I ask this question as a Roman Catholic who by way of marriage is related to many Missouri Synod Lutherans. I am, in fact, a eucharistic minister, and I have been asked by members of my extended family to commune elderly Lutheran relatives residing in assisted-living facilities. I have refused based on my understanding of both the Catholic and Lutheran positions in this matter—that while we share most of the core beliefs of Christianity we are not in “full Communion” and that the communicant is also a “confessor” of the unity and doctrinal understandings of their individual faith traditions. With deepest respect I have explained that such a unified confession does not yet exist between Catholics and Lutherans and so neither does a unified communion. Please help me better explain these differences so as to not offend the sensibilities of people I love. Yet, I cannot with a clear conscience overlook the obvious differences that separate us at the Lord’s Table.
Thank you for asking this question. The Lutheran Witness and our LCMS Church Information Center have received several similar questions recently. Our LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) staff has prepared a brief response that includes references to some resources that may be helpful in explaining close[d] Communion to your family members:
It appears from the information you have shared that our practice has not been fully represented to—or properly understood—by your family members. It is true, of course, that faith in Christ’s atoning death on the part of individual communicants is a necessary prerequisite for a worthy reception of the Sacrament—together with a faith in Christ’s words regarding the Real Presence of His body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. However, as you are aware, reception of the Sacrament, in addition to an individual dimension, also has a confessional and “corporate” dimension to it. That is to say, Christians commune, not only as individuals, but also as persons who are making a public confession of their faith as they approach the altar with other Christians of a particular church body.
We appreciate your interest in determining the LCMS’ understanding of the practice of close[d] Communion. It may be helpful to share the following FAQs from our Church Information Center Web site with your family:
You might also find helpful a Lutheran Witness story written some years ago by Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, the former executive director of our Commission on Theology and Church Relations titled “Who Is Invited to the Supper of Our Lord?” Click here to read the story.
For a more complete discussion of this issue from a biblical perspective, we suggest our 1999 study, “Admission to the Lord’s Supper,” which is available online at the following: http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=511.
Send your questions to “Q&A,” c/o The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address. All questions will be considered, but none can be answered individually. Or, Click Here to send your question via e-mail.