The Lord’s Supper is at the heart and center of our life together at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church. Jesus gathers us, His bride, for a marriage supper of heavenly gifts that come to earth in bread and wine. Our Lord gathers us around him with his saving gifts to us in his Word and Water, and Body and Blood.
In Acts 2:42, we read that the Christian church gathered together on the Lord’s Day, that is Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. They gathered for fellowship, to hear the apostles’ teaching, participate in the breaking of the bread (The Lord’s Supper), and the prayers. Following this pattern in the Scriptures, also found in our Lutheran heritage, and in Christian freedom and faithfulness to Christ, we offer weekly communion.
During Divine Service, we receive and celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar, a feast of forgiveness in which we partake of the true body and blood of Christ along with the visible elements of bread and wine. The Bible gives us specific instructions about the Lord’s Supper. As it can be received to one’s spiritual harm (1 Corinthians 11:27-29), the Lord’s Table is to be approached in faith and a Scriptural understanding of what we receive in the Lord’s Supper. This is why all who are new to the Lutheran Church are instructed about this sacred meal before attending the Lord’s Supper. Moreover, this Sacrament is also a testimony of our oneness in what we believe (1 Corinthians 10:17). All guests who wish to receive the Sacrament are asked to speak with the pastor before the service. This biblical practice is known as closed communion.
Baptized children of member families who desire the Sacrament of the Altar before Confirmation are brought to the Pastor by their parents, who serve as their primary instructors in the Faith.
The children receive supplemental instruction from the Pastor during First Communion class times. Before receiving First Communion, they will learn to recite the 10 Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, and Words of Institution, and will participate in an examination with the Pastor and Elders. At Beautiful Savior, we use the following primary texts for instruction:
- Holy Scripture,
- The Ten Commandments,
- The Apostles’ Creed,
- The Lord’s Prayer, and
- The Small Catechism’s first question, answer, and Bible passage for Confession, Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar.
In addition to this, the children confess their sins and their trust in Jesus Christ along with an understanding of the Bodily presence of the risen Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. They then undergo the “Rite for First Communion” as it is endorsed by the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and provided for in the Agenda for the Lutheran Service Book.
Children who are admitted to the altar in this way make similar vows of Confirmation including a promise, with the help of God, to continue receiving instruction.
Frequently Asked Questions about First Communion
What is First Communion?
It is a ceremony of the church that admits children to the Lord’s Supper before the rite of Confirmation. It is designed to teach children God’s gift of the Lord’s Supper in order for them to be prepared to receive Communion in a worthy manner.
What does it mean to receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner?
In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther rightfully places the worthiness of the communicant, not on our feelings, rational understanding, or a particular age, but rather in Jesus’ Word. “He who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’, is worthy and well-prepared.
What’s involved in preparing for First Communion?
The first step is to meet with the Pastor, either at one of our information meetings about First Communion, or set up a meeting.
Second, the Pastor and families will meet for First Communion Class (dates and time TBA) as they learn and study the Scripture’s teaching of the Lord’s Supper, the 10 Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.
Third, families and children will be given age appropriate “take home” materials to continue their Christian education in the home together.
Fourth, families and children will meet again for a final review and examination before the appointed Sunday for First Communion.
Lastly, on a Sunday the candidates eligible for First Communion will go through the rite/ceremony of First Communion as described in our Lutheran Service Book: Agenda.
What age is appropriate for First Communion?
As to the readiness and spiritual maturity of a child for communion, there is room for discussion between the parents and the pastor. In general, however, we will begin offering First Communion classes to those around the 1st and 2nd grade age and above. First Communion is not mandatory. Rather, we begin this discussion with families who are interested and when they think their children are ready.
How can I tell if my child is ready for First Communion?
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but here are a few thoughts. Begin by asking your child if they would like to receive the Lord’s Supper. Ask them what is going on there and why they would like to receive this Holy Sacrament. Observe how they behave around the communion rail. Are they interested in what is going on? Do they ask questions about the words and actions involved in the Lord’s Supper? Have they asked you when they can receive the Lord’s Supper? Do they know the 10 Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer? Can they confess in their own words what the bread and wine is (i.e. Jesus’ body and blood) and what Jesus gives us in this sacred meal?
If I am in Confirmation class right now, can I still go through classes for First Communion?
Yes! First Communion is not a replacement for Confirmation, but something that is complementary to it. Confirmation classes will continue and remain an important part of the Christian faith for our youth. First Communion is a way to strengthen that faith earlier, and to bring God’s gifts to those who need and desire to receive it.
The Rite of First Communion in Detail
What is First Communion, also called Early Communion, in the Lutheran Church? Over the next several newsletter articles, we will be looking at the history, doctrine, and practice of the Rite of First Communion in the Lutheran Church.
We begin, however, where all catechumens begin, no matter the age, with Luther’s Small Catechism.
In the Sacrament of the Altar, Martin Luther carefully, and deliberately leads Christians further up and further in to the gifts God gives us in the Lord’s Supper. He begins with the Scriptures’ teaching on this central, saving gift, quoting Jesus’ words of institution from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul. The Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of Jesus given to us in the bread and wine for us Christians to eat and drink. Here we find the foundation and anchor for all Christians, namely, God’s Word of promise attached to physical means.
After quoting the Scriptures, Luther then provides us with the benefit of the Lord’s Supper. In this sacred meal, Jesus bestows the forgiveness, life, and salvation he won for us on the cross in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
Logically, and theologically, the next question in Luther’s explanation of the Lord’s Supper is, Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?
He answers simply, and succinctly,
Fasting and bodily preparation are, indeed, fine outward training. But a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given … and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
This third question is particularly in our study of The Rite of First Communion in the Lutheran Church, past and present. What exactly is it that makes one worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper? For Luther, the answer to this question is important for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. Worthiness at the Lord’s Table is not based on a purely rational understanding of the Lord’s Supper, nor is it based upon an inward, subjective emotional basis or on our feelings, nor is one’s worthiness made on the basis of legalism or human works. Luther cuts through the false idols of rationalism, pietism, and works righteousness and teaches us that worthy reception in the Lord’s Supper is not based upon our thoughts, feelings, or works, but rather in God’s gift of faith: a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given … and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
This does not deny the importance of serious and thorough study of the Scriptures and The Small Catechism before receiving the Lord’s Supper. Quite the opposite. Following the Scriptures and Catechism, such Christian education and examination are an integral part of preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper, whether it is an early or first communion class, or an adult who becomes a new member.
Our own Lutheran Service Book: Agenda provides both the form and substance of the doctrine and practice for the Rite of First Communion. The Lutheran Service Book: Agenda is one of several doctrinally, and synodically approved resources for Lutheran Worship, ceremonies, and occasions. Lutheran Service Book has been used in our LCMS churches and synod since 2006 when it was first published. It contains additional services, ceremonies, and resources for pastors and people in the daily and weekly life of the Christian congregation.
Though there have been many other rites or orders of first communion, some dating back to Luther’s day in the Reformation, Lutheran Service Book is a valuable tool for pastors and congregations, collecting these resources in one accessible place for pastor and people.
Here are some of the highlights for The Rite of First Communion as found in our Lutheran Service Book: Agenda.
- This rite is intended to be used to admit to the Lord’s Supper baptized children who have not yet been confirmed. Candidates for admission to the Lord’s Supper have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They have received careful instruction in the Gospel and Sacraments. Confessing their sins and trusting in their Savior, they desire to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith in Christ and their love for others.
- Baptized Christians are admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar when they have been examined and absolved by their pastor in accordance with the practice outlined in the Augsburg Confession (Article XXV).
As The Rite of First Communion begins, the pastor addresses the congregation saying, “Beloved in the Lord, in Holy Baptism these young people were born again as God’s children and received into His Church. As a further gift of His love for us, our Lord Jesus Christ has given His Church the Sacrament of the Altar and invites His children to receive this Sacrament in faith for the forgiveness of their sins. The apostle Paul reminds us, “Let a person therefore examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup,” and “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” These candidates have received instruction and have been examined by the pastor regarding their sin and their understanding of the Sacrament of the Altar.”
In The Lutheran Service Book resources, we find an historical, catechetical, and Scriptural precedent for the ceremony known as The Rite of First Communion in the Lutheran congregation. The purpose of this rite, or ceremony, is to deliver God’s gifts to God’s children in the reception of the Lord’s Supper, for their forgiveness and the strengthening of their faith.
Following the opening address, the pastor then askes the candidates for First Communion the following questions.
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, and in the Holy Spirit?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is your Lord?
Do you believe that you are a sinner?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ died for you and shed His blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins?
Do you believe that in the Lord’s Supper He gives you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins and to strengthen your faith in Him and your love toward others?
Do you intend to continue to hear and receive the instruction of your Lord, confess your sins, and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully throughout your life?
Each question receives a simple, yet confident confession and answer. “Yes, I believe.” These questions serve to remind us of the purpose of the Rite of First Communion. Here God is giving His gifts to His children. Here the young baptized children of God confess who Jesus is, what He has done for their salvation, and how He gives His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Lord’s Supper. Here we see the power of God’s Word at work in giving the candidates the faith to believe and confess Jesus’ saving name and work.
The Rite of First Communionthen concludes with the following instruction, prayer, and blessing.
Parents and members of the congregation, the whole Church shares with you the responsibility and concern for the ongoing instruction and spiritual care of these young people. I now ask you, will you intercede for them in prayer and, as much as you are able, give them your counsel and aid, that in communion with the Church, they may grow up to lead a godly life to the praise and honor of Jesus Christ? Then answer: We will with the help of God.
Heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ loved the young and called them to Himself, we ask You to bless these young people. Strengthen them in the faith through the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood so that they may grow spiritually and bring forth the fruits of faith in a life of love toward others to the praise and honor of Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
We rejoice with thankful hearts in your confession of faith. As you continue to hear the Lord’s Word and receive His Holy Supper, He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Peace be with you. Amen.