When our Lord instituted the Sacrament He declared that in, with ,and under the bread and wine the communicant receives the real body and blood of the Lord Jesus (Real Presence). Through this means of grace the penitent sinner receives the forgiveness of sins. That is the primary purpose for this sacrament. We appreciate the thought of Luther that where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. As the communicant attends the sacrament he also shows his appreciation for this means of grace. Our Lord said through the Apostle: “As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). In other words, faithful attendance at the sacrament witnesses to our faith and our appreciation for the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. That then leads us to ask a question: “What is the individual who treats the sacrament lightly or who attends it infrequently, if at all, showing?” We are not speaking of those who on occasion are not able to attend, but of those who don’t?
So how often should one come to the Sacrament? The answer is that Scripture does not give us a number. Our answer is that he should come as often as he feels the need, bearing in mind also the words of our Savior, “This do in remembrance of me.”
Martin Luther asked in the Christian Questions about one who “feels no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament.” He answered that one should investigate whether he still has flesh and blood and then believe what Scripture says about it. He should recognize that sin is still in the world, and that he will have the devil constantly about him. Surely one who recognizes his own sin, and who feels the need of forgiveness and who feels the need to be strengthened against the devil will want to come to the Sacrament often. He will want to witness to his faith and his thankfulness for the blessings of this Sacrament and the love of God.
How often should the church offer communion? Again, there is no answer in the Bible. It is up to our sanctified judgment. Typically we have had communion ever Sunday and on Good Friday and New Year’s Eve. Some of our churches have it twice a month or oftener.
“We know from history that the early Christians had daily communion; also in the post-apostolic days for several centuries the daily, or almost daily, use of the Sacrament is often mentioned. During the 5th century it became customary to attend communion only rarely. . .The Pope made a law (Council of Trent) for all church members to commune once annually. While Luther objected to the all legalistic methods, he emphasized that Christians should be diligently taught and admonished to come to the Lord’s Supper frequently; and he warned against the great danger of neglecting or despising the Holy Supper” ( The Abiding Word, CPH, page 1947, page 441).
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession says in Article 24, ” At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on other festivals in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it. . .” The Augsburg Confession, article 24 says, ” Wherefore the Mass is to be used to this end, that there the Sacrament [Communion] may be administered to those that have need of consolation . . . Now, forasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament we hold one communion every holy day. . .
The Church in our day need not have communion as often as at the time of the Reformation. We are free. But the confessions do show us the respect, which this blessed means of grace held in the church of the Reformation. At the same time the confessions warn against the abuse of the Sacrament.
Likely there was concern that “too much” Lord’s Supper would make it commonplace and thus lead to disrespect of it. Possibly there was the concern that people would compare their Christianity to others, and think themselves better Christians because they went oftener. That would indeed be an abuse of the Sacrament, and also endanger souls. Another reason may have been the horribly misguided idea that the service is too long during the Lord’s Supper and that some who do not plan to attend would stay away from the service. However, we prefer to believe that where Christians recognize that they daily sin much, and with believing hearts desire this very personal assurance of forgiveness from the Lord, and where they respect the command and invitation of God they will not abuse the sacrament. Surely we cannot hear too much Gospel or gather around the Means of Grace too often.
In our society there is a secondary (The first is the blessing we receive) advantage to having the sacrament oftener simply because we are a mobile society. There may be a Sunday when one cannot be at the Sacrament because one is traveling; possibly one is ill or has to work. That means that such a one will have opportunity to come to the Sacrament without having to wait a month. Of course one can always ask the pastor for private communion, which he is happy to give in such cases. But there is a blessing in coming within the fellowship of the congregation whenever that is possible.
We should indeed be concerned that no one abuses the sacrament by believing that he is better because he attends often than his fellow member. We should also guard against letting the Sacrament become “commonplace” in our heart and mind. If that is a temptation, nevertheless there is a greater concern. It is not that some will come too often and thus abuse it, but that there are those who having the opportunity to attend the sacrament nevertheless abuse it and their own souls by neglect and indifference toward this gift from God.
The Lord invites us, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This promised rest come to us through the means of grace in sacramental word and spen word. May we appreciate it and receive with believing hearts.