Multispiritual: Adoration of the Sacrament/Communing the Unbaptized

ELCA Press Release: The adoration of the sacrament will help us grow spiritually.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and a delegation of ELCA leaders recently returned from what they describe as an “ecumenical pilgrimage” to London, Geneva, and Rome.

In a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the ELCAers asked him to recommend “a spiritual practice to ELCA members to help us grow in our faith lives.”

He answered: “Start where people are, not where you think they should be….And, if they are interested in contemplative prayer or adoration of the sacrament, encourage them to explore this devotion which will help them grow.”

Most Lutherans are familiar with side altars in Catholic churches where the reserved sacrament is kept for adoration.

Lutherans, however, have historically – and recently – rejected this practice because it implies the elements are transubstantiated, that they contain Christ’s presence apart from their use in the communion service.

The national Lutheran/Catholic Dialogue III found an “increasing convergence” between Lutherans and Catholics on the real presence of Christ in communion. But the convergence fell apart on the issue of the reservation of the sacrament:

“Lutherans speak of the whole liturgical action as usus: the consecration, distribution and reception (sumptio) of the sacrament … Lutherans do not speak of Christ being present before or apart from ‘use.’” [1]

Lutherans teach that Christ is present in, with, and under the elements, but, apart from their use in the sacrament, they remain bread and wine.

Lutherans, of course, treat the unused elements respectfully, but reservation and adoration of the sacrament is not Lutheran practice – for gospel reasons.[2]

On the one hand, taking a look at the adoration of the sacrament, Anglo-Catholic spirituality. On the other hand, taking a look (at the request of the 2013 Churchwide Assembly) in the opposite direction from Anglo-Catholicism, at changing The Use of the Means of Grace to commune the unbaptized so they feel welcome.[3]

Whatever “spiritual practice” helps “us grow in our faith lives.” Multispiritual, multicultural. Whatever.

[1] The Eucharist as Sacrifice. Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue III, ed. Paul C. Empie and T. Austin Murphy (Minneapolis: Augsburg, [1967]) 191-97; here 193, footnote 24.

[2] How the Lutheran Confessions write about the Lord’s Supper:

1. Christ is truly present in doing what He commanded, in the use, the action. (Formula of Concord VII, ¶¶85-87; Book of Concord [Tappert], pp. 584-85. Also ¶73, pp. 582-83.)

2. Christ is not truly present apart from doing what He commanded, apart from the use, the action—in the so-called reservation of the host or otherwise.[6] (FC VII ¶108, p.588; ¶¶126-27, p. 591.

[3] “Discuss why a congregation might welcome all people to the Lord’s table. What does that invitation say about one’s understanding of Communion?” From the ELCA Study Guide, “Table and font: Who is welcome?” p. 12, question #3, available at When the Episcopalians took up this issue at their 2012 General Convention, the reaction from the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches was unanimously negative.