Holy Communion and First Communion in the Lutheran Church

Every communicant should know and confess the Christian faith and live the Christian life, as the Church expects and asks each baptismal candidate. In short, every communicant should be a Christian.

The Six Chief Parts are foundational to Christian catechesis. The Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Our Father are a brief teaching and summary confession of the Law and the Gospel and faith in Christ Jesus. Concerning the evangelical Sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion, catechesis must accompany their administration in these means of the Spirit.

Memorization of the Six Chief Parts is certainly a fine sort of training, but that person is truly worthy and well-prepared for the Holy Communion who has faith in the Words of Christ. The Lord Jesus gives His body and His blood to His disciples to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. He makes disciples by the way and the means of Holy Baptism and the catechesis of His Word.

To be a disciple of Jesus — and thus to be a Christian and a communicant — is to be a lifelong follower of this Lord, a lifelong student of this Teacher, a lifelong apprentice of this true Master. One does not graduate from discipleship but remains a disciple in the hearing of the Word of Christ Jesus. A disciple of Jesus never does become greater than his Lord but continues to be catechized by Him.

While discipleship is never mastered or completed in this lifetime, it belongs to the little ones and infants who believe in Jesus by His Word and Holy Spirit. Growth into greater maturity in the Christian faith and life occurs through repentance, which is to say that one is humbled to be exalted. He is catechized daily to become a little child in the faith.

Communing the disciples of Jesus is an essential aspect of ongoing catechesis and regular pastoral care. A pastor is always catechizing, one way or another, and a disciple is always being catechized.

The entire administration of the Holy Communion occurs within the context of catechesis, that is, with the preaching and teaching of Christ the Crucified. The “remembrance” of Jesus and the proclamation of His death, until He comes are rooted in this preaching and administration. Every Holy Communion is administered with the catechesis of the Word of Christ, and the disciples of Jesus are brought to a worthy reception of that Sacrament (in faith) by that catechesis.

The disciples of Christ Jesus confess Him and His Gospel with lips and life. Where there is a persistently false confession, whether in speaking or living, or a stubborn refusal to confess, such a person must be called to repentance, put under discipline, and excommunicated if necessary. Each disciple of Christ Jesus confesses Him before the world with the abilities and limitations of his (or her) finite being and particular station in life.

Even the youngest disciples of Christ Jesus confess as they are catechized. They believe and confess what they hear and are taught by the Word of Christ, their Lord. Thus, the burden of responsibility falls primarily upon the parents and the pastor to catechize, according to their respective God-given vocations, and not upon the abilities and achievements of the catechumen.

The Holy Communion should be administered, not based on a theoretically “completed” catechetical pre-requisite, but within the pervasive context of ongoing pastoral catechesis, which takes place in various ways, before, during, and after First Communion.

Communicants are to be examined and absolved. This examination belongs primarily to the regular practice of Individual Confession and Absolution and the broader context of pastoral care. To be examined and absolved is not a once-in-a-lifetime critical event but an ongoing aspect of the Christian faith and life, a regular return to the significance of Holy Baptism. The question is not, “Were you catechized and confirmed?” The question is, “Are you baptized, and are you being catechized?”

Finally, Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants, as Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran preachers because the preaching and the communing belong together. Those who submit themselves to different preaching or refuse to submit themselves to any preaching should not presume to present themselves at the altar for the Holy Communion.