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at a juncture in the administration that is vital to me, the Word of forgiveness of my sins would have been withdrawn from me.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.