Many of us may remember growing up in a congregation where Holy Communion was offered once per month. Where communion is offered more frequently, questions arise in the minds of the laity and pastors regarding why communion should be offered more often and how often a person should receive Holy Communion.
In parishes where communion is offered once per month, there is this practical and pastoral concern: If a person were to miss communion the first Sunday of the month, it can be nearly two months before the next time communion was offered during the service. There is also the concern for those whose job schedule requires them to sometimes work the first Sunday of the month.
When it comes to questions addressed by those who are in attendance each Sunday Holy Communion is offered, the blessings of communion are such that we should desire to receive them frequently and gladly.
The Bible does not set a minimum for how often communion should be offered and received, nor does it set a limit. In the Words of Institution, Jesus uses the word “often” twice: 1 Corinthians 11:25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
“Often” in the early decades of the Christian Church meant every Sunday. The book of Acts describes: “upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). From this we see that in the New Testament, the Sacrament was a regular and major feature of congregational worship, not an occasional extra. Likewise, at the time of the Reformation, our Lutheran forefathers celebrated the Sacrament “every Sunday and on other festivals” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV, 1).
When the Norwegian Americans settled the Midwestern Prairie, often a pastor had to serve numerous flocks scattered over a wide area. As a result, communion was celebrated as infrequently at each place as four times a year. With the invention of the car this increased to once per month, as most pastors still had more than one congregation to serve. Recent decades have seen an increase in communion celebration throughout Lutheranism, some congregations returning to every Sunday communion.
Especially in the ELS, an in-depth study of the Lord’s Supper in the 1980s and 1990s increased an appreciation in our midst of the blessings of the Lord’s Supper. The chief blessing of the Sacrament is the forgiveness of sins, which Christ’s body and blood have won for us on the cross. The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, a way in which the forgiveness, life, and salvation won at the cross are applied to us personally.
“Why should we gladly and frequently come to the Lord’s Supper?” (ELS Catechism Question #332) The following reasons are given in various catechisms in answer to this question.
First, Jesus earnestly invites us to do so. In the words of institution, Jesus commands, “This do in remembrance of Me.” Jesus tenderly invites us to Himself for refreshment in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Secondly, we need the great blessing that He there gives us, namely, the forgiveness of our sins and the strength for a new and holy life. These blessings are promised and offered in the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus urges us to come often because by Holy Communion He wants to strengthen our weak faith. He says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Thirdly, by gladly and frequently coming to the Lord’s Supper, we openly confess our faith in Jesus’ atoning death. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). As we proclaim our unity of faith in our Lord’s death, we also encourage each other in our Christian faith and lives. -Pastor Stafford