Question: Hey Pastor, I have a question!? I noticed early last fall that you began communing yourself.? Most of my experience has been seeing the Pastor receive communion from a distribution assistant.? Why the change?? Which way is better?
Answer: Thanks for writing!? You pose questions that certainly deserve answers.
From the content of your questions, it appears that you recall the time when the general practice was for a communion assistant to distribute the communion elements to me.? My previous practice was that after I had communed the assistant(s) then one of them would bring the communion elements to me as I knelt at the communion rail.? Following that, the general distribution to the congregation would occur.? Perhaps a form of this practice is what you recall from many of your previous Pastors as well.
I sometimes tell people that ?You can?t get up in the morning and not expect to learn something!?? Part of my duty as a Pastor in Christ?s Church is to devote some of my time to study of the Word along with theological issues and matters.? As time went on, during my reading and study, it occurred to me that I really was not following the practice of our Lutheran ancestors in this regard!
What appears to have happened was that approximately 70-80 years ago, the practice of the Pastor communing himself fell into disuse among us Lutherans.? In some of my reading on this matter, several authors postulated that the abandonment of self-communion by the Pastor was a
natural outgrowth from the age of pietism that itself began in the mid-1800?s in Protestant America.? That pietistic
influence, unfortunately, eventually infiltrated even our Lutheran circles by the first few decades of the last century.
But in reality, through most of the history of Christianity, the custom has been for the presiding minister to commune himself. Even Dr. Martin Luther instructed this: ?Then, while the Agnus Dei is sung, let him [the liturgist] communicate, first himself and then the people? (Luther?s Works, Vol. 53, p. 28 American Edition).? C.F.W. Walther (the first president of the Lutheran Church?Missouri Synod) said that a Pastor may never commune himself in private, but may do so in the public service.? Also, one of the primary textbooks on worship used at both of our LCMS seminaries, Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, instructs the presiding minister to first commune himself and then the assistants and congregation (p. 431).
Now why follow this practice? There are three reasons to commend this:
- 1. First, the Pastor who serves in the stead and by the command of Christ is also a sinner in need of the gifts offered in the Sacrament.
- 2. Second, the continuity between the Office of the Public Ministry and the man serving in that Office is thus maintained throughout the Divine Service.? The Absolution (forgiveness of sins) spoken by the Pastor as a part of his Office is also spoken to himself as a Christian.? The sermon preached by the Pastor as a part of his Office is also preached to himself as a Christian.? Therefore, it ?follows suit? (and is totally consistent with everything else that has occurred in the Divine Service) that the Sacrament distributed by the Pastor as part of his Office is also distributed to himself as a Christian.
- 3. Third, the Pastor and congregation are not separate, but are equally part of the Communion of Saints.? The Pastor is certainly not above the congregation, but joins with the congregation in receiving the Lord?s Supper and gives the example that all may come and likewise receive that gift from the Lord as well.
For further reading, if you now own one of the 48 copies of Concordia:? The Lutheran Confessions that were just purchased by many of our members, read on p. 64-5 under Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession (Order in the Church) what is written there.? That article states that
it is a Pastor who is the proper one to distribute the communion elements to the congregation of believers gathered together for the Holy Supper.
Please know that through this article, no ?shot is taken? at other Pastors who do not practice self-communion.? After all, as I mentioned above, I, myself, did not practice self-communion consistently until late in 2004!
Hopefully this article answers your first question of ?Why the change?? and by its context answers your second question of ?Which way is better??? I have further reading available on this matter if you would like to avail yourself of it.? Thank you for your thoughtful questions.
Yours in Christ,