Holy Communion

For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him – John 6:55-56

Holy Communion is referred to by many names: the Eucharist (“thanksgiving”), the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread, and the Sacrament of the Altar among others.

Holy Communion is a sacrament. The outward part of the sacrament is bread and wine, the inward part is the Body and Blood of Christ. The divine grace conferred on us by participation is the real presence of Our Lord and Saviour, nourishing our souls as bread and wine nourish our bodies. The sacrament is a remembrance of and a means of participating in the Passion of Our Lord, a sacrifice given once for all for our redemption.

What are the Origins of Holy Communion?

Holy Communion was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper. The initiation of the Eucharist can be found in the Synoptic Gospels:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.-Matthew 26:26-29

And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.-Mark 14:22-25

And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.-Luke 22:19-20

And is also recounted in the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians:

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.-1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The Last Supper is recalled by the celebration of Maundy Thursday, which recalls the mandate or commandment of Our Lord to remember him (through the sacrament of Communion) and to serve others (through his teachings and the example of washing his disciples’ feet).

The Last Supper was a celebration of the traditional Jewish Passover meal, commemorating the Exodus – the delivery of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. On night of the final Plague, the Israelites marked their doorways with the blood of lambs. An angel passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, but slew the firstborn of all other households. As the Passover celebrates the historical deliverance of the Israelites from death and bondage, so the Eucharist celebrates the ongoing deliverance of Christian believers from bondage to death and into everlasting life. Jesus is our Paschal lamb, and by being marked spiritually by his blood, we are redeemed.

How is Holy Communion Celebrated?

The celebrant (that is, the priest who is celebrating or conducting the sacrament) offers bread (also called the host) and wine. These elements are consecrated (literally ‘set apart’) and become the spiritual Body and Blood of Christ.

In the Anglican Catholic tradition, communicants receive Communion in both species (or kinds), that is both bread and wine. The bread is usually received directly on the tongue or in open palms (the left hand under the right). Wine may be received by sipping from the chalice (cup), by dipping the bread into the wine and eating it, or by having the Eucharistic minister take the bread, dip it, and place it on the tongue of the communicant.

How Does One Prepare for Holy Communion?

“…as the benefit is great, if with a true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; so is the danger great, if we receive the same unworthily. Judge therefore yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord; repent you truly for your sins past; have a lively and stedfast faith in Christ our Saviour; amend your lives, be in perfect charity with all men; so shall ye be meet partakers of those holy mysteries.“ – from the Book of Common Prayer

Prior to every Communion, a communicant must spiritually prepare. A suggested method for doing this is to begin by considering the commandments (the summary of the Law or the Ten Commandments). Where one has broken the rules, one needs to confess, repent, and ask for God’s forgiveness. This can be done via the sacrament of Penance (private confession); a general confession and absolution is also present in the Mass as part of the preparation for Holy Communion. Further, if one is angry or upset with someone else or knows that he/she has done wrong to someone else, one is called to make restitution and ask pardon for wrongs done and to forgive wrongs suffered. A communicant should be (to the best of his/her ability) right with God and right with his/her neighbor in order to be properly prepared to receive.

Traditionally, Holy Communion is received fasting (typically since waking that morning). Where that is not practical, one would usually eat a smaller than usual meal (hence the tradition of large, post-Mass Sunday brunches!).

All of this is done to focus ones mind and prepare ones spirit to be worthy places for Our Lord to fill with his presence in this Sacrament of the Altar.

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord-1 Corinthians 11:26-27