Steadfast ELS — Do this often: How often should we receive communion?

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

 


Comments

Steadfast ELS — Do this often: How often should we receive communion? — 23 Comments

  1. “as Ambrose says: Because I always sin, I am always bound to take the medicine.” (AC XXIV, 33)

    It’s sad that some today say, “It takes too much time for the Sacrament to be administered, so we won’t offer it.” That’s the best response to every Sunday communion that I’ve heard (though faulty because flowed Communion is an option; also what better do we have to do than to receive the risen Lord’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins even if it takes a little longer than an hour?). All other options, in my opinion, reveal a lack of belief in the means of grace. I personally believe that there is absolutely no reason to not have every Sunday Eucharist.

  2. Ah yes, I’ve actually been meaning to check that book out of the library. It seems like it could be a gem. Thanks for the inadvertent reminder Rev. McCain.

  3. I remember my parents telling me that my grandfather, who was a very faithful man, although he would not recognize the ELCA today saying he didn’t like receiving communion more then once a year. Growing up ELCA I remember communion maybe once a month. Having found the LCMS – Redeemer Lutheran – St. Cloud, MN we receive the body and blood of our savior every week which is great considering I work every other weekend. I could not imagine not receiving communion every week.

  4. Pastor Stafford,
    Great post! I personally believe that we should celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.
    My understanding is that Luther intended to return to every-week celebration.

    When I was younger a pastor told me that we don’t celebrate Communion every Sunday (in those days first and third Sunday was the usual where I lived) “…because it would become too common, and we would lose the sense that something special is happening.” I noticed that he didn’t seem to feel that way about preaching the Word.

  5. Nathan – I grew up LCA and then ELCA, and we had communion every single week, year in, year out. It wasn’t until we joined the LCMS that we have not had communion every week, because of the rationale provided by C.Schulz “It takes too much time (and effort) to do communion at every service, every week.” In the company of a few of my fellow elders, we’re going to gently begin pushing for weekly communion, even if it means we have to drop the children’s message.

  6. I totally agree that the Lord’s Supper should be offered every week. After some years of teaching and work together at Trinity I am proud of the fact that we offer the Lord’s Supper in every service, every weekend (with very few exceptions).

    But that said – I have never understood using Jesus’ words as a justification for this. Jesus is not saying “do this often” but rather “whenever you do this”. Using Jesus words to support communing often weakens the argument to anyone who looks closely at his words. MUCH better is to simply point to the practice of the early church, to our great need, and to the loving gifts offered in the supper! Why wouldn’t we want that gift at every service?

  7. I’d have to agree with your statements Pr. Mark Schulz. I’ve thought the same way as well.

  8. From the Small Catechism:

    “20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?

    To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.”

  9. “…because it would become too common, and we would lose the sense that something special is happening.”

    That’s why I only go to church at Christmas and Easter.

  10. Tell any pastor who trots out the old “because it would be too common and not special”

    “Pastor, we’ve decided to pay you only once a quarter, because, otherwise, it will just become too common and not special.”

  11. I loved Sue Wilson’s response to this thread. It really hits the nail on the head in regards to excuses for not offering it:

    “When I was younger a pastor told me that we don’t celebrate Communion every Sunday… ‘…because it would become too common, and we would lose the sense that something special is happening.’ I noticed that he didn’t seem to feel that way about preaching the Word.”

    As we Lutherans preach, the Eucharist is also the gospel proclaimed. It is the gospel proclaimed with tangable means (and it is also the true and holy presence of our Lord — Heaven on earth literally). I think she makes a very good point. If it’s truly about the Word then why don’t all churches utilize the Divine Liturgy (which is mostly, if not all, taken from Holy Writ.) Why don’t we administer the Sacrament of the Altar every Sunday if the Words that are spoken are pure gospel? The excuses are pathetic, in my opinion.

  12. @SKPeterson #6

    I guess that would fall under the one of the unfortunate things not all LCMS churches do the same. Then again my church rules 🙂 but I would be very disappointed if we didn’t have week communion – I would have no problem leaving my church if drastic changes ever occurred.

  13. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #13
    “Pastor, we’ve decided to pay you only once a quarter, because, otherwise, it will just become too common and not special.”

    In all fairness, the lethargy about going to every Sunday communion comes from the Elders and the pew, as often as the Pastor. The younger Pastors, at least, seem to be in favor of it. The older ones, who can remember quarterly communion, are sometimes a little less willing.

    I think a Pastor who can’t get every Sunday communion through should preach an extra 10-15 minutes on the “off” Sundays, on the grounds that the congregation has given him the extra time. [It’s easier to write a long sermon than a more concise one.] 🙂

  14. A friend and mentor of blessed memory, Pr. Lou Smith, told me that when asked what did he think of every Sunday Communion by a call committee, Lou responded: “I think it should be every day, but since that won’t probably happen, I will be happy with Holy Communion every Sunday.” 🙂

  15. When I was Orthodox the answer was simple… once a day. Since becoming Lutheran the thought did not cross my mind. Until, that is, I had to elder two services. I asked my pastor about it, just to double check and his answer, of course, was well I do, why not you? 🙂 You take the boy out of the Orthodox, but you can’t take ALL of the Orthodox out of the boy, I guess. 🙂

  16. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Augustine. He briefly describes the different communion practices in his day. He tells us that some churches offer the Lord’s Supper daily, some on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, and some on Friday and Sunday. There are even those, he tells us, who offer the Lord’s Supper on only Sunday. All these practices are commendable, Augustine assures us.

    What has always struck me about Augustine’s comment is that the “extreme” example given by him are those churches offering the Eucharist “only” once a week. It is as if he couldn’t even imagine a more irregular celebration than that.

  17. Could you provide me the citation of that Rev. Beckwith? That would be awesome to have for my personal database.

  18. Greetings,

    I like our current practice at St. John’s. We have 4 services a week:

    1) Sunday at 8 AM (Communion every other)
    2) Sunday at 10 AM (Communion every other)
    3) Monday at 7 PM (Communion every other)
    4) Saturday at 5:30 (Communion every other)
    Generally we use settings I & III on Sundays, Vespers, Matins & III on Mondays, Blended / Contemporary on Saturday and on 5th Sundays – With One Voice.

    So depending upon the math, our members have 1 to 3 opportunities a week to commune. If they only attend one of those services weekly, they will commune at least once every other week. We offer both Common Cup and individual glasses at every communion service.

    I may not be crazy about the 1 blended / contemporary service each week or individual glasses but at least the the b/c service is on Sat nights, never on Sunday and our members have a choice unlike I did at some ALC (before ELCA) & WELS churches I went to which only offered the *shot glass*.

    I learnt to appreciate Common Cup from a book I read in the late 80s titled ‘Against The Protestant Gnostics’ by Philip J. Lee and from Prof Erling Teigen at Bethany Lutheran College. I’m guessing Pr. Stafford also benefited from Prof Teigen’s classes at either Bethany College and/or Seminary.

  19. Augustine, Letter 54 to Januarius, 2.2. Augustine discusses issues of liturgical diversity throughout the letter. The famous story of his mother, Monica, questioning Ambrose on the differences between Rome and Milan is also in this letter. If you want to see how Augustine reflects on Christian freedom in matters of liturgy, this is your letter. It was regularly cited by the Reformers.

    Note of clarification. The three options Augustine lists in the letter for celebrating the Lord’s Supper are daily, Saturday and Sunday, or only on Sunday.

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