Kolb, Robert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Small Catechism V “The Sacrament of the Altar” pp. 362-363.
Large Catechism V “The Sacrament of the Altar” pp. 467-476.
Luther’s Small Catechism states very simply that the Sacrament of the Altar “is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and drink” (Kolb 2000, 362). After giving the words of institution as recorded by Paul, Luther points to the benefit of communion. It delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is explained by the fact that Jesus’ words say that the body and blood are “for you” and that the blood is for forgiveness. The Word of God, then, is reliable. As God said it would give forgiveness, Christians believe God is true (Kolb 2000, 363). While fasting and other preparations are certainly good, they are not required. The requirement is to believe God’s words.
The Large Catechism speaks about the Sacrament of the Altar in three stages, “stating what it is, what its benefits are, and who is to receive it” (Kolb 2000, 467). The words of institution, a conflation of 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:19-20, are used to describe all of the doctrine and practice. Rather than specifically objecting to those who have other views, Luther asserts the chief points of communion. First, it is established by God’s Word and will be sustained by God’s power. He is able to use what he has prescribed in the Scripture for the good of His people (Kolb 2000, 467).
In the eighth paragraph, Luther uses the term “in and under the bread and wine” to describe the body and blood of Jesus. He goes on to make it clear that this true, bodily presence is created by God’s command. Quoting Augustine, “When the Word is joined to the external element, it becomes a sacrament” (Kolb 2000, 468). By “in and under” Luther doesn’t indicate a location but an invisible and imperceptible presence. Christ indwells the sacrament according to his word of promise. Even if the person performing the consecration or receiving the Sacrament is unworthy, God’s Word will complete the work promised.
The power of the sacrament is for forgiveness (Kolb 2000, 469). Jesus calls his people to receive the sacrament because he desires to deliver forgiveness to his children. Because we are weak by nature, we need to receive the sacrament frequently. “Therefore the Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger” (section 24) (Kolb 2000, 469). Luther confesses that it is counter-intuitive to think God forgives sins or strengthens faith by bread and wine. The important element is God’s word of promise. He goes on to say that the same Word of God which delivers forgiveness as we hear and believe the proclamation in preaching can also deliver forgiveness through physical means as we believe the promise God has attached to the sacrament (Kolb 2000, 470).
Because communion and its promises are received by faith, preparations such as fasting and prayer are not required. Luther is clear that they are good and valuable. But it is reception of the sacrament by faith in God’s Word which is our goal. If we are ready to receive forgiveness, we are ready for the sacrament (Kolb 2000, 470). Luther continues then with a lengthy exhortation about the value and importance of receiving the sacrament. Because in Christianity the sacrament is available on a daily basis, Luther is disappointed that some separate themselves from the forgiveness they could receive (Kolb 2000, 471). Though the Bible does not specify a frequency of reception, Luther questions the sincerity of those who would not seek out God’s mercy. Jesus tells his people to “do this.” He doesn’t tell them to “avoid this.”
For those who avoid communion because they feel unworthy, Luther affirms that we are all unworthy of God’s blessing. If we are aware of our unworthiness we need the sacrament all the more. ‘It is the highest art to realize that this sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness. For we are not baptized because we are worthy and holy, nor do we come to confession as if we were pure and without sin; on the contrary, we come as poor, miserable people, precisely because we are unworthy” (Kolb 2000, 473). For this reason, those who are aware of thier sin and failing are exactly the people who need to receive the sacrament. For those who don’t feel in need, Luther suggests they touch themselves and see if they are alive. If so, they need God’s forgiveness (Kolb 2000, 474).