The Third Sermon – On the Preparation for Receiving the Lord’s Supper

by Johannes Brenz
translated by Andrew Hussman

Translator’s Preface

In this third and final sermon on the Lord’s Supper, Johannes Brenz discusses how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s Supper. He explains how contrition, confession, and satisfaction, terms which have been misused by the Roman Catholic Church, can be properly used to help us prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper.

In some of the previous sermons we explained, first, what the Lord’s Supper is. It is a Supper in which the bread and the wine are consecrated by the word of the Lord into Christ’s true body and blood so that they may be presented and distributed with the visible elements, the bread and the wine, to all those who receive the Supper. For he who took the bread and said, “Take, this is my body,” wanted to distribute his body in the bread, as he said. And he could do this because he is omnipotent. Second, we pointed out the use for which the Lord’s Supper was instituted. It was not instituted so that sins might be atoned for opere operato,1 nor that it might only be an external sign of Christianity or love, but rather, so that it might assure, strengthen, and comfort the conscience in tribulations with regard to the forgiveness of sins, the grace of God and eternal life, as we recently explained.

Now, therefore, we need to discuss how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s Supper. For this will be the work, this the task,2 to give proper attention so that we do not take the poison instead of the antidote. Indeed Paul says, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” And he adds, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. . . [and] eats and drinks judgment on himself” And death openly came upon the Corinthians because of unworthy eating. “That is why,” he says, “many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” Therefore, we must give much attention to this so that we properly prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s Supper. For whoever does not know how to prepare himself to receive the Lord’s Supper, cannot prepare himself to receive heaven, because heavenly blessings are distributed in the Supper.

Therefore, when the church was taught about the preparation for the Lord’s Supper during the reign of the Pope before the revelation of the Gospel, three parts of preparation were commonly put before it: 1) contrition, 2) confession, 3) satisfaction. However, these in themselves are not meant wickedly, but, because they were understood and explained in an evil way, they caused great damage to the church. Therefore, we will use the same words at any rate, but we will explain them according to the way Scripture means them, so that we might learn from them how to properly prepare ourselves for the Lord’s Supper. For the Lord’s Supper was not instituted for the impenitent, who do not belong to the body of Christ and they are just like the dead. But food is not fit for the dead, and the Lord’s Supper is the food of living souls. Because of this our ancestors drove the impenitent and those who are publicly disgraceful from the Lord’s Supper with public admonitions. It was instituted, however, for the penitent, i.e., for those who wish to be freed from sins, to serve righteousness, and to have heavenly blessedness. Therefore, whoever prepares himself with repentance in mind prepares to receive the Lord’s Supper.

First, then, those who are about to repent should have contrition, but not with this belief of thinking that contrition is of such great merit that it can atone for sins. For no action or suffering of man can atone for sins. Esau had contrition, but he did not have the remission of sins. Judas grieved over his sin, but he did not obtain the pardon for his sin. For this reason, it does not follow that the grief of contrition makes satisfaction for sins, yet contrition is required so that in this way we may learn the severity of our sins, understand our misery, and know how necessary Christ is for us. For we think that our nature is so blameless and so perfect that we can obtain salvation by our own free will and desire, and that Christ is not necessary for us. Contrition, then, is required for repentance so that our sin, misery and condemnation may be known, so that we may understand that we must seek some way for salvation other than our nature, or our strength or righteousness.

Moreover, contrition must not derive from human judgment. You will never obtain true contrition in this way—it must be derived from the word of God, from the law of the Lord. For in this law it is clearly explained what God demands from us, and it is manifestly declared that if we do not fulfill it, we are clearly condemned. Therefore, true contrition is instilled in us through the message of the divine law. For example, I will persecute my neighbor because of jealousy. If you judge this sin according to human comprehension, it seems like a trivial sin. But the law of the Lord must be brought forth. “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” and murderers do not belong to the kingdom of God. Now here I see the severity of sin and my condemnation.

Second, confession is required to repent. This would require its own sermon just to treat it moderately. Therefore, let us now discuss how much is enough for our purpose in this regard. For it cannot be denied that great abuses have crept into that auricular confession3 and has been used in the church up till now. First, they maintained that counting up all the sins which you were aware of was necessary. Next, they thought that this work was a merit through which sins could be atoned, and I will not add that many, betrayed by their confession, lost their lives. These are the great abuses of this confession.

Nonetheless, confession in itself is not wicked. It was not initially instituted in the church for these abuses, but it was used so that at this opportunity people might privately hear from the minister of the church the gospel of Christ, through which they could take hold of faith and be strengthened in faith. Although the gospel is also preached publicly, and every sermon about Christ is an absolution of sins, the conscience is nevertheless troubled by sins and very weak, and thinks that public absolution does not apply to it but to some or other saints. It seeks private absolution, especially an absolution which, if it should be possible, Christ would say in its presence alone and privately. Therefore, since Christ does not walk now among men in external form, he has devised a way to place himself face to face with a weak conscience, and this is the way: he commanded his apostles and ministers of the church to preach the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. He also consecrated their word in his word, saying, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” Likewise, “He who listens to you listens to me.” Does this mean then that whoever is listening to the minister is listening to Christ, even if he is speaking whatever curses you please in the same awful way that scoundrels speak? By no means. Christ means the office which he commended to ministers. And he did not give to them free, but defined power, namely, to preach the gospel.

Therefore, when we hear the gospel among the ministers of the church, we then hear the voice of the gospel for strengthening faith, as in Matthew 3. Those who came to John confessed their sins, not to make satisfaction for their sins through the merit of their work, but to declare their desire and hear absolution from John through baptism and the teaching of Christ. So also in Acts 19, where the Ephesians confessed their deeds. Therefore, this way is usually observed among the churches which have been properly instructed: no one is driven to confession under penalty of condemnation. But, first, it is freely permitted to the strong and to those who have been properly instructed and educated to confess or not to confess. Second, the weak consciences should be counseled to make at least a general confession, through which they could hear the gospel of absolution. Finally, youths should be counseled to confess at least some greater sins, so that with this opportunity they might be deterred from sins and instructed in religion. For it is entirely necessary for us to believe that our sins are forgiven on account of Christ, and faith in Christ is taken from the gospel and strengthened. Moreover, the gospel should be heard both publicly and privately, and this private hearing is required by confession.

The last part of the preparation for the Lord’s Supper is satisfaction. Here again there have been various errors. For they thought if anyone would fast for his sins a little while, or pour out some prayers, or procure masses,4 this person would atone for his sins. And indeed there should be praying, and fasting, but no human work makes satisfaction for sins. For there is only one satisfaction for us––the suffering of Jesus Christ, in which we are restored and share, if we believe in Christ. And yet our satisfaction is also required for repentance––not the satisfaction of atonement, but of thanksgiving, i.e., that we do good works by faith and obey the commands of God in order to show our faith and certainty.

These are the three parts of our preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper: contrition, that is, the acknowledgement of sins; confession, that is, faith; and satisfaction, that is, thanksgiving. However, the impenitent do not prepare themselves, but the penitent do. Therefore, let us repent and obtain the forgiveness of sins in Christ so that we who are prepared might come to the Lord’s Supper, and we will strengthen our consciences in the Supper through Christ Jesus, our Lord and only Savior. Amen.

  1. “the work having been worked,” i.e., without faith, but just by the action of going to the Lord’s Supper. 

  2. Brenz’s wording here seems to be alluding to Vergil’s Aeneid, VI.129, when the Sybil of Cumae was telling Aeneas the difficulty of returning from the underworld. 

  3. The Catholic teaching of openly reciting one’s sins to the priest. 

  4. This refers to the Catholic practice in which people would request a mass to be said on the behalf of themselves or someone else. 

One of three Maundy Thursday sermons preached by Johannes Brenz.

 May 13, 2011