Handling the Holy Things – Sacristan Rubric Part I, by Dave Wohlrab

(Editor’s Note: I serve a church of 2,000 people. We have lay, male sacristans who assist the pastors with the distribution of Holy Communion. We do not do this lightly and I am sure there will be some discussion on these posts about whether this is acceptable or not, and that is fine, even encouraged. Over the next few weeks and months we will be posting parts of our sacristan rubric which I hope will demonstrate that we do indeed take this quite seriously.  I also hope that it will be a model for other congregations that make use of sacristans and will overall, raise  the appreciation and reverence for the sacrament for all our readers. This rubric was written under my  pastoral supervision  by  laymen Dave Wohlrab. Dave is a great role model for all laymen, demonstrating how much can be attained with years  of study of the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. To view the entire rubric click here.)



We do not abolish the Mass but religiously retain and defend it. Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s Day and on other festivals, when the Sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved. We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things. (From the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. XXIV. 1; Kolb and Wengert)


This statement from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the second of the confessional documents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church contained in the Book of Concord assuredly shows that it was never the intention of Luther and his followers to break with the Catholic Church in the West, but to reform it in order that it might proclaim with greater clarity the Biblical doctrine of justification by grace through faith.


At its finest, Lutheran worship is truly catholic, laying claim to all the historic liturgical practices that are evangelical and sound. Lutherans are heir to the great catholic tradition, and our liturgy is a gift that has been handed down to us from Apostolic times and enriched by contributions from Christians of every generation. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession considers maintenance of the historic traditions a matter of confession and a point of Christian pride – We do as well.


A Sacristan’s Prayer before Assisting in the Distribution of the Lord’s Supper

Almighty God, Whose Name is Holy and Reverend, grant us Thy Grace that we may touch Holy Things with reverence and perform the work of our service with faithfulness and devotion that our sacrifice of service may be acceptable unto Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? Hebrews 10:29 (ESV)


The Holy Things are profaned by them, not knowing what they are… The Mysteries we also therefore celebrate with closed doors, and keep out the uninitiated, not for any weakness of which we have convicted our rites, but because the many are as yet imperfectly prepared for them.

John Chrysostom, (386AD)


Next installment – how faithful liturgical practice is shaped by the theology of the supper.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Handling the Holy Things – Sacristan Rubric Part I, by Dave Wohlrab — 14 Comments

  1. I look forward to seeing all of the future installments in this series.

    A general rule of thumb is that our liturgical practice and the divine service in particular should look to the outside observer (Methodist/Baptist/Pentecostal/”Evangelical”/uninitiated visitor) as if it were Roman Catholic, with the difference coming through loudly and clearly in Law/Gospel (i.e. Lutheran) preaching. Those more fully catechized would realize that a Lutheran service has stripped away the Sacrifice of the Mass and all works righteousness on the one hand and emotionalism on the other.

    I often am surprised at the great solemnity of bureaucratic installations of synodical/district officers and yet these same leaders promote services that have high emotionalism and little to no solemnity even though the risen Christ is present in His Word and is Bodily present in the Holy Sacrament. I’m not always so sure we do all agree on the Bodily Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, for if we did reverence in the Divine Service would be our joy instead of a burden (as it is to some).

  2. “I often am surprised at the great solemnity of bureaucratic installations of synodical/district officers and yet these same leaders promote services that have high emotionalism and little to no solemnity even though the risen Christ is present in His Word and is Bodily present in the Holy Sacrament.” –Pr. Johnson

    Obviously you underrate the importance of district and synod officers, Pr. Johnson.
    Next you’ll be heard teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ … and not by synodically decreed works or assessments!

  3. I’ve always thought that even the bodily presence of Christ, considered in its own right, as the Lord’s Supper is celebrated ideally in each Sunday Divine Service in a Lutheran congregation, that alone should dramatically affect the form and attitude of worship when compared to Methodist, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, community churches, etc. Many well-meaning Lutheran pastors and laity forget that and can become too comfortable with the fact – sadly, as the saying goes, familiarity [with the holy things] can breed contempt or at least apathy.

  4. “I often am surprised at the great solemnity of bureaucratic installations of synodical/district officers and yet these same leaders promote services that have high emotionalism and little to no solemnity even though the risen Christ is present in His Word and is Bodily present in the Holy Sacrament.”

    I don’t know about that. Often when pastors and district/synodical officials come for installations they are so chatty and Baptist in their demeanor that one wonders why they are Lutheran. Touchy-feely, verbal rubrics and Dr. Phil commentary during the service and psychobabble nonsense in the installation has no place. And BTW, laying on of hands is for ordination not installation. The guy is already ordained if he’s just being installed.

  5. Speaking of the Mass, does anyone know where in the Lutheran Confessions one can find a defense for the altar? As many non-Canonical/unscriptural things were cast aside from the Roman tradition during the Reformation, this is one item I have a difficult time defending in front of my Evangelical friends.

    When I point out that Confessional Lutheran worship has many outward forms similar to the Papists, and that only those unsupported by Scripture were removed (Augsburg Confession), they bring up the altar, insisting that it is a vestige of OT foreshadowing of the Christ. Then, they point to the Papists, who indeed do “sacrifice” the body of Christ at every Mass, and how retention of the altar ties Lutherans to their traditions. The Reformed, in particular, consider the presence of an altar during the Lord’s Supper an insult to the Gospel.

    I’m sure there’s justification for it, but I just can’t find it. Anyone who knows, please let me know. Thanks.

  6. An altar is the visible presence of God. If you look at the Old Testament, the altar signs the sacrifice for sins even when it is not itself being used for a sacrifice. Thus the altar in a church is the focus of worship where the Christian comes before God in the reality of the sacrifice of Christ. It is the sign, reminder, and focus of the Christ’s promise, “Where 2 or 3 gather in My name there am I in the midst of them”.

    The Reformed get even more uptight when you have a statue on the altar, as is very common in older LCMS churches. There too they see the altar as that which is worshiped rather than the sign of the eternal presence of the sacrifice Christ in our worship.

    [email protected] for futher discussion.

  7. A contrasting story about handling Holy things is in Kleinig’s Preface to his commentary on Leviticus, an excellent resource:

    “The biblical, theological, and historical work on this topic [holiness] was accompanied by my increasing involvement with Lutheran pastors from churches in animist cultures. They, in fact, have taught me more than I ever learned from all the academic books that I have read. This development began with a pastor from New Guinea who learned Hebrew from me at Luther Seminary in Adelaide, before completing an S.T.M. at an American Lutheran seminary. After his return I met with him in New Guinea. When I asked him how things had gone for him in the United States, he remained silent for a long time before he said, “John, for them nothing is sacred any longer!” His remark stunned me, and it has haunted me ever since, for I felt that he could have said the same about my seminary and my church.”

    I’d have to look to find a reference, but I would think our stance on the Real Presence in communion may be linked to the presence of an altar. While we do not offer a sacrifice we do receive His body and blood that He did sacrifice for us. If the elements are viewed more as a memorial of the Last Supper, then an altar may be harder to justify.

    I think even if the altar is just viewed as a symbol it would help to remind us that Christ didn’t just die on the cross, He sacrificed Himself for us horrible sinners. He could have stopped it all at any time, but He didn’t because of His love for us. He died a horrible death and went to Hell and back to pay for what we have done.

    I’m sure other people here can give a better answer but I’m thinking that the Real Presence would play a role.

  8. I stand corrected

    Apology Article 24 Paragraphs 84 through 88

    Page 233 in the Reader’s Edition and 273 in Kolb/Wengert or http://www.bookofconcord.org/defense_23_mass.php.

    Paragraph 84 in Kolb/Wengert states:

    “It is a ridiculous argument to say that since the Sacred Scriptures mention an altar, therefore the Mass must be a sacrifice, especially when Paul refers to the figure of an altar only by way of illustration.”

    The reference to Paul here was addressing the use of 1 Corinthians 9:13 in the Confutation.

    While this section is on the use of the term “Mass” its relationship to sacrifice and offerings is discussed. In paragraph 87 from Kolb/Wengert it states:

    “It can be called an offering for the same reason it is called a Eucharist: here are offered prayers, thanksgiving, and the entire act of worship.”

    I am also reminded of the fact that the offerings are placed on the altar. The altar is also where the elements of communion are placed, though not as a sacrifice but as the result of Christ’s sacrifice.

    Our offerings, prayers and praise are all offered to God just as sacrifices had been offered in the Old Testament.

  9. the altar is really a representation of the cross. But the only new sacrifices now are those of prayer, thanksgiving, and repentance. The altar can also be parallel in reference to the throne of God as well as a table.

  10. Perhaps your friends can just memorize Gruntvig’s hymn stanza:

    Here stands the font before our eyes
    Telling how God did receive us;
    Th’altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice
    And what His table doth give us;
    Here sounds the Word that doth proclaim
    Christ yesterday, today the same,
    Yea and for aye our Redeemer.


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