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Holy Communion is a practice performed by Christians, for a number of reasons relating to belief and worship. While the ways in which Holy Communion is celebrated differ among the churches, communion prayers tend to revolve around the story of the last supper and the act of Christ giving his disciples bread and wine, and declaring it as his body and blood.
This is the story of “the last supper”, the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night of the Passover before he was betrayed by Judas, arrested and then executed.
During the meal Jesus and his disciples were at the supper table and he broke some bread, gave it to his disciples and said, “This is my body which is given for you. Every time you eat bread, think of me.
” Jesus took a cup of wine and gave it to the disciples and told them to drink from the cup and said, “This wine is my blood that will be shed to remove the sins of all who come to believe in me and it is the start of a new agreement between God and mankind. ” The significance of this event, has been interpreted by the churches in different ways, which in turn has led to the variety of ways in which Communion is practiced among the churches.
Both the beliefs and practices associated with Holy Communion differ significantly from church to church. While the majority of churches practice Holy Communion, there are a few churches that don’t practice it at all, such as the Salvation Army and the Quakers. While there are some differences in the way that Communion is celebrated between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches (both high churches) the difference between the Roman Catholic church and Methodist church (low church) is far more substantial. There are two fundamental differences.
The first and perhaps the most important difference is in the interpretation by each church of the way in which celebrating Holy Communion affects the individual taking part. This is known as the issue of “belief” associated with Holy Communion. This is explained in more detail in the paragraphs below. The second important difference, one that is easier to recognise, is in the way in which churches prepare for and perform Holy Communion. While some churches continue to adopt traditional methods to perform Holy Communion others adopt a far more informal approach.
The high churches, such as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox, stick to very traditional methods and attach central importance to taking Holy Communion. By contrast low churches such as Baptist and Methodist, while they do celebrate Holy Communion, they do not regard it as being any where near as important as the higher churches, and tend to celebrate it in a much more relaxed and informal manner. The following are examples of how individual churches perform Holy Communion and the reasons they attach different levels of importance to it. Catholics refer to Communion as the Eucharist and practice it in a very traditional way.
The first thing to note is that while some churches celebrate Communion on a weekly or more infrequent basis, Catholics can take Communion every day. It is not a requirement for Roman Catholics to go every morning but it is strongly encouraged by the church to attend Communion (Mass) as often as possible and at least once a week. This explains why Communion is so very important for Roman Catholics and is often described as “the central form of catholic worship”. The only person allowed to administer Communion is a validly ordained Priest acting in the role of Christ.
In other words, the Priest represents Christ and his body and his blood are represented by wafers made from wheat (called the host) and wine made from grapes. Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit is contained within the wafers and the wine and that in the act of receiving communion the congregation is taking in the Holy Spirit. It is therefore central to the Catholic faith, so much so that they believe that by taking communion they are taking in the strength of the Holy Spirit which will help them lead a life free of sin.
The quotation from John 6:53 sums up the overall belief held by Roman Catholics “In Communion, we are eating the True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, without which “you shall not have life in you”. Their interpretation of the story of the bread and wine is very literal. Communion can only be taken by those who have been baptised into the Catholic faith and have taken their First Holy Communion. This usually happens around the age of 7 or 8. The traditional Catholic church service (mass) follows a set format (liturgy) and concludes with the taking of Communion.
During Communion wafers are used instead of bread, fermented wine is used which is taken from a shared chalice. The priest holds up the wafer as he says, “the body of Christ” and hands it over to the person receiving communion at which point this person would say, “Amen”. Then the priest pours out the wine and says, “The blood of Christ” at which point the person receiving communion takes the chalice and says, “Amen”. Any leftover bread or wine is either eaten by the priest or kept as “reserved sacrament” for the infirm in the parish.
This routine tends to differ only very slightly between the high churches. The low churches have a much less traditional way of celebrating communion, which tends to link to the fact that they believe the bread and wine only represent the body and blood of Christ in a metaphorical sense, but that by performing communion they are only reminding themselves of Jesus, and believe that his spirit is no more present than usual. For example, Baptist and Methodist churches also hold Communion, which they call the Lord’s Supper, but they use less traditional methods of practice and hold it in lower regards.
The members of these lower churches do not actually accept the belief that Jesus’ spirit is present within the bread and wine, and so do not take the service as seriously, but they do perform the Lord’s Supper with the intention of remembering Jesus. The argument used by these lower church members to support their views is that Jesus meant the bread and wine was his body and blood in a metaphorical sense, and the phrase they value most during the Last Supper is when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me. ”
A typical Baptist communion takes place monthly and the only qualification necessary to receive The Lord’s Supper is a membership with the church. Examples of how the Baptist version of communion differs from the higher church versions of communion are the fact that a table is used instead of an altar, there is no set form (Liturgy), there is no main service and there is no need for an ordained minister. Bread is used but instead of wine they either use unfermented wine or fruit juice and instead of drinking this from a shared chalice they have individual glasses.
The people receiving the Lord’s Supper remain in their seats while receiving it and they all drink at the same time. Any bread left over is given away and any unfermented wine or fruit juice is returned to the bottle. It is clear to see that from the differences in practice, the lower churches believe Communion to be less important. For example, the fact that they return the wine or juice to the bottle shows that they do not believe it to be the blood of Christ, as otherwise they would treat it with higher respect.
Methodists also receive communion in a less traditional way but they do have a main service while taking Communion and an ordained minister is necessary. They also would have to go up to the table to receive The Lord’s Supper and do not all drink at the same time. Other churches, such as the Church of England would celebrate Communion, or as it is known in the Church of England, Eucharist, in an almost identical way to the Roman Catholic church, the only differences being that they use both an altar and a table and they may also use bread instead of wafers.
This almost identically shared practice displays almost identical beliefs shared by both members of the churches regarding communion. Christians that do not have a specific building in which to worship and attend communion often practice their religion at home alone or with others in what is called a house church. The practices will remain roughly the same from house to house, due to a lack of an altar or ordained minister, but the beliefs will vary depending on the individual receiving Communion.