The Local Nature Of Eucharistic Celebration
In our catechism we learn the true doctrine of the Eucharist, but nothing of true practice, and that is a short-coming. Because orthodox doctrine without catholic practice leaves God's people vulnerable to every trouble. In reality neither good doctrine nor good practice can exist apart from the other, but Lutherans have never understood that. As a result they have mastered the art of putting asunder what God has joined together.
Case in point: the proper venue of the Eucharist is the church. But please note that whenever St. Paul uses the word church he does not mean the membership list, or an ad hoc group of Christians come together. He has in mind, instead, the church at worship, with her clergy and laity glorifying the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one voice (Romans 15:6). Sometimes St. Paul speaks of the church of heaven and earth (for example: Ephesians 3:21). But most often of its local manifestation. This is the proper site of the Eucharist.
But before we can grasp the venue, we must first accept its nature. What it is. The Eucharist is Christian worship! It is liturgy, which is nothing else than the pure worship of the Father by the Spirit in the Truth that is the crucified Christ (John 4:24).
This is not "the work of the people" as Vatican II so famously proclaimed 50 years ago, poisoning Christian minds everywhere. But it is, instead, the work of the Great Liturgist himself, our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:2). But … liturgy and worship he graciously accomplishes in conjunction with and never apart from his Bride the Church. In the words of Eastern Orthodox theologian Heieronymous Monk: On the night in which he was handed over for our sins, our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated that first Divine Service. This is something the Lutheran mind has never comprehended, namely that Divine Service, Worship and Eucharist are one and the same thing. But unless we do, we will never comprehend the proper company in which the Blessed Sacrament is to be celebrated.
Holy Communion is not one of several components of Christian practice that can be plugged in here or there at the whim of a pastor or the vote of the congregation. It is Christian worship. It constitutes Christian worship. It is the New Testament in Christ's blood. It is the intimacy of the holy Bridegroom with his baptismally-cleansed Bride the Church. While in heaven it is accomplished without veils as we glimpse in the Revelation of St. John; here it is accomplished through veils and symbols, Through bread and wine, and by means of a man, the "bridegroom's friend" who stands as proxy for the Lord, by his command.
Said another way all married men are husbands and all married women, wives. But they are not interchangeable! Nor are pastors and flocks. Which is one answer to the question of why it is improper to celebrate the Eucharist in a circuit meeting, District convention, or LWML gathering. A Bride receives the mysteries from the hand of her own Groom, and not another. Celebrating the Mysteries in an amorphous or ad hoc gathering where neither the participants, nor their confession of faith is known to the celebrant(s), or to the other communicants is, at least, irresponsible pastoral practice; and hints of ecclesiastical orgy. Nor has any Husband the right to use his gifts apart from the Bride Christ has given to him to love.
As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "… each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband (1 Cor 7:2)." And again, "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband …(1 Cor 11:3)" Let us not make the mistake of interpreting these words as simply regarding the estate of matrimony, but Eucharistically first and foremost.
Here, and throughout his other sermons, St. Paul conceives of the Eucharist as a local affair where only those who are "greeted" may partake. This is the meaning of the extensive "greetings" in Romans 16. These are not ecclesiastical "how-do- you-do's" but rather apostolic endorsement. Of whom? Of people who, because of their known confirmation in the faith, are to be admitted to the table in the Roman church when they travel there (presumably on church business at St. Paul's bidding).
Said yet another way the Eucharist is not only "closed" but also "close," which means shared only among those who are known by the pastor and by one another. This is the dominant practice of the church from Pentecost through the fourth century. Granted, the public nature of the post-Constantinian church (313 a.d.) severely challenged her ability to hold the line. And thus things remained for sixteen centuries as the multitudes flocked to the church. But now, in post-Christian America, when churches are diminished in size, when they are again "close" communions let us return to our earliest roots.
Lastly, we should not ignore the Prayer Offices of the church. While it is improper for those who are not the church in the Pauline sense of the word to celebrate the Sacrament; it is good for fellow pastors to pray together. To glorify God in the Offices of Matins, Vespers, Compline, Evening Prayer etc. These are best for our pastoral gatherings, Higher Things conferences, and Synodical conventions. In our topic to be presented shortly, The Eucharistic Basis of Prayer, we will discuss that subject in greater detail, and there will be time for questions on this subject as well.
Glory be to Jesus Christ. Amen