Holy Communion

COMMUNION, THE HOLY. Variously called the Lord's Supper  and the Eucharist. This Service, formerly exclusively called the Liturgy  is the highest act of Christian worship. We will consider it under four heads,—(1) History; (2) Rubrics; (3) Service; (4) Views.

(1) History. The two Sacraments—Holy Communion, and Holy Baptism—differ from all other Christian observances in that they are the only two expressly ordained by our Lord. We have four records of the institution of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament, viz., Matt, xxvi.26-28; Mark xiv.22-24; Luke xxii.19-20; 1 Cor. xi.23-25. In obedience to our Lord's command, "This do in remembrance of Me," we find the Apostles constantly celebrated the Holy Communion; Acts ii.46; xx.7; &c. This was always accompanied by a set form of prayer, traces of which we may even find in the New Testament—Acts ii.42; 1 Cor. x.16; 1 Cor. xiv.16. Justin Martyr, who wrote A.D. 140, gives an account of a Sunday Service. Almsgiving usually, if not always, accompanied a celebration of the Holy Communion. As the number of Christians increased, the various Churches throughout Europe compiled for their own use forms of prayer for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist; the form most used in England was known by the name of the "Sarum, or Salisbury, Use." The Communion Service in our Prayer Book is based upon, and translated from, this "Sarum Use," with considerable modifications and adaptations. The first reformed Office appeared in 1548; the first full English Office was put forth in 1549; the present Office is substantially that in the second Prayer Book of Edward VI., 1552. A great deal of it is from Hermann's "Consultation," a Liturgy drawn up in 1543 by Melanchthon and Bucer.

(2) Rubrics. The first, inserted in 1661, has become virtually obsolete. The "Ordinary," mentioned in the third, is the Bishop, and the "Canon" referred to is the 109th. For first part of fourth rubric, see Altar. For the latter part of this rubric, see Eastward Position. This rubric was added in 1552.

The rubric before the Commandments was inserted in 1552, but the words "turning to the people," were added in 1661. The next was inserted in 1549. In the next rubric, the alternate form of giving out the Epistle is for use when the passage selected as the Epistle is not really from the Epistles, but is some other "portion of Scripture;" the "sung or said" refers, possibly, to the Cathedral and Parochial modes of conducting Service. (See Church Music.)

Three rubrics follow the Nicene Creed; in the first, 1662, the word "Curate," there and elsewhere in the Prayer Book, means the minister in charge of the parish, having "cure of souls," not the assistant minister generally so denominated now. The direction that notice of Holy Communion is to be given at this part of the service is quite contradictory to the rubric following the Prayer for the Church Militant, which should be altered. The word "Homily," in the second of these rubrics, means "a plain sermon." Two books of Homilies have been put forth, one in 1547, by Archbp. Cranmer and others, and the second in 1562, by Bishop Jewel. There is no authority in this, or any other rubric, for changing the surplice for a black gown, neither is there any direction for a prayer before the sermon, although a form is given in the 55th Canon. (See Bidding Prayer.)

For the next rubric see Offertory.

The first rubric after the Offertory Sentences was inserted in 1661; in 1552 the alms were to be put in the poor box, and not presented. The next rubric orders the bread and wine to be placed on the Holy Table, thus implying the existence of some shelf or table, called the Credence Table, on which they had been previously placed. This rubric was omitted from 1552 to 1661, which perhaps accounts for the custom existing in some churches of not placing the elements on the altar till the time of consecration. The rubrics before the two exhortations giving notice of Holy Communion, were inserted in 1661, but now they have fallen into disuse. The next rubric, inserted in 1552, refers to the custom, almost obsolete now, of intending communicants taking places in the chancel for the rest of the service.

The rubric before the Confession is ambiguous in language, and may mean that the Confession is to be said by the minister alone. The next rubric, directing the Bishop, if present, to pronounce the Absolution, is from the Scottish Office, and was introduced here in 1661. For the rubric before the Consecration prayer, see Eastward Position. The "fair linen cloth," ordered to be thrown over what remains of the consecrated elements, is by some thought to represent the linen clothes in which the Saviour's body was wrapped when placed in the tomb.

Of the nine rubrics at the close of the service, the second, third, and fourth are directed against the practice obtaining in the Roman Catholic Church of solitary masses. The fifth is stated by Archbishop Parker and Bishop Cosin not to forbid the use of wafer-bread, but merely to legalize the use of ordinary bread. The rubric in the Scottish Liturgy expresses this more clearly,—"Though it be lawful to have wafer-bread, it shall suffice that the bread be such as is usual." The sixth rubric exhibits the Church's careful and reverent treatment of the remains of the consecrated elements; but its main office was to forbid the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament for the use of invalids and others. This was allowed in the primitive Church, and is now by the Scottish Episcopal Church; but the superstitions which grew up around the custom seemed to make the present rule necessary. The next rubric has been required since offerings in kind were discontinued.

In the next rubric the Lateran Council (1215) enjoined one communion yearly, at Easter-tide only; but the present rule is more in accordance with the custom of the ancient Church, and encourages lay communions.

The last rubric only provides for the distribution of alms when there is an offertory, i.e. the reading of the offertory sentences. Other collections are in the hands of the incumbent only. The Ordinary is the Bishop.

The "declaration" is a protest against certain low and gross notions of a carnal presence, as taught in the Roman Church. The "kneeling " here, and the "meekly kneeling " in the rubric after the Consecration Prayer, exclude prostration, which is not kneeling.

(3) The Service. As was said in the paragraph on the History  of the Communion Service, it is chiefly taken from the "Sarum Use." When there is no celebration, the Service concludes with a Collect and the Benediction, said immediately after the Prayer for the Church Militant; and this is called the Ante-Communion Office. The Lord's Prayer is said by the Priest alone, notwithstanding the general rubric to the contrary; that, and the Collect following, being taken from an Office which was repeated by the Priest alone, in preparation for Mass. The Decalogue was inserted in 1552 (see Commandments.) In the Collects following, the Mediaeval Offices coupled the Pope, King, and Bishop of Diocese together.

It is an ancient custom to sit during the reading of the Epistle, and to stand during the reading of the Gospel, out of reverence for the repetition of the words or acts of Christ. The Doxology "Glory be to Thee, O Lord" has, from a very early period, followed the announcement of the Gospel; but the "Thanks be to Thee, O Lord," afterwards, is a comparatively late custom. For the Nicene Creed, see Creed. In the Prayer Book of 1662, the Banns of Marriage were ordered to be published after the Nicene Creed. For the Sermon see article Sermon. The sentences following are called the "Offertory Sentences;" formerly a verse was sung before the oblation of the elements. The next prayer, called the Prayer for the Church Militant, has, in some form or other, formed part of every known Liturgy. It is divided into three main parts—(1) The Oblation; (2) Commemoration of the living; (3) Commemoration of the faithful departed. The oblation is twofold, firstly of the alms which have been collected, and, secondly, of the elements, the bread and wine for Holy Communion. The Exhortations, here and elsewhere in the Prayer Book, are sixteenth century compositions. The first is from Hermann's "Consultation" (which see); the close of this exhortation is important as shewing that in certain cases the Reformers allowed auricular confession. The parts of this Service following the Exhortations are respectively called the Invitation, Confession, Absolution, and the "Comfortable Words," and are very characteristic of the Anglican Liturgy. After the "Comfortable Words" begins the most solemn part of the Office, anciently called the Canon. The versicles, called, after the Latin for the first, the "Sarsum Corda," are found in all Liturgies; and the "Holy, Holy, Holy,"—the Ter-sanctus,—is probably from Apostolic times. The "Proper Prefaces" are five out of the ten found in English and Roman Missals; the first is an old form, re-modelled in 1549; the second remains as it was in 494; the third dates from 590; the fourth seems to be a new composition in 1549; the fifth, like the second, dates from 494. Next follows a very beautiful prayer, called the "Prayer of Humble Access," which is peculiar to the Anglican Liturgy. After this comes the "Prayer of Consecration." The recital of the words and actions used by our blessed Lord at the Institution of this Holy Feast has always formed an essential feature in every Liturgy. The form of words to be used at the Reception has varied. Originally, the words used were, "The Body of Christ," "The Blood of Christ." Of the form in use now, the first clause only was ordered in 1549, the second only in 1552, and both were combined in 1559. The Lord's Prayer, following, formerly was part of the Consecration Prayer; and the next prayer, called the "Oblation," was the conclusion of the Consecration Prayer in 1549. After the alternate prayer, composed in 1549, comes the ancient hymn known as the "Gloria in Excelsis," or "Angelic Hymn," or the "Great Doxology." It is of Eastern origin, and in the time of Athanasius was said, together with certain Psalms, at dawn. The "Benediction" is a Scriptural composition of the Reformed Church, the latter part being from Hermann's Consultation. Of the collects concluding the service, the first, second, and fourth are from ancient Offices, the others being composed in 1549.

(4) Viewsor Doctrine. In nothing does the belief of men so differ as in this matter of Holy Communion. There may be said to be three views existing among members of the Church of England relative to that which all allow to be the greatest ordinance of religion. This difference of belief in this matter is the real foundation of party spirit in the Church.

(a ) The Symbolic : viz., that consecration simply implies a setting apart for a holy use of certain elements by a Minister authorised to do so; that the Bread and Wine thus set apart are symbols of Christ's Body, which was broken, and of His blood, which was shed; and that the participation of them is, on the one hand, a sign of the fellowship of love binding all true hearts together; and, on the other, a sign of the nourishment and growth of the soul, as fed by Christ Himself. This is the doctrine of Zuinglius, the Swiss Reformer. It is adverse to the doctrine of the whole primitive Church, which, says Bishop H. Browne, "unquestionably believed in a presence  of Christ in the Eucharist." (Art. xxviii. Sec. I.)

(b ) The Receptionist ; viz., that after consecration the elements become in such a sense changed that they become the channels through which the Body and Blood of Christ are subsequently conveyed to those who receive them with certain dispositions of mind. The Presence of Christ in the elements is potential, not actual; that is, the elements have the power of conveying the Presence of Christ to only a properly qualified receiver.

(c ) The Objective ; viz., that after the consecration the elements receive not potentially, but actually, the Present Body and Blood of Christ, and that therefore, the Presence does not depend, as in the view above, upon faithful participation, but upon the act of consecration.

More briefly, the Holy Communion is considered as (1) a memorial feast of love; (2) the actual Presence of Christ in the heart of the faithful recipient; this might also be called the Subjective view of the Real Presence; and (3) the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated elements themselves, or the Objective view.

There is also the Sacrificial  view of the Eucharist, which is held, in a greater or less degree, by all schools of thought. Sadler, in "Church Doctrine,—Bible Truth," thus states what he believes to be the Church of England view—"The Eucharist is the solemn ecclesiastical memorial of the Sacrifice of the Death of Christ. It is the Saviour's own ordained means of showing forth before God, men, and angels. His love in His Death. Just as the Old Law sacrifices were anticipatory showings forth of the One Atoning Death which was to be, so this Communion is a memorial, or commemorative showing forth, of the One Atoning Death which has been."