Eucharist in Lutheranism

The Holy Communion stained glass window at St. Matthew's German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina

The Eucharist in the Lutheran Church (also called the Mass, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord's Supper, the Lord's Table, Holy Communion, the Breaking of the Bread and the Blessed Sacrament[1][2]) refers to the liturgical commemoration of the Last Supper.

Biblical basis

Martin Luther (like many) saw the main basis for the Eucharist (as well as the Real Presence) to be found in Matthew 26:26–28, Mark 14:22–24, Luke 22:19-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-29.[3]


A note about the real presence in Mikael Agricola Church, Helsinki.
Further information: Sacramental union

Lutherans believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms" of consecrated bread and wine (the elements),[4] so that communicants eat and drink both the elements and the true Body and Blood of Christ himself[5] in the Sacrament of the Eucharist whether they are believers or unbelievers.[6][7] The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence is also known as the sacramental union.[8][9] This theology was first formally and publicly confessed in the Wittenberg Concord (1536).[10] It has also been called "consubstantiation" but most Lutheran theologians reject the use of this term as it creates confusion with an earlier doctrine of the same name.[11] Some Lutherans do believe in consubstantiation.[12] Lutherans use the term "in, with and under the forms of consecrated bread and wine" and "sacramental union" to distinguish their understanding of the Eucharist from those of the Reformed and other traditions.[4]

Use of the sacrament

For Lutherans the Eucharist is not considered to be a valid sacrament unless the elements are used according to Christ's mandate and institution (consecration, distribution, and reception).[4] This was first formulated in the Wittenberg Concord of 1536 in the formula: Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum ("Nothing has the character of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ").[13] To remove any scruple of doubt or superstition, the reliquiæ traditionally are either consumed, poured into the earth, or reserved (see below). In most Lutheran congregations, the administration of private communion of the sick and "shut-in" (those too feeble to attend services) involves a completely separate service of the Eucharist for which the sacramental elements are consecrated by the celebrant.[14]

Today, many Lutheran churches offer the Eucharist weekly, while others offer it less often. Weddings and funerals sometimes include the celebration of the Eucharist in Lutheran churches. At the ordinations of pastors/priests and the consecration of bishops, the Eucharist is always offered.

Practices in American Lutheran churches

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and its congregations practice open communion—meaning that Holy Communion is offered to all baptized Christians who have confessed their sins and received absolution.[15] Congregations in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod practice closed communion, meaning that Lutheran Eucharistic catechetical instruction is required for all people before receiving the Eucharist, though some congregations in these synods simply either ask that one speak to the pastor before the service to confirm their common faith or acknowledge this on their attendance card. For Lutherans in general, confession and absolution are considered proper preparation for receiving the sacrament. However, the historic practice among Lutherans of preparation by private confession and absolution[16] is rarely found in American Lutheran congregations.[15][17] For this reason, often a brief order or corporate rite of confession and absolution is included at the beginning of Lutheran liturgies.

A growing number of congregations in the ELCA, offer instruction to baptized children generally between the ages of 6-8 and, after a relatively short period of catechetical instruction, the children are admitted to partake of the Eucharist.[15] Most other ELCA congregations offer First Communion instruction to children in the 5th grade. In other Lutheran churches, the person must have receive confirmation before receiving the Eucharist.[15][18] Infants and children who haven't received the catechetical instruction (or confirmation) may be brought to the Eucharistic distribution by their parents to be blessed by the pastor.[19]

Manner of reception

Communion setting at an ELCA service: an open Bible, both unleavened bread and gluten-free wafers, a chalice of wine, and another with grape juice
A congregation kneeling during the Eucharistic distribution

The manner of receiving the Eucharist differs throughout the world. In most American Lutheran churches, an older Latin Rite custom is maintained, where a cushioned area and altar rails sit at the front of the altar where the congregation can come to kneel down and receive the sacrament (as seen in the picture below). Traditionally, only those within the holy office of the ministry distributed both of the communion elements, but it is now the prevailing practice that the Pastor distributes the host and an assistant then distributes the wine. The congregation departs and may make the sign of the cross.

In other Lutheran churches, the process is much like the Post-Vatican II revised rite of the Roman Catholic Church.[20] The eucharistic minister (most commonly the pastor) and his assistants line up, with the eucharistic minister in the center holding the hosts and the two assistants on either side holding the chalices. The people process to the front in lines and receive the Eucharist standing. Following this, the people make the sign of the cross (if they choose to) and return to their places in the congregation.

The bread is commonly a thin unleavened wafer, but leavened wafers may also be used. Some parishes use intinction, the dipping of the host into the chalice.[21] Placing the host in the hand of the communicant is commonly practiced, but some people may prefer that the pastor place the host into their mouth in the pre-Vatican II Catholic tradition. The wine is commonly administered via a chalice, but many congregations use individual cups.[22] These may be either prefilled or filled from the chalice during the distribution of the Eucharist. Some ELCA congregations make grape juice available for children and those who are abstaining from alcohol and some will accommodate those with an allergy to wheat or grapes.[23]

Adoration and the Corpus Christi

Perpetual Adoraton at a High Lutheran congregation, of the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, in Kansas City, Missouri

Lutheran Eucharistic adoration is not commonly practiced, but when it occurs it is done only from the moment of consecration to reception. Many people kneel when they practice this adoration. The consecrated elements are treated with much respect and in many areas are reserved as in Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican practice.[24] The Feast of the Corpus Christi was retained in the main calendar of the Lutheran Church up until about 1600,[25] but continues to be celebrated by many Lutheran congregations.[26] On this feast day the consecrated host is displayed on an altar in a monstrance and, in some churches, the rites of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and other forms of adoration are celebrated.[27]


The Lutheran worship liturgy is called the "Divine Service", "Holy Communion",or "the Eucharist." An example formula for the Lutheran liturgy is as follows:[28]

The "Great Thanksgiving" or Sursum corda is chanted or spoken.

Pastor: The Lord be with you.

People: And with your spirit.

Pastor: Lift up your hearts.

People: We lift them to the Lord.

Pastor: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

People: It is right and just .

Next, the proper preface is chanted or spoken by the pastor. Below is an example:

It is truly good, right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting, who in the multitude of your saints did surround us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying:

This is followed by the Sanctus, which is sung by the congregation.

Holy, holy, holy Lord,

God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

Next, the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer is spoken by the pastor.

Pastor: You are indeed holy, almighty and merciful God; you are most holy, and great is the majesty of your glory. You so loved the world that you gave your only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Having come into the world, he fulfilled for us your holy will and accomplished our salvation.

The pastor then says the Words of Institution. The pastor may also elevate the elements as well as genuflect.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, 'Take; eat; this is my body, given for you. This do in remembrance of me.' In the same way, also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, 'Drink of it all of you. This cup is the New Testament in My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'

The Eucharistic Prayer continues, along with the Memorial Acclamation.

Remembering, therefore, his salutary command, his life-giving Passion and death, his glorious resurrection and ascension, and his promise to come again, we give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, not as we ought, but as we are able; and we implore you mercifully to accept our praise and thanksgiving, and, with your Word and Holy Spirit, to bless us, your servants, and these your own gifts of bread and wine; that we and all who share in the + body and blood of your Son may be filled with heavenly peace and joy, and receiving the forgiveness of sin, may be + sanctified in soul and body, and have our portion will all your saints.

People: Amen.

Pastor: The mystery of faith.

People: When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.

Pastor: O Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, in giving us Your body and blood to eat and to drink, You lead us to remember and confess Your holy cross and passion, Your blessed death, Your rest in the tomb, Your resurrection from the dead, Your ascension into heaven, and the promise of Your coming again.

The Lord's Prayer

Pastor: Lord, remember us in Your kingdom and teach us to pray:

People: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

The "Peace" or "pax"

Pastor: The peace of the Lord be with you always.

People: And with your spirit. (or "And also with you.")

Pastor: Let us offer each other a sign of peace. (the peace of Christ is shared among the people)

Following this, the Agnus Dei is chanted.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace. Amen.

Typical Eucharist in a LCMS church

The Distribution is next (see above for different manners), it is followed by the nunc dimittis, which is chanted as follows:

Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace,

according to your word.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared before the face of all people,

a light to lighten the Gentiles

and the glory of your people Israel.

The postcommunion is prayed by the pastor.

We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Finally the Benedicamus Domino and benediction are spoken or chanted by the pastor and congregation with the Sign of the Cross being made at the end.

Pastor: The Lord be with you.

People: And with your spirit.

Pastor: Let us bless the Lord.

People: Thanks be to God.

Pastor: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord look upon you with favor and give you + peace.[Numbers 6:24-26]

See also


  1. An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, (LCMS), question 285")
  2. Lutheran Eucharist names. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
  3. see the "Book of Concord"
  4. 1 2 3 An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, (LCMS), question 291)
  5. (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article 10)
  6. ("manducatio indignorum": "eating of the unworthy")
  7. An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, (LCMS), question 296")
  8. Formula of Concord Solid Declaration VII.36-38 (Triglot Concordia, 983, 985 ; Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 575-576.
  9. Weimar Ausgabe 26, 442; Luther's Works 37, 299-300.
  10. Formula of Concord Epitiome VII, 7, 15; FC Formula of Concord Solid Declaration VII, 14, 18, 35, 38, 117; Triglot Concordia, 811-813, 977, 979, 983-985, 1013.
  11. F.L. Cross, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, second edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), 340 sub loco.
  12. J.T. Mueller, Christian Dogmatics: A Handbook of Doctrinal Theology, (St. Louis: CPH, 1934), 519; cf. also Erwin L. Lueker, Christian Cyclopedia, (St. Louis: CPH, 1975), under the entry "consubstantiation".
  13. Lutheran Theology Retrieved on 2009-08-19
  14. at Retrieved 2010-06-07.
  15. 1 2 3 4 At what age do ELCA congregations allow members their first Communion?. Retrieved 2010-01-12.
  16. Confession in the churches is not abolished among us; for it is not usual to give the body of the Lord, except to them that have been previously examined and absolved.
  17. "Close(d) Communion" @
  18. LCMS Youth Confirmation & First Communion. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  19. First Lutheran Church Communion FAQs. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  20. Catholic Communion process from the Mass
  21. Intinction at the Christian Encyclopedia
  22. Virus and the Common Cup from Retrieved 2010-04-17.
  23. An example of a church that does. See the "Sunday Worship" section on the "Welcome" page.
  24. Shjould Lutherans reserve the sacrament? from Concordia Theological Seminary in April 2003. Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  25. Frank Senn: Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical, Fortress Press, 1997. p. 344. ISBN 0-8006-2726-1
  26. Lutheran Corups Christi. Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  28. (Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service I,III, Lutheran Service Book)

External links

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