Recently Paul McCain, an executive at Concordia Publishing House, published at his blog a compilation of Confessional and other Lutheran quotations on the Lord’s Supper. Such a thing is generally a useful and worthy resource, and I for one appreciate it. At the same time, I would take issue with a point or two raised there. You might wonder, how could I take issue with something that is merely a list of quotations from the Lutheran fathers? Good question. The answer is hidden in the subtle reality that even a seemingly objective thing as a list of quotations can be presented in a subjective or editorialized manner. The history of photographic journalism has proven to be a deceptively subjective medium, which can give different messages, based on such factors as lighting, angle, what is left out of the shot, and even the caption, or “copy.” Likewise, some of the same types of factors, as well as others, can influence the way in which quotations are employed. The above, to be sure, are general observations, not a critique of McCain’s catalogue of quotations in particular. Overall, his collection is a very good and straight forward epitome of the Lutheran position.
My critique has to do with just one small part of McCain’s catalogue, namely, the part under the heading of “Adoration of the Visible Element Repudiated.” The various headings in his compilation might be thought of as theses, and under that light the quotations under each heading might viewed as proof texts for the thesis, so that McCain would posit the thesis that the Lutheran Confessions repudiate the adoration of the visible element. This thesis is true enough. What is offered as proof for this thesis? We see three passages from the Formula of Concord, to wit:
(Quote 1) FC Ep VII.40 – “We reject and condemn … that the external visible elements of bread and wine in the holy sacrament should be adored.” Tappert, 486.
The first quotation above directly pertains to the thesis, and its import is that in the Sacrament it is not the bread as such that we worship, for it is the work of men’s hands, and is comprised of created elements.
The second quotation, reproduced above, has nothing at all to do with the thesis at hand. It is in fact a passage that is often misused as a word against adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of the Mass, or even against the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament per se, depending on various interpretations of the usus, or “use,” of the Sacrament. In fact, adoration, both in the heart and by means of the body, which Christians render to the Blessed Sacrament, is commendable, appropriate, even proper and praiseworthy, especially when we consider what the Sacrament is. It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The catechism tells us a couple of other facts, which are wrongfully cited by some as reasons against adoration of the Sacrament: 1. that Christ’s Body and Blood are under bread and wine, 2. and that this Sacrament is given to us to eat and drink. That Christ gives His Body in the Sacrament for us to eat in no way means that it is wrong for Christians to approach so noble a Sacrament with reverence, and to worship Him where they recognize Him. In doing so, we follow the example of the wise men from the East. And the fact that Christ’s Body is given under bread does not mean we need to worry about the prospect of adoring mere created things. I have learned that there are some (and I don’t bring it up to necessarily condemn them, or personally attack them) who seemingly out of a well intentioned desire to be precise will refer to what we eat in the Sacrament as the “bread/body,” and so forth. The danger is that one will be unable to bring himself to look at the consecrated bread in the priest’s hand and with Luther and all the saints say that it is the very body, the very flesh, of Christ.
Some people may recognize the presence of Christ’s true Body and Blood in the Sacrament, but will not worship Him in the Sacrament because of a subtle, and flawed, Christological way of thinking. Namely, Christ’s Body, that is, His humanity, much like bread, is a created thing, and therefore ought not be worshipped. Or at best it is worshipped by coincidence, by association, with a sort of hyperdoulia, or bond service. Martin Chemnitz brilliantly corrects this view in the twenty ninth chapter of his book, De Duabus Naturis in Christo. There he argues at length, in ways I don’t have space to reproduce here, that Christ is indeed properly adored in both His human and divine natures, and not as though He were adored twice, but with one adoration, for the natures in Christ are distinct yet inseparably united in one Person, and they share in a complete communication of attributes. He writes, for example:
“Christ’s human nature through the personal union and the exaltation or glorification has been raised above every name, so that He has all creatures in subjection under His feet as His dominion and realm. And since He has received all power in heaven and on earth, Christ therefore rules powerfully over all, but especially as the Head of the Church (Eph. 1), not only by the divine but also by His assumed nature, with the differences of the natures and the exaltation of the human nature unimpaired.”
In the course of this argument he provides valuable testimony from the ancients, such as the following, and as you ponder these, consider the Eucharistic implications:
“The prophet says that the earthly element which the Lord Jesus took on in His assumption of the flesh is to be worshipped, and thus by the figure of the footstool this earthly element is understood, and by this earthly element we understand the flesh of Christ which even today we adore in our service and which the apostles, as we have explained, adored in the Lord Jesus.” -Ambrose, De Spiritu Sancto, Bk 3, ch 11
“Do not think that in Christ there is only the humanity or only the deity. But believe faithfully in both and humbly worship both.” –Leo, Sermo 46 de Quadregesima
“Christ according to His human nature received this honor that every knee should bow before Him.” –Cyril, Dialogus VI
The third quotation provided by McCain (see above), actually supports the physical adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As Chemnitz writes: “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.”
To be sure, these reflections do not amount to an attack on any one person. I have merely used an unfortunate flaw in the manner in which McCain assembled his collection of quotations as a jumping off point for a consideration of the evangelical and catholic, ie., the Lutheran, understanding of the praiseworthy practice of worshipping and adoring our Lord Jesus Christ, truly and personally present in the Blessed and venerable Sacrament of the Altar. And I would leave the reader with just one more quotation from one of the great teachers of the Church. This is a prayer, by Saint Bonaventure, the great doctor of the thirteenth century, which I encourage you to use at Mass, in your worship of Christ present on the altar, after you have received Communion, or after the service before you leave the pew. I also suggest praying this on your knees.
“Pierce, O most sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love, with true, serene, and most holy apostolic charity, that my soul may ever languish and melt with love and longing for Thee, that it may yearn for Thee and faint for Thy courts, and long to be dissolved and to be with Thee.
Grant that my soul may hunger after Thee, the bread of angels, the refreshment of holy souls, our daily and supersubstantial bread, having all sweetness and savor and every delight of taste.
Let my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, upon whom the angels desire to look, and may my most inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Thy savor.
May it thirst after Thee, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the richness of the house of God.
May it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee, attain Thee, meditate upon Thee speak of Thee, and do all things to the praise and glory of Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, and with perseverance unto the end.
May Thou alone be ever my hope, my entire assurance, my riches, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my fragrance, my sweet savor, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession and my treasure, in whom may my mind and my heart be fixed and firm and rooted immovably hence forth and forever. Amen.”