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Different methods of Communion

Most Christians churches celebrate Communion, which is also known as the Lord's Supper and Eucharist. This rite originates at the last meal which Jesus ate with his Apostles on the night before he was crucified. During the meal, Jesus took some bread and ate a piece and then passed it to his Apostles and told them to eat a piece. He then said, "This is my body which I will give for you." Jesus took a cup of wine and drank some and then told his Apostles to also drink from the same cup. He then said "This is my blood which I will give for you." So Christians drink wine (or some grape juice) and eat bread in order to remember the sacrifice of Jesus.

Variations on Communion have developed throughout the history of Christianity. This article will hit the high points concerning Communion, which is also called Holy Communion, and the Lord’s Supper, and Eucharist.

Method: (1) A common cup and bread. Each person eats the bread and drinks out of a common cup, usually a chalice (goblet). Sometimes individuals handle the elements (bread and wine/grape juice) themselves and sometimes they are served. (2) Separate small glasses and bread. Each person gets a tiny glass to drink out of plus bread. (3) Intinction. Each person dips a piece of bread into a chalice of wine. Or, the minister/priest will dip the bread into a chalice and then place it on the person’s tongue. (4) I have heard of a Greek Orthodox Church where the priest holds a chalice filled with wine and bread, and he uses a golden spoon to dip into the wine/bread mixture and serve to each person.

Symbol versus Presence: Three different views. (1) No change takes place. Some believe that Communion is only a remembrance of the Last Supper and nothing happens to the elements. (2) Consubstantiation. In this view, the bread and wine remain just that, there is no change. But Christ does participate with them. As an example, think of heating a bar of iron. A cold bar of iron is iron, and a hot bar of iron is iron. The iron itself has not changed, but "alongside" the iron heat has been added. The hot bar of iron has iron and heat. So in Communion, Jesus comes "alongside" the elements. (3) Transubstantiation. Some Christian groups believe that the elements become the body and blood of Christ. Think of it this way: when a general tells a captain, "You are now a major," the captain no longer exists because the person is now a major. He looks the same but he is different. So, when a priest blesses the bread, it looks the same but it is different; it is now the body of Christ.

Grape juice versus wine: Some Christian groups use grape juice instead of wine. History reveals the reason. In 1800, every Christian group used wine. (Except for Quakers who view Communion as a spiritual and not a physical act. The Salvation Army, developed in the late 1800s, has the same understanding.) Then a revival swept across the young country (the Second Great Awakening) and large numbers of people became Christians. Many of these new Christians looked around their relatively new country and decided to change some things. One thing was to reduce the American drinking habit: So sprang up the Temperance Movement. (Prior to the mid-1800s, alcohol consumption was common, mainly because water purification on a large scale did not exist.) It would culminate in the short-lived 18th Amendment of 1920 which outlawed alcohol. In response to this, some Christian groups decided to switch from wine to grape juice in their Communion services. Once alcohol consumption declined, though, these groups did not switch back to wine but stayed with grape juice. And that is why some use grape juice today.

Over the years, I have asked a number of people why some groups use grape juice. I usually get one of two responses: (1) the fermentation process had not been developed in Jesus’ day or (2) someone in the audience might be a recovering alcoholic and so drinking wine might get them back in the habit. But now you know the real reason. And that is the beauty in studying church history.

The most bizarre case of Communion I have heard: At a youth retreat (the pastor told me later), the pastor of a church I used to attend took an apple and used it as Communion. He explained that the juice of the apple represented the wine/blood of Christ and the "meat" of the apple represented the bread/body of Christ. He added that because many associate the apple with Adam’s sin, this signified that Jesus’ obedience had reversed the sin of Adam.

Concerning the bread: most Christian groups use separate small pieces of bread, although I have seen a loaf of bread used and each person tears off a piece (usually in the Orthodox services I have attended).

©2005 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved