Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Pastoral Rationale for Using the Common Cup

The following is a pastoral letter sent to the members of my congregation. I share it with our readers here in the hopes that you might find something useful in it.


Rorate Coeli, AD 2011

Dear members of Emmanuel,

As promised, I have put down in writing an expanded version of the things I shared with you on Sunday after the service regarding our introduction of the Common Cup on Christmas Day. I hope you find it edifying. (And I hope you’ll read all the way to the end. Take a break in between sections if you have to!)


“The cup” is a picture used throughout the Scriptures to symbolize what we receive from God, as we “drink” from his hand either blessing or wrath.
    Psalm 23:5 (NKJV) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

    Jeremiah 25:15 (ESV) Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. “

    Psalm 116:12–13 (ESV) What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.

    Matthew 20:22–23 (ESV) Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

    Mark 14:36 (ESV) And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave his own cup to his disciples, filled, not with wrath, but with blessing. What could be a more fitting symbol for Holy Communion! The one “cup of blessing” symbolizes the blessing we receive from God through the One Man, Jesus Christ. More than that, the one cup actually distributes to many individuals the real blood of the One Man, Jesus Christ, “shed for many for the remission of sins.” One Sacrifice for many sinners, one cup for many individuals.

Luther says this about the cup:
    In reference to this particular cup, then, Matthew and Mark may be understood as saying that each of the apostles had a cup before him on the table, or at least that there were more cups than one. But now, when Christ gives a new, special drink of his blood, he commands them all to drink out of this single cup. Thus, in proffering it and with a special gesture, Christ takes his own cup and lets them all drink of it, in distinction from all the other ordinary cups on the table, in order that they might better observe that it was a special drink in distinction from the other draughts which had been given them during the meal. The bread he could readily—indeed, he must—have so distributed that each received a piece for himself. But the wine he could not have distributed in this manner, but had to serve it in a cup for them all, indicating verbally that it was to be a drink in common for them all, not offered to and drunk by only one or two or three, as the other cups on the table were available to each as he wished. (AE:37:311)

The use of a Common Cup matches exactly the symbolism that Jesus chose to use on the night he was betrayed. With a Common Cup, we all literally receive from God’s hand (through his called servant) a single cup from which to drink, and in that cup is the blood of a single Man, literally distributed to many individuals.

The use of Individual Cups completely removes this symbolism and introduces its own faulty symbolism. Rather than each one receiving the blood of the One Man from the one cup, the wine is pre-separated into many tiny cups so that, by the time the wine is blessed (or “consecrated”) and the real presence of Christ’s blood comes to the wine, it is already divided into dozens of individual portions. Many cups for many individuals instead of one cup for many individuals; many neatly separated measurements of Christ’s blood instead of a single supply that flows to many.

This is not the symbolism Christ intended. He could have easily blessed all the wine that was already poured in the various cups that were already on the table on the night he was betrayed. But he didn’t. Instead, he blessed the one cup to be given to many. The Common Cup fulfills this symbolism beautifully.


But even more important than the symbol are the actual words of Christ and the real presence of Christ in this Supper. It is clear from all four Scripture accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper that Christ took a single cup, gave thanks over it and instructed all of his disciples to “drink from it.”
    Matthew 26:27-28 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

    Mark 14:23 Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

    Luke 22:20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

    1 Corinthians 11:25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

In Scripture, the Sacrament of the Altar is so closely tied to the use of “the cup” that the word “wine” is never even mentioned in connection with the Lord’s Supper (although, from the context, we are 100% certain that grape wine was the content of the cup). Here is another reference:
    1 Corinthians 11:26-28 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Now, there are three questions we must answer. First, does the real presence of Jesus’ blood in this Sacrament (and thus, the forgiveness of sins!) depend on the kind of vessel that is used? The answer is, no. When the Word of Christ is spoken over the bread and wine that says, “This is my body; This is my blood,” nothing in the world can make the Word of Christ invalid. All the wine on the altar is blessed with the Words of Institution, consecrated, set aside for sacred use. Christ’s blood is really present in, with and under the wine, no matter what vessel contains it.

As our Small Catechism says, “’Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”

Second, is it completely incompatible with Christ’s command to use Individual Cups? In other words, is it sinful? Are we bringing guilt on ourselves in the very Sacrament that is intended to erase guilt? Again, the answer is no. 1) Bread, 2) wine, 3) the Words of institution, 4) a called pastor who administers the body and blood of Christ, and 5) communicants who receive them – those are the essential elements in the Lord’s Supper which absolutely must be retained among Christians in order to celebrate the Sacrament according to Christ’s institution.

It’s important to view the Sacrament rightly. The Roman Catholic understanding of the Mass is that it is man’s sacrifice to God, man’s work done for God to merit the forgiveness of sins. But the Lutheran, Scriptural teaching of the Mass is that it is entirely God’s work done for us. We are on the receiving (the “drinking”) end, not the giving (the “pouring out”) end. Christ did not set up another Law in this Sacrament, as if, by our meticulous obedience, we earned his forgiveness, or as if, by our failure to observe the non-essential details of the institution, we incurred His wrath. “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). The only “service” we render to God in the Sacrament is the worship of faith – faith in his words that we are truly receiving his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. By faith in Christ, who did all things in the right way for us, we are rescued from the burden of having to do the right things in the right way in order to become righteous before God.

So it is neither a “good work of the Law” to use the Chalice, nor is it a “sinful work under the Law” to use Individual Cups. We are not rendering to God our service in the Sacrament. On the contrary, he is handing out the benefits of His service to us.

Finally we have to ask the question, is it fully consistent with Christ’s command to use Individual Cups? Are we following exactly the pattern that Christ set for us, the pattern that his Church has observed for almost 2000 years? Here we must frankly answer, no. “Drink from it, all of you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

While the vessel of distribution is not an essential part of the Sacrament, it is not an entirely insignificant part, either, because of Jesus’ words. His words are everything. They matter. He could have said, “This wine is the new covenant in my blood.” He could have said, “The wine in these cups is the new covenant in my blood.” But instead, he chose – in every single Scripture reference – to refer to “the cup” from which we are to drink.

We are not minimalists in the Lutheran Church. We don’t ask the question, “How little do we have to do to get by in following Christ’s words and institution in order to have a valid Sacrament?” Instead, we simply stay as close to his words as possible, and rejoice in the blessings we receive through them.

The use of a Common Cup matches exactly the practice that Jesus instituted on the night he was betrayed and follows his words to the letter. The use of Individual Cups, while not sinful, is still not fully consistent with the practice Christ instituted.


As you may remember from catechism/confirmation classes, there is both a vertical communion and a horizontal communion that take place in the Sacrament of the Altar – a communion of each individual with Christ, and a communion of all individuals with their fellow communicants.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (NKJV), “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”

This is also stated beautifully in our Lutheran Confessions:
    Consider this true, almighty Lord, our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, after the Last Supper. He is just beginning His bitter suffering and death for our sins. In those sad last moments, with great consideration and solemnity, He institutes this most venerable Sacrament. It was to be used until the end of the world with great reverence and obedience ‹humility›. It was to be an abiding memorial of His bitter suffering and death and all His benefits. It was a sealing ‹and confirmation› of the New Testament, a consolation of all distressed hearts, and a firm bond of unity for Christians with Christ, their Head, and with one another. (Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration: Art. VII, 44).

Our American culture emphasizes individualism and independence. But the Sacrament of the Altar does the opposite. It pulls us away from ourselves into a very real experience of unity and oneness, as all the individual believers come together to drink from the cup of Christ. Here no one is better or worse than another; no one is too good to drink from the same cup as his fellow believer, and no one is not good enough. All are one in Christ.

The Common Cup displays the striking reality of this oneness as we leave our individualism behind and, for a brief moment, come together around the cup of Christ. We return to our seats with an unavoidable realization of our oneness in the body of Christ. Our spiritual oneness is invisible, intangible. But that spiritual oneness is acted out visibly and tangibly when all drink from the one cup of Christ.

The same is really true of the bread. While the bread is cut into many wafers, all those wafers are gathered together in one place. They touch one another. There is no separation between them.

But the wine in the Individual Cups is kept completely separate from one cup to the next. One never touches the other. Individual Cups continue to foster the false notion that we are nothing more than a bunch of separate individuals coming forward to receive our own individual meal, and then go back to our seats just as separated from one another as before, perhaps even thankful that we didn’t have to drink from the same cup as our fellow members. This hardly fits the reality of what is going on in the Sacrament.

One of the founding fathers of the Lutheran Church, Martin Chemnitz, sharply criticized the 15th Century Roman Catholic theologians for giving in to this notion that Christians may not wish to drink from the same cup as their fellow Christians. One reason why the Council of Constance (1414-1418) chose to withhold the cup entirely from the laity was that “it might, as it were, become unappetizing for many to drink, when many others had drunk before.” Chemnitz responded, “It is evident, therefore, that the church has now become quite dainty, seeing that antiquity often reiterates that the sign and token of the church's unity is that one cup is offered for all, as Chrysostom says” (Examination of the Council of Trent, Vol. 2, p. 370).


The simple truth is that for nearly 1900 years of church history, Individual Cups were unknown. Only a Common Cup was used in the Christian Church – in every church and in every denomination that observed the Lord’s Supper. It’s not as if all those Christians were incapable of figuring out a way to individualize the distribution of Christ’s blood. And it’s not as if those Christians didn’t have to deal with issues of hygiene. They simply rejected the concept of “individualization.” Everyone in the church drank from the Chalice. They did it for a reason, because it was perfectly consistent with Christ’s words and with their belief and confession regarding the Sacrament. Why would they ever do anything else?

The answer is that in the late 1800’s, some Reformed churches began introducing Individual Cups. The Reformed churches rejected (and still reject) the real presence of the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, so for them, there is no real communion taking place; only a symbolic meal of remembrance. They believe Jesus meant to say, “This represents my body; this represents my blood.” They deny the very essence of the Sacrament by denying the presence of the body and blood of Christ in, with and under the bread and wine. In effect, they have no Sacrament!

So since the Reformed already empty Jesus’ words of their literal meaning in the Sacrament, they do not mind changing other aspects of its institution, including the substituting of grape juice for the wine, since alcohol can be abused.

The use of grape juice was common among the Reformed by the late 1800’s, and some began to fear that, without the alcohol content, there might be more of a chance of germs being passed from person to person, so they introduced Individual Cups, and the practice caught on as a matter of concern over hygiene. This change was perfectly consistent with their Reformed theology, because, since the body and blood of Christ are not present, there is no real communion taking place, neither between believers and Christ, nor between believers and one another.

By the mid 1900’s, Lutheran churches, influenced by the concerns over hygiene and spurred on by American pragmatism, were slowly beginning to adopt the practice of using Individual Cups, so that, by the late 1980’s, most Lutheran churches were at least using Individual Cups as an option alongside the Common Cup. In these cases, the Lutheran churches took a minimalist approach to Holy Communion, and allowed the Reformed practice to influence their own. The problem is, practice carries theology along with it!

In all honesty, the past 50 to 60 years have largely been an era of “experimentation” for Lutherans in the United States, an era in which the historic practices of the Church have been downplayed, criticized, and, in many cases, abandoned in favor of “trying something new,” either to “blend in better with the culture” or to be more “pragmatic,” or simply out of boredom with traditions they never understood. This infatuation with innovation has affected Communion practices, worship practices, and evangelism practices, to the point that even our very theological underpinnings are jeopardized. More often than not, the wisdom of our elders has proven to be wiser than our presumptuous innovations. We shouldn’t have been so quick to assume that we were wiser than the Church that has gone before us.

Is hygiene really something we should be concerned about in using the Common Cup? 1900 years worth of Christians say, “No, fellow saints of God! Don’t be so dainty!”

Modern scientific studies also say, “No!” These studies have shown that the alcohol content of the wine combined with the precious metal of the Common Cup (gold plating, in our case) combined with the wiping of the cup after each person drinks from it make it nearly impossible to transmit diseases this way. The same studies have shown no rise in sickness among church members who use the Common Cup as opposed to those who use Individual Cups. Everyone gets sick, but the Common Cup isn’t to blame.

And most importantly of all, the Lord Jesus says, “No, you don’t have to be afraid that I will hurt you.” We believe that it is more than bread and wine that we are receiving in the Sacrament. We are receiving Jesus himself. Jesus gave “the cup” to his beloved Church, his Bride, not to harm her but to heal her. The only ones harmed by receiving the Sacrament are those who eat and drink in an “unworthy manner,” that is, without faith in Jesus’ words. Do we really believe that the same Lord who said, “Drink from it, all of you,” is incapable of preserving us from physical harm when we follow his words? Let us have faith in Jesus!


There is one more reason why we will be introducing the Common Cup, and it has to do with our public confession. As we have seen, the Reformed churches use Individual Cups for a reason. They deny the presence of the blood of Christ and the efficacy of the words of Christ. We do not agree with them. On the contrary, “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper. They reject those who teach otherwise” (Augsburg Confession: Article X).

Since we reject the Reformed teaching regarding the Sacrament and since we believe the opposite of what the Reformed believe about this Sacrament, then it hardly makes sense for us to imitate their practice, as if we, like them, confessed the absence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament.

And since we confess that it is the true blood of Jesus that is present in this Sacrament, do we learn reverence for our King and confess the presence of the King better with a goblet of gold or with disposable plastic cups? Our public confession both announces to the world what we believe and reinforces among ourselves what we believe. If we wish to line up our practice with our confession, then it is clear that a Common Cup is the better choice.

I will confess to you, as your pastor, that I have not always seen the issue this clearly. I grew up seeing the Common Cup and Individual Cups side by side, and thought little of it. The practice of using Individual Cups has become so accepted in our church body that even our seminary treats it as a non-issue. It is only after further studying the Scriptures and the Lutheran fathers myself that I have come to see the great benefit of the Chalice, and also the inherent detriment of the Individual Cups.

But as your pastor, my concern is also for those who may be struggling to digest all of this. After all, our congregation has been using Individual Cups ever since it was founded in the 1980’s, and some of our members had never even heard about the history of the Chalice in the Lutheran Church until recently. Additionally, some may be struggling to overcome their fear of germs, and many years of using Individual Cups has only reinforced their fears, unfounded as they may be.

So, as we have discussed on several occasions, both the Common Cup and the Individual Cups will be offered together at our church at our regular Sunday Divine Service, and we must not look down on one another for our choices in this matter. If the day should come that the congregation decides to stop using Individual Cups, so be it. As for me, I make no command. But I do strongly encourage all of our members to leave behind the Individual Cups and embrace the Common Cup, for all the reasons given above. I fault no one for using the Individual Cups, and I rejoice to administer the precious blood of the Lord to you no matter what vessel is used. I do hope that you find the rationale offered here to be a compelling reason to choose the Chalice as that vessel.

Your servant in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Rydecki


Anonymous said...

Well said, Pastor Rydecki! I appreciate your choice of clip art and photos. They ably illustrate what the Sacrament conveys.

- Rev. James Schulz

RevGuy said...

Many good thoughts here.

I wonder, though, if a congregation offering both common and individual cups doesn't partially negate the symbolic value of the common cup alone. It creates a division of choice between the communicants. When only individual cups are offered, I doubt many would be distracted by the kinds of thoughts that some will inevitably have when they have to choose between cups and witness their fellow saints making a different choice right next to them.

My preference is still for the common cup for many of the reasons given in this article, but I'd rather the congregation choose one kind or the other unanimously.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


I know exactly what you're saying. Truthfully, it's that very concern that has kept me from suggesting the Common Cup here until now. I like that we have been all doing the same thing. I hate it when worship becomes about "preference." Preference alone is a terrible reason to do anything in the Divine Service.

In fact, mere preference wouldn't even be a good enough reason to change our practice now. If it were "six one, half a dozen the other" between the IC's and Common Cup, I'd say, just stick with the IC's. No reason to introduce something that isn't better than what we already have.

But finally, I've come to the conclusion that the CC is a better confession and a better following of the words of Christ and the pattern of the Church. Not that *we* are better Christians for using it, but that the practice itself is better, more accurate, more meaning-full (using that word objectively, not subjectively).

After much wrestling with it, I've concluded that the pro's outweigh the con of adding an element of dissimilarity to our practice.

I had for awhile discussed with some the possibility of doing away with the IC's so that we could just have the one manner of distribution, but after talking with many people both locally and beyond, I decided that doing so would create more of an obstacle for some than was prudent, especially since our congregation has used the IC's since its founding. It is still my hope that the congregation on its own decides at some point to move to the CC only, but I don't want that to happen by pastoral fiat. I will still continue to teach and encourage the CC.

One option we considered was having the IC's one Sunday, CC the next. In the end, we opted for both together. I welcome the input and wisdom of anyone who wants to weigh in.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I appreciate your comments, but...I think we have a problem in the fact that we are using individual pieces of bread, rather than a common loaf, an image/symbol every bit as Biblical and significant as the common cup.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Paul, I agree to a point. But a couple of differences stand out for me.

First, I've seen loaves sold that can be broken into pieces. But the biggest I've seen breaks into 69 pieces. If you have more communicants than that, you have to have at least two loaves anyway. Of course, I suppose some congregations may have to have a couple of cups, too, so maybe it's a moot point. The more "in common," the better I think.

Second, maybe someone can answer this better than I. Does a common loaf have the witness of usage in the Church like the Cup has?

Third, I don't know of any other symbolism in Scripture of a "loaf" being used, as the cup is.

And fourth, I don't believe the Scriptures refer quite as specifically to "the loaf" like they do the "the cup" in the Sacrament. In Greek, "bread" and "loaf" are the same word. I believe the ESV also translates, "We all partake of the one bread."

But I do think it might be worth looking into something better than a tube of pre-fab wafers. One thing at a time.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

St. Paul refers to "the bread we break" and thus clearly there is a loaf of bread, "broken", etc. And Luther, following Augustine, talk a great deal of the loaf. I just think that arguments for the cup, such as you are making, are kind of ex post facto defenses of the cup, and are not congruent with the equally powerful image of the loaf.

I simply do not feel this a hill worth dying on. How the blood of Christ is distributed is purely adiaphora, and if people believe, teach and confess that it is the blood of Christ, that is sufficient.

I'm frankly much more concerned by slopping practices that deny what we are confessing, and frankly, I've seen none worse than the WELS Q/A in which it was asked what should be done when new bread and wine are brought into a communion service, the WELS Q/A simply said that it is probably a good idea to consecrate them.

There's where the crisis in the Supper is to be found, in that kind of cavalier thinking. I think once we sort out these larger issues, then *maybe* we can talk about common v. individual cup.

So, again, while I appreciate your efforts and intentions, I really think that it is not consistent with individual "breads."

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I do like your comment "the more in common the better" ... much to ponder there.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Not a hill worth dying on? I completely agree. An issue worth addressing? I think so, especially because of the way the Individual Cup is so closely tied to a denial of the body and blood of Christ by the Reformed. Someone may argue that the Cup is tied to Roman Catholicism, but the fact is, the Lutheran doctrine on what's in the cup is a lot closer to the Catholics than it is to the Reformed.

As for the WELS Q/A, who can argue with what you said? There is a rather widespread laxity regarding Sacramental teaching and practice in the WELS. I do think this needs addressing as a top priority. I am not in favor of *over* dogmatizing the Sacrament, as in, pinpointing a "moment of Presence." But I'm afraid we are often guilty of *under* dogmatizing it, too, referring to a form of Receptionism that lurks around and ignores what our Confessions clearly state about the Consecration.

To be sure, before I would make a case for the Common Cup, I would also make a much stronger case for every Sunday Communion. Better every Sunday Communion with IC's than less often with the CC.

But since my congregation adopted weekly Communion (almost three years ago now), I figured it was time to continue the discussion with the Cup.

So I hope all who read this do take the above issues (Consecration and Weekly Communion) as bigger priorities than the vessel for Communion.

Anonymous said...

First, thank you for the thought provoking post. Unfortunately, I am busy with Christmas preparations and not likely to have much time to follow discussion. However, I am glad the point of the bread has been brought up.

I have often wondered why individual wafers have gotten a free pass while common cup is heavily debated. While imagery of the cup seems to be far more prevalent in Scripture, the passage you quote (1 Cor. 10:16-17) seems to use the same imagery of oneness referring to the wine and bread. In attempting to match the original institution, using a tube of paper thin wafers seems to be more of a difference than the vessel the wine is in.

While on the discussion of communion practice, I also have a couple questions. While I don’t know the history of continuous distribution, it seems like this would be more a display of unity than going as groups of 8-12. Aside from use at Worship Convention, I have never seen this used (having been to 50+ WELS/ELS churches). Is there a reason continuous distribution seems to never be used at our congregations? I don’t mean to bring up a point of endless debate, but what of the use of grape juice or nonalcoholic wine for those under strict doctor’s orders to have no alcohol due to medication use?

Also, based on previous discussion of what to do with common cups after they have been used, I wanted to share something new I saw at the church I was at this past Sunday. Glass individual cups were used. A second pass was made with the individual cup tray to put the glass cup back in as the pastor finished giving the common cup.

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year,
Jerome Francis

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Thanks, Paul, the most well put and sensible, pastoral discussion of this issue I've seen. In our circles I've read pastors actually questioning the Real Presence, unless it is a common cup and other such nonsense like that.

Blessed Christmas to you!

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Paul, thanks for your comments, and a blessed Christmas to you and yours as well!


Good questions. I agree that it would be worth considering how we might break bread together as an improvement over the individual wafers.

I do believe there is some history behind Lutherans NOT breaking the bread during the Service of the Sacrament, and it has to do with the Reformed insistence (in some places in Germany, I believe) on breaking the bread as the more important action in the Sacrament, since it was the symbol of the body of Christ being "broken," although the Scriptures themselves never actually make that connection. Since the Reformed insisted on the symbolic action, Lutherans stopped doing it. That's my understanding of some of the history, but if someone is better informed on this, I will let them explain further or correct me. I don't believe the history involved would preclude a breaking of the bread in our place and time, but there are historical reasons that we should at least be aware of.

The same is true regarding continuous distribution. One very important observance among Lutherans in many places has been kneeling to receive the Sacrament. Again, it was, at times, a confession against the Reformed, since Lutherans actually believe the Lord is present in the bread and wine, and therefore found kneeling to be both a show of due reverence and an important means of confessing their faith.

I'm not sure I agree that continuous distribution is more "uniting" than several tables of communicants. It's true that not everyone communes together when tables of communicants are used. But to me, it almost seems like no one is communing together with anyone else at continuous distribution. I'm not saying it's a bad idea. But there are pro's and con's to each.

I do not believe that grape juice is a valid element for use in the Lord's Supper. Period. "Fruit of the vine" was not a reference to grape juice, but to grape wine. So for members who may have a medical sensitivity to alcohol, I recommend a touch of the lips to the wine (easier with Common Cup) or intinction (dipping the bread into the wine) rather than substitute a foreign element into the Sacrament. Again, it's about sticking to Christ's institution.

And glass individual cups are a fine choice where individual cups will be used. I know many who use them. Yes, it requires more labor to clean them, but who could argue that it isn't labor well spent?

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Paul, where did you get the first painting in your post? I've seen several in this same genre, but this is one of the best.

I'm referring to this picture:

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Paul, I got it from my friend, Rev. Johann Caauwe, and I believe he must have gotten it from someplace like this:


Anonymous said...

Paul McCain said..."but this is one of the best."

I agree. Notice how the blood flows from Christ's side into both the font and the cup. A reference to 1 John 5:6-8? St. John Chrysostom made a Pauline-like First Adam/Second Adam comparison based on these verses, namely that just as God gave Eve life from Adam's side, so the life of the Church - water and blood/Baptism and Eucharist - flows to the Bride of Christ from the side of Christ.

“There flowed from his side water and blood”. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.


- Rev. James Schulz

David Jay Webber said...

One difference between the use of individual hosts (rather than the original use of one loaf), as compared to the use of individual cups (rather than the original use of one cup), is in the reason and motivation for the change in each case. The church went from one loaf to individual hosts a long time ago, because of concern that lots of crumbs falling to the table or floor during the breaking of the loaf was disrespectful toward the body of Christ. But it was not a desire to show greater reverence for the blood of Christ that motivated the switch to individual cups.

A case can easily be made that it is less respectful, especially when we consider the way in which used disposable cups - with remnants of consecrated wine in each of them - are summarily thrown in the trash after a Communion service in uncountable Lutheran churches. To be sure, the actual reason for the switch was not a desire to show less respect to the blood of Christ. The reason was to avoid germs from other people. But a consequence of the switch from the common cup to individual cups does often seem to be a less reverent treatment of the consecrated wine.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

The problem as I see it is that we have, literally, generations of Lutherans who have used individual cups, reverently and with trust and faith in Christ's word of promise, believing the Real Presence, and so to try to tell them that somehow the individual cup is wrong, inappropriate or otherwise not "as good as" the common cup, is basically making them feel as if somehow they have not been receiving the Blessed Sacrament worthily. And here is where the real problem lies.

Anonymous said...

How do you convince the pastor that it really is inappropriate to use the baptismal font as a used individual communion cup receptacle, something I once was forced (because of lack of other options) to participate in? Or is it appropriate?

- Rev. James Schulz

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I think the last two comments are closely related. Let's say that two or three generations of Lutheran laity had gotten used to tossing used IC's into the baptismal font, mainly because their pastors were too careless to notice (and so teach) how inappropriate and irreverent this practice was and how it skewed the congregation's understanding and confession of both Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Later, the pastor there (or perhaps a new pastor) puts some thought into what has been taught in that congregation by means of this practice, and he realizes how out of sync it is with the rest of Lutheran history and with our confession about baptism and the Lord's Supper.

He has two choices. Pretend it doesn't matter at all and allow it to continue, or be honest with the congregation about the poor practice they have been taught over the years and teach them something better. It won't be the first time they (and their pastor) have fallen short of the glory of God, nor will it be the last - for any of us.

The only way to overcome feelings of guilt and fear over poor practice in the past is by teaching the Sacrament accurately in the first place as the consolation of souls it is meant to be. Did you sin today? Have you been a rotten sinner all your life? Then come to the Sacrament today and have it all wiped away - again. Actual sin or perceived sin, real guilt or perceived guilt, sinful laxity or inadvertent poor practice - lump it all together (along with all your best works, too!) in your confession of sins, "I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved your temporal and eternal punishment..." The Sacrament will clean away a whole lifetime's worth of sin and weakness in an instant.

Any change in a congregation's worship, even entirely positive and necessary ones, brings with it the implication that "things weren't quite right before."

But this need not be a condemnation under the law of everything that went before. Admitting that some practices more accurately reflect our confession than others does not change previous generations into impenitent sinners, nor does it imply that they were "bad" Christians while we are the "good" Christians.

All we can do, in our time and place, is stay as close as we can to the words of Christ and the practice of the Church catholic that is in line with the words of Christ. To bind ourselves to poor practice out of fear seems inconsistent with the peace of the Gospel.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Paul, I've not ever been in a congregation, or known of a congregation, that tosses ICs into a baptismal font. I have no idea what you are talking about here.

The point is that using individual cups is not, in any way, contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

That's the bottom line.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I'm glad you haven't seen the font used as a waste basket, Paul. I wish it were fictional, but sadly, it is not.

You're right that IC's are not contrary to Scripture and the Confessions. I made the case above that they are not entirely consistent with the pattern set forth in Scripture, either.

But since Jim brought it up, one would also have to say that tossing the used cups into the baptismal font is not contrary to Scripture or the Confessions.

Is it, however, consistent with what the Scriptures teach about Baptism, Communion, and reverence for God? Does it confess something untrue about the Sacraments? Or does it not matter at all?

Anonymous said...

I agree with what both Revv. McCain and Rydecki have just said. What concerns me is the "spirit" or even the theology that influences and encourages these lax practices in the Lutheran Church. Perhaps we need more emphasis on "not everything is beneficial" than we do "everything is permissible" (1 Cor. 10:23).

We also need to breathe in more deeply the spirit of the Book of Concord, sections such as: "Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference." (Formula of Concord, SD. 10:7)

- Rev. James Schulz

Anonymous said...

Again, I do not disagree with you, Rev. McCain, in your observation of changing the accepted use of ICs today. However, perhaps because the line was not drawn at the use of ICs in the past that a baptismal font could be accepted as an appropriate place to throw away used ICs today (at least at the one WELS church I attended; apparently there are others).

- Rev. James Schulz

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I'd be more concerned about WELS sloppy practice with the common cup, effectively denying the Real Presence, by suggesting you can just bring in more bread and wine and keep the party going with the Verba....there's where the real issue is.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Right, and I'll repeat again what I said before and what I've told my congregation. If I thought using IC's were sinful and wrong, I would have to discontinue it, no matter how many people would not like it.

Recognizing that it isn't a sinful practice and the Lord's Supper is a great gift to sinners regardless of the vessel for the Lord's blood, we will continue to offer them until and unless the congregation decides otherwise.

But recognizing that it isn't a sinful practice shouldn't keep us from talking about whether or not it's the best practice, and if there are even more benefits to using the Common Cup.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Oops. Overlapping comments. My "right" was to Jim's previous comment.

But I also agree about the importance of the Consecration, including that of new elements that are brought in. To tell the truth, I haven't always been convinced of this, but I have become convinced.

Anonymous said...

The "sloppy practice with the common cup," baptismal fonts used as IC receptacles, and even the use of ICs are all related to a greater or lesser degree to a denial of the Real Presence, and just as important (if not more important) the efficacy of the Sacrament, I think.

- Rev. James Schulz

Unknown said...

I came across this section from the SD the other day as I was reviewing the adopted statements of the ELS for my seminary application:

85]To preserve this true Christian doctrine concerning the Holy Supper, and to avoid and abolish manifold idolatrous abuses and perversions of this testament, the following useful rule and standard has been derived from the words of institution: Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum ("Nothing has the nature of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ") or extra actionem divinitus institutam ("apart from the action divinely instituted"). That is: If the institution of Christ be not observed as He appointed it, there is no sacrament. This is by no means to be rejected, but can and should be urged and maintained with profit in the Church of God. 86] And the use or action here does not mean chiefly faith, neither the oral participation only, but the entire external, visible action of the Lord's Supper instituted by Christ, [to this indeed is required] the consecration, or words of institution, the distribution and reception, or oral partaking [manducation] of the consecrated bread and wine, [likewise the partaking] of the body and blood of Christ.

Individual cups are not contrary to our confessions, but there does seem to be a strong urging toward the "entire external, visible action" including the "distribution and reception".

Anonymous said...

"...a strong urging..." I agree, Jeffrey. Something that is not done so much in our day in Lutheran circles by pastors and others in ecclesiastical authority. I pray you become a faithful student and pastor of the Scriptures and the Confessions, a pastor who strongly urges "evangelical propriety in the Church."

- Rev. James Schulz

David Jay Webber said...

A pertinent section of the Formula of Concord is where Article VII of the Solid Declaration describes in detail the sacramental action that Christ perfomed, and that he has commanded us to perform: "For wherever what Christ instituted is observed and his words are spoken over the bread and cup and wherever the consecrated bread and cup are distributed, Christ himself exercises his power through the spoken words, which are still his Word, by virtue of the power of the first institution."

Notice that the sacramental action is not described merely as the speaking of the words of Christ, and then as the distribution of the elements. The words of Christ are SPOKEN OVER the bread and cup, and then THE BLESSED BREAD AND CUP are distributed. The individual components of the sacramental action do not stand alone. They are connected and interweaved with each other very intimately.

And so, if new elements need to be brought into the sacramental action during an administration of the sacrament, the only way to do that is to speak the words of Christ over them. If that is not done, then they have not actually been brought into the sacramental action, because they have not been blessed according to the Lord's example and institution. And if they are not so blessed, then they cannot be distributed to communicants as the body and blood of Christ.

Luther said once that if new elements are brought into a celebration, they need not be elevated. But he took it for granted that they would be consecrated by having the words of Christ spoken over them: "When too few hosts or too little wine has been consecrated, and we have to consecrate more, we do not elevate them a second time..." (Letter to George of Anhalt, 1542).

Anonymous said...

If it is not against the Confessions to use Individual Cups in the distribution of the Lord's Supper, then it also stands to reason that anything can be used. We could drink straight from the bottle. Or we could bring plastic cups from home. Or perhaps little sippy cups like children use. After all, it's adiaphora.

Everything is permissible, but is it beneficial? Of what benefit is the recent innovation of Individual Cups? If we are going to allow Individual Cups, I don't see how we can argue against PowerPoint Screens and contemporary worship music, since all of these items are from the same questionable source (the Reformed). What is the difference?

-George Schreiner

Anonymous said...

Nice article. Just a little bit concerned with paragraph that starts, "And most importantly of all, the Lord Jesus says, 'No, you don’t have to be afraid that I will hurt you.'"

Obviously the Lord is capable of doing anything, but many take that a bit too far, saying things like, "The Lord would never let _____ happen."

While Scripture clearly testifies to the spiritual blessings that a worthy recipient receives in Holy Communion, I don't think that Scripture says that it conveys the physical blessing of immunity from disease. That paragraph almost seems to imply that it does.



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