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October 30, 2009

Weekly Communion, Part Two

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

The following is my weekly Parish Announcements article from our coming weekend’s bulletin:

I have many Roman Catholic friends who have questioned me about communion in the Lutheran Church. Of course, they always seem to ask whether or not we believe if the sacrament is the Lord’s holy body and holy blood. They are almost surprised when I say, “Yes, we believe that the bread and wine is the precious body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When I tell them that the host is the body and wine is the blood of Christ in and under those very elements, they look at me quite confused.

Roman Catholic theology teaches that the bread and wine in the Eucharist becomes the actual body and blood of Christ. Lutheran theology states that the bread and the wine are the body and blood of Christ “in and under” the elements. I know, this sounds as though we are splitting hairs. However, this idea of transubstantiation is what separates the Roman Catholic understanding of the Eucharist from the Lutheran.

Another area where my Roman Catholic friends have questioned me was in regards to the frequency of communion within the Lutheran Church. They’ve asked why communion frequency differs from church to church. Some Lutheran Churches have the Eucharist every Sunday while a great number, like Saint Matthew’s, have it twice a month.

Our Synod does not dictate our communion frequency policy – it is solely left up to congregations. If a congregation wants to hold its communion service twice a month, then the congregation makes that judgement. Over the past several decades, there has been a slow push on a return to weekly Sunday communion. But the question as to why our Synodical churches differ on communion frequency is a challenging one.

In my estimation, the role of pietism in the Lutheran Church during the 17th through 19th Centuries is one of the main influences of communion frequency practices within the church. Pietism is an belief in practical Christianity — an ideal that declares the most important aspect of the Christian life is showing love of neighbor. Doctrine is not as important within pietistic Lutheranism, thus the importance of communion reception is not stressed. In earlier times, communion reception in certain Lutheran Churches was minimized to once a month or even once a year. While pietism has long since faded away, some of its influences remain. The communion frequency practice is one of them.

Today, Lutherans are struggling to return to our earlier confessional Lutheran roots. One part of this revival is the importance of the reception of the Lord’s Supper.

As you know, I am a proponent of every Sunday communion. When we come to the Lord’s house, receiving him in Word and Sacrament for the forgiveness of sin is an essential cornerstone of our faith. Here at Saint Matthew’s, we already practice weekly communion with our Saturday evening and Wednesday night divine services. Our Lenten and Advent Midweek services are also weekly communion. On those months when the calendar graces us with five Sundays, our fifth Sunday is communion.

I believe our next step to move to weekly Sunday communion. Again, if you have any questions, please seek me out.

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