How Long are Christ’s Body and Blood Present in the Consecrated Bread and the Wine of Communion?
How long does the presence of Christ's real body and blood in the bread and wine of communion last? The following piece seeks to answer this question based on the scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.
 God’s word
Matthew 26:26-28 26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the [testament], which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new [testament] in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, [you] proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Christ’s institution makes no provisions for “storing” the leftovers; it contains no words for undoing the presence of his body and blood in the bread and wine; it contains no apparent provisions for undoing the “sacramental union” effected by his words. What does this mean? Christ commands us to take and eat / drink, not to take and put away. For it was taken and blessed to be taken and consumed, not to be taken and stored or thrown away. Therefore, the Supper Christ instituted must end with eating up and drinking up what has been taken and blessed for this purpose and goal.
Consider also this text from the Old Testament concerning the institution of the Old Testament foreshadowing of the Lord’s Supper, the Passover:
Exodus 12:8-11 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover.
This practice – either eat the meat on the night of the sacrifice or burn it – is confirmed in a number of places in the OT (Ex. 34:25; Deut. 16:4). In other words, Jesus and his disciples would have acted accordingly: if any meat of their Passover meal (see Matt. 26:17-20) was left over after the thirteen of them had eaten their share, they would have burned it.
This practice also applies to other sacrifices in the OT, e.g., the peace offering:
Leviticus 7:15-18 15 And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning. 16 But if the sacrifice of his offering is a vow offering or a freewill offering, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice, and on the next day what remains of it shall be eaten. 17 But what remains of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burned up with fire. 18 If any of the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering is eaten on the third day, he who offers it shall not be accepted, neither shall it be credited to him. It is tainted, and he who eats of it shall bear his iniquity.
The leftovers of this particular sacrifice must be eaten on the day of its offering and on the following day; what is left is not to be stored indefinitely, but is to be burned with fire (see also Lev. 19:6). For other sacrifices see Ex. 23:18; 29:34; Lev. 22:30.
Now, the Lord’s Supper is not our sacrifice to propitiate God with Christ for our sins. It rather distributes the fruit of the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord on the cross: forgiveness, life, and salvation. However, besides being part of our “eucharistic sacrifice,” that is, our sacrifice of thanksgiving along with all our good works, it also distributes the very body and blood once-for-all sacrificed for our salvation (see 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 10:16-22). It can thus be described as an extended “sacrificial banquet” stretching from Christ’s institution thereof “on the night when he was betrayed” before his crucifixion all the way to the day he returns in glory after his crucifixion. This does not mean that Christ’s body and blood there given are dead or sacrificed again and again, but that the very same body and blood once-for-all sacrificed but now risen and ascended to God’s right hand are there given in the bread and wine. The sacrifice happened once on the cross; the banquet is on-going, but always directly connected and connecting to the one sacrifice.
In other words, it makes perfect sense to use the OT texts dealing with the remnants of the sacrificial banquets resulting from certain OT sacrifices, most notably the Passover sacrifice, as an additional proof for the doctrine and practice that the Lord in his institution of the Lord’s Supper actually commands the complete consumption (by mouth or fire) of the consecrated elements.
 The Confessions
The prime text addressing this question is Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, art. VII, 73-87, esp. 83-87. Critical passages of this text are quoted below:
Misunderstanding and division has also arisen among some teachers of the Augsburg Confession regarding consecration and the common rule that there is no sacrament outside its use according to Christ’s institution. In this question, we have reached the following unanimous, amicable agreement among ourselves, namely, that no human words or works create the true presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Supper, whether it be the merit or the speaking of the minister or the eating and drinking or the faith of the communicants. Instead, all this should be ascribed solely to the almighty power of God and to the words, institution, and arrangement of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the true and almighty words of Jesus Christ, which he spoke in the first institution of the Supper, were not only effective in the first Supper; they remain so. They retain their validity and power and are still effective, so that in all places in which the Supper is observed according to Christ’s institution and his words are used, the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed, and received on the basis of the power and might of the very same words that Christ spoke in the first Supper. …
… this “blessing” or the recitation of the Words of Institution of Christ by itself does not make a valid sacrament if the entire action of the Supper, as Christ administered it, is not observed (as, for example, when the consecrated bread is not distributed, received, and eaten but is instead locked up [in the tabernacle], made into a sacrifice, or carried around in a procession). On the contrary, Christ’s command, “Do this,” must be observed without division or confusion. For it includes the entire action or administration of this sacrament: that in a Christian assembly bread and wine are taken, consecrated, distributed, received, eaten, and drunk, and that thereby the Lord’s death is proclaimed, as St. Paul presents the entire action of the breaking of the bread or its distribution and reception in 1 Corinthians 10[:16]. …
The usus or actio (that is, the practice or administration) does not refer primarily to faith or to the oral partaking, but to the entire external, visible administration of the Supper, as Christ established the administration of the Supper: the consecration, or Words of Institution, and the distribution and reception or oral partaking of the consecrated bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood. Apart from this practice it is not to be regarded as a sacrament – for example, when in the papistic Mass the bread is not distributed … It is the same way with baptismal water. … For this rule was initially used against such papistic abuses and was explained by Dr. Luther [Tom. 4. Ien.] himself.
This text seems to support the view that storing the leftovers is no problem since it appears to be saying that Christ’s body and blood somehow disappear from the elements after the last communicant has drunk the wine. After all, the action of the sacrament ends with the drinking, not? Yet this is decidedly not what is meant here, and the reference to Luther’s explanation at the end of this section makes this clear as day. What is actually meant here is that the action of the sacrament is to be concluded by the reverent consumption of all the consecrated elements. The presence of Christ’s body and blood ceases when it has reached its goal and purpose in the mouths of communicants: “Take, eat; take, drink.” These words are Christ’s clear command.
How did Luther himself explain the rule “that there is no sacrament outside its use according to Christ’s institution”? He gives the explanation in a 1543 letter to a pastor, Simon Wolferinus, who had stored the consecrated hosts along with unconsecrated hosts and had defended his practice by appealing to the rule just cited. Luther writes in the letter contained in volume four of the Latin part of the Jena-edition (1558/1570), which is quoted in the original German text of the 1577 Solid Declaration:
Therefore we shall define the time or the sacramental action in this way: that it starts with the beginning of the [Words of Institution] and lasts until all have communicated, have emptied the chalice, have consumed the Hosts, until the people have been dismissed and [the priest] has left the altar. In this way we shall be safe and free from the scruples and scandals of such endless questions. Dr. Philip [Melanchthon] defines the sacramental action in relation to what is outside it, that is, against reservation of and processions with the Sacrament; he does not split it up within [the action] itself, nor does he define it in such a way that it contradicts itself. Therefore see to it that if anything is left over of the Sacrament, either some communicants or the priest himself and his assistant receive it, so that it is not only a curate or someone else who drinks what is left over in the chalice, but that he gives it to the others who were also participants in the Body [of Christ], so that you do not appear to divide the Sacrament by a bad example or to treat the sacramental action irreverently. This is my opinion, and I know that it is also Philip’s opinion.
It is therefore clear what Luther’s practice was. It is therefore also clear what the confessions mean when they speak about the duration of Christ’s body’s and blood’s real presence in the consecrated elements during the action of the sacrament. It is also clear that this stance has a sound biblical basis, chiefly in the words of institution themselves, but also in related texts from the Old Testament.
 Why all this concern?
Two key reasons come to mind. First, only complete faithfulness to Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper assures the recipient that he or she is, in fact, partaking in the Supper instituted by the Lord and not making a mockery of it by participating in a mutilated form thereof. Second, living in a context where the almighty power of the words of institution is regularly denied: The real presence of Christ’s body and blood is therefore either denied outright or attributed to causes other than the almighty power of God’s word, e.g., the faith of the recipient (Calvinism) or the mere receiving of the recipient (receptionism). If, however, the presence of Christ’s blood and blood in the bread and wine are either denied or attributed to some subjective factor in the recipient, then it makes little or no difference whether the elements are consecrated or not; and this in turn makes it unimportant as to whether they are mixed with unconsecrated elements or kept apart: nothing had really happened to the unconsumed elements anyway. In other words, a certain lax practice powerfully undermines faith in the power of the almighty word of God.
It is therefore no surprise that Luther accused those who stored away unconsumed, but consecrated elements to be Zwinglians and demanded their excommunication, e.g., in a 1546 letter to Bishop Nicholas Amsdorf regarding one pastor of his diocese, Rev. Adam Besserer: “As a despiser of God and man he has dared publicly to treat consecrated and unconsecrated hosts alike. Therefore he must simply be expelled from our churches. Let him go to his Zwinglians.”
This question evidently also has implications for the question as to who may be admitted to the Lord’s Supper: if nothing happens by virtue of the consecratory words, but only (at best) by virtue of the communicant’s faith of heart, then it makes little or no difference to whom the Supper is administered. Real pearls are not thrown before the swine anyway, just look-alikes.
 What about the water in Baptism?
Baptism is somewhat different. For one, there is no consecration prior to the actual administration; rather, the Trinitarian baptismal formula, “I baptize you …,” serves as consecration of the water as well. However, since in baptism the water becomes truly “included in God’s command and combined with God’s word” (Small Catechism) and since this word brought Christ and all his blessings, it is good practice not to pour it down the drain and into the sewer, but to pour it reverently into the earth. When vessels of precious gifts are carelessly discarded, this reflects poorly on the gifts themselves.
How long are Christ’s real body and blood present in the consecrated bread and wine of communion? The simple but important answer is: till communion is over, that is, till all the consecrated bread and wine have reached the goal for which they were consecrated by Christ through the pastor – the mouth of a (worthy) communicant. On the other hand, storing the leftover elements after communion and mixing them with unconsecrated elements (bread and wine) or discarding them (wine drops in individual cups thrown away) gives a very bad example of irreverence, to say the very least, and therefore ought to be discontinued.
- ↑ They contain no "reverse gear," as John Stephenson, The Lord's Supper (St. Louis: Luther Academy, 2005), 93, puts it.
- ↑ See Apology of the AC, art. XXIV, 25, 35.
- ↑ See Stephenson, The Lord's Supper, 111-115.
- ↑ See Apology of the AC, art. X, 4.
- ↑ See Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 11th ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992), 1001; the references given in footnote 2 are not accurate. The Kolb-Wengert translation of the Book of Concord has remedied that error, see The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. R. Kolb, T. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 608 n. 214, whithout, however, stating what Luther's explanation was.
- ↑ As quoted in John Stephenson, "Reflections on the Appropriate Vessels for Consecrating and Distributing the Precious Blood of Christ," Logia IV, 1 (Epiphany 1995), 15.
- ↑ Interestingly, according to 16th century witnesses, when the Lord’s blood was spilled on the ground, the ground was burned; when it could not be determined which hosts had been consecrated, they were all burned. See Stephenson, ibid., 16. What might the rationale for this burning have been? Was its similarity to the OT practice of dealing with sacrificial leftovers mere coincidence?
- ↑ Quoted in Stephenson, ibid.