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Tuesday, April 3. 2012
Is a life without some form of spiritual (I hate that word) communion a half-dead, or dead, life? Many who partake of it would say that it is. Christ offered "life in abundance" (John 10:10) - and he did not mean toys, money, entertainment, comforts, food, or trinkets.
We got on this topic of communion at my men's Bible group on Friday (we were reading Mark 14 - a key chapter in the NT).
I thought I had recalled that the communion had first been a reference to the communal meal at the end of the early house churchs' worships, of which, of course, bread and wine were part. A "love feast." A communion with Christ, or with brethren? Both, I'd suppose. It's all the same.
The Eucharist ("Thanksgiving") as a formal church ceremony and a sacrament to the Catholics emerged hundreds of years later. The communal, celebratory meal became a symbolic meal and then, in the Catholic Church, a miraculous meal as was made official dogma at the Council of Trent in the 1500s.
(In my Protestant church we do both the symbolic meal and a serious, carb-packed breakfast spread afterwards which I term "the cocktail party." No vino, however - because it's too early in the day for most of us.)
Christ's simple instructions, followed by the "Do this in remembrance of me" at the last supper (Passover) were altered versions of the Passover traditions, in which, in claiming His New Covenant of salvation and anticipating his death and resurrection, Christ related it to himself (I will not get into the topic of the Trinity because it's over my head, nor will I get into the symbolic cannibalistic imagery).
So a question we had in mind was whether the remembrance is for every meal, for communal meals, for special times like Passover (which my church celebrates with a traditional Passover meal, in silence), for church ceremonies - or even whether it might apply to our Bible study's coffee - but not to confuse Dunkin' Donuts with the church's Welch's Grape Juice. We also wondered whether the tone is best solemn, or celebratory (our church does the solemn).
As a Protestant, I tend to think Christ was asking to be remembered at every meal with brethren. However, I have been wrong often. I'd welcome any enlightenment on these topics from readers because I am probably wrong about much of this.
Most Protestants use these words, quoting Paul:
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I attend a LUtheran church, and we give everybody a choice, wine from the common cup, wine in little cups, or grape juice in little cups, and it works really well. Communion should not be pressured, it should be meditative, although I am interested in your idea of joyful. Maybe for Pentecost? The apostles were mistaken for drunks, then.
The Protestant churches have moved so far in the communion direction of Catholics, at least the Lutherans and Episcopalians. It used to be a once-a-month affair, and now almost all churches seem to do it every week.
My favorite service of the whole year is Maundy Thursday, where, following communion, we strip the altar and turn out all the lights. It goes from a regular service to this death march. On Good Friday, we do a Passion Play, where we totally fill the church. And then there's Easter! I actually don't like this service as much becuase there are so many people there who don't really believe, but I remind myself that Christ would welcome them all -- maybe one or two will be moved and come back next week.
The people in the early church had meals together. I've heard lots of mutually contradicting stuff about what people in the early church did, but I think that bit is without question. Was it all meals that were partaken together? Probably not, is my view.
So when we are gathered together as Christian believers for a meal, I think the writings of the early church leaders support having something like the Eucharist ceremony as a part of the formal blessing that we tend to do at the start of such meals. When we gather as a biological or nuclear family, or as such with a few believing guests? Or a meal with a believing friend? I don't know. I have on occasion done so, when it seemed right.
But church denominations have (for reasons good and bad) rules and policies, and for many Communion must be celebrated by a priest ordained as such by a bishop in the line of succession etc. This would limit the celebration to such events as have a qualified individual present.
My own observation, having attended churches that do the ceremony every week and churches that do it rarely, and having attended churches that have a meal together every week and those that don't, is that we are missing far more by missing the physically nutritious meal together than we miss by infrequent participation in the symbolic meal with the Elements of Communion.
Happy to share my thoughts on the understanding that they are not enlightenment but just my thoughts.
I've always worshipped in the High end of the Chruch of England where we celebrate the Eucharist frequently, and I think about it frequently.
Christ said "This is my body" he did not say "this symbolises my body". A symbol is by it's nature is different from what it symbolises.
I think that when we reflect on the nature of the Sacrament we tend to drift back to the age of Luther, forgetting that our understanding of matter is entirely different from what it was in the 16th Century. I'm not suggesing that any kind of chemical reaction takes place on consecration.
Perhaps it is easier for the 21st Century to think of the Eucharist as one eternal Eucharist. We are all in the Upper Room together. The fact that I'm in the Upper Room twice a week and some of you twice a year is neither here nor there, because it is the same Eucharist.
How should we share it? Solemnly because we are in the Upper Room and joyfully because the Bridegroom is with us.
To add another data point to your posting:
Our small Methodist church has communion almost every week, since our pastor (my wife) was raised as a Catholic. Other UMC churches in our city are predominantly in the once-a-month mode. It is probably the most solemn portion of our worship service - but since our services are pretty informal (we generally have only 20 in worship and everyone is close), that might not be the same is in a more high-church setting.
We use Welch's grape juice because that is what Methodists do - even though most of us would rather have wine. We use Kings Hawaiian bread in the big round loaf when we remember to stop and pick it up at the store before driving up to church. Otherwise, we use those poker chip things. Pull off a hunk of bread, dip it in the juice, and eat it.
As for symbolism; Methodists aren't well known for enforcing a strict orthodoxy, so beliefs on the meaning of the Eucharist probably range all the way from transubstantiation to "nice remembrance ceremony". I'm somewhere in the middle of that range, myself.
You might be interested to read the Fathers of the CHurch about the Eucharist. I think you'd find that the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist goes back to the most anicient days of the church.
I'm curious about churches that eat meals together. When? Who organizes it? Who cooks? Who cleans up?
It does seem, instinctively, that the Early Church would have had communion in the context of a real meal.
My uncle was, long ago, one of the leading scholars in Canon Law for the Catholic Church. He eventually left the church for personal reasons.
I used to ask him many questions about the differences between Catholicism, Protestant beliefs, and Judaism. He was a wealth of knowledge. I really miss him, he spent his final 6 or 7 years with Alzheimer's and died 2 years ago.
One question I asked, though as a thoroughly innocent youth, was about the cannibalistic imagery. His response was pretty simple, to a child it made perfect sense. It went something like "we believe that God breathed life into our bodies, and that Jesus was God in human form. You can think of communion in whatever way you choose, but you have to accept that God is part of your body. By taking the host, you accept Jesus into your body in a physical fashion, an acceptance of your bond to Jesus' teachings and a sharing of his sacrifice for you."
I never asked him whether communion was supposed to be every meal, but knowing him as I did, I'm sure he'd say it was. He didn't differentiate the Passover meal from any other meal. He clearly viewed a meal as a time to share with family and friends the bonds of belief. During the age of Roman persecution, these meals happened frequently - so it's likely to be more than just at Easter or on Sunday. In fact, it's possible this is why Mass is said every day in many communities.
That said, he did leave the church and he was a realist. While he remained an active Catholic for years, he recognized the world was changing and he believed that as long as faith didn't change, aspects of how that faith was practiced or performed could change. Much of that grew from Vatican II, I'm sure.
I'm absolutely certain he'd say it's meant to be for every meal, which is one reason we say grace.
For the Eastern Orthodox it is indeed a real meal but not in the context of a pot luck.
Rather lengthy excerpt from http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-eucharist:
"As with baptism, it must be noted that the eucharistic meal was not invented by Christ. Such holy ritual meals existed in the Old Testament and in pagan religions...The Christian eucharist is a meal specifically connected with the Passover meal of the Old Testament...the Passover meal was transformed by Christ into an act done in remembrance of him: of his life, death and resurrection as the new and eternal Passover Lamb..."
In other words the 'meal' is communion at Divine Liturgy. Like the Catholics we believe that the bread and wine is truly the body and blood of Christ, a belief we also share with the earliest Christians as Marie E mentioned.
Pardon, meant to say he left the priesthood. He was always a Catholic.
My wife and I were lucky enough to attend a baptism for an Eastern Orthodox friend of ours. She is Syrian, and her church still practices all the traditions of Eastern Orthodox, but is in communion with the worldwide Catholic Church of Rome - they recognize the Pope.
Yet, the child was baptized, confirmed, and had its first communion all in one event - something you'd never see at a Roman Catholic Church. I found it fascinating. It's a beautiful ceremony and we were lucky enough to have a priest who explained each step of the process to us. Afterward, he and I had a nice chat because I was fascinated, never having heard of this branch, accepting of the Pope, but still practicing all the rites of the Eastern Church.
we Anglo-Catholics take the Lord at His word: this is my body, this is my blood.
how this is so, we let the Roman Catholics explain it through their doctrine of transubstantiation. for us, it remains a Mystery, in the Orthodox Catholic sense of the word.
For us Roman Catholics, Communion, or the Holy Eucharist, is central to our faith. Ordained Priests celebrate or attend Mass 365 days a year, as part of their vocation. It's an obligation for Catholics to attend Mass weekly, on Sunday, and, if without serious sin, un-confessed sin, partake of Communion. We believe that the bread and wine, while maintaining their outward appearance, truly become the flesh and blood of Christ, so that we literally "commune" with our God. That's why we're so particular about non-Catholics receiving Communion. Incidentally, this week, Holy Week, as new Catholics are received into the church as adults, they can be Baptized, receive Holy Communion, and be Confirmed into the Church, all during one Mass. They'll have Confessed their sins at a earlier time. The Catholic theology on this is powerful, mysterious, simple, and complex all at the same time.
in response to BD's, "The Eucharist ("Thanksgiving") as a formal church ceremony and a sacrament to the Catholics emerged hundreds of years later."
we catholics believe that Eucharist as a sacrament (as described in no. 10 above) was present from the very beginning of Christian worship, not something that evolved over the centuries.
At our church, we have a meal of some sort almost every Sunday. Generally people bring whatever they feel like. Occasionally we get all desserts, or something like that. Sometimes we organize a potluck and plan it a little more.
I married into the Eastern Orthodox religion (Ukrainian, to be exact), and marvel at the service. Being brought up a Methodist, the services were far more powerful and the choir singing added more emphasis to the service.
I kinda got away from the Methodist faith, after my parents divorced, following more Asian\European philosophy towards faith and 'higher calling'. I liked the introspection, self-discipline, and 'finding balance'. It helped through some troubling times, that, and the step-dad telling about his time in Thailand and Buddhism.
I guess what I practice is a hybrid (the only hybrid I own) of faith; hey, it works for me...
"The communal, celebratory meal became a symbolic meal and then, in the Catholic Church, a miraculous meal as was made official dogma at the Council of Trent in the 1500s." No. That the Council of Trent declared the dogma only means they declared it worthy of belief. The belief in the Real Presence goes back to the very early Christians. (I cannot cite from where I recall this, perhaps TheRealPresence.org. See the Eucharistic Miracles there. And recall what Flannery O'conner said, "If it's not the Body and Blood of Christ, then I say the hell with it!")
Read John chapter 6. He wasn't kidding or speaking in allegories, symbols ,or riddles. He could easily have said to those who left Him, "Hey guys, I was just speaking metaphorically". But he didn't. He let them leave.
My (Orthodox) priest commented on the "symbolic" nature of the Eucharist at our Lenten men's meeting this past Sunday.
I paraphrased Flannery O' Connor's quotation that if the Eucharist was "only a symbol," then to hell with it. My priest responded that the Eucharist could in fact be legitimately seen as a symbol in the original sense of the word. That is, a symbol is a coming together of two things, here bread and wine and the (real) body and blood of Christ. He also pointed out that the opposite of "symbol" is "diabolical," that is, a division.
He also had some powerful things to say about the word "remembrance." The word does not properly mean a sort of sentimental feeling. It literally means to "re-body," and thus the appearance of this word in Christ's establishment of the Eucharist does not in any way detract from the real presence of Christ, His body and his blood.
Happy Holy Week to all my Western brothers and sisters.
Yes, that is the Orthodox Christian practice: Baptism, followed immediately by Chrismation (Confirmation in the Western churches) which is the laying of hands and annoiting with oil, then your first communion. Is is expected that this happens as early in life as is possible, often around 6 weeks. The baptism is always a triple full immersion. We have a horse trough in our church for adults who are not yet baptised Christians. Converts to Orthodoxy already baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are accepted as already baptised, but they get Chismated (annoited) before their first communion. Eastern churches, that for various political and historical reasons, (often called eastern Catholics, or Uniates) are indeed part of the Roman Catholic Church, but are allowed to retain their Eastern Orthodox traditions and liturgies. Each week I carry my God-Daughter to communion. That is one of the duties of God-Parents.
You understanding of the Catholic Eucharist is in error. Tom A (#13) has it right. Here's St Justin, Martyr in the Second Century (100-165):
For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus. [First Apology, 66]
Thanks for all of the thoughts on the topic.
We were just imagining sitting there at the table with Him and wondering whether he meant that every time we broke bread - meaning having a bite to eat - we were to do it in remembrance of Him. I suppose, in a way, many of us do that anyway.
We were just trying to remove all of the religious overlay and sit there at Passover supper with Christ.
You can't remove remove the overlay.... that particular Passover meal was The point in salvation history where old testament prophecy is fulfilled by the New Covenant. That moment is relived out of time at every Mass where bread and wine become Body and Blood.
We remember Him at ordinary meals every time we ask His blessing; that Passover was sui generis.
I wish you had more religious postings on Maggie's Farm. I enjoy reading them, and I love the intelligent comments.