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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Lex Orandi, etc.

"Altar of the Eternal Word”; Reformation altar by Michael Ostendorfer, detail; Photograph: Regensburg City Museum

Lutherans from the very beginning sought to use their practice to teach what they believed in accordance with AC XXIV. This becomes all the more clear as you read through the Lutheran church orders of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. In his book, Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation, Ernst Walter Zeeden has compiled all the pertinent information of what the liturgical practice (rites and ceremonies) of the nascent Lutheran church looked like. Here’s what Zeeden finds out about the ceremonies surrounding the administration of the Lord’s Supper.

Naturally the numerous regulations concerning Communion distribution, which consistently occurred under both kinds, also inadvertently contained much about how the Sacrament was understood. More than once what stood behind them was a realistic conception that came rather close to the Catholic conceptions. This is apparent above all in the meticulous care with which the elements were handled, or should have been. The Merseberg synodical instruction prescribed: ‘And when something remains of the hosts or in the chalice, it should not be reserved (1545: set aside or poured out), but should be completely consumed by the priest or communicants who partook of the sacramental meal.’ . . . In Weiden in the Upper Palatinate, the officiating clergyman communed every Sunday in order that, as he said on the occasion of the 1579–1583 visitation, nothing of the Supper would be left over. In Nittenau in the Upper Palatinate, the Lutheran parson set great value on the use of the houseling cloth [typically a white linen cloth held in front of communicants to catch any crumbs that might fall from the host, thereby preventing them from touching the floor], ’since otherwise the hose would be blown away from him by people’s breathing,’ or taken so clumsily by people that it fell to the floor. To the surly reaction of this Calvinistic visitors that these were coarse jokes, with which he should ’not affirm the people in their coarseness,’ the parson stated for the record that, on the contrary, this is a ‘holy matter’ (res sacra). And during the same 1574 visitation, when a parson from Pittersberg in the Upper Palatinate, likewise a Lutheran, was examined on his understanding of the Sacrament and confessed that he firmly believes ‘that a consecration actually takes place and the bread is essentially (essentialiter) the body of Christ,’ the visitors took him to mean he believed in ‘papistic transubstantiation.’ On the background of such conceptions, which can be attested in various places for central, norther, and southern Germany between 1540 and 1580, what the 1540 Brandenburg church order prescribed concerning sick calls no longer sounds so peculiar. Since this is also not entirely without interest for cultural history, it shall briefly be restated: Thereafter, as a rule, the Sacrament should be consecrated for the sick call in an ordinary service and be kept on the altar. At the appropriate time, it should then be carried into the house of the sick person ‘with due reverence;’ that is, the sacristan had to precede the parson, who wore a surplice, with a lamp while ringing a little bell. Also for sudden sick calls, the consecration had to take place beforehand in the church. That applied to cities. In villages, however, the consecration should not occur until in the house. Why? Because—with the excessive impracticable roadway conditions in the country, which often compelled the parson to go over rotten planks, and to climb over hedges and fences, or to ride far across the country—there was too much ‘danger’ for the consecrated Sacrament—aside from other complications, such as this: With the delay resulting form the great distances, the sick person might no longer be able to partake of the consecrated host. The detail of this reason not only inadvertently gives us a clear picture of the travel conditions of a bygone time, which of course also belong to the rudimentary living conditions of the corresponding historical epoch, but also lets shimmer through how realistic the understanding of the Sacrament still was after the first decades of the Reformation.
— Zeeden, Faith and Act, 28–30.

You see the seriousness with which they treated the Sacrament during the consecration, administration, and thereafter. They believed that it is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as He promised, and conformed their practice to bring that reality before the eyes of those who came to receive it. 

Side note: If you’re going to reserve the Sacrament for your hospital and homebound, be sure to bring it to them in surplice in procession with the sacristan while he rings the bells.