Intinction Would Have Withdrawn the Word of Forgiveness from Me

Recently I attended the funeral of a major person in my life. The Sacrament of the Altar was administered. It was administered by intinction. This was in a synod with whom I am not in altar fellowship, so I did not participate. But if I had participated, at a juncture in the administration that is vital to me, the Word of forgiveness of my sins would have been withdrawn from me.

To understand what I mean by this, we need to call to mind what we Lutherans know about this Sacrament. We know it from Scripture. We know it as taught and explained by Dr. Luther in the Small Catechism.

The Sacrament delivers the forgiveness of sins. Dr. Luther asks, “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?” He teaches us to answer,

These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Notice the role of the Word. To hear and believe this Word is vital.

Dr. Luther asks, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” He teaches us to answer,

Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.”

As important as the bodily eating and drinking are, still, “These words … are the main thing in the Sacrament.”

My assurance hangs on these words. Why do I need these words?

There are times when it is not easy for me to believe that my sins are forgiven. My sins are too enormous. My condition as a sinner is too deep, too iniquitous. The sacrifice of Christ is saving others, but it is not for me. Those are the moments of ungodly sorrow for sin, the sorrow that does not lead to repentance and salvation.

Remember, repentance has two parts, contrition and faith.

Repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. (Augsburg Confession, XII. 2-6)

Sorrow for sin that does not lead to faith is not contrition. It is not godly sorrow, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) The other sorrow is worldly, devilish, and fleshly. Because it is not contrition and does not lead to faith, it is only one more sin, and the greatest of them, the sin of unbelief in Christ.

What can rescue me from the grip of this godless sorrow? Nothing but the Word. What is in “these words” that can rescue me? These are the words that rescue me:

  • For you
  • For the forgiveness of sins

I need to hear that the blood of Jesus was given and shed “for you” in a manner that clearly includes me. I need to hear that his blood is given for the forgiveness of my sins. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17)

In the Service of the Sacrament, at the center are the Words of Institution. These words, though so brief, Luther calls “a compete Gospel.”

Luther claimed that these words constitute the mass; Christians must

Grasp and thoroughly ponder the words of Christ by which he performed and instituted the mass and commands us to perform it. For therein lies the whole mass, its nature, work, profit, and benefit. Without the words nothing is derived from the mass.

The reason was that the words of institution were in fact the gospel in a nutshell; they are a summary of the promise of the gospel:

For if you ask: What is the Gospel? You can give no better answer than these words of the New Testament, namely, that Christ gave his body and poured out his blood for the forgiveness of sins. … Therefore, these words, as a short summary of the whole gospel, are to be taught and instilled into every Christian’s heart ….

[T]hey are the sum and substance of the whole gospel.

(Bryan Spinks, Luther’s Liturgical Criteria and His Reform of the Canon of the Mass (Bramcote, Notts.: Grove, 1982), p. 34.)

At this point in the service, I hear the words. They are spoken to all at once. They are meant both for the solidarity of the communion of saints, and for each individual saint. This is enough. Properly catechized, everyone, including me, should know that while spoken to the congregation as a whole, they also are spoken to each one, so that each may hear and believe, and receive with the bread and wine the true body and blood of Jesus, and with his blood, the forgiveness of sins.

Although it is not required by the Words of Institution or anything else in Scripture that I know of, it is truly meet, right, and salutary how the Lutheran church uses the Words of Institution again during the distribution. As we kneel at the rail before the Altar, the Pastor and the Elder assistant come to each one of us and say:

Take, eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given into death for your sins.

Take, drink; this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

(Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service, Setting 3, left column, p. 199.)

At this point it is made clear by the procedure of the administration that the word “you,” which in English can be either plural or singular, is being used in a singular sense, one at a time, to each communicant saint. It was used as both singular and plural earlier when the Words of Institution first were spoken to the congregation as a whole. That could, though it shouldn’t, leave an ambiguity that it might have been said only in the plural sense. But here, during the distribution, all ambiguity is eliminated.

Notice that with respect to the bread, this liturgy adds words that are not actually part of the Words of Institution, namely, “into death for your sins.” The words are true, but Jesus did not say them at the Last Passover. (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19) Consequently, not all liturgies have these added words. In liturgies that stay closer to the actual text of Jesus’ words, the words “for the forgiveness of sins” are spoken only when distributing the wine to each communicant saint. With the cup Jesus did say his blood is given for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28).

With all this in mind, when the Pastor says to me at the rail before the Altar, “This is the true blood of Christ, shed for you, for the remission of all your sins,” that is the climax of my assurance. At that moment, I have all things I need in life, death, and resurrection.

While I experience this assurance subjectively, which is intra nos, within myself, it comes to me purely extra nos, from outside of myself, by means, by things external and objective. The words, “shed for you, for the remission of all your sins,” are the words of Christ on the lips of my Pastor to me, a forgiven sinner included in the communion of saints. My Pastor is outside of me. His voice is outside of me. The audio on my ear drums is outside of me. I don’t have to doubt because I have conjured nothing. I hear the external Word, and the Holy Spirit creates faith.

The same is true of the bread and wine. These are the objective, external means in which Jesus delivers to me the forgiveness of sins. At the rail before the Altar, as I hear the words being said to the individual saints ahead of me, I can hear forgiveness coming toward me. As I see the bread and wine approaching along the rail, I can see forgiveness coming.

But what happens with intinction?

It might not always be the way I saw it, but here is what I saw at my friend’s funeral. There were two stations, one just ahead of the front pew on each side of the aisle. At one station were the pastor and an assistant. At the other station were two assistants. People filed forward to one station or the other. The pastor or the assistant either handed a wafer to the participant, or motioned the plate toward the participant and the participant took a wafer. With this procedure, there was a giving of the bread by the pastor or the assistant. Thus it made procedural sense for a form of the Words of Institution regarding the bread to be said to each person, and such words were said.

But what happened with the wine? An assistant was holding a cup of wine, and the participant – not the pastor or an assistant – made the motion and action of approaching the cup and dipping the bread into the wine. With that procedure, no one was giving the wine to anyone. So it would have made little procedural sense to say, “This is the blood …” etc. Perhaps that is why nothing was said about the wine, the blood, the shedding, the forgiveness of sins, and the words “for you” were not spoken.

A vital part of the Word which Luther says is the main thing in the Sacrament was withdrawn from the people at that juncture and would have been withdrawn from me.

My synod, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, has formally studied intinction and has come to the conclusion that it fails to follow the instructions of Christ. I believe and confess this with my synod. That all by itself is reason enough to reject intinction. But I also believe and confess that this partial withdrawal of the Word from the people is another, and adequate, reason to reject it.

This partial withdrawal of the Word from the people is a step in the direction of the abuses of Papism in the Mass. One of the abuses was the withdrawal of the Word from the people, because the priests whispered it, so that the people could not hear the Word.

Imagine this. The Words which are the main thing in the Sacrament are whispered and thereby withdrawn from the people! And the intinction that I saw made a step in that direction, in a departure from historical Lutheran practice. It is a step toward Papism.

Dr. Luther asks, “Who receives this sacrament worthily?” He teaches us to say,

That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.

The Holy Spirit uses the external words “for you” to create faith in me. When those words are spoken, contrition and faith are joined.

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of


Intinction Would Have Withdrawn the Word of Forgiveness from Me — 10 Comments

  1. It’s worth noting that in 1944 the LCMS adopted the following statement:

    “We definitely reject intinction, because while distributing the bread, the Savior said, “Take, eat!” Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22, and while giving the wine, He said, ‘Drink ye all of it!’ Matt 26:27; Mark 14:23. Intinction would be a direct violation of the words of institution.” (1944 Proceedings, p. 255)

  2. Intinction: A response.
    (TR – I appreciate your writing and your thoughts. I’m writing a response not saying that intinction should be a preferred method, or even a common one, but why it should be allowed in certain cases.)

    Recently I administered the Sacrament of the Altar. Although the congregation received the Body and Blood by the normal procedure of cup and bread, I received it by intinction. If this method was not available, the Word of forgiveness of my sins would have been not available to me.

    I should explain. Eighteen months ago, I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Fifteen months ago, I had that cancer removed from my tongue. Unfortunately, it had already spread to my lymph nodes in my neck. Approximately a year ago, I had twenty-five lymph nodes removed from my neck leaving a very cool, zipper-like scar that went from my right ear down to the base of my throat.

    But that wasn’t enough. In August last year, I started chemo and radiation. By September I was no longer physically able to fulfill my duties as a pastor and I went on disability. By October, I could no longer eat, and all my nutrition came through tube in my stomach. This lasted until December/January. In the course of that time, I lost over 120 pounds.
    The surgery and radiation has changed me. I can’t stick out my tongue anymore, which is probably a good thing. My voice has changed. And, this is really important, I can’t spit. I have no saliva.

    Last December, when my substitute came to visit, he brought Christ’s body and blood. Now, I’m a pastor; I know Jesus died for my sins. I know that in my Baptism, I have the righteousness of Christ poured out on my. Yet I needed this physical, tangible reminder of His forgiveness. I needed to receive His body and blood.

    Because I have no saliva, I could not swallow the body. To this day, I need to drink in order to swallow any food. I wasn’t worried though, for I knew the blood was coming. When received the wine into my mouth the pain was intense; like rubbing salt into a wound intense, like stubbing your pinkie toe on a wooden chair in the dark intense. My eyes watered, my mouth burned. I began to have some small understanding of the physical the pain that our sins caused our Lord. I hurriedly grabbed my water bottle and drank in order to relieve that pain.

    When I returned to church, still physically unable to perform my duties, but able to sit and listen. I had the same reaction kneeling at the rail. I would say that it took great effort not to scream or run to my pew to get a cleansing drink of water from the bottle that is always with me, but at time it took all my strength simply to walk from my car into church. For a while, the altar guild provided me with a small cup with a single drop of wine. But one week, it was forgotten. Without intinction, I would not have had any way to receive both the body and the blood of the Lord. Without intinction, I would not have had a way to receive a tangible, physical sign that our Lord has shed His body and blood on the cross for my sins.

    And I need that.

    Intinction should not be the common method of receive the body and blood. The Words of Institution do say, “Eat” and “Drink” and whenever possible it should be done in this manner. But there are situations, when, in the course of Christian love and trusting in the grace of God, it should be used. In my case, the alcohol burned, severely and there was no other option. In the case where only the common cup is offered, those with illnesses may use this method to prevent the spread of disease. And in the case invalid who cannot drink without spilling, intinction allows for both kinds to be received.

    Epilogue: The Lord has gave me the health to return to preaching and teaching at Eastertime. He has continued to heal me, and although the wine still burns, but the pain is manageable. The last time I received the body and blood by intinction was about two months ago. I still can’t spit, but I have hope that that will be restored to me as well as that I’ve healing in that area could take up to eighteen months. I’m halfway through. Whatever God has in store for me in life, I know that I will receive complete healing in the Life to come. Soli Deo Gloria!

  3. Intinction is allowed for the sake of those whose consciences would otherwise prevent them from receiving the cup due to illness in my congregations. It is by no means a new thing, but especially in the East is a practice of long standing. Of course the communicant eats the Body of Jesus, and drinks His Blood. But what do I see attending this article? True novelties which rail directly against the practice, tradition, and confession of the Church. First, these words: “As we kneel at the rail before the Altar, the Pastor and the Elder assistant come to each one of us and say…” right, and where do we find such stuff in God’s Word and our Book of Concord about this novelty of the ‘Elder assistant’, when in fact it is our stand and principle that only the rightly ordained minister should preach and administer the sacrament. And then we see a photograph of a wee little Reformed novelty known as the individual cup. All the Twelve had cups at the Last Supper, but our Lord took the Cup, and told them all to drink from it. No thanks. I’ll not feast on a trumped up claim against an hoary old method of administering the Lord’s Supper, even as a casual review reveals two (count’em, 2!) novelties suffered gladly in this article.

  4. A little about the history of intinction:

    “Already in the seventh century the practice of intinction (dipping the consecrated wafer into the consecrated wine) began to grow popular. This started because some lay people were reluctant to receive the blood of Christ for fear of spillage. It is interesting that this practice was motivated by the lay people and not the church. In fact the church forbid the practice of intinction at the Third Council of Braga (675). It regained popularity again in the eleventh century, only to be forbidden as an ‘incomplete communion’ practice by the church again (Council of Clermont – 1095). But the practice continued to spread until the Council of Constance (1415) decreed that Holy Communion under the form of bread alone would be distributed to the people. This was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in 1545. So, because of ‘practical’ reasons and out of fear of spillage, the Church began the custom of offering communion under one kind only.”

    From: Book of Concord Bible Class

  5. Thoughts?

    1. When Luther came from the Warburg to rescue the church from Carlstadt, he said that it was wrong to force people to take communion in both kinds but that they could take it in one kind if their conscience bothered them about taking the wine. Do we side with Carlstadt or Luther?

    2. Is there a difference between administering communion and helping distribute the elements? Was the early church wrong in having the deacons take the consecrated elements from the Sunday service to the “shut-ins?”

    3. One cup? Are we also required to use one loaf of bread and break it as we go? Both the one cup and the one bread have important meanings. Can the meanings still be retained? Do the wafers and the wine still come from the same receptacles on the altar?

  6. Resolution 5-15, To Address Questions re the Sacrament of the Altar (2016 Today’s Business, p. 86) resolves to encourage the CTCR is finish its study document on intinction.

    The resolution does not refer directly to a 1947 Convention Resolution that opposed intinction. There is also a 1944 Convention resolution (Proceedings, 39, p. 255) opposing intinction, but maybe it’s the same resolution.

    Resolution 5-15 should be available on the LCMSResolutions site, but the site doesn’t seem to be working.

  7. “would have withdrawn the word of forgiveness from me.”

    Just so I understand the emphasis in this article…the manner in which I receive Christ’s body and blood, believing in His Real Presence, meeting all the confessional requirements of worthy reception…and the word of forgiveness is questioned because of how I take it into my mouth? I’m not getting that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.