Weekly communion: let the river flow!

Our church is about to start offering weekly Communion (or almost-weekly: the fifth Sunday of the month will be a non-Communion service), rather than having Communion only two or three times a month. Our pastor has written a letter to church members informing them of this change, and the reasoning behind it:

Holy Communion is the climax of the Lutheran liturgy and is the vehicle through which Christ gives Himself to us for the forgiveness of our sins.

He then goes on to give the Scriptural and confessional arguments for weekly Communion:

Holy Scripture indicates that the Lord’s Supper was offered to God’s people each Lord’s Day (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20,33). The Lutheran Confessions declare in our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals, when the Sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved (Augsburg Confession XXIV, para.34). And Dr Luther in his Large Catechism writes, Indeed, the very words, “as often as you do it”, implies that we should do it often. And they were added because Christ wishes the Sacrament to be free, not bound to special times like the Passover (Large Catechism, Fifth Part, para.47).

One of the big concerns people seem to have about weekly Communion is that it makes the Lord’s Supper less “special”. Indeed, I gather that there are some conservative evangelical Anglican churches that celebrate the Lord’s Supper annually, precisely for that reason – because it makes it more “special” when it does happen.

I’m sure that’s partly because these churches (as opposed to more Anglo-Catholic churches, which do generally offer weekly communion) do not believe that the Lord’s Supper 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 to drink”, or that “in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us”. Once you truly believe that and internalise it, it’s hard to see how anyone could not wish to receive this great gift every single week. Conversely, if the Lord’s Supper is nothing more than a memorial meal, then celebrating it infrequently can arguably assist us in ensuring we really are concentrating when the annual Communion service comes around.

But another perspective on this question is the suggestion that infrequent communion represents an importing of worldly “economic” principles into the church – principles that the Sacrament of the Altar, understood properly, inverts. This argument is made by Martin Thornton in his book, English Spirituality, as he discusses Julian of Norwich’s reflections on “the dearworthy blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (p.206f.):

While most of medieval Christendom was worshipping what were believed to be relics of Christ’s actual blood, or fragments of the true Cross, Julian was writing “the dearworthy blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ as verily as it is most precious, so verily it is most plenteous”.

By worldly standards, value depends on rarity, so the honouring of relics, devout and legitimate as it may be, follows worldly standards. But the Cross contradicts worldly conceptions, and it is this supernatural scale of values that Julian honours. Through the Eucharist, the redemptive blood of Christ becomes an everflowing river in which, overthrowing economic logic, its inexhaustible plenteousness increases rather than diminishes its preciousness.

Julian offers no support to the Protestant idea … that the Blessed Sacrament would be more honoured by infrequent celebrations. That, curiously, is the same devout error which typifies the cult of relics; it is an attempt to raise the value of supernatural things by reducing them to natural terms.

The redemptive river of blood must constantly flow in the daily Mass, because its preciousness increases with plenty; all the psychological difficulties which arise from daily celebration and communion have to be met, but they are subservient to the ontological facts.

Now, I don’t agree with 100% of what is said here. For example, I’m not sure I’d describe the honouring of relics as “devout and legitimate”. More importantly, I’m certainly not arguing for daily Communion: this practice strikes me as cutting against the Lord’s Supper as the shared meal of all Christians, turning it into an exclusive devotional practice for the especially committed.

However, the overall argument is extremely helpful, not least if we substitute “weekly” for “daily” in that final paragraph. Like the river flowing out of the Temple in Ezekiel 47, which became deeper the further out it flowed, so “the redemptive river of blood” flowing out of our Saviour’s side becomes more valuable, more precious and more powerful for our salvation the more it is made present for us on our altars, as we gather together as Christ’s redeemed people to eat and drink his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, week in and week out until he returns.

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3 Responses to Weekly communion: let the river flow!

  1. Pr.Jack says:

    Weekly Communion except on the fifth Sunday of the
    month? That’s really dumb! The Augsburg Confession
    and its Apology say nothing about ommitting communion
    on the fifth Sunday of a month that has five weeks!
    The Lord’s Supper is celebrated every Lord’s day! This
    is the kind of silliness one finds in Lutheran churches
    that drives me crazy. There is so much unfaithfulness
    to the Lutheran Confessions.

  2. John H says:

    Pr Jack: You seem to be something of a “glass half-empty” person! I would rather that we had communion every week without exception, but this is part of a process over many years that has taken us from quarterly, to monthly, to bi-weekly and now to (almost) weekly. Or to put it another way, we now offer communion 48 times a year rather than four times a year.

    Perhaps your denunciation of our congregation for its unfaithfulness to the Lutheran Confessions would be better addressed to those congregations that still commune only a few times each year. In any event, it would seem more appropriate for you to direct your comments to our pastor, and if you would like me to send you his email address then please let me know.

    I also notice that your congregation is affiliated with the ELCA. Far be it from me to start talking about specks and planks here, but…

  3. Steven says:

    That is great news.

    Currently, the congregation my family are members of celebrates Communion only once a month. However, in times past it quarterly.

    I am hoping to encourage moving to a bi-weekly celebration of the Mass. I have brough this up to the pastor before and this gives me new encouragement to do so again.

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