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Now let’s begin the chief part of Luther’s Small Catechism on Holy Communion, the first part, “The Institution of Holy Communion.”
First: What is the Sacrament of Holy Communion?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and the wine, instituted by Christ for us Christians to eat and to drink.
Where is this written?
The holy evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and the apostle Paul tell us: Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Often called the Lord’s “last will and testament,” Holy Communion is something precious for us Christians. It is good for us to be reminded often why it is so precious. It’s something our Lord told us to do in remembrance of everything He did for us, namely, He gave His body into death and shed His blood for us on the cross. And in Holy Communion He gives us His very body and blood which He gave and shed on the cross. How does that happen? We do not explain the miracle, but we take the Lord on His Word. We understand His words here exactly as He said them, “This is my body. This is my blood.”
That little word “is” is a very powerful word that has separated Christians since the Reformation, and even before that. Unlike Roman Catholics and unlike all other Protestant/Reformed denominations, Bible believing, confessional Lutherans (that’s us) understand the word “is” to mean literally “is.”
Roman Catholics call their teaching on Holy Communion “transubstantiation” which means that the bread and the wine are “changed in substance” and are no longer bread and wine, but are the body and blood of Jesus. (Also, incidentally, for reasons that have never been clear to me, Roman Catholics generally only receive the bread and not the wine.) Reformed/Protestant denominations call their teaching on Communion “representation” which means that the Lord’s “is” means “represents” and that only bread and wine are given and received and not the true body and blood of the Lord.
We firmly defend the Lutheran teaching of “real presence” over and against the false teaching of the Roman Catholics and the Reformed/Protestants. “Real presence” means that the true body and blood of the Lord are present in, with, and under the bread and the wine. In Holy Communion we receive exactly what the Lord said we would receive--bread, wine, and His body and blood. We need not explain the miracle. We accept it by faith. This is important because the Word of the Lord is at stake. And where the Word of the Lord is at stake, the certainty of our salvation is at stake. And where the certainty of our salvation is at stake, our confidence in the blessings that the Lord grants in Holy Communion are at stake as well.
We will review those blessings next.