Holy Communion - Communion History and Practices

Holy Communion, also known as the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper, is a Christian rite that's observed in many Christian churches. During Holy Communion, members of the church are able to file to the altar to receive a wafer and a sip of wine. The wafer represents the body of Christ and the wine represents His blood. Holy Communion is done in remembrance of Jesus and the Last Supper.

Biblical Beginnings

Like other Christian traditions, the Eucharist has roots in the Bible. During the Last Supper, Jesus shared a final meal with His disciples before He was betrayed. He presided over the Last Supper prior to His crucifixion and instructed the disciples that the bread was His body and the wine was His blood. They shared one final meal together before He was crucified, and they were left to continue His legacy. Modern Communion services recount this final meeting with members of the church partaking in the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus and the Last Supper.

Elements of Holy Communion

The elements of the Eucharist are simple. Sacramental bread (or flour wafers) and sacramental wine (or grape juice) are consecrated on the altar or communion table prior to being offered to those that can receive Communion. Christians in general recognize a special presence of Christ during the rite, though there is some difference in opinion about how and when He is present.

Roman Catholics place special emphasis on the consecration of the communion wafers and wine. They believe that through a process known as transubstantiation, the wafers and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. Other Christian religions may believe that the body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine while reformed Christians put more of a spiritual emphasis on the rite.

In addition to wafers and wine, a Mass Set and a crucifix are almost always present as Communion is a part of a Mass service. Mass sets may vary, but most include a ceremonial chalice, a paten, a ciborium, a pair of cruets and a sprinkler. Optional items like candles, oil stocks, finger cloths and altar cloths may also accompany the set depending on the size and demands of the church.

Liturgy

Many Christian denominations consider the Eucharist a sacrament while others call it an ordinance. Those that consider it an ordinance do not consider accepting Communion a specific channel of divine grace, but rather an act of obedience to God. It is also viewed as an expression of faith in some Christian churches. In the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is considered a sacrament. All other sacraments are considered bound to the Eucharist, making it one of the most important of the sacraments as well as one of the first sacraments an individual will receive.

How Holy Communion is Received

In most churches, Communion is given following a Mass service. Depending on the church, either a closed Communion or an open Communion will be observed. In a closed Communion, only members of the church who are in good standing may come forward to receive the Eucharist. In an open Communion, all Christians are invited to partake in the Lord's Supper with membership to a particular Christian community or church not being required. In the Catholic Church, members are required to receive Communion at least once per year, though they are urged to receive it more often.

For Catholics, it's important to be in a state of grace before receiving Communion. If the individual is aware of having committed a sin, they must participate in the Sacrament of Confession before receiving Communion. All individuals must also abstain from food or drink for at least one hour prior to receiving Communion. This is usually not a problem, as the sacrament follows a standard Mass service.

Prior to the presentation of the Eucharist, the priest will perform a brief ceremony where the wine and wafers are blessed. In the Catholic faith, this is the point when the elements are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. At the end of the ceremony, the priest will call forward all those wishing to receive Communion. They will file to the front of the church where they will be given a wafer and a small sip of wine or grape juice. Alternatively, in some churches the wafer is dipped in the wine before consumption rather than separating the wine and wafers. Spiritually, the act of Communion brings the recipient grace and helps their souls become more united with Christ. Physically, Communion relieves people of their passions, helping them avoid sin and grow closer to Christ.

Holy Communion is a special ceremony that is meant to draw Christians closer to Christ. The rite of Communion was first described in the Bible and is in remembrance of the Last Supper. While the process of offering Communion and even the requirements to receive it may vary from one church to another, the intent remains the same throughout all of Christianity.

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