Q: When celebrating Holy Communion, is it proper for the pastor to forgive his own sin during the absolution, and then also follow through with self-communion?”
A: Though there is nothing in Scripture itself to prohibit a pastor from self-communing before his congregation, it is not a wise practice. Years ago it was quite common for congregations to forbid a layman from assisting in any way with the distribution in the Lord’s Supper, and this is why the issue of self-communion frequently arose. It was feared that lay assistance would take away from the divine call for the public, pastoral office. As a result, pastors had to rely on infrequent pastoral conferences for their communing, or else introduce the somewhat precarious practice of self-communion. Thankfully, most Lutheran churches today have realized that it is entirely proper and warranted to have one of the church elders given the responsibility of bringing the already consecrated elements to the pastor for his personal reception. This enables the pastor to receive the precious body and blood of Christ for his needed spiritual strength on a regular basis with the rest of his flock.
In 1943 Prof. J. T. Mueller wrote: “If . . . the pastor receives the Lord’s Supper at the hands of a chosen pastor or deacon, it is made clear also that he receives it not as a pastor, but as one of the believing members of the congregation. There may be no danger of a Priesterstolz, or priestly pride, in our democratic circles, but it is nevertheless well for the pastor, when he receives the Holy Supper, to show also by outward form that he receives it just as do other believers. Of course, the whole matter belongs into the field of adiaphora, which, nevertheless, are governed by the royal rule of Christian conduct that ‘all things be done, decently and in order,’ I Cor. 14:40,” (Concordia Theological Monthly, Oct. 1943).
As to your question pertaining to absolution, it must be remembered that the pastor is merely acting in the place of Christ when forgiveness is publicly announced. Naturally, then, the pastor also takes comfort from the public, spoken Word, as it applies to his own heart.
In our churches where there is still the practice of individual absolution around the Communion rail, it no doubt would be best for the pastor to forego this personally, but at the same time taking his comfort from the public absolution prior to his communing. This would eliminate either the offense that might be caused by “self-absolving,” or the possible offense of laity assuming the pastoral office. But if a layman would administer individual absolution to the pastor, there is nothing to preclude it. However, in the announcement the words “by virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the Word,” would be omitted.