The Mass is the Heart and Life of

the Church

 

a dedication by Peter M. Berg

 

 

 

 

 

 

+ In the Name of Jesus +

 

 

 

The Mass is the heart and life of the Church, and the Holy Supper is the heart and life of the Evangelical Mass.  For centuries the Mass, and its apex, the Supper, have been the center of Christian life, for the Supper is Jesus and he is the Life of the Church. All of God’s graces are poured out in the preaching and in the Supper, because Jesus, who is Grace, is Word and Meal.   All Christian verity and all heresy are revealed in one’s understanding of the Supper.  All ecclesiastical structures, church programs, and cutting-edge ideas may cease to be, but as long as the Church has the Mass with its Supper it has Jesus, and Jesus is the heart and life of the Church.  Jesus, the Incarnate God, is truly and really present with His Church in the Mass.  Preaching and the Sacrament are the new “signs and wonders” of the New Testament, and how wondrous they are.  The incarnation of the Son of God was so stunning to the ancient world, and the Real Presence so mystical, that the pagan Romans accused the early Christians of secretly devouring their deity.  There is often a bit of truth in every calumny.  The Mass is the heart and life of the church because here the incarnate Son of God comes to his mortal - flesh and blood - people, giving them his immortal flesh and blood to eat and to drink, saving them, body and soul.  We know of no other Son of God than the incarnate Jesus, and apart from him, God is an unknown horror.  No flesh and blood Jesus, no God.  In the Mass this God comes in all his humanity and sinful human beings can approach him without fear.  “The glory and mystery of the incarnation combine there (in the Supper) as they combine nowhere else.”1 Therefore the Mass is finally all that matters.  Indeed, all other sacred things, whether Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, preaching, catechesis, the daily office, the occasional services, etc. only have their full relevance in their relation to the Mass.  This is the conviction of those who publish this modest journal, and this is what we teach.  However, before this conviction is brushed aside as the ramblings of some fussy high-church types well on their way to crossing the Tiber, we would ask you, dear reader, to give us a hearing.  Before you write off what is written in these pages, please read what is written.

 

The Manner of our Lord’s Coming

 

The Mass is not important because it happens to be a part of our Lutheran culture, just one culture among many other equally valid Christian cultures.  The Mass is important because it is the way in which God comes to his people.  How does he come?  It goes in the way of incarnation and it follows the pattern of speak and eat. It is the visible Lord visiting and eating with Abraham as he reaffirmed the Promise of the Savior and announced his intentions for the Sodomites. It is the Passover meal with its annual rehearsal of God’s saving presence and act. It is the Lord speaking and eating with the elders of Israel on the mountaintop. It is Jesus teaching and miraculously feeding the multitudes. It is the Savior eating at table in fellowship with tax collectors and sinners.  It is the institution and celebration of the Supper on the night of the Lord’s betrayal.  It is the revelation of the Lord as he opened the scriptures and broke bread at Emmaus.  It is the early Christians devoting themselves to the apostles’ didache and the breaking of bread (the koinwniva).  The Mass is speak and eat, the only two things that matter – the words of the Word Incarnate poured into our ears and the pouring of the Incarnate Word into our mouths.   As the Son of God was conceived in the hearing of the Virgin Mary, and the finite contained the infinite, so through their hearing and their eating the Incarnate One dwells within the entire being of his people in a way beyond comprehension.  Christ’s Christians become His body, and they are nourished by his body.  

 

These two things – speaking and eating – are bound together in the Mass and one without the other leaves something missing.  The Supper without preaching can lead to mindless mysticism.  The preaching without the Supper can lead to pedantic moralism.  Without the Supper, Herman Sasse once observed, “the proclamation of the Gospel could be understood as just one of the many religious messages in the world.”   And all we preachers can claim a mea culpa when it comes to short-changing our listeners.  The Supper must, at times, save the preacher’s neck, just as it saves the communicant in body and soul.  Yet, astonishingly the “dry mass” is still the common practice in all too many churches of the Augsburg Confession, in spite of the confessors’ steadfast assertion that the Mass was retained for the consolation of troubled souls (AC XXIV.7). “We have preaching, that’s the Gospel, that’s enough.  We’ll have the Supper another time.”  But isn’t that our very own version of concomitance –  If you have one thing (e.g. preaching) you pretty much have the rest.   Yet the Lord did not come only in word, but in word and deed.  He came not only in water, but in water and blood (1 Jn. 5:6). Word and deed. Promise and Body and Blood.  The mysteries of God -  preaching, Absolution, Baptism, the Eucharist - share things in common, but they also have things unique to each.  To omit one is to omit what is unique to it.    

 

The Mass is Heaven on Earth

 

Preaching is many things, and some of these things are what the Supper is and some are what it is not.  Unlike the Supper, preaching is Law, it must be.  The sinner is to be convicted.  Like the Supper preaching is gospel, it must be.  The sinner is to be consoled with the forgiveness of sins.  Preaching is didactic, it must be.  Christians are to be instructed in true doctrine, warned about heresy, and urged to be helpful to their neighbors in every need.  But most of all, the preacher preaches his people to Heaven; therefore, he preaches to the Supper, he preaches sacramentally (not just about the sacraments, but sacramentally), for the Supper is Heaven on earth.  The Supper is the parousia of our Lord now - just as it shall be - only then with the scales fallen from our eyes.   Therefore, the Supper is the apex of the Mass, for Heaven is the consummation of the believer’s life.   We confess this, not because the Holy Communion conveys a better gospel than preaching, but because preaching is not only about the things to come, but also about the things that are passing. “And now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”  (1 Co. 13:13).   Preaching, and the faith and hope which it instills, will one day pass away, but Jesus (who is Love) and His feast of love will never pass away.

 

There is something more.  Consider how wonderfully the Holy Liturgy on each Lord’s Day tells the story of how our Lord came to us in Word and deed.  Whether by Divine providence or happy coincidence, the western rite tells the story of Jesus.  In the Gloria in Excelsis we have the song of the Christmas angels, “God incarnate! Peace on earth!” Through the reading and preaching of the scriptures, the Liturgy of the Catechumens tells us about Jesus’ ministry of spoken word and miraculous deed as he journeyed to his destiny in Jerusalem.  To this we say, Credo. As the gospels are Passion narratives with long prologues (thus, Martin Koehler), so the Liturgy of the Faithful takes us to Holy Week. In the Sanctus/Benedictus we join the Palm Sunday throng and sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”2 As He came upon a lowly donkey, so He also comes now in the lowly species of bread and wine. The Words of Institution take us to Maundy Thursday, and the Agnus Dei to Good Friday.  In the elevation, the Son of Man is lifted up as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness and all who behold him in faith are healed. In the consumption, doubting Thomases and weeping Marys actually get to touch their risen, flesh and blood Lord, for the Mass is the continuation of our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances.  And then, together with aged Simeon, the faithful are ready to “depart in peace.”  Listen to old Simeon, he’s got it right!  In the Mass, we achieve the hope of all Christians:  We go to heaven.  For the Mass is heaven on earth – and not just a foretaste of the Feast to come - but the Feast itself right here on earth. Here, the whole Christian Church on earth and the saints of Heaven are joined together spiritually, sacramentally, Christologically, and mystically.  In the Lamb’s high feast, the grateful dead, your grateful dead (!), are in communion with those yet on earth.   Indeed, we become the “one bread” of which the Apostle Paul speaks (1 Co 10.17).   If you don’t have the Supper, you can’t attend the Feast, for the Body and the Blood of our Lord are the Feast.  He is host and meal. 

 

The glory of the Supper is that it is purest gospel, the very forgiveness of sins. Here, as noted above, preaching and the Supper differ. Preaching must be law and gospel.  Yet, how many times haven’t we preachers slighted our people with one or the other, or even both. It must be noted that law and gospel are not on even footing.  Both are the Word of God and are to be believed as such, but the Law is God’s alien work, the gospel is His proprium. Even in the best-crafted sermon, with the proper distinction between law and gospel observed, there is no guarantee that our hearers will hear it that way. No matter how clearly we preach the gospel, some weary saints will hear only the law on any given Sunday. The Supper is the safety net, which catches them before they leave church, and before they fall into despair.  The Supper (like the liturgy and pericope) is the layman’s protection against his own poor hearing and against the preacher, in spite of the preacher’s best intentions.

 

 “We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as pure, wholesome, soothing medicine that aids you and gives life in both soul and body.”3 Here is our “daily food and sustenance,”4 our “Tree of Life,” our “divine Armory,”5 and “the medicine of immortality, the remedy against having to die.” (Ignatius of Antioch)  Until we end our earthly trek and join in the Feast of the Lamb in heaven (Rev 19), this Supper is our viaticum, our provision along the way.  With St. Ambrose we say, “Because I always sin, I ought always to take the medicine.”6 Here also is our guarantee of “the resurrection of our entire frame.”7  In the Supper, the Savior comes to his own in the manner in which He came to earth:  Incarnate, in flesh and blood.  And now he gives that divine flesh and blood to His own to eat and to drink, vivifying them in body and soul.  Whatever role we give John 6 in the discussion of the Eucharist, it still remains true that Christ’s “flesh is food indeed, and (Christ’s) blood is drink indeed.” (v 55)  No Supper, no holy flesh and blood to eat and to drink.  Then with Zwingli, we must by faith fly up into the “fiery heavens” and somehow apprehend Jesus, seated on his throne. “No!” the earth-bound, sin-laden, flesh and blood Christian cries out, “Come from on high to me;  I cannot rise to Thee” (CW 34). 

 

The Current State of Affairs

 

In view of this great gift, how do we account for the current state of affairs? The truncated service continues to claim half of the Sundays during the year in a majority of our churches; also serving to truncate the Holy Ministry. One can give a historical explanation for the situation. The list of suspects is well known:  Melanchthonianism, Pietism, Rationalism, Prussianism, the frontier experience of North America, etc.   However, permit this author to propose another idea.  There seems to be a concern within our clerical ranks that preaching in our midst is not what it could be.  The publication Preach seems to be directed to this need. There have been murmurs for some time now that there is too much emphasis on sanctification in WELS preaching, on the pages of Forward in Christ, and in our educational materials. The editors of this journal believe that this is definitely the case, and they also believe that the heart of the problem is the status given the so-called Third Use of the law, or to state it in a slightly different way, the problem lies in the goal which we have established for preaching. It seems to us that our shared goal has become growth:  growth in Bible knowledge, growth in holiness of living, growth in stewardship, and quantifiable, numerical growth of new members. The means to attain this goal? Is it an oversimplification to say that the way to attain this goal is revealed in this paradigm:  law/gospel/law.  The Third Use of the law in the minds of some, in one way or another, seems to be key to this growth, and the final step in the process of preaching. 8 Many will cry foul, but listen carefully to our preaching and to what we publish.  The result of all this is that an almost imperceptible transformation takes place, with upbeat exhortations to busyness around the church and the affirmation of everybody’s ministries to the church are now seen as the proclamation of the gospel, when in reality, it is the law.  However, this goal and these means to attain the goal are wrong.  We must never forget that the “law always accuses.” The preacher may think that he is using only the Third Use of the law, but lex semper accusat, and some, even many, may be crushed, and without the Supper, may remain so. We must also remember that the Christian’s goal is not the well-ordered life, but to go to heaven, period.  The forgiveness of sins, distributed in gospel and sacrament, assure him of his salvation, and they are powerful pardons which move him to help his neighbor in every bodily need.  Indeed, the believer consumes the Supper that he might be consumed in service to his fellow man.  Good deeds follow as a matter of course, for faith is a living and active thing, and the Christ, who lives within, continues to carry out his ministry of compassion here on earth through His believers. 

 

Still, the Savior suffered just as much for our righteousnesses as He did for our sins.  When the true goal of the Christian faith and the means to attain the goal are not properly understood, then the life of the church is fundamentally affected, and this is especially true of the Mass.  When the goal is wrong, the Sunday service easily becomes a quasi Bible class, a casual, warm, friendly time for sharing, caring, and dealing with “managerial and therapeutic concerns”, which become the new sacraments by default. In this environment, preaching and imparting information will be seen as the most “effective” tools and the Supper will continue to be a bi-monthly addendum and incongruities will abound.  When the sacred Body and Blood are not on the altar and in the minister’s hands, because it is a “non-communion Sunday”, and when the goal is information for godly living, then, I suppose, some won’t see it as an incongruity when the power point screen scrolls down from the ceiling at the end of the service (or in the middle!) and strains of “Come to the WELS” begin to meddle into  Divinum Mysterium (CW 35) or Herzlich Lieb Hab’ Ich Dich, O Herr (CW 434). If the sermon is seen as an inspirational talk, then there is no incongruity between it and the upbeat “WELS Connection” piece on the success stories of other franchises of McChurch. However, there are those who see the incongruity and they cry out, Kyrie elieson! 

 

It is the Real Presence which sets the stage on Sunday morning.  When Christ is upon the Lord’s Table, which incidentally assures that bread will be on our tables at home, then the entire atmosphere is changed.  This is sensed even by those who never seem to tire of creating new “liturgies,” which leave their people with something new (and mediocre) every Sunday.  Yet, even these folks have never been known to insert the “children’s application” or the WELS Connection between the Sanctus and Verba.  At least here they demonstrate a measure of propriety.  Why they can’t demonstrate it elsewhere is a mystery.  The Real Presence carries the freight.  It is the gospel.  It is the manner in which the Savior came and comes to His own.

 

Reformation and Restoration

 

With this in mind, one is compelled to ask if there is an appreciable difference on a “non-communion Sunday” between the average WELS church (or any Lutheran church for that matter) and the conservative Presbyterian church down the block when it comes to what is heard in the way of preaching and hymnody and what is seen with the eye? If they are not appreciably different (which they’re not), then why should visitors “come to the WELS”, especially when the minister down the block probably does the children’s sermon and the power point presentation better? There is much hand wringing in our circles today about growth; a kind of Arminian angst fills our hearts when it comes to assessing how we’re doing in “sharing the gospel.”  If evangelism techniques are all the rage, then let us consider the winsome force of the Holy Liturgy and the Real Presence of Christ in the Supper.  When the conduct of the Holy Liturgy transcends the mundane of everyday life and the pallid commonness of Protestantism, when Sunday morning is an encounter with the divine, then those we seek to reach will say, “I’ve never witnessed anything like this before, I’ve truly entered the House of God.”  Unless we reconsider the Real Presence of the Incarnate Son of God in the Mass and see the Mass as the heart and life of the Church, I’m afraid that we will continue to morph into a general kind of Protestantism.  We have noted and eschewed our Pietist roots, or at least we think we have.  Could it be that we’ve taken more with us from the past into the present than we would care to admit?  Could it be that we are the way that we are, because we were the way that we were?   From the time of the Lutheranism’s betrayal by Philippism, to this day, the drift of the Lutheran Church has not been toward Rome, but to Geneva, with side trips to Herrnhut and Gettysburg.  The solution to our problem has been under our noses since the night our Lord was betrayed:  gospel, Mass, Real Presence, Jesus. 

 

What is the point of all this? This: The Mass is the heart and life of the Church, for Jesus is the Mass and He is the Church’s Breath and Life Blood. This is the reformation of the Church.  The reformation of our little bit of Holy Church will not come about by a top-down edict, but with a bottom-up reformation of Sunday morning.  The restoration of the Supper to the weekly life of the Church, and the appropriate ceremonia which support it, will not be accomplished by legalistic dictates, or appeals to historic Apostolic and Lutheran practice, or to matters pertaining to liturgical aesthetics, but rather to what the Lord Himself has said about His Supper and what He has said about His people.  When we see our great need, and the Savior’s great aid in preaching and the Supper, then the unfortunate discussions which have attended this issue will be moot.  There will be no more talk about our “glorious gospel freedom” to withhold the Supper, which is purest gospel, from our people.  Every Sunday there will be those in attendance who are “weak and heavy laden” (which is everyone) and who are in need of preaching and Jesus’ true Body and Blood.  These people do not schedule their guilt, woes, fears, and hopes for heaven to align with the off-and-on again schedule of “communion Sundays” and “non-communion Sundays.” As the old rule goes:  Where there are communicants, there is the Mass, there is the Supper, and there is the Heart and Life of the Church.  And there will be communicants if our preachers preach about the Blessed Supper and preach their people to the Supper.  Then the dream of Doctor Luther will come true for the people of God:  “…they would come on their own, rushing and running to it; they would compel themselves to come and would insist that you give them the sacrament.” 9    §

 

The Reverend Fr. Peter M. Berg is pastor of Our Savior Evangelical- Lutheran Church, Chicago.. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Lutheran Liturgical Renewal, Inc. which publishes The Bride of Christ: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgical Renewal. He has also contributed to the journals Gottesdienst and Logia. At the time of the writing of this essay he was rostered Wisconsin Synod

_________________________________________________________

 

1 Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology Philadelphia: General Council Publication Board, 1871, p. 655.

2 This nuance is lost in the treatment of the Sanctus in the “Service of Word and Sacrament” (Christian Worship, p. 34) where the Benedictus has been replaced with the work of the communicants.  This, together with the loss of the Gloria in Excelsis and the misplacement of the Kyrie and the Lord’s Prayer, lessens the appeal of this liturgy.

3 Large Catechism, V 68, The Book of Concord, Kolb-Wengert, Augsburg Press, 2000, p. 474.

4 Ibid, V.24, p. 469.

5 C.F.W. Walther, Gnadenjahr Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1890, pp. 209f; quoted in Marquart, “The Word As Life,” pp. 51-52.

6 Augsburg Confession XXIV.33, The Book of Concord, Kolb-Wengert, Augsburg Press, 2000, p. 71.

7 Coxe, Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries, p. 566.

8 We would be better served if we remained with Luther’s two-fold use of the law.

9 Small Catechism, Introduction, The Book of Concord, Kolb-Wengert, Augsburg Press, 2000, p. 351.

 

 

 

 

Editorial Comment on “The Mass is the Heart

and Life of the Church”

 

Peter M. Berg

 

 

 

Three years have passed since I was privileged to write the dedicatory article of the first issue of the Motley Magpie. The purpose of the article, “The Mass is the Heart and Life of the Church”, was to encourage Lutherans to rethink the long-standing post-Reformation era practice of infrequent celebrations of the Most Blessed Supper of our Lord. Today the trend among Lutherans the world over, even in the self-consciously low-church Wisconsin Synod, is toward an every-Sunday celebration of the Sacrament. However, one continues to hear horror stories of confessional pastors who are persecuted by their congregations (and even by neighboring pastors) because they have advocated a return to historic Lutheran and catholic practice. We have even heard of congregations which have adopted this practice only to rescind it later through the manipulation of the voters’ assembly. On the last day, what will these people say to the Lord who instituted this blessing for the well-being of his Church? When the Holy Supper and the people of God are sacrificed on the altar of “Who Controls the Church?”, then you begin to realize how awful the Lutheran church has become.

 

It is difficult to assess the progress of the return to historic Lutheran sacramental practice. Statistics are hard to come by. However, there is still much resistance. These holdouts will be viewed with embarrassment by their descendents in later generations, just as we feel shame about Lutheranism’s drift into Pietism in the 17th century. To date the hold-outs have yet to give us a scriptural, confessional, pastoral, or even a rational answer to their hold-out. They sputter and fume when asked questions like this: “Pastors and voters’ assemblies, what will you say to your Lord, who instituted this Supper and filled each chalice with his holy, precious blood, in defense of your practice of refusing to celebrate his Supper every Lord’s day? What part of “Do this” don’t you understand? Do you have no regard for that person with a heart heavy with sin and woe, who desires the Savior’s true body and blood, but is denied because it’s a ‘non-communion Sunday’?” Well, quite frankly, they have no answers, and they know it. And so, they must come up with an answer to defend their aberrant practice. However, before we get to their rationale we must first understand their arrogant pigheadedness.*

 

The thinking goes like this: “We in the Wisconsin Synod (fill in any other synodical name) teach the Word of God in its truth and purity, because ‘we keep its teachings pure, rah!’ Therefore, the synod cannot be wrong. Moreover, any challenge to its doctrine and practice is invalidated because ‘we keep its teachings pure, rah!’” Any cogent challenge to the doctrine and practice of the Wisconsin Synod means, in the minds of pinheads, that the synod might possibly be wrong, which, of course, can’t be. This prospect is frightening to these folks because their faith, in reality, is in the synod. That was another epiphany which the magpies received from on high. What an irony! The very people who bash Roman Catholics for blindly following church tradition, do the very same thing. In the efforts to reestablish the Sacrament to its proper place in one of the parishes which I served, I can’t tell you how many times the opponents demanded a synod rule. Ah, Lutheran canon law! Since we’re all spiritually lazy, and since we all want a Reader’s Digest version of doctrine, letting the synod do our thinking for us is the lazy man’s way of doing theology.  

 

The hold-outs are desperate for an answer to their stubborn stupidity. They’ve been made to feel uncomfortable about their stupidity before. As they taught their youth and adult catechumens about the glories of the Supper, they all had to answer the inevitable question: “If the Supper is all that you say it is, why don’t you celebrate it every Sunday?”  Their answers could hardly have been satisfying. In addition, outfits like the Motley Magpie have held their feet to the fire on this issue and many more. What is their answer to these honest questions? Well, they don’t answer the questions. Rather they assert their “glorious gospel freedom” to free themselves of the obligation to answer the questions. In WELS-wisdom exercising ones “glorious gospel freedom” means that if someone tells you to do something which you think you don’t have to do (never mind Jesus’ compelling, heart-moving invitation, “Do this”), and something which you believe to be an adiaphoron (which in the WELS includes just about everything), then you don’t have to. And that’s that. “I don’t have to! Jesus didn’t say how many times we HAD to celebrate communion. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! And you naughty magpies are bossing us around because somewhere in the article (which the protester didn’t read) you said that we had to celebrate this supper thing. And we thank you for saying this (which in reality the Magpie didn’t say) because that gives us an excuse to exercise our ‘glorious gospel freedom’ to deprive ourselves and our people of the Supper and not have to admit that maybe our previous practice was deficient. Whew! We found a way out of that one!”

 

If one tells enough lies and exaggerations, eventually someone will believe him. However, people of integrity, who have read our articles, will vouch for the fact that we didn’t approach the matter of the celebration of the Supper in terms of the law. Of course, we don’t have to celebrate the Supper in the manner of the church catholic and as described in our confessions. No, we get to. We weary sheep are graced to go to the table prepared for us in the face of our enemies. Yes, we get to! We get to feed upon our Lord! All God’s people get to! They get to every Lord’s Day, even if some others feel that they don’t need to, the weak and heavy-laden get to! Of course, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes they get to, in some places, but not everywhere. Some don’t get to. They don’t get to for the lousy reasons stated above. And so, we magpies have changed our conciliatory tone. We have witnessed to the holdouts, even the Wisconsin Synod’s commission on worship has witnessed to the holdouts, and they remain holdouts. Now we say to them, “You are bad pastors. You have failed your people, even though most of them think you’re great guys. And why? Because you are cowards. Because you’re afraid of the people in your parishes who might complain. Because you like things to go smoothly. You hate bearing the holy cross. Besides, maybe you’ll have to admit that a cheeky little journal, which you didn’t read but roundly criticized, got it right, which means swallowing your pride. Perhaps you’ll have to admit that the Wisconsin Synod hasn’t cornered the market on ‘truth and purity’. Shame on you.”

 

One last appeal to those unmoved by the droppings of this feathered rag: Read Luther’s introduction to the Catechism and then look in the mirror. 

 

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

*In the tirade to follow I do not include those pastors who sincerely desire to institute an every-Sunday celebration of the Eucharist and are moving their parishes in that direction. My comments are directed against those who stubbornly refuse to consider the matter.

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

 

 

 

 

Here are a couple letters this article generated and our responses. (The replies to these multi-question letters will be interspersed in the text of the letter, ed.)

 

Reverend Joel T. Luetke writes,

 

I received Vol 1:1 yesterday of The Motley Magpie.  My first thought was: “Theological Journals – don’t try this at home.” 

 

8MM Now you tell us.

 

Rev. Luetke You welcomed comments, criticisms and questions. Thus the following regarding your lead article [“The Mass is the Heart and Life of the Church”]. How do you know that the Son of God was conceived in (sic) moment the Virgin Mary heard the annunciation?  

 

8MM How else is it going to happen? The Spirit is never apart from the Word. Dr. Luther says of the angel’s greeting, which was the Word, “With these words Christ comes not only into her heart, but also into her womb, as she hears, grasps, and believes it. No one can say otherwise, than that the power comes through the Word.” Over the years, I’ve learned that when Luther seems “a bit out there,” I just wait several years and usually find that he’s right. The good doctor goes on to liken the angel’s words to the words of consecration and says, “so it is in the sacrament also. For as soon as Christ says, ‘This is my body,’ his body is present through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Word is not there, it is mere bread; but as soon as the words are added, they bring with them that of which they speak” (AE 36.341). I’ve thought for some time now that, given Luther’s sacramental piety, he probably wouldn’t pass a colloquy into the WELS if he were alive today.

 

Rev. Luetlke How is it that “preaching without the Supper can lead to pedantic moralism”?

 

8MM The opinio legis resides also in the regenerate; even regenerate preachers. None of us is above moralizing. I know because I’ve looked at my sermons and attended too many conferences where the preacher failed to avoid this trap. If the goal of preaching is Christ, his Gospel, his feast, then one will preach to the Supper and to the forgiveness of sins, thus avoiding moralism.

 

Rev. Luetlke If we cannot preach the gospel without the Supper, then we’d better offer it at each Bible Class, hospital visit and counseling session. 

 

8MM That would be nice. More often than not my hospital calls and counseling sessions end in giving the Supper and/or hearing confession and giving absolution. There’s no better care for the soul. By the way, where do I ever say “we cannot preach the gospel without the Supper”?

 

Rev. Luetlke You use the word mass without defining it. How do you define “Mass”? This is a term we are not familiar with. I am somewhat familiar with “Die deutsche Messe” which I believe refers to a public worship service. By “mass” do you mean merely public worship? Somewhere in the past I was taught that “mass’ was short for “missa est” and refers to the Roman idea of the sacrifice of the mass “being sent” to God as an atonement for sins. Where does the word “mass’ come from? 

 

8MM You’re not familiar with the word?! Please see AC XXIV.1, AP XXIV.1. The Mass is the Sunday Hauptgottesdienst, – preaching and the Sacrament, held in the framework of the western rite and appropriate ceremonia.  The word mass is thought to come from the dismissal formula, “Ite missa est,” but not in the manner you suggested. In the minds of some, the sacrificial nature of the Roman Mass (its chief problem) has tainted the word mass. However, the Swedes and Norwegians have always retained it. It is a word worth reclamation. For one thing, its use flushes out the Zwinglians.

 

Rev. Luetlke You say, “If you don’t have the Supper, you can’t attend the Feast, for the Body and Blood of our Lord are the Feast. He is host and meal” and “Whatever role we give John 6 in the discussion of the Eucharist, it still remains true…” How do you understand John 6:53? If you believe that Jesus is speaking exclusively about the Supper in this verse, as you seem to be allowing if not asserting, then I assume you practice paedo communion.

 

8MM You missed the point of the John 6 reference. As Dr. Luther says in the LC, “the body of Christ can never be an unfruitful, vain thing.” The question which you raised in regard to John 6:53 might be grist for a future article. Please note, however, that the opinion of Chemnitz, that John 6 doesn’t relate to the Supper, is not a slam-dunk. Both the ancient church fathers and also the Lutheran divines are divided on the question. Since you probably realize that I don’t practice paedo communion, why did you ask the question? Read the section again. “No Supper, no holy flesh and blood to eat and to drink.” In other words, if you don’t celebrate Holy Communion on Sunday, your people can’t go to Communion. It’s as simple as that.

 

Rev. Luetlke If you are not practicing paedo communion, how do the non-communing baptized whom you serve “attend the Feast”? 

 

8MM They don’t. But as soon as they can examine themselves they do. But how soon is that, and what does it mean to examine oneself? Aye, there’s the rub!

 

Rev. Luetlke How do you keep them from being crushed by the Law and remaining so without the Supper? (p 4)

 

8MM Uh, preach the Gospel? Not let the law predominate?

 

Rev. Luetlke

 You say, “The Real Presence carries the freight. It is the Gospel. It is the manner in which the Savior comes and comes to His own.” What do you do with Romans 10:8?  Paul’s quotation of Deut. 30:14 tells me that Jesus is present not only in the Supper but also in His bare word.  He Himself also tells me this in Matt. 18:20.

 

8MM Where do we deny that the Savior comes through preaching? Read the article and the sermons again! The point is this: The Savior became incarnate. This is how he comes to mankind – in flesh and blood. This is how he comes to us, in the Supper. Yes, spiritually, but also with the same incarnate flesh and blood. This is what is unique about the Supper. For too many Lutherans the Means of Grace are almost identical interchangeable parts, when they are not. This mindset might well account for the lack of desire to restore the Supper to its place in the service and to reestablish private confession and absolution as a part of the piety of our people. In this mindset, the Supper is at best a redundancy with the command of Jesus, and not also its own intrinsic uniqueness, being the chief reason to have it at all.

 

Rev. Luetlke How can the Supper be the “safety net which catches” those who missed the gospel in the sermon? Won’t it then simply be “mindless mysticism” at work?

 

8MM Was it getting late when you reached this part of your e-mail? We preachers must all confess that we have, on occasion, failed to comfort our people; and our people sometimes fail to hear the comfort that is contained in our sermons. For those whose consciences are still troubled the Supper brings relief; that is, if our people have been properly catechized about the Supper. The very minimum reading assignment for a catechist would be volumes 36-38 of the American Edition of Luther’s Works, Sasse’s This Is My Body, and the pertinent sections in the confessions, especially FC VII.

 

Rev. Luetlke You say, “Still, the Savior suffered just as much for our righteousnesses as He did for our sins.” I assume you are referring to Isaiah 64:6. Is this sentence tautological? 

 

8MM Yes, and purposely so, because the flesh doesn’t see it this way, and the Christian needs to hear this time and again.

 

Rev. Luetlke You say, “When the sacred Body and Blood are not on the altar and in the minister’s hands…” Are you “fixing the moment”?

 

8MM No. I don’t know when. It could happen during the misplaced Lord’s Prayer (CW p 20). “When?” is not the issue, but rather “What?” After the Verba are spoken I’m certain that Christ’s body and blood are there. It seems that this certainty in WELS circles has something to do with breaking the plane of the communicant’s lips (or is it the teeth?)

 

Rev. Luetlke What do you have in mind when you say, “When Christ is upon the Lord’s table “which incidentally assures that bread will be on our tables at home, then the entire atmosphere is changed”? 

 

8MM “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

 

Dear brother, if you were called to a parish at which the Supper was celebrated every Sunday, but there was no sermon, wouldn’t you gently lead the people to the riches of evangelical preaching? The Supper without preaching is an anomaly. We’ll let you draw the obvious conclusion.

 

Rev. Luetlke Thank you for your reply. 

 

8MM No problem. (PMB)

 

 

The Reverend Professor Thomas Nass writes,

 

The statements in MM seem extreme to me and beyond what is typical in Lutheran circles when it is said that the Lord's Supper is higher or more important than the sermon. I'm wondering what you would say about the statement in Apology XV:42 - "But the chief service of God is to teach the Gospel." This statement is in a paragraph talking about preaching in the worship service.

 

 

 

8MM  In the citation from the Apology, Melanchthon is making the point that in the Roman mass of his day there was either no preaching or poor, even heretical, preaching. In contrast, the Lutheran mass included preaching on a variety of subjects, but specifically the preaching of the Gospel. There will be the preaching of the Gospel in the sermon, but also preaching toward the Gospel in the Supper. They are not two different gospels, but there is a linear progression in the mass. As our earthly sojourn is toward heaven, culminating in the Feast of the Lamb, so the mass is a sojourn, ending in heaven on earth, with the saints on earth and those in heaven joining in the same song, "Holy, holy, holy," and in the same feast. The sermon must deal with temporal things, things that are passing away, in addition to eternal things; the Supper is eternity and time, heaven and earth intersecting at the same moment. Luther gives another reason for this linear movement. He writes (AE 38:348f) "Therefore we too are preaching the death of Christ according to the words: 'Do this in remembrance of me.' However, a distinction has to be made here. When I preach his death, it is in a public sermon in the congregation, in which I am addressing myself to no one individually; whoever grasps it, grasps it. But when I distribute the sacrament, I designate it for the individual who is receiving it; I give him Christ's body and blood that he may have forgiveness of sins, obtained through his death and preached in the congregation. This is something more than the congregational sermon; for although the same thing is present in the sermon as in the sacrament, here there is the advantage that it is directed at definite individuals. In the sermon one does not point out or portray a particular person, but in the sacrament it is given to you and to me in particular, so that the sermon comes to be our own. For when I say: 'This is the body, which is given for you, this is the blood which is poured for you for the forgiveness of sin,' I am there commemorating him; I proclaim and announce his death. Only it is not done publicly in the congregation but is directed at you alone."  Nothing individualizes the Gospel like the Supper, or as Luther says, in the Supper the sermon becomes my own. In the sermon we say to all, "Christ died for all; He died for you." In the Supper we say to each person, "And that means YOU!"

 

 

 

There is another feature, which makes the Supper unique. There is no salvation apart from the Incarnation. No human- divine Jesus, no salvation! In the sermon we hear Jesus' wonderful words of salvation. In the Supper we hear the same words, but we also receive bodily the very divine body and blood which won our salvation. Ours is not the theology of the Gnostics, in which man becomes a dismembered spook, nor that of the iconoclast Muslim which cannot image the Real Presence, not to mention a virgin birth, nor even the spiritualizing of the Protestants for whom bread is bread and nothing more, because one must fly up to heaven with his thoughts to apprehend Christ. The Supper is the spiritual /physical consummation of the Church and its divine/human Lord. Ours is an incarnational/sacramental/liturgical theology, and the best kind of preaching is incarnational/sacramental/liturgical.

 

 

 

You mentioned that our view of the importance of the Supper seems "extreme" to you and not "typical in Lutheran circles." It all depends on the circle you're in. In a pietistic, left-leaning synod like the Wisconsin Synod, such views might seem extreme. However, with Jesus' "Do this" in mind, read again what we have written and what Luther has said about the Supper in volumes 36-38 in the American Edition. Note also that it was Wilhelm Loehe, no slouch when it came to confessionalism, who described the service as having two towering peaks, the sermon and the Supper, with the latter a bit higher than the former (for the reasons we have noted). I'd say that's a pretty good circle to be in. By the way, please prove your contention that we maintain that the Supper is more important than the sermon.

 

Professor Nass further asks

Your use of the word "mass" is surprising to me. Certainly the word is used approvingly in ACXXIV and AP XXIV - "In short, the Mass itself and anything that proceed from it, and anything that is attached to it, we cannot tolerate, but must condemn, in order that we may retain the holy Sacrament pure and certain, according to the institution of Christ, employed and received through faith."   

 

How about Luther in 1534 (LW 38:227) - "I am not contending against the sacrament but against the mass, and would like to separate the sacrament from the mass so that the mass might perish and the sacrament alone, without the mass, might be preserved in its honor and according to the ordinance of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. May God grant to all devout Christians such hearts that when they hear the word 'mass,' they might be frightened and make the sign of the cross as though it were the devil's abomination; on the other hand, when they hear the word 'sacrament' or 'Lord's Supper,' they might dance for pure joy, indeed, in accordance with genuine spiritual joy, cry sweetly."

 

Daniel Preus in a recent LOGIA article (X:4, 16) argues that Luther after 1533 and the orthodox Lutheran theologians who followed him "do not use the term 'mass' to speak of the Lord's Supper." Preus argues that it would be ill advised for Lutherans to do so today for the same reasons. I wonder how you would respond.

 

8MM  As you have noted the word "mass' is a part of our confessional language, and therefore it is appropriate to use it. The word did not fall completely out of use. It has uninterrupted use in Scandinavia. Luther is not concerned about the use of the word but that everyone recognizes that the sacrificial aspects of the mass vitiate the Gospel and rob sinners of the comfort of the Supper. Luther's Formula missae, the Formula of the Mass, was an evangelical mass, having ousted the Canon of the Mass, which was the real problem. Yet, in spite of excising the Canon, the name "mass" was retained.

 

Often the best question to ask when dealing with a Luther quote is, "To whom is he speaking?" (Which is far more significant than the oft times bogus "early Luther, late Luther" distinction.) In speaking of the Enthusiasts (AE 40:147f) he notes that they would've forbidden the Lutherans images, churches, altars, the elevation, chasubles, and the use of the word "mass." If the first Lutheran confessors retained this word in the heat of the battle with the papists, then it might be a very good idea to reintroduce its use as we contend with the Evangelical world, which is all around us. And while we're at it, let's add the elevation, chasubles and the like. Especially in Lutheran circles its use has a way of flushing out the Crypto-Calvinists. I'm reminded of the words of C.F.W. Walther on the subject, "Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?" Since you are contending for not using the word "mass" based on the Luther quote, which you cited, we hope that you will be equally diligent in your efforts to reintroduce the practice of making the sign of the cross, which he also mentions, or perhaps the elevation of the consecrated elements. This will further aid in flushing out the Crypto-Calvinists.  (PMB)