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Reliqua

Reliqua (elements left over in Holy Communion)

The Bible’s teaching on the reliqua

On the night He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Sup- per. The Bible tells us that in instituting the Sacrament, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave to His disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Matt. 26:26). Then He took the cup, gave thanks, gave it to His disciples and said: “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.” (Matt. 26:27-28). By the power of the words of institution the bread that Christ had taken and bro- ken was the body of Christ and the wine in the cup He had given thanks over was the blood of Christ.

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s real presence in the elements is based on what Christ did on the first institution of the Lord’s Supper: “Jesus Christ’s true and almighty words, which He spoke at the first institution, were effective not only at the first Supper. They endure, are valid, operate and are still effective.”[1] The elements are Christ’s true body and true blood by the power of the words of institution. The real presence of our Lord’s Body and Blood begins at the moment of consecration by the words of institution. When our Saviour says that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood, they are what He claims them to be. That is why we must reject receptionism, the idea that real presence would be effected by the consumption of the Sacrament or that the presence would begin only at the moment of consumption and not already at the moment of consecration. The Book of Concord states: ”Christ’s body and blood are truly present, distributed and received.”[2] On the other hand, we must also reject any further speculation about the exact moment of the beginning of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood.

Although consecration effects the real presence of Christ’s true body and true blood in the elements, we must also hold that true celebration of the Lord’s Supper includes the intention to celebrate the Lord’s Supper according to the institution of Christ. The elements cannot and should not be intentionally consecrated for other use than distribution to the communicants. For Christ says first “Take and eat” and: “take and drink” and only after this that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood. There is no promise in the Bible about the real presence of our Lord’s body and blood outside the institution of Christ, even if the words of institution would be used. So, for example, if the words of institution are said mockingly or as a joke, the words do not consecrate the bread and the wine.

Because the promise of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood is dependent on the celebration of the Sacrament according to its institution, we do not have a certain promise of the Word of God concerning the real presence of Christ’s body and blood after the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in the elements that are not intended to be consumed. The Bible does not address the question at all. We also do not have a clear commandment of the Word of God to consume everything that has been consecrated: Christ commands His disciples to take and eat and after we have received our Lord’s body and blood, we have fulfilled His commandment. We have not fulfilled it only when even the last drop of wine has been drunk from the chalice.

The original Greek makes it clear that when our Savior says: “Drink ye all of it”, He is not referring to all the wine, but to all the communicants.[3] We must reject that our consciences should be bound on questions where there is no clear commandment of Scripture. To make it into a point of doctrine that all the consecrated elements must be consumed is against the Lutheran scriptural principle: ”Only that which has the clear support of the Word of God is an article of Christian doctrine”.

The Formula of Concord and the Nihil habet rule

When it comes to the question of the reliqua, it is good to also say a word concerning the teaching of the Formula of Concord on the so-called Nihil habet rule. The Formula of Con- cord criticizes Roman Catholic practices in which the elements were consecrated for uses that were against the institution of the Sacrament: “(For example, it is not kept when the consecrated bread is not distributed, received, and partaken of, but is enclosed, sacrificed, or carried about.) Christ’s command ‘This do’ must be observed unseparated and inviolate.”[4] When the Formula of Concord mentions the common rule “nothing is a sacrament without the ap- pointed use or ‘divinely instituted act’”[5], the critique is directed against these abuses.

Still the Formula of Concord has something to say on the issue of the reliqua. It speaks about a “common rule”[6] that is applied to a certain area of interest, the unbiblical Roman Catholic communion practices. But the Formula of Concord applies the rule also to practices that re- late to the Baptism: when baptismal water is used for consecrating bells, there is no sacra- ment.[7] We must pay attention to the fact that the water mentioned is baptismal water and not just water consecrated for the consecration of church bells. So even though the water would have been in sacramental use before, that does not mean that Christ would be present in it after the celebration of the Sacrament. There is no promise of the real presence of Christ where there is no intention to celebrate the Sacrament—not even where there are elements left over from the celebration of Lord’s Supper, but no intention to celebrate the sacrament. Martin Chemnitz, one of the authors of the Formula of Concord, makes this clear, when he says in his De Duabus Naturis in Christo that the sacramental presence is not permanent, but is dependent on the use (usus) of the Sacrament.[8]

Luther and the cases of Wolferinus and Besserer

Often when the question of the reliqua is debated the two letters of Martin Luther to Wolferinus are brought up. Pastor Simon Wolferinus was of the opinion that the sacramental presence is tied only to the consumption of the Sacrament. He equated consuming the Sacrament with its celebration. For this reason he saw no problem with mixing consecrated and unconsecrated elements outside the use. Because Christ’s real presence in the elements was in Wolferinus’ thought bound only to the consumption of the elements, he did not see consuming all the elements necessary. Luther on the other hand exhorted in both of his letters to Wolferinus that the elements should be consumed completely. In this way there would be no unnecessary questions. This advice was practical and pastoral, not dogmatic. If Luther would have thought that the matter at hand was a dogmatic question, he could have not given merely an advice on what would be the best way to handle the matter. Instead he would have presented the matter as a clear commandment of God. Luther’s view was the one followed in Wittenberg during his lifetime.

Luther’s dogmatic thinking is made evident by another controversial instance. Adam Besserer had caused offence by distributing an unconsecrated host while celebrating the divine service, because a consecrated wafer was lost during the service. After the divine service Besserer had found the wafer that was lost and put it among unconsecrated wafers. When the congregation found out what had happened, Besserer was thrown into jail, the unconsecrated elements with the one consecrated wafer were burnt and Luther was asked to help them sort out what should be done with pastor Besserer.

Luther judged Besserer as a Zwinglian and said that he has no place in the Lutheran churches. But for our topic it is essential to note what he said about the burning of the wafers: “The issue of the mixed bread was handled correctly when they were burnt, although the matter itself did not demand burning them, because there is not Sacrament outside the use, just as the baptismal water is no Baptism outside the use. Christ acts in the Sacrament for our eating and believing, but for avoiding offences the pastor acted rightly by burning the wafers.”[9]

Luther’s answer makes it clear that he did not believe the wafer that was left over to be the body of our Lord, because it was outside the use. At the same time he said that the pastor acted rightly, because by burning the wafers, he prevented any offence that could have been caused by acting differently. Here we have a similarity with the case of Wolferinus: Luther exhorts to pay attention to weak brothers and not to cause offence to them, and for this reason to act in a way that leaves no questions. But we also see that Luther’s dogmatic view is that there is no Sacrament outside the use. Besserer’s case happened in the late 1545, so Luther’s comments on the matter represent his mature thinking.

Our communion practice: all the elements are to be consumed

According to the Bible and our Lutheran fathers it is clear that there is no dogmatic reason to consume all the elements – even those left over from the celebration of the Sacrament. This is because we do not have a clear Word of Scripture on the matter. But we want to take Luther’s advice seriously and consume all the consecrated elements. In this way we avoid unnecessary and harmful questions and we also honour the Sacrament in a proper way.

 


[1] FC, SD, 7:75. Trans. Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd

Edition. St. Louis, MO: CPH 2006.

[2] FC, SD, 7:75. Trans. Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd

Edition. St. Louis, MO: CPH 2006.

[3] πάντες, plural, nominative, masculine so it refers to the disciples.

[4] FC, SD, 7:83-84. Trans. Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd Edition. St. Louis, MO: CPH 2006.

[5] FC, SD, 7:73-74. Trans. Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd Edition. St. Louis, MO: CPH 2006.

[6] FC, SD, 7:73. Trans. Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd Edition. St. Louis, MO: CPH 2006.

[7] FC, SD, 7:87. Trans. Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd Edition. St. Louis, MO: CPH 2006.

[8] DNC, VII, 37. “Et Deus illis [Sacramentis] non adest inseparabiliter, sed ex pacto, juxta Verbum: nam extra usum non sunt talia Sacramenta, & peracto usu vel transeunt, sicut Augustinus inquit, Vel à Sacramentali illa unione separantur. Alia verò est hypostatica duarum naturarum Christo unio, quae perpetua, inseparabilis, & arctissima est - -”

[9] WA Br 11, 258, 14–20. ”De particulis mixtis bene factum est, quod combuste sunt, Quamvis re ipsa nihil fuisset opes excurere, cum extra usum nihil sit sacramentum, sicut Aqua Baptismi extra usum non est Baptisma. Edentibus operatur Christus in sacramento, sed propter scandalum recte fecit parochus excurendo.”