Incidents and accidents, stars and sacraments

So I was looking at some Lutheran confirmation materials the other day. They were revision notes in a Q&A format, and in the section on the sacrament of the altar there were (as I recall) two questions on the elements in the Supper being the body and blood of Christ, but three questions on the elements still also being bread and wine.

Well, yes, indeed, that’s what we believe, but do we really have to labour the point so much? Surely the interesting bit about the Lord’s Supper is that the elements become the body and blood of Christ, not that they are also still bread and wine. The bread and wine are, so to speak, incidental to the proceedings.

It called to mind the following exchange in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader between Eustace Scrubb and the star, Ramandu:

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

That’s how I feel about the Lord’s Supper: bread and wine are not what the Supper is, but only what it is made of.

(See also James Alison’s “Magic Eye” analogy and Fr Al Kimel’s “real identification”.)

Note: a couple of responses (here and on Twitter) have made me realise that I need to make one point clearer. When I say that the bread and wine are “incidental”, I’m talking about after their consecration. I am emphatically not saying that it doesn’t matter what elements are brought to the altar in the first place.


4 thoughts on “Incidents and accidents, stars and sacraments”

  1. One reason is so the kids don’t think they are being asked to deny their senses. Yes, we know it still looks and tastes like bread and wine AND that’s okay.

  2. It is the way the Lord has chosen to convey his true body and blood to us, but the bread and wine are not merely incidental. After all, Jesus’ human flesh in the Incarnation was not “incidental.” We don’t substitute other elements (e.g. coke and cheese nips) for the bread and wine, and if some misguided soul attempted to do so, it would hardly be the Lord’s Supper.

    1. Rob: I’ve added a note to my post clarifying this point, as you’re the second person (out of three people to respond to this post!) to read it like that.

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