Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Lift High the Christ, His Flesh and Blood Proclaim

Here is Part IX of my ACELC free conference paper (16 April 2013).  It is one of the sections that I omitted in my presentation of the paper, because of time constraints.  The entire paper will be made available on the ACELC website.

[There is one] particular ceremony, or pair of ceremonies, [that] needs to be considered, because it touches upon a decisive theological point.  Here I refer to the Elevation and the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Actually, more time and attention should be given to this topic than this paper can afford, but for now, if nothing else, let us have it on the table for discussion.

The Elevation of the Sacrament occurs after each of the elements is consecrated with the Word of the Lord.  Thus, after Christ has spoken, “This Is My Body,” His Body is lifted up by the celebrant at the Altar, in and with the consecrated Bread, in order that all may see it; and all are thus invited to adore the Lord in His Body.  In the same way also, after Christ has spoken, “This Is the New Testament in My Blood,” the Chalice is lifted up for all to see, that all may adore the Lord in His Blood.

Luther dealt with questions concerning the Elevation and the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament throughout his lifetime as a reformer.  His attitude and criteria remained consistent, but were applied somewhat differently in the advice that he gave, depending on the particulars of each situation and its immediate context.  Bear in mind that he had to confront competing challenges on either side: Roman sacrificial notions, and the adoration of the Host apart from the Holy Communion, on the one hand; and Zwinglian denials of the Sacrament altogether, on the other hand.

Because of its associations with the Roman sacrificial Mass, Luther was at first inclined to do away with the Elevation.  However, several considerations led him to preserve the practice, and to defend it against critics and detractors: First, he wanted to exercise patience and care for the piety of the people, lest they be scandalized by such a dramatic change at the highest point of the Divine Service.  Second, he recognized that the Elevation could be understood evangelically, as a commending of the Body of the Christ to the communicants.  For this very reason, Luther notably retained the Elevation in both his Latin and German Masses, describing it as a proclamation of Christ in the Sacrament, and as a gracious invitation to eat and to drink His Body and His Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

As a third and final reason for retaining the Elevation, Luther set himself in opposition to Karlstadt and others, who insisted that the practice was contrary to the Gospel and to the Holy Scriptures, and that it therefore had to be abolished.  Here, as previously mentioned, Luther insisted on its freedom.

It was not Luther, but his own pastor, Johnannes Bugenhagen, who finally did away with the Elevation in Wittenberg (in the late 1530s).  He did so while Luther was away, and there are some indications that Luther was unhappy with this change in practice, especially because there were many people who then perceived it to be a capitulation to Zwinglianism.  In any case, Luther consistently supported Pastor Bugenhagen, and he did not publicly object to the change in ceremony.  Although he mentioned on occasion the possibility of restoring the Elevation to the Liturgy in Wittenberg, that did not happen.

Toward the end of his life, Luther indicated that it would be just as well for the Elevation to be let go from the practice of the churches; not because he was opposed to it, but for the sake of unity among the Lutheran territories, since many of them had already done away with this ceremonial practice.

In considering the Elevation of the Sacrament, it has to be taken into account what a prominent and visible part of the Roman Mass this practice was, and what a volatile issue it became in the context of the Reformation.  In that light, it is actually remarkable that the Lutherans kept it at all, and for so long.  That this continuation of the practice was not solely as a consolation for the weak, nor simply a matter of polemics against the Zwinglians, is demonstrated by a similar but slightly different practice that developed in some of the Lutheran territories of the Sixteenth Century.  In those places, the Body and Blood of Christ were elevated before the people at the Pax Domini, the pastor facing the people with the Host and the Chalice in his hands.  Evidently there was also a rite that would sometimes accompany this new ceremony, drawing upon the words of Luther from one of his writings against Karlstadt: “Look, dear Christian, here are the Body and Blood of your Lord Jesus, which He gives to you for the forgiveness of sins.”  In some cases, this new ceremony was used in addition to the historic Elevation.  Both practices were understood as a strong confession of the Body and Blood of Christ.

With or without the Elevation, as far as Luther himself was concerned, and for other Lutherans after him, there still remained the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament; although this practice became controversial among the Lutherans, mainly after Luther’s death, in connection with a receptionist trend in Melanchthon and his followers.

The “Adoration,” here, refers specifically to bending the knee (or genuflecting) at the consecration of the Sacrament.  That is to say, it is the bodily worship of Christ, the Lord our God, in His Sacrament.

“Receptionism” is the view that Christ is not present in the bread and wine, except in the actual eating and drinking of the elements.  This view developed with Melanchthon, and continued after him, on the basis of Aristotelian philosophy (or, rather, on a misunderstanding of Aristotle’s “four causes”).  Especially as Melanchthon grew closer to John Calvin, in the years after Luther had died, he and others would make disparaging remarks about “bread worshipers,” referring to those (such as Luther!) who adored the Lord Jesus Christ in His Sacrament.

Luther, in his lifetime, explicitly answered the receptionist position, along with its implications for the celebration of the Sacrament, especially in a couple of letters that he wrote to a Pastor Wolferinus.  Therein he indicated that the proper “use” of the Sacrament, in accordance with the Lord’s Institution, begins with the consecration of the elements (with the Verba Domini) and continues until everything has been consumed.  Within that breadth of “use,” as Luther describes, the bread is the Body of Christ Jesus, and the wine is the Blood of Christ Jesus, exactly as the same Lord Jesus Christ has spoken in the consecration: “This Is My Body,” and “This Is My Blood.”  Therefore, we eat and drink because the Holy Supper is the Body given and the Blood poured out for us.  Likewise, everything is consumed, in keeping with the Word of Christ: “Eat,” and “Drink.”  None of the elements that He has consecrated with His Word should be returned to common usage, nor simply “disposed of.”

The Lutherans of the Sixteenth Century (and well beyond) followed Luther’s lead in this regard, and took these matters quite seriously, as the various Lutheran Church Orders (and several controversies) make plain.  In fact, church practices emulated Luther’s “consecrationist” position, in spite of the growing entrenchment of Melanchthon’s “receptionism” in subsequent generations.  Regrettably, the Formula of Concord, in its article on the Lord’s Supper, has frequently been interpreted through the filters of those later developments, and has therefore been misunderstood in a “receptionist” manner.

As regards the Adoration, in particular, the Formula of Concord has likewise been misunderstood.  On the surface, it would seem as though the Formula rejects this ceremony, when it explicitly disavows the adoration of the bread and wine.  However, that particular “antithesis” is actually confessed in response to those (including Melanchthon) who had accused the Lutherans of “bread worship,” as mentioned earlier.  The point is made, precisely because Luther himself, and many others, did adore the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, while yet distinguishing His sacred flesh and blood from the creaturely elements of bread and wine, which do of course remain in the Holy Communion.

It is especially clear that the Adoration is actually defended and affirmed, when one compares the Formula of Concord on this point with the corresponding section of the Examination of the Council of Trent, by Martin Chemnitz (a primary author of the Formula).  For “no one except an Arian heretic can or will deny that Christ Himself, true God and Man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper when it is rightly used, should be adored in Spirit and in Truth in all places but especially where His community is assembled” (FC/SD VII.126).  As Luther had also written in 1544: “In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which is deserving of honor and adoration, the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, proffered, and received both by the worthy and by the unworthy” (LW 34: 355).