AskDefine | Define communicant

Dictionary Definition

communicant n : a person entitled to receive Communion

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A person who receives (or is allowed to receive) the sacrament of Holy Communion

Extensive Definition

On Eucharistic liturgies, see the links given in Christian liturgy
The Eucharist, also called Holy Communion or Lord's Supper and other names, is one of the Christian sacraments said to have been instituted by Jesus of Nazareth. Almost every Christian denomination celebrates in some form this rite, generally seeing it as a "sacrament commemorating the action of Jesus at his Last Supper with his disciples, when he gave them bread saying, 'This is my body', and wine saying, 'This is my blood'." Beginning in the Early Church as a prayer or blessing over bread and wine associated with a common meal that followed the form of earlier Jewish blessings, it evolved into more elaborate liturgies, such as the Roman Catholic Mass and the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy. There are different interpretations of its significance, but "there is more of a consensus among Christians about the meaning of the Eucharist than would appear from the confessional debates over the sacramental presence, the effects of the Eucharist, and the proper auspices under which it may be celebrated." and, in this sense, communicants may speak of "receiving the Eucharist", rather than "celebrating the Eucharist".

History of the Eucharist

The Eucharist in the Bible

The Last Supper appears in all three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke; and in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, while the last-named of these also indicates something of how early Christians celebrated what Paul the Apostle called the Lord's Supper.

Paul the Apostle and the Lord's Supper

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians (c 54-55), Paul the Apostle gives the earliest recorded description of Jesus' Last Supper: "The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'."
Paul recalled this in view of the way in which the Lord's Supper was celebrated at Corinth: middle- and upper-class people, who could come early to the meetings of the Christians, feasted on their better food and drink in a way that shamed the slaves and peasants who could arrive only later. He pointed out that they were all participating in Christ's body and blood, not their own meal, and that to do so in an unworthy manner, with divisions and class distinctions among them, profaned the meal, turning it from the Lord's Supper to a sham.
Stephen L Harris describes the situation as "a near brawl at which the early arrivals would overeat and overdrink"; but commentators generally give a much less lurid description of the Corinthians' celebration of the Lord's Supper: the two abuses that Paul reproved were the divisions of the participants into separate groups and the fact that some selfishly indulged, even to the point of excess, in food and drink that they brought with them, while others remained hungry.

Last Supper in the Gospels

The synoptic gospels, first Mark, and then Matthew and Luke, depict Jesus as presiding over the Last Supper. References to Jesus' body and blood foreshadow his crucifixion, and he identifies them as a new covenant. In the gospel of John, the account of the Last Supper has no mention of Jesus taking bread and wine and speaking of them as his body and blood; instead it recounts his humble act of washing the disciples' feet, the prophecy of the betrayal, which set in motion the events that would lead to the cross, and his long discourse in response to some questions posed by his followers, in which he went on to speak of the importance of the unity of the disciples with him and each other.

The Eucharist in early Christian sources

The Didache (Greek: teaching) is an early Christian church order, including, among other features, instructions for Baptism and the Eucharist. Most scholars date it to the early 2nd century. Two separate eucharistic traditions appear in the Didache, the earlier tradition in chapter 10 and the later one preceding it in chapter 9. The Eucharist is mentioned again in chapter 14.
Ignatius of Antioch, one of the Apostolic Fathers, mentions the Eucharist as "the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ", and Justin Martyr speaks of it as more than a meal: "the food over which the prayer of thanksgiving, the word received from Christ, has been said ... is the flesh and blood of this Jesus who became flesh ... and the deacons carry some to those who are absent."

Christian theology concerning the Eucharist

Many Christian denominations classify the Eucharist as a sacrament. Some Protestants prefer to call it an ordinance, viewing it not as a specific channel of divine grace but as an expression of faith and of obedience to Christ.
Most Christians, even those who deny that there is any real change in the bread or wafer and wine or juice used, recognize a special presence of Christ in this rite, though they differ about exactly how, where, and when Christ is present.
The Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry document of the World Council of Churches, attempting to present the common understanding of the Eucharist on the part of the generality of Christians, describes it as "essentially the sacrament of the gift which God makes to us in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit", "Thanksgiving to the Father", "Anamnesis or Memorial of Christ", "the sacrament of the unique sacrifice of Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us", "the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, the sacrament of his real presence", "Invocation of the Spirit", "Communion of the Faithful", and "Meal of the Kingdom".

Roman Catholic Church

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments. The institution of the Eucharist is one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. The Eucharist not only commemorates the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, but also makes it truly present. The priest and victim of the sacrifice are one and the same (Christ). The only difference is how the Eucharist is offered: in an unbloody manner.
The only minister of the Eucharist, that is, one authorized to celebrate the rite and consecrate the Eucharist, is a validly ordained priest (either bishop or presbyter) acting in the person of Christ (in persona Christi). In other words the priest celebrant represents Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and acts before God the Father in the name of the Church. The matter used must be wheaten bread and grape wine; this is essential for validity. According to the Roman Catholic Church, when the bread and wine are consecrated in the Eucharist, they cease to be bread and wine, and become instead the body and blood of Christ: although the empirical appearances are not changed, the reality is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit who has been called down upon the bread and wine. The consecration of the bread (known as the host) and wine represents the separation of Jesus' body from his blood at Calvary. However, since he has risen, the Church teaches that his body and blood can no longer be truly separated. Where one is, the other must be. Therefore, although the priest (or minister) says "The body of Christ" when administering the host, and "The blood of Christ" when presenting the chalice, the communicant who receives either one receives Christ, whole and entire.
The mysterious change of the reality of the bread and wine began to be called "transubstantiation" in the eleventh century. It seems that the first text in which the term appears is of Gilbert of Savardin, Archbishop of Tours, in a sermon from 1079 (Patrologia Latina CLXXI 776). The term first appeared in a papal document in the letter Cum Marthae circa to a certain John, Archbishop of Lyon,29 November 1202, then in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and afterward in the book "Iam dudum" sent to the Armenians in the year 1341. An explanation utilizing Aristotle's hylemorphic theory of reality did not appear until the thirteenth century, with Alexander of Hales (died 1245).
Catholics may receive Holy Communion outside of Mass, but then it is normally given only as the host. The consecrated hosts are kept in a tabernacle after the celebration of the Mass and brought to the sick or dying during the week. Occasionally, the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance, so that it may be the focus of prayer and adoration.

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eucharist is at the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Christians affirm the Real Presence in the Sacred Mysteries (consecrated bread and wine) which they believe to be the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is normally received in the context of the Divine Liturgy. The bread and wine are believed to become the genuine Body and Blood of the Christ Jesus through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never described exactly how this occurs, or gone into the detail that the Roman Catholic Church has with the doctrine of transubstantiation. This doctrine was formulated after the Great Schism took place, and the Eastern Orthodox churches have never formally affirmed or denied it, preferring to state simply that it is a "Mystery", while at the same time using, as in the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem, language very similar to that used by the Roman Catholic Church.
Communion is given only to baptized, chrismated Orthodox Christians who have prepared by fasting, prayer, and confession. The priest administers the Gifts with a spoon directly into the recipient's mouth from the chalice. From baptism young infants and children are carried to the chalice to receive Holy Communion.
The holy gifts reserved for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts or communion of the sick are specially consecrated as needed, especially on Holy Thursday. They are kept in an elaborately decorated tabernacle, a container on the altar often in the shape of a church. Generally, Eastern Christians do not adore the consecrated bread outside the Liturgy itself. After the Eucharist has been given to the congregation, the priest or the deacon has to eat and drink everything that is left.

Anglicans/Episcopalians: Real Presence with opinion

The historical position of the Anglican Communion is found in the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, which state "the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ"; and likewise that "the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ" (Articles of Religion, Article XXVIII: Of the Lord's Supper) and that "Transubstantiation is repugnant to Holy Writ". The fact that the terms "Bread" and "Wine" and the corresponding words "Body" and "Blood" are all capitalized may reflect the wide range of theological beliefs regarding the Eucharist among Anglicans. However, the Articles also state that adoration, or worship per se, of the consecrated elements was not commanded by Christ and should not be practiced. It also stated that those who receive unworthily do not actually receive Christ but rather their own condemnation.
Anglicans generally and officially believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but the specifics of that belief range from transubstantiation, sometimes with Eucharistic adoration (mainly Anglo-Catholics), to something akin to a belief in a "pneumatic" presence, which may or may not be tied to the Eucharistic elements themselves (almost always "Low Church" or Evangelical Anglicans). The normal range of Anglican belief ranges from Objective Reality to Pious Silence, depending on the individual Anglican's theology. There are also small minorities on the one hand who affirm transubstantiation, or on the other hand, reject the doctrine of the Real Presence altogether. The classic Anglican aphorism with regard to this debate is found in a poem by John Donne (sometimes attributed to Elizabeth I):
He was the Word that spake it;
He took the bread and brake it;
and what that Word did make it;
I do believe and take it.
Anglican belief in the Eucharistic Sacrifice ("Sacrifice of the Mass") is set forth in the response Saepius officio of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to Pope Leo XIII's Papal Encyclical Apostolicae curae.
Anglicans and Roman Catholics declared that they had "substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist" in the Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation and the Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement.

Lutherans: Sacramental union: "in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine"

Manner of the Real Presence
Lutherans believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms" of the consecrated bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants eat and drink both the elements and the true Body and Blood of Christ Himself (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article 10) in the Sacrament of Holy Communion whether they are believers or unbelievers ("manducatio indignorum": "eating of the unworthy"). The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence is formally known as "the sacramental union." This theology was first formally and publicly confessed in the Wittenberg Concord. It has been called "consubstantiation" by some, but this term is rejected by Lutheran Churches and theologians as it creates confusion with an earlier doctrine of the same name. Lutherans use the terms "in, with and under the forms of [consecrated] bread and wine" and "sacramental union" to distinguish their understanding of the Lord's Supper from those of the Reformed and other traditions.
Use of the sacrament
For Lutherans, there is no sacrament unless the elements are used according to Christ's mandate and institution (consecration, distribution, and reception). This was first formulated in the Wittenberg Concord of 1536 in the formula: Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum ("Nothing has the character of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ"). As a consequence of their belief in this principle, some Lutherans have opposed in the Christian Church the reservation of the consecrated elements, private masses, the practice of Corpus Christi, and the belief that the presence of Christ's body and blood continue in the "reliquæ" (what remains of the consecrated elements after all have communed in the worship service). This interpretation is not universal among Lutherans. The consecrated elements are treated with respect, and in some areas are reserved as in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican practice, but eucharistic adoration is not typically practiced. To remove any scruple of doubt or superstition the reliquæ traditionally are either consumed or poured into the earth. In some Lutheran congregations a small amount or the reliquæ may be kept for delivery to those too ill or infirm to attend the service (private communion). In this case, the consecrated elements are to be delivered quickly, preserving the connection between the communion experienced by the ill person, and the communion of the rest of the congregation. In other Lutheran congregations the administration of private communion of the sick and "shut-in" (those too feeble to attend service) involves a completely separate service of Holy Communion for which sacramental elements are consecrated by the administrant.
Close(d) or Open Communion
More liberal Lutheran Churches tend to practice open communion, inviting all who are baptized to participate. Conservative Lutheran Churches such as the Confessional Lutherans are more likely to practice closed communion (or "close communion"), restricting participation to those, who are more or less in doctrinal agreement with them. This might involve the formal declaration of "altar and pulpit fellowship," another term for eucharistic sharing coupled with the acceptance of the ministrations of one another's clergy.
The term "Eucharist"
Lutheran tradition employs the term "Eucharist," but some Lutherans, particularly those who reject high church theology, object to it because it emphasizes human response and agency (thanksgiving) rather than the usual Lutheran theological emphasis on God's grace and activity in the sacrament. On the other hand, the term "Eucharist", as well as being derived from the original Greek word "" in the Words of Institution (cf. 1 Cor. 11:24; Mt. 26:27; Mk. 14:23; Lk. 22:19), appears in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (Article XXIV.66) and in catechisms of conservative Lutheran Churches In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which distinguishes "eucharistic sacrifice" from "propitiatory sacrifice" (Article XXIV.19), Lutherans declare that speaking of the Lord's Supper as Eucharist denies that it is a propitiatory sacrifice that the church offers to God to earn the forgiveness of sins:

Methodism: Real Presence as "Holy Mystery"

Methodists understand the eucharist to be an experience of God's grace. God's unconditional love makes the table of God's grace accessible to all.
There are various acceptable modes of receiving the Eucharist for Methodists. Some Methodists kneel at the altar, sometimes referred to as the communion table. In other churches, communicants stand or are served in the pew. Most Methodist Churches use unfermented grape juice instead of alcoholic wine (though there is no official restriction for United Methodists), and either leavened yeast bread or unleavened bread. The juice may be distributed in small cups, but the use of a common cup and the practice of communion by intinction (where the bread is dipped into the common cup and both elements are consumed together) is becoming more common among many Methodists.
The Methodist Church believes in the real presence of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion:
Jesus Christ, who "is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. God, who has given the sacraments to the church, acts in and through Holy Communion. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesus' name (Matthew 18:20), through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the elements of bread and wine shared (Bible verse 1|Corinthians|11:23–26). The divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participants; it is not a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion only.
The followers of John Wesley, himself an Anglican clergyman, have typically affirmed that the sacrament of Holy Communion is an instrumental Means of Grace through which the real presence of Christ is communicated to the believer, but have otherwise allowed the details to remain a mystery. In particular, Methodists reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (see "Article XVIII" of the Articles of Religion, Means of Grace). In 2004, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its view of the sacrament and its belief in the Real Presence in an official document entitled This Holy Mystery. Of particular note here is the Church's unequivocal recognition of the anamnesis as more than just a memorial but, rather, a re-presentation of Christ Jesus:
Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, but this remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. "Do this in remembrance of me" (Bible verse |Luke|22:19; Bible verse 1|Corinthians|11:24-25) is anamnesis (the biblical Greek word). This dynamic action becomes re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present, so powerfully as to make them truly present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past.
This affirmation of Real Presence can be seen clearly illustrated in the language of the United Methodist Eucharistic Liturgy (for example: Word and Table 1) where, in the epecletical portion of the Great Thanksgiving, the celebrating minister prays over the elements:
For most United Methodists — and, indeed, for much of Methodism as a whole — this reflects the furthest extent to which they are willing to go in defining Real Presence. They will assert that Jesus is really present, and that the means of this presence is a "Holy Mystery"; the celebrating minister will pray for the Holy Spirit to make the elements "be the body and blood of Christ", and the congregation will even sing, as in the third stanza of Charles Wesley's hymn Come Sinners to the Gospel Feast:
Come and partake the gospel feast,
Be saved from sin, in Jesus rest;
O taste the goodness of our God,
and eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Methodists believe that Holy Communion should not only be available to the clergy in both forms (the Bread and the Cup), but to the layman as well. According to Article XIX of the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church,

Calvinist/Reformed: Spiritual feeding, "Pneumatic" or "Spiritual" presence

Many Reformed Christians hold that Christ's body and blood are not actually present in the Eucharist. The elements are only symbols of the reality, which is spiritual nourishment in Christ.
The sum is, that the flesh and blood of Christ feed our souls just as bread and wine maintain and support our corporeal life. For there would be no aptitude in the sign, did not our souls find their nourishment in Christ. [...] I hold...that the sacred mystery of the Supper consists of two things—the corporeal signs, which, presented to the eye, represent invisible things in a manner adapted to our weak capacity, and the spiritual truth, which is at once figured and exhibited by the signs.
Following a phrase of Augustine, the Calvinist view is that "no one bears away from this Sacrament more than is gathered with the vessel of faith." "The flesh and blood of Christ are no less truly given to the unworthy than to God's elect believers", Calvin said. Faith, not a mere mental apprehension, and the work of the Holy Spirit, are necessary for the partaker to behold God incarnate, and in the same sense touch Christ with their hands; so that by eating and drinking of bread and wine Christ's actual presence penetrates to the heart of the believer more nearly than food swallowed with the mouth can enter in. The Sacrament is offered weekly and all active members are taught to prepare to partake of each opportunity. It is considered to be a weekly renewal of a member's commitment to follow Jesus Christ, and a plea for forgiveness of sins.
The Latter Day Saints do not believe in any kind of literal presence. They view the bread and water as symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. Currently The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses water instead of wine. Early in their history the Sacrament wine was often purchased from enemies of the church. To remove any opportunity for poisoned or wine unfit for use in the Sacrament, it is believed a revelation from the Lord was given that stated "it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory — remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins." After this time water became the liquid of choice for all Sacrament uses.

Zwinglian Reformed: no Real Presence

Some Protestant groups regard the Eucharist (also called the Lord's Supper or the Lord's Table) as a symbolic meal, a memorial of the Last Supper and the Passion in which nothing miraculous occurs. This view is known as the Zwinglian view, after Huldrych Zwingli, a Church leader in Zurich, Switzerland during the Reformation. It is commonly associated with the United Church of Christ, Baptists, and the Disciples of Christ. As with the Reformed view, elements left over from the service may be discarded without any formal ceremony, or if feasible may be retained for use in future services.
Some of the Reformed hold that Calvin actually held this view, and not the Spiritual feeding idea more commonly attributed to him; or that the two views are really the same.
The successor of Zwingli in Zurich, Heinrich Bullinger, came to an agreement theologically with John Calvin. The Consensus Tigurinus lays out an explanation of the doctrine of the Sacraments in general, and specifically, that of Holy Communion, as the view embraced by John Calvin and leaders of the Church of Zurich who followed Zwingli. It demonstrates that at least the successors of Zwingli held to the real spiritual presence view most commonly attributed to Calvin and Reformed Protestantism.
Some Christian denominations that hold this view include the United Church of Christ, the Baptist Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the Church of the Nazarene. The Plymouth Brethren hold the Lord's Supper, or the Breaking of Bread, instituted in the upper room on Christ's betrayal night, to be the weekly remembrance feast enjoyed on all true Christians. They celebrate the supper in utmost simplicity. Among 'closed' Brethren assemblies usually any one of the brothers gives thanks for the loaf and the cup. In conservative 'open' Brethren assemblies usually two different brothers give thanks, one for the loaf and the other for the cup. In liberal 'open' Brethren assemblies (or churches/community chapels, etc.) sisters also participate with audible prayer.

Summary of views

Because Jesus Christ is a person, theologies regarding the Eucharist involve consideration of the way in which the communicant's personal relationship with God is fed through this mystical meal. However, debates over Eucharistic theology in the West have centered not on the personal aspects of Christ's presence but on the metaphysical. The opposing views are summarized below.
  • "Transubstantiation" — the substance (fundamental reality) of the bread and wine is transformed in a way beyond human comprehension into that of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, but the accidents (physical traits, including chemical properties) of the bread and wine remain; this view is that taught by the Roman Catholic Church and by the Eastern Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem, and is held by many Anglicans, especially in Anglo-Catholic circles.
  • "Consubstantiation" or "Impanation"— "the bread retains its substance and ... Christ’s glorified body comes down into the bread through the consecration and is found there together with the natural substance of the bread, without quantity but whole and complete in every part of the sacramental bread." It was the position of the medieval scholastic doctor Duns Scotus It is erroneously used to denote the position of the Lutheran Church, although some Lutherans, Anglicans and non-Lutherans identify with this position.
  • "Sacramental union" — in the "use" of the sacrament, according to the words of Jesus Christ and by the power of his speaking of them once for all, the consecrated bread is united with his body and the consecrated wine with his blood for all communicants, whether believing or unbelieving, to eat and drink. This is the position of the Lutheran Church that echoes the next view with its "pious silence about technicalities" in that it objects to philosophical terms like "consubstantiation."
  • "Objective reality, but pious silence about technicalities" — the view of all the ancient Churches of the East, including the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Catholic Churches) and the Assyrian Church of the East as well as perhaps most Anglicans and Lutherans. These, while agreeing with the Roman Catholic belief that the sacrament is not merely bread and wine but truly the body and blood of Christ, and having historically employed the "substance" and "accidents" terminology to explain what is changed in the transformation, usually avoid this terminology, lest they seem to scrutize the technicalities of the manner in which the transformation occurs.
  • "Real Spiritual presence", also called "pneumatic presence", holds that not only the Spirit of Christ, but also the true body and blood of Jesus Christ (hence "real"), are received by the sovereign, mysterious, and miraculous power of the Holy Spirit (hence "spiritual"), but only by those partakers who have faith. This view approaches the "pious silence" view in its unwillingness to specify how the Holy Spirit makes Christ present, but positively excludes not just symbolism but also trans- and con-substantiation. It is also known as the "mystical presence" view, and is held by most Reformed Christians, such as Presbyterians, as well as some Methodists and some Anglicans, particularly Low Church Reformed Anglicans. See Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 29. This understanding is often called "receptionism". Some argue that this view can be seen as being suggested — though not by any means clearly — by the "invocation" of the Anglican Rite as found in the American Book of Common Prayer, 1928 and earlier and in Rite I of the American BCP of 1979 as well as in other Anglican formularies:
''And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us, and of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood.''
  • "Symbolism" — the bread and wine are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and in partaking of the elements the believer commemorates the sacrificial death of Christ. This view is also known as "memorialism" and "Zwinglianism" after Ulrich Zwingli and is held by several Protestant and Latter-day Saint denominations, including most Baptists.
  • "Suspension" — the partaking of the bread and wine was not intended to be a perpetual ordinance, or was not to be taken as a religious rite or ceremony (also known as adeipnonism, meaning "no supper" or "no meal"). This is the view of Quakers and the Salvation Army, as well as the hyperdispensationalist positions of E. W. Bullinger, Cornelius R. Stam, and others.

Ritual and liturgy


In many of the provinces and national jurisdictions of the Anglican Church, the Eucharist is designated as the principal service of the Church. The service for Holy Eucharist is found in the Book of Common Prayer for each national Church in the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Church holds the Eucharist as the highest form of worship, the Church's main service. Daily celebrations are now the case in most cathedrals and many parish churches, and there are few churches with a priest where Holy Communion is not celebrated at least once every Sunday. The nature of the ritual with which it is celebrated, however, varies according to the orientation of the individual parish, diocese or national Church.


The bread and "fruit of the vine" indicated in Matthew, Mark and Luke as the elements of the Lord's Supper are interpreted by Baptists as unleavened bread and, in line with their historical stance (since the mid-19th century) against partaking of alcoholic beverages, grape juice, which they commonly refer to simply as "the Cup".

Eastern Christianity

Among Eastern Christians, the Eucharistic service is called the Divine Liturgy. It comprises two main divisions: the first is the Liturgy of the Catechumens which consists of introductory litanies, antiphons and scripture readings, culminating in a reading from one of the Gospels and often, a sermon; the second is the Liturgy of the Faithful in which the Eucharist is offered, consecrated, and received as Holy Communion. Within the latter, the actual Eucharistic prayer is called the anaphora, literally: "offering" or "carrying up" (). In the Byzantine Rite, two different anaphoras are currently used: one is attributed to St. John Chrysostom, and the other to St. Basil the Great. Among the Oriental Orthodox, a variety of anaphoras are used, but all are similar in structure to those of the Byzantine Rite. In the Byzantine Rite, the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom is used most days of the year; St. Basil's is offered on the Sundays of Great Lent, the eves of Christmas and Theophany, Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, and upon his feast day (January 1). At the conclusion of the Anaphora the bread and wine are held to be the Body and Blood of Christ.
Conventionally this change in the elements is understood to occur at the Epiklesis (Greek: "invocation") by which the Holy Spirit is invoked and the consecration of the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ is specifically requested, but since the anaphora as a whole is considered a unitary (albeit lengthy) prayer, no one moment within it can be readily singled out.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses commemorate Christ's death as a ransom or propitiatory sacrifice by observing The Lord's Evening Meal, or Memorial, each year on Nisan 14 according to the ancient Jewish calendar. They believe that this is the only celebration commanded for Christians in the Bible. Of those who attend the Memorial a small minority worldwide will partake of the eating of the unleavened bread and the drinking of the wine.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that144,000 people will receive heavenly salvation and thus spend eternity with God in heaven. They are called the "anointed" and are the only ones who should partake of the bread and wine.
The celebration of the Memorial of Christ's Death proceeds as follows: In advance of the Memorial, Jehovah's Witnesses invite anyone that may be interested to attend this special night. The week of the Memorial is generally filled with special activity in the ministry, such as door-to-door work. A suitable hall, for example a Kingdom Hall, is prepared for the occasion. The Memorial begins with a song and a prayer. The prayer is followed by a discourse on the importance of the evening. A table is set with wine and unleavened bread. Jehovah's Witnesses believe the bread stands for Jesus Christ's body which he gave on behalf of mankind, and that the wine stands for his blood which redeems from sin. They do not believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation. Hence, the wine and the bread are merely symbols (sometimes referred to as "emblems"), but they have a very deep and profound meaning for Jehovah's Witnesses. A prayer is offered and the bread is circulated among the audience. Only those who are "anointed" partake. Then another prayer is offered, and the wine is circulated in the same manner. After that, the evening concludes with a final song and prayer.
It is common for the bread and wine to be passed in a local Kingdom Hall and have no partakers.

Latter Day Saint movement

In the Latter Day Saint movement (also known as Mormonism), the "Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper", more simply referred to as the Sacrament, is held at the beginning of Sacrament meeting. The Sacrament, both bread and water, is prepared by priesthood holders prior to the beginning of the meeting. At the beginning of the Sacrament priests say individual prayers to bless the bread and water. The bread is passed first after the priests have broken slices of bread into small pieces. All in attendance are provided an opportunity to partake of the Sacrament as it is passed from row to row by priesthood holders. After all have who desire partake, the bread is returned to the priests, who then replace the bread trays and cover them, while uncovering the water held in trays. The priests then say the second prayer and the water is then passed in small individual cups, just as the bread was.


In the Lutheran Book of Concord, in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, article 24, paragraph 1 it is asserted that among Lutherans in 1531 the eucharist was celebrated weekly: "In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals, when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved." This was the Lutheran response to those who accused them of abolishing the eucharist. Strict adherence to this assertion varies in present day Lutheranism as does the manner of manner of sacramental practice. Some congregations celebrate the eucharist in formal rites similar to the Roman Catholic and "high" Anglican services. Other congregations may celebrate the sacrament outside of traditional liturgical worship services, such as during in-home meetings and services. Administration of the sacrament varies between congregations. The bread can be a thin wafer, or leavened or unleavened. The wine may be administered via a common cup (the "chalice"), or through individual cups that may be either prefilled or filled from the chalice during the distribution of the sacrament. Intinction is acceptable, but rarely used. Some congregations that use wine, make grape juice available for those who are abstaining from alcohol, and some will accommodate those with an allergy to wheat or grapes.


In the Reformed Churches the Eucharist is variously administered. Acknowledging that the bread at the Passover celebration was almost certainly unleavened, some Churches use bread without any raising agent (whether leaven or yeast). The Presbyterian Church (USA), for instance, prescribes "bread common to the culture". The wine served might be true alcoholic red wine or grape juice, from either a chalice or from individual cups. Hearkening back to the regulative principle of worship, the Reformed tradition had long eschewed coming forward to receive communion, preferring to have the elements distributed throughout the congregation by the presbyters (elders) more in the style of a shared meal, but some Churches have reappropriated a High Church liturgy in the spirit of Philip Schaff's Mercersburg theology, which held ancient traditions of the Church in higher esteem than did much of the Reformed world. The elements may be found served separately with "consecration" for each element or together. Communion is usually open to all baptized believers, and although often it is reserved for those who are members in good standing of a Bible-believing Church, participation is left as a matter of conscience.

Roman Catholicism

See Mass (Catholic Church) for Catholic worship in the Latin Rite and Divine Liturgy for worship in the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Open and closed communion

Christian denominations differ in their understanding of whether they may receive the Eucharist with those with whom they are not in full communion. The famed apologist St. Justin Martyr (c. 150) wrote: "No one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true...." For the first several hundred years, non-members were forbidden even to be present at the sacramental ritual; visitors and catechumens (those still undergoing instruction) were dismissed halfway through the Liturgy, after the Bible readings and sermon but before the Eucharistic rite. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used in the Byzantine Churches, still has a formula of dismissal of catechumens (not usually followed by any action) at this point.
The ancient Churches, such as the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox exclude non-members from Communion under normal circumstances, though they may allow exceptions, e.g., for non-members in danger of death who share their faith in the reality of the Eucharist and who are unable to have access to a minister of their own religion. Many conservative Protestant communities also practice closed communion, including conservative Lutheran Churches like the Old Lutheran Church. The Landmark Baptist Churches also practices closed communion, as a symbol of exclusive membership and loyalty to the distinctive doctrines of their fellowship.
Most Protestant communities practice open communion, including some Anglican, Reformed, Evangelical, Methodist, and more-liberal Lutherans (such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Church of Sweden). Some open communion communities adhere to a symbolic or spiritual understanding of the Eucharist, so that they have no fear of sacrilege against the literal body and blood of Christ if someone receives inappropriately. Others feel that Christ calls all of his children to his table, regardless of their denominational affiliation. Many Churches that practice open communion offer it only to baptized Christians (regardless of denomination), although this requirement is typically only enforced by the recipients' honesty. Some Progressive Christian congregations offer communion to any individual who wishes to commemorate the life and teachings of Christ, regardless of religious affiliation.

The Eucharist and health issues

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church believes that the matter for the Eucharist must be wheaten bread and wine from grapes: it holds that, if the gluten has been entirely removed, the result is not true wheaten bread, and that grape juice that has not begun even minimally to ferment cannot be accepted as wine. It allows in certain circumstances low-gluten bread and mustum (grape juice in which fermentation has begun but has been suspended without altering the nature of the juice). Besides, except for the priest, those who participate in Mass may receive Holy Communion in the form of either bread alone or wine alone.

Other traditions

Alternatives to wine

Many churches allow alcoholic priests and communicants to take mustum instead of wine. Some churches offer grape juice in which fermentation has not even begun or water as an alternative to wine.

Alternatives to wheaten bread

With exception of the Roman Catholic Church, most mainline Christian churches offer their communicants gluten-free alternatives to wheaten bread, usually in the form of a rice-based cracker or gluten-free bread.

Names by which the Eucharist is known

  • "The Lord's Supper", the term used in Bible verse 1|Corinthians|11:20. "The Lord's Supper" is also a common term among Lutherans, as is "The Sacrament of the Altar". Other Churches and denominations also use the term, but generally not as their basic, routine term. The use is predominant among Baptist groups, who generally avoid using the term "Communion", due to its use (though in a more limited sense) by the Roman Catholic Church.
  • "The Breaking of Bread", a phrase that appears in the New Testament in contexts in which, according to some, it may refer to celebration of the Eucharist: Bible verse |Luke|24:35;Bible verse |Acts|2:42, , ; Bible verse 1|Corinthians|10:16.
  • "Communion" (from Latin communio, "sharing in common") or "Holy Communion", used, with different meanings, by Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, and many Protestants, including Lutherans. Catholics and Orthodox apply this term not to the Eucharistic rite as a whole, but only to the partaking of the consecrated bread and wine, and to these consecrated elements themselves. In their understanding, it is possible to participate in the celebration of the Eucharistic rite without necessarily "receiving Holy Communion" (partaking of the consecrated elements. Groups that originated in the Protestant Reformation usually apply this term instead to the whole rite. The meaning of the term "Communion" here is multivocal in that it also refers to the relationship of the participating Christians, as individuals or as Church, with God and with other Christians (see Communion (Christian)).
  • In Oriental Orthodoxy the terms "Oblation" (Syriac, Coptic and Armenian Churches) and "Consecration" (Ethiopian Church) are used. Likewise, in the Gaelic language of Ireland and Scotland the word "Aifreann", usually translated into English as "Mass", is derived from Late Latin "Offerendum", meaning "oblation", "offering".
  • The many other expressions used include "Table of the Lord" (cf. Bible verse 1|Corinthians|10:16), the "Lord's Body" (cf. Bible verse 1|Corinthians|11:29), "Holy of Holies".


External links

Liturgical texts & services

communicant in Arabic: افخارستيا
communicant in Catalan: Eucaristia
communicant in Czech: Eucharistie
communicant in Danish: Nadver
communicant in German: Abendmahl
communicant in Estonian: Armulaua sakrament
communicant in Modern Greek (1453-): Θεία Ευχαριστία
communicant in Spanish: Eucaristía
communicant in Esperanto: Komunio
communicant in Persian: عشای ربانی
communicant in French: Eucharistie
communicant in Scottish Gaelic: Abhlan coisrigte
communicant in Korean: 성찬
communicant in Croatian: Euharistija
communicant in Indonesian: Perjamuan Kudus
communicant in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Eucharistia
communicant in Italian: Eucaristia
communicant in Georgian: ზიარება
communicant in Latin: Eucharistia
communicant in Lithuanian: Eucharistija
communicant in Hungarian: Eucharisztia
communicant in Malay (macrolanguage): Ekaristi
communicant in Dutch: Eucharistie
communicant in Japanese: 聖餐
communicant in Norwegian: Nattverd
communicant in Norwegian Nynorsk: Nattverd
communicant in Portuguese: Eucaristia
communicant in Romanian: Frângerea pâinii
communicant in Quechua: Siñurpa Sinan
communicant in Russian: Евхаристия
communicant in Albanian: Eukaristia
communicant in Simple English: Eucharist
communicant in Slovenian: Evharistija
communicant in Serbian: Евхаристија
communicant in Serbo-Croatian: Euharistija
communicant in Finnish: Ehtoollinen
communicant in Swedish: Nattvard
communicant in Vietnamese: Tiệc Thánh
communicant in Ukrainian: Євхаристія
communicant in Chinese: 聖餐禮
communicant in Slovak: Sviatosť Oltárna

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1