What is Holy Communion?
In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ – in union with the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit – makes himself fully, personally, bodily, and substantially present to us. This presence is understood as a mystery (not fully grasped by human understanding – like the love between parent and child or between spouses) but no less real or intuitive as a result.
Lutherans have traditional spoken of the presence of Christ in his holy Supper as a “sacramental union” of the real person and body of Jesus Christ in, with, and under the consecrated bread and wine – similar to hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth or the union of body and soul constitutive of every human person.
Historically, Lutherans have used a diversity of names for this sacrament, from the tradition word the Mass, to the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Divine Liturgy, and Holy Communion. All refer to the same and singular work of the sacrament: God’s true and tangible grace is given, our thanksgiving is offered, and the people of God are transformed and sent.
The sacrament is the high point of our liturgy on Sundays, festive holy days (e.g., Epiphany and Ascension), and may be part of the solemn events in the life of the assembly (e.g., weddings and funerals).
The sacrament is celebrated with solemnity and dignity, yet without fussiness or scrupulosity so that the divine command is not violated: “take and eat, this is my body given for you.” Bread and wine are used in Communion.
“Concerning the Lord’s Supper, it is taught among us that the true body and blood of Christ are truly present under the form of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper and are distributed and received there.”
Article 10, Augsburg Confession
“Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. In fact, the Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence. Almost all of the customary ceremonies are also retained.”
Article 25, Augsburg Confession
Who may receive Holy Communion?
All baptized Christians (of any age) are invited to receive Holy Communion. As baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ, the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s own gift to the members of his body.
Those who desire to receive Communion but who are not baptized are invited to speak to a pastor, who will welcome them to baptismal font, in which God’s love and mercy flow freely and abundantly, leading us from the font to the altar. Thanks be to God!
For more information, please consult Luther’s Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession (both are available in our library, from a pastor, or online).
You may also wish to consult the ELCA’s handbook on the sacraments, The Use and Means of Grace (available for free download as a PDF, https://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/The_Use_Of_The_Means_Of_Grace.pdf)
For an ecumenical perspective and consensus on the sacraments, see significant work of the World Council of Churches in Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (available for free download as a PDF, https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/commissions/faith-and-order/i-unity-the-church-and-its-mission/baptism-eucharist-and-ministry-faith-and-order-paper-no-111-the-lima-text