Question: Hey Pastor, I have a question!? Why does the LCMS practice closed communion?? I once had a Lutheran pastor tell me that it was because not all denominations believe that what is present is actually the body and blood of Christ, and it would not be proper to give communion to someone who doesn?t believe that to be the case.? Roman Catholics, however, DO believe the same way.? So why can?t a Catholic take communion at Zion?? And, on the other side of this, why shouldn?t a Missouri Synod Lutheran accept communion in a church that doesn?t believe it is the body and blood of Christ?? The Lutheran pastor of a church that we once attended once said in Bible class that ?enforcement of this understanding is made almost on a parish by parish or pastor by pastor basis.?? So?? please help me.? Thanks!
You?ve asked very fair and important questions. Thanks for writing.? In many, many ways I believe that the Lutherans and Roman Catholics are more alike than disalike in their understanding of what?s going on in that blessed meal of the Lord?s Supper. Protestants, as you well know, do NOT recognize the visible presence of Jesus? body and blood. Nor do they see the Lord?s Supper as a ?means of grace,? that is, a means by which God gives forgiveness, life, and salvation through the reception of that meal to the worthy recipients.? (According to our Catechism, we are ?worthy? recipients when ?we have faith in Christ and His words, ?Given and shed for shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.?? Question 301, p. 242, 2005 edition)
However (and you knew that a ?however? was coming J ) even though Catholics and Lutherans have a mutual understanding of some of what?s ?going on? within the distribution of the Lord?s Supper, we still don?t have an exact, 100%-in-agreement understanding of that either.
Roman Catholic theology teaches that the bread and wine are totally changed (?transubstantiation? is their theological term) to be ONLY Jesus? body and blood after the priest consecrates the elements. (I believe that?s why the acolyte or altar boy rings the bell at those two moments, so as to signify the very moment when the bread literally becomes Jesus? body and the wine becomes Jesus? blood.)
We Lutherans understand that after the pastor has consecrated the elements, that the bread and wine remain, but now Jesus? body and blood are ?in, with, and under? those earthly elements. (The phrase ?in, with, and under? is an expression that Dr. Luther coined to try to explain in simple terms what we Lutherans believe occurs ? that the original earthly elements remain but now also Jesus? body and blood are present.)
So, in that respect, Lutherans and Catholics are not alike in our understanding of the Lord?s Supper. But, again, we are FAR MORE similar to each other than the Protestant?s understanding.? For Protestants believe that reception of this meal only ?symbolizes? (their word) Jesus? death and resurrection for the sins of mankind.
Now, on to the crux of your question?? Beyond what is written immediately above, we also respectfully ask those not of our exact confession of faith to refrain from reception of the Lord?s Supper with us. This is because we believe that when a person receives the Lord?s Supper at a given altar, then they are also physically making a statement that what is taught and believed at that church and altar is also their personal understanding of the Christian faith. So, for a Lutheran to take communion at a Catholic altar (or a Catholic to take the Lord?s Supper at a Lutheran altar) would be, in essence, the Lutheran (or Catholic) ?making the statement? that he/she agrees with everything else taught at that congregation of believers.? The same would apply to a Lutheran taking the Lord?s Supper at a Protestant altar or a Protestant receiving the same at a Lutheran altar.
Here follows is a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that was printed in the mid-90?s. I believe that this is the latest catechism that has been sanctioned by the Vatican. Here?s the quote: ?Ecclesial communities [meaning ?other church bodies?] derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, ?have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.? It is for this reason that Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible for the Catholic Church…? [Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 353, paragraph 1400]
From that, we read that officially the Roman Catholic Church does NOT sanction its members to take the Lord?s Supper at any other altar; thereby coordinating their teaching to be exactly in line with the Lutheran teaching on this matter. Also, I must agree with the pastor at the Lutheran church where your family once attended that on ?both sides of the aisle? (Lutheran and Catholic) that there are mavericks who don?t practice what their church bodies officially teach! Yet, for a faithful Catholic priest or a faithful Lutheran pastor to knowingly serve the Lord?s Supper to a member of the other denomination is unheard of. (Granted, both denominations make allowances under ?extraordinary and extenuating? circumstances.) (I have references for this statement if you wish to see them.)
So… to summarize an already too long reply, here is a quote from a Lutheran document: ?The Eucharist is the congregation?s sacrament of unity. Differences of confession cannot be a matter of indifference when seeking the unity presupposed by the Lord?s Supper, the very unity that the Supper is given to maintain and preserve.? (CTCR Document Admission to the Lord?s Supper, p. 46, 1999)
This means that it does matter what an individual believes when he/she partakes of the Lord?s Supper at a given altar, because if they take the meal without faith in the Words of Christ, they eat and drink judgment upon themselves (I Corinthians).? In addition, when the person receives the meal, he/she does so within a public context and that, in and of itself also says and means something. The person is ?saying? that they identify with what is believed and taught in that particular faith community.? Neither the Lutheran church nor the Catholic church looks at the question before us as being a personal prerogative for an individual to decide with which elements of the faith taught at that altar they will choose to agree or disagree.? It?s simply not an option to either denomination.
I hope that this helps you understand a bit better the doctrine of ?closed communion? that faithful Lutherans and Catholics practice. Thank you for your question. Perhaps others have gained through it.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
?It is unreasonable to expect a child to listen to your advice and ignore your example.? Author Unknown