastor who does so is not being reckless or unfaithful, but is exercising the authority of Christ for the very purpose it has been given to him in his office.

The Lord be with you, bless you and keep you in that Holy Office, and be at Peace, Brother Esget.

Pr. Thomas E. Fast said...

I am thankful for this question, Dr. Stuckwisch. Because participation/koinonia in the body and blood of Christ is really rather mind blowing, and we tend to run so quickly to the question of admission to the Table that we are in danger of missing the larger point. Participation in the body and blood of Christ means, via the personal union and communication of attributes, koinonia with the Holy Trinity. When I chew on that it is such good news that it shakes me to the core. As I have koinonia in the body and blood of Christ, I can no more be outside of the love and presence of the Father and Spirit than could the Son. My life with God is just as sturdy and immmovable as is the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Is it any wonder that Paul so boldly confessed that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love that God has for us in Jesus Christ?

That is something worth pondering. If only I could believe it...

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Pr. Thomas E. Fast said...

Pardon me for posting two comments in a row. But I re-read my first comment and realized that I lost my way.

What I intended to say is that it is sad to think of Communion primarily in horizontal terms, as I have done for most of my life. But I think that is part of the skewed thinking that comes into play due to the divisions we have in the Church. We have to be careful about that.