Saturday, August 22, 2009

Duration of the Presence

OK, so we have our taxonomy below with two additions and one clarification.

In the Receptionism vs. Consecrationism debate we have an Agnostic option: We just don't know whether or not our Lord's Body and Blood are present after the consecration while the host remains on the paten before a communicant receives the host.

Likewise, an Agnostic option for the debate within the ranks of Consecrationists (Durationist vs. Cessationist) as to the continuance of the Real Presence after everyone has communed and there remain consecrated elements in paten and chalice: We just don't know whether or not that is our Lord's Body and Blood or not.

And the clarification for Fr. Petersen: An open question is something the Scriptures do not speak to at all, or in such a passing manner that they give no clear answer; for an "unclear answer" is no answer at all.

I was sorry to see that we had no Receptionist commentators. This is a widely held belief in the Missouri Synod, and is certainly the explict and official teaching of WELS. If any advocates of Receptionism want to take up their cause in the comments, that would be an important and worthy debate and you will, at least by the editors, be treated with respect and seriousness.

Likewise, we didn't have anyone take up the Cessationist stance - though a couple advocated Agnosticism: that the Bible does not clearly answer this question and therefore it is an open question.

So the live issue for Gottesdienst readers (apparently all Consecrationists) would seem to be this. Many Lutheran parishes reserve consecrated elements for distribution to the sick, or to be used at the next week's Communion service. While these are thus being reserved, are they in fact the Body and Blood of Christ?

I think the answer is an unequivocal Yes. The Scriptures are clear. Jesus says, "Take drink, FOR this is my blood" (Matt. 26:28). It is thus Jesus' blood when those Words of the Lord are brought to those elements. And the Word of the Lord endures forever. We have no Word from Jesus that would overturn those Words of Institution. Certainly time does not diminish his Word. Certainly human action (leaving the building, singing the Nunc Dimittis) do not change his Word either.

So my question to the Cessationists is: where is your clear Word of God overturning the Words of Institution?

My question to Agnostics on this question is more complicated, because I can't ask them to prove a negative. They contend that the Scriptures don't answer this question or don't answer it clearly. Well, tell me more about that. What's wrong with the Bible passages I quoted above? How did I misquote them? How on earth could the Scriptures be understood otherwise than I have understood them?

But there is something more: you just can't be Agnostic on this one. You can be agnostic on the Pertpetual Virginity of our Lady because that doctrine has no translation into the life of the Church. That is, a Lutheran who believes Mary and Joseph had children will not live his Christian life any differently that one who believes that she remained a Virgin until her dormition. Furthermore, it's pious to think one or the other. It's no slander on her to say she was a normal, married woman. And it's no slander to say she had a higher calling and gift, celibacy.

But you can't be Agnostic on whether or not the host in Fr. Eckardt's tabernacle is the Body of Christ. That is, since congregations are, in fact, reserving the consecrated elements that forces a decision. This is not an abstract question in a book. If the Body and Blood of Christ are there, and are not treated with their due honor but instead called mere bread and wine: that's the blasphemy of unbelief. If it's just bread and wine in that Tabernacle and folks are genuflecting, imagining that it is the Body and Blood of Christ, then those people are committing idolatry.

The binary choice emerges, as the philosophers say. This is a real pastoral issue. It can't just be "pious opinion" - it's not pious to think that a piece of bread is the Body of Christ if it isn't, it's idolatry. And it's certainly not pious to treat the Body of Christ like a mere piece of bread.

Here's the rub. Luther and Melanchthon struck a deal over this between themselves and with the other participants in the Wolferinus episode. The deal was this: since we're not all agreed, and since this Unavoidable Either/Or question arises if there are Reliquae - let us have no Reliquae. Once there was no Reliquae it all became Hypothetical - and folks could afford the charity of being Agnostic. "What if there were Reliquae? Would they be the Body of Christ? Maybe so - or maybe not. Doesn't matter though - think what you want, it's all hypothetical." To men of peace with bigger fish to fry, like Luther and Melanchthon (and their peace loving heirs like Sasse) this was a perfect solution - it was a churchmanly deal struck for the right reasons.

But their deal has fallen apart, for good or ill, and we can't turn back the clock. We have Reliquae now, all over the Synod. Treating these Reliquae like the Body and Blood of Christ because they might be is no solution: for you also might be committing idolatry. Agnosticism is not an option now that this is a real, rather than hypothetical problem.

So - Octoberfest is coming. You'll walk into St. Paul's and the sanctuary lamp will be lit: will you kneel to the Body and Blood of Christ or just bow to an altar where they once rested? I can't see a third, agnostic option. . . well, you could yell at Fritz for being so divisive and disrupting the Luther-Melanchthon pact, I guess.



  1. They may have completed a deal as you stated, however, Luther, Melanchthon, and the writers of the Formula all stated that the consecrated elements should NOT be venerated outside of its use. The question is then, "is this the proper use of the consecrated elements?" Despite whatever pact you suggest, they all agreed that purposely preserving the consecrated elements for days outside of their use was a bad idea.

    How about pastors begin teaching their congregations away from the faulty practice of reservation whether it be in peanut butter jar or in a more reverent tabernacle?

    We should believe, teach, and confess what our Lord Jesus commanded, "Take and EAT...Take and DRINK."

    BTW, I will not be at Oktoberfest. I would love to attend, but already have too many other commitments.

  2. Matthias,

    Each time this debate has come up, I've argued for just the practice you recommend. And I follow that practice in my own ministry. . . but here we are still.

    The argument from the brothers who reserve is that this is all well within the use: the distribution is ongoing, it takes place throughout the week.

    Now, I wish that we could avoid this issue by a uniform practice - but since that does not seem likely, we are stuck with the question. And I find the argument of those who reserve for the purpose of distribution - that the distribution continues for the week and so what they are doing is very much not outside the use - rather persuasive.


  3. I just consume all the elements after the distribution, and consecrate for sick and shut-in. It's hypothetical for me :)

    Pr. Timothy Winterstein

  4. That's good practice, Fr. Wintersein.

    But hey, shouldn't that be Elisha, Baldy? :)

    Indeed: Get up, Baldy! Or rather, down, to Kewanee this year.

    I trust all is well up north. . .


  5. Pr. HRC,

    I have studied the issue. Read as much as time would allow on it. I do not find the purposeful reservationist argument persuasive at all.

    However, I do understand their intent is to treat the body/bread and blood/wine of our Lord with honor and respect. I don't believe any of them intend to institute veneration of the sacrament in a Roman sense. However, it's a weak argument to say the use is still going on days later. That could be extended to weeks or months depending on how often a pastor must visit the shut-ins.

    I also know many LCMS congregations reserve or dispose of the elements in very irreverent ways. I like the tabernacle idea better than that. I don't think either is what our Lord has commanded us to do. It's not a good idea for reservationists (who use the tabernacle) to push this practice, as it divides our brethren who otherwise seem to see eye to eye. We have much bigger "fish to fry" in our own Synod. Perhaps, I and many others are the weaker brothers concerning this issue.

  6. I'm not bald any more! Plus that picture is awesome.

    Pr. Timothy Winterstein

  7. Dear Matthias:

    You say, "It's not a good idea for reservationists (who use the tabernacle) to push this practice, as it divides our brethren."

    It is untrue, indeed a false accusation, that those Lutheran parishes and priests that practice and promote the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament are guilty of being divisive. What is divisive is the irreverent treatment of the Sacrament. That would be a true statement even if the irreverent ones were the overwhelming 99 percent of the Synod, and the traditionalists were but a micro fraction (which might even be the case for all I know). For what constitutes division in the Church is different what what constitutes it in the eyes of the world. That is, the divisive ones are those who offend against our Lord and the tradition of His Church.

    I trust your claim, and it is quite clear, that you have studied the issue. I only urge, with all respect, that you study it some more, dear brother. Giving the Sacrament to the faithful not present at the Sunday Mass, later in the day, or one or several days later, is completely and utterly within the usus of the Sacrament, as it has always been properly understood, including in the Formula itself.

    And with apologies to Fr. HRC, I must take exception to the notion that it is a later breakdown of a "deal," for it has always been practiced in the Lutheran tradition side by side those who do not reserve the Sacrament.

    Unacceptable is the irreverent treatment of the Sacrament, which is evident, by the way, not only among many who set aside the Sacrament for later distribution, but also very much so among those who do not reserve the Sacrament, in the manner of disposal, in the careless handling of the Sacrament, by the manifest casualness at the altar, etc. You know, the sort of things championed by men who want to foster an "evangelical joy" in worship.

  8. But a word of caution, dear brother, about characterizing the actions of those who treat the reliquae in a less than fitting manner. They do so because they (erroneously, I believe) hold that what is left is NOT our Lord's Body and Blood. The words of Father Loehe describe their thinking to a t: "Why is there no danger of spilling Christ's blood? Because the Almighty Lord unites His Blood with the wine which is drunk, but not with the drops of wine that are spilled. The error of the Romanists is a consequence of their wrong teaching that there is only Blood, and merely the appearance of wine, in the Holy Supper." (Catechism Question 863)

    Thus the irreverent manner of handling the reliquae ought not be made out to be intentional blasphemy and irreverence. They act in accord with this odd strain of teaching that has sadly found its way into our Church.

  9. Dcn. Gaba,

    No need to make apologies when taking exception with me, Rev. Deacon! I'm always eager to be corrected - I'm making the characterization of the "deal" Luther writes in the July 20, 1543 letter as I am because Luther's advice seems so very definitive: consume everything. It seems to write out any notion of later distribution during the week.

    I could be wrong - I would appreciate you enlightening me on post-1543 Lutheran practice. Was Luther's advice ignored or accepted?

    Also - I'm going to move discussion of the July 20 letter to a new post, so let's take this line of discussion there.

    Many thanks,

  10. Latif,

    Would you be so kind as to cite which part of the Formula you are here referring to:

    "Giving the Sacrament to the faithful not present at the Sunday Mass, later in the day, or one or several days later, is completely and utterly within the usus of the Sacrament, as it has always been properly understood, including in the Formula itself."

    Thank you!

  11. I believe it is a matter of record that there were prominent Lutheran places in which the reservation of the elements was never discontinued.

    Moreover, as Dr. John Stephenson has called to my attention, there is the following reference in Luther's "Receiving Both Kinds in the Sacrament":

    "Some will say: But how then will we care for the sick? Answer: I shall continue to allow the practice of reserving the sacrament for the sick in pyxes . . ." Interestingly the German word here translated as "pyx" is "Monstranz." Hmmm.

    So much for any agreement which put an end to the practice among Lutherans.

    Secondly, I agree with Dcn Gaba on the question whether folks like me who encourage the use of a tabernacle are being divisive. If I were to discontinue the use of the tabernacle, and if I were somehow miraculously to convince every other Lutheran who reserves the elements to discontinue doing so, what would likely happen is that the debate would be relegated to the hypothetical (at least among us) and perhaps dissipate.

    But the division would remain., for there are some among us who are and remain receptionists. It behooves us to confess against their error rather than to ignore it. It is they who are being divisive, for they have twisted the clear words of Christ.

    And as for the notion that there are bigger fish to fry, I would simply say that could be no greater issue than the question What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

  12. Fr. Eckardt,

    I agree with you that Receptionism should be exposed and refuted. But what I think some folks have been arguing is that there is no need for to answer the Durationist vs. Cessationist debate among Consecrationists.

    That is, there are folks who are not receptionists, yet who believe that the Real Presence might cease from consecrated elements.

    I find that doctrine to be unBiblical and have no problem debating and saying that it is so.

    But I do have sympathy, in light of the interaction of Luther and Melanchthon in the Wolferinus affair (and see the post now above this one, and especially Wengert's article linked to in that post), for the notion that cessationism can be tolerated - as Luther tolerated it in Melanchthon so long as complete consumption was practiced.

    I didn't know of that quote in "On Both Kinds." That absolutely bolsters the case that Luther is a Durationist. But the year on that work is 1522. Nineteen years later, this row with Wolferinus and the need to appease the sensibilities of Melanchthon appears to have changed his preferred practice.

    I'm eager to hear some historian point out the evidence for Lutheran reservation for distribution after 1543.

    As for bigger fish - like I said, this appears to be Luther's determination. He wasn't willing to take Melanchthon to the carpet on this one. . .


  13. A true story:

    The Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina visited the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston in the 1980s. The Church of the Holy Communion was the first parish in the diocese to reserve the Blessed Sacrament. The rector, Fr Samuel Fleming, led the bishop through the side chapel on the way into the sacristy. Fr Fleming noted that the bishop, who was well known for his Cranmerian eucharistic views, genuflected before the Blessed Sacrament. Fr Fleming immediately asked him why he genuflected. “Out of respect for your convictions,” the bishop replied. “For God’s sake, bishop” Fr Fleming exclaimed, “do not commit idolatry on my account!”

    Agnosticism about the enduring presence of Christ in the Eucharist is an impossible position.

    Fr Alvin Kimel

  14. Fr. Kimel,

    Impossible or not, it is a position that is head by many Lutherans who devoutly confess a consecrationist position. They KNOW that the promise holds within the "actio" but outside of it, they hold that they have no promise to go on. Luther, I think, was wise though in not insisting on a certain form of reverence for the Eucharist. I recall in Dix's *A Detection of Aumbries* his noting that in the first centuries there was no special veneration shown toward the Lord's Body and Blood; and that Christians carried it around with them, many times on their own persons, to commune others in need. I point this out not to in anyway condemn the veneration of the Lord's Body and Blood, but to support the notion that the principal action is to be the one prescribed by the Savior: taking, eating, drinking.

  15. If I may, I have some questions I would like to ask of you all:

    If cessation were true, then what would this mean for the body and blood which have been consumed?

    I have heard it said by some that the Real Presence ceases from the consumed elements when by natural processes they cease to be bread and wine. Does everyone here hold this position, or are there other competing views?

    It is possible that the consumed elements may remain bread and wine past the end of the Divine Service, as a number of factors are involved in the speed of the digestion process.

    It would seem that the Real Presence cannot cease from the consumed elements before they are digested, as this may defeat their effect.

    If the consumed elements, not yet digested, retain the Real Presence, yet at the same time the Real Presence has ceased from the Reliquae, then how is this *really* any different from Receptionism?

  16. Kaleb,

    These questions seem to be the sort of Capernaitic arguments rejected by the Formula. The Body and Blood of Jesus are received orally and sacramentally, but they are neither masticated nor digested. It seems the reformers thought the Capernaitic caricature of the real presence was no little bit impious.

    +Pr. Hemmer

  17. Another (maybe) true story, which was told me in seminary about a Milwaukee Anglo-Catholic priest (we'll call him Fr Jones) in the first half of the 20th century. He frequently his parishioners at St Joseph's (Catholic) Hospital and always carried with him the Blessed Sacrament. Being Anglo-Catholic he always dressed in traditional Catholic clericals, and the sisters of the hospital just assumed that he was a Catholic priest; consequently, they always genuflected when they passed him in the hallway, in reverence to the Blessed Sacrament that he carried on his person.

    Eventually, someone informed the sisters that Fr Jones was in fact an Episcopal priest. The next time he visited the hospital, the sisters did not genuflect. After all, had not the Vatican declared Anglican Orders to be null and void and therefore Anglican Eucharist, which he was carrying, to be null and void? After the sisters passed him without their usual act of reverence, Fr Jones stopped and turned back toward them and asked, "Sisters, are you absolutely sure?" They thought for a moment--and down on their right knee they went!

  18. Father,

    That one is very rich! ROTFLOL!!!

  19. Pr. Hemmer,

    I think I have failed to express my concern clearly. Maybe I was over-analyzing the mechanics of what happens to the elements themselves. Upon further thought, I believe I can leave those details aside, and it would not really change my question.

    Only the bread and wine are masticated and digested; nevertheless, the bread and wine that we masticate and digest are Christ's body and blood...that is, unless you are saying that they *cease* to be such when they are received, which would be quite a bizarre reversal of Receptionism.

    The question isn't whether the body and blood are digested; the question is, does the Real Presence depart at some point? Cessationism troubles me because it appears to leave open the possibility that what I consumed did not remain the body and blood of Christ. Cessationsim, if true, would cause me to wonder whether Christ's presence *in me*, received in the Eucharist, is enduring.

  20. Although I think his treatment of this is his absolute weakest area in an otherwise fine work, it might be of interest to note that Henry Eyster Jacobs, author of one of our beloved communion hymns, writes:

    "We know of no blessing imparted through the Real Presence, except the assurance it gives of completed Redemption. No presence is taught, except in the very moment, when, with the words of distribution, the elements are received. There is no presence taught in Holy Scripture of the Body and Blood upon the altar, before or after the distribution, or in the bodies of communicants, even the fraction of a second after the distribution. The permanent object of the Lord's Supper is the Word of forgiveness. This Word follows the communicant, as the bodily presence is removed, and the Holy Spirit continues to impart through it strength for many days. What God may do farther through the Lord's Supper we know not. It is unsafe to deny absolutely any suggestions that may arise as to the possibilities of His workings. But it is safe to state what the Holy Scripture teaches, and on what it is utterly silent; what, if held, comes with divine authority, and what is a matter of purely human conjecture. We know that Christ is bodily present when, through His minister, He says, 'Take eat, this is My body;" we do not know of such presence a moment before or afterward." (Elements of Religion, p. 155,156)

    The difference here between Krauth and Jacobs is, I think, quite striking. Krauth would apparently be a consecrationist cessationist:

    "From the beginning of the Supper, strictly defined, (that is, from the time when Christ's consecrating words are uttered in His name and by His authority), to its end, (that is, until the last communicant has received the elements,) or, in other words, from the first time to the last "in the Supper" in which, by Christ's authority, it is declared, "This is Christ's body; this is Christ's blood," that of which this affirmation is made *is* His body and *is* His blood. When He said, Take, eat, this is My body, undoubtedly He meant, Take, eat, because this is My body. The presence of the body in the order of thought precedes the command to take, eat, though in point of time they are absolutely simultaneous. He imparts His presence that there may be a reason for the sacramental eating. But He imparts it with His word, by whose omnipotent force the element becomes a sacrament. Therefore, when He speaks, we know it is done. The mathematical moment need not concern us. We know the sacramental moment. But the presence of the body is not mechanical, but voluntary; it is conditioned upon the strict observance of the essentials of its institution. The body is present for sacramental impartation, and if the object of the external act of consecration precludes the communion, if the elements are merely to be reserved or carried about in procession for worship, there is no reason to believe that there is any sacramental presence of Christ's body whatsoever. Hence the emphasis of the Confession, "in the Supper" cutting off in one direction an objection like that of Kahnis, and in another the Romish abuse of the reservation, procession, and worship associated with the elements... The doctrine of the Lutheran Church is, that the sacramental presence of the body and blood of Christ begins with the beginning of the Supper and ends with the end of the Supper. The presence does not depend upon the individual eating; the eating simply actualizes a presence existing; the presence is vouchsafed on condition that the divine essentials of the institution be observed... At the beginning, middle and end of the Supper, the minister need not fear to assert, nor the people to believe, the very words of Christ in their simplest literal force. It is not going to be but is, when Christ says it is." (CR, p. 823,4)

  21. I may be too late getting to the party, but I thought I'd throw this one out there:

    If one holds to an interpretation of the "nihil" rule that is strict enough to assure one that the Real Presence ceases after the end of the Divine Service, then it is impossible to assert that anyone, anywhere, ever, has abused the Sacrament. In this case I believe that an abuse would of course mean a departure from the use, and therefore nothing has the character of a Sacrament apart from the use, with the result that there is no more any Sacrament to be abused, including in the papist sense. What ought to be condemned among the papists, then, is not the abuse of the Sacrament, but the false worship of something as Christ which in truth is not Christ (i.e. artolatry). Is this how the Lutheran Reformers attacked the papist abuses of the Sacrament? [sic, perhaps?]

    If this is the case, then for those who are agnostic about the endurance of the Real Presence, they must also be agnostic concerning abuses of the Sacrament as well. (e.g. Was the Sacrament abused? I cannot say.)

    As for my genus and species, I'm a consecrationist who remains uneasily undecided--not an "agnostist", but just one who doesn't know what to believe on this particular point. And I don't offer these comments because I want to assert this necessarily, only that I'm curious how others would respond to them.


  22. Phil,

    The view that the Presence of Christ ceases after the mass has ended is not a "strict" interpretation of the Nihil Rule, but rather a false one.


  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Latif,

    I understand "strict" could very well mean "too strict." I only mean to ask whether those who understand the Nihil Rule to exclude or question the continuation of the Real Presence in the reserved elements (right or wrong) also understand the rule to preclude or question the possibility of abuse of the Sacrament, since no abuse is part of the usus.

  25. Phil,

    I think that at times that argument has been made.

  26. For a totally bizarre thought... this whole thread strikes me as mirroring the matter of the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God. If I may put it so, the question is whether when God sanctifies for His holy use, does he desanctify when He's done using it, or does its sanctity perdure for having been so used of Him.

  27. I think there is something in this, William.

  28. A practical question from a layman newcomer to this blog (and hopefully someone stumbles across this late comment):

    What's a "consecrationist durationist" to do when he finds out that his church uses exclusively plastic individual cups and relegates them, unwashed, to the dumpster following use.

  29. Eric Spaeth,

    I came late to this party too, so you may never see this. What are they to do - for the past, lament the disrespect shown, but also remember that Christ has always been shown disrespect in this world.

    Then, immediately introduce a washing of the cups, and then move to an otherwise better practice.


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