Lord's Supper, Holy Communion

(This presentation primarily discusses general perspectives on the Eucharist. At the end of this presentation are links to Protestant, Catholic and Jewish persectives, and then is a presentation of the Orthodox perspective.)

{yoo' - kuh - rist}

General Information

Since early Christian times, the word Eucharist, from the Greek eucharistia ("thanksgiving"), has been used to describe the Sacrament that Jesus Christ instituted at the Last Supper.

Four accounts of the origin of the Eucharist are given in the New Testament (Matt. 26:26 - 29, Mark 14:22 - 25, Luke 22:15 - 20, and 1 Cor. 11:23 - 26). There are minor variations, but all accounts agree that on the night before his crucifixion, Christ met with his disciples for a Last Supper. After solemn ritual acts he spoke of the bread as his body and the wine as his blood of the new Covenant.

In the earliest written account, that of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, and in Luke, it is recorded that the disciples were instructed to continue the rite in remembrance of their Lord's death. The celebration of the Eucharist was accordingly regarded as an essential part of worship in the early church and has remained a central observance of the Christian church ever since. It is variously described as the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, and the Mass. Christians of all traditions, with very few exceptions, regard the observance of the sacrament as a binding obligation.

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Interpretations of the meaning of the Eucharist vary. Some Christian writers of the 2d century held that the Eucharist consists of two realities, an earthly and a heavenly. In the Middle Ages, the doctrine of transubstantiation was developed; it has remained the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic church. According to this position, the substance, or inner reality, of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, but the accidents, or external qualities known through the senses (color, weight, taste), remain unchanged.

Other interpretations of the Eucharist were emphasized at the time of the Reformation. Protestant positions range from the Lutheran view of consubstantiation, which holds that Christ is present along with the unchanged reality of the bread and wine, to the symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist as a simple memorial of Christ's death.

Despite differences of interpretation and variations in the manner and frequency of the rite, Christ's command, "Do this in remembrance of me," has been obeyed by Christians of every tradition throughout the centuries. Thus the Eucharist has remained a central and universal expression of Christian devotion.

Charles W Ranson

W R Crockett, Eucharist (1989); G D Kilpatrick, The Eucharist in Bible and Liturgy (1984); J M Powers, Eucharistic Theology (1967).

Editor's Notes

There are some differences between the celebration of the Eucharist in various Churches. For more extensive discussion, including Advanced Information articles, please see either the (Protestant-oriented) Last Supper presentation or the (Catholic-oriented) Mass presentation, linked below. A discussion of the Orthodox perspective is included below.

It is generally accepted by Christian scholars that the last meal of Jesus was a (Jewish) Seder meal which is part of the Passover celebration. BELIEVE includes a presentation on the Seder which includes the specific foods and procedures involved, along with the Jewish (historic) reasons for them. References to Christian adaptations of the Seder are also included.

The subject is an example of probably around 30 different important Christian subjects where individuals can apply their own preconceptions and assumptions to arrive at their own conclusions. Catholics choose to believe that the bread "actually turns bloody" in the process of eating it, although they agree that there are NO outward signs of it. There is no possible way to argue against such a claim! If you had a dream or a nightmare last night, no one has any possible way of arguing that you did not, because it was a personal experience that cannot be confirmed or disputed by anyone else. So, if Catholics are right about the "becoming bloody" viewpoint, no critic could ever "prove" them wrong but also, they could never "prove" that they are right.

Luther, and Calvin, and others, each felt that this was an illogical conclusion, and, more specifically, that the Bible does not clearly support the "bloody" interpretation. Some Protestants came to conclude that the bread was "merely symbolic" of the Lord, while others (following Luther) felt it really became the Lord, but in a non-bloody way.

No one can either "prove" or "disprove" any of these viewpoints either.

It is a subject on which there can never be agreement! Each group has applied their own preconceptions and assumptions and decided on a specific conclusion/interpretation. Since the Bible does not include sufficient details to tell that one or another is more correct, they each should be considered "equally correct" (personal opinion), and therefore totally valid FOR THAT GROUP. Therefore, we see no cause or basis to criticize Catholics for their conclusion regarding Transubstantiation. But we also see no cause or basis to criticize Zwingli et al for a purely symbolic understanding.

Our Church feels that such arguments are pretty much irrelevant. What REALLY is important is how the Eucharist is perceived by and affects the specific person that partakes in it. If a person simply eats it, as a mundane piece of bread, it has no merit, in ANY Church! However, if the person's heart is deeply affected by the Rite (the REAL desire of the Lord), then it is valid, no matter what the opinions on interpretation might be.

We have a rather different thought to offer up on the subject! Modern science has proven that there are an unbelievable number of atoms in even a small amount of any liquid or solid (Avogadro's number). If there is a cup of coffee on your desk, or a glass of pop, or a Ritz cracker, or a candy bar, there are something like 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in it. When Jesus Lived, He breathed! Every breath He exhaled had water vapor in it and carbon dioxide, molecules that HAD BEEN PART OF HIS BODY. His cells' mitochondria processed foods and liquids He ate and by a process we call the Krebs Cycle, His cells created the energy that His Body needed for living, thinking, breathing and the rest of life. The Mitochondria activities resulted in waste products of water molecules and carbon dioxide molecules, which were carried by His Blood to His lungs to be exhaled. A number of years back, I studied this subject carefully. The winds of the world distributed such air, including those molecules, all around the world, within a couple years. As a wheat plant is growing in Kansas, it takes in carbon dioxide and water vapor from the air, which then become part of that plant! The point here is that SOME of those molecules had actually been part of the Body of Jesus 2000 years earlier! I did the math on this, and was amazed! Every mouthful of that coffee you drink certainly contains around a MILLION atoms that had once physically been part of the Body of Jesus! Similar for crackers or candy bars!

This is really an entirely different subject, but it certainly is an established fact. I see it as sort of affecting such arguments regarding the Nature of the Eucharist. If someone wanted to think that the million atoms that ACTUALLY had been part of the Body of Jesus were "bloody", I cannot really argue against that, because some/most of those atoms certainly had BEEN His blood and His flesh. However, if a different person would choose to look at that coffee as more "symbolic", well that is also sort of true!

This is brought up to try to show that "arguments" on "human important perceptions" are probably not really very important. Also, that you might look at EVERY piece of bread, and meat, and vegetable, and every glass of any liquid, in a new light! With the proper mind-set, I believe, one could see that EVERY bite of food and every sip of liquid is arguably "of Christ" in a VERY direct way! Instead of just sucking down a Pepsi, look at it for a moment, and contemplate these facts. I have had a VERY large number of "religious experiences" in this way!

Some Christians might get upset over the molecule discussion above. NO, it is NOT meant as any replacement for Faith perceptions of the Eucharist! It is NOT to imply that Faith perceptions are incorrect or incomplete. Just the reverse! Our small Church encourages all Members to spend a few seconds contemplating the wafer or bread about to be taken in the Eucharist Rite, in order to realize, in ADDITION to the Faith importance as described by their Church, the ACTUAL FACT that they are looking at and about to ingest ACTUAL PHYSICAL PARTS of the Body of Jesus! Personally, I often get a shiver, in realizing just how intimately Jesus is to me in that Rite! We hope that is also true among the Congregation!



The Eucharist or Lord's Supper, is the central rite of the Christian religion, in which bread and wine are consecrated by an ordained minister and consumed by the minister and members of the congregation in obedience to Jesus' command at the Last Supper, "Do this in remembrance of me." In the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, and in the Anglican, Lutheran, and many other Protestant churches, it is regarded as a sacrament, which both symbolizes and effects the union of Christ with the faithful. Baptists and others refer to Holy Communion as an "institution," rather than a sacrament, emphasizing obedience to a commandment. See also Grace.


Traditionally, Jesus' command to his disciples at the Last Supper to eat the bread and drink the wine "in remembrance of me" constitutes the institution of the Eucharist. This specific command occurs in two New Testament accounts of the Last Supper, Luke 22:17-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. Older theology asserts that Jesus gave this command on this occasion to ensure that Christians would break bread and drink wine in his memory as long as the church endured. A critical approach to the Gospel texts, however, has made this conclusion less certain. The command "Do this in remembrance of me" does not appear in either Matthew's or Mark's account of the Last Supper. Consequently, a number of scholars have supposed that the undoubted experience of communion with the risen Christ at meals in the days after Easter inspired in some later traditions the understanding that such communion had been foreseen and commanded by Jesus at the Last Supper. The matter can probably never be resolved with complete satisfaction. In any case, the practice of eating meals in remembrance of the Lord and the belief in the presence of Christ in the "breaking of the bread" clearly were universal in the early church. The Didache, an early Christian document, refers to the Eucharist twice at some length. The Didache and the New Testament together indicate considerable diversity in both the practice and the understanding of the Eucharist, but no evidence exists of any Christian church in which the sacrament was not celebrated.


The development of Eucharistic doctrine centers on two ideas: presence and sacrifice. In the New Testament, no attempt is made to explain Christ's presence at the Eucharist. The theologians of the early church tended to accept Jesus' words "This is my body" and "This cup ... is the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:19-20) as sufficient explanation of the miraculous transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, although some interpretations reflect the influence of Platonic philosophy on the early church.

During the Middle Ages a more elaborate doctrine of the Eucharist was developed by Scholastic philosophers under the influence of Aristotle (see Scholasticism). Aristotle taught that earthly things possessed accidents (size, shape, color, texture) perceptible to the senses, and substance, their essential reality, known by the mind. According to Scholastic speculation, the substance of the Eucharistic bread is, by the power of God, wholly transformed into the body of Christ. This view of the presence of Christ, called transubstantiation, was most elaborately formulated by the 13th-century Italian theologian St. Thomas Aquinas. It has been the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church since the Middle Ages, although the Council of Trent, which reasserted the doctrine against the Protestant reformers in the 16th century, did not include any philosophical speculation in its statement, asserting simply that an actual change occurred in the bread and wine (see Trent, Council of).

In the 16th century Protestant reformers offered several alternative interpretations of the Eucharist. Martin Luther taught that Christ is present "in, with, and under" the elements (see Consubstantiation). The Swiss reformer Huldreich Zwingli denied any real connection between the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ. He believed that at the celebration of the Supper, which recalls to worshipers the words and deeds of the Lord, Christ is with them by the power of the Holy Spirit. According to Zwingli, the bread and wine recall the Last Supper, but no metaphysical change takes place in them. The Swiss Protestant theologian John Calvin argued that Christ is present both symbolically and by his spiritual power, which is imparted by his body in heaven to the souls of believers as they partake of the Eucharist. This position, which has been called "dynamic presence," occupies a middle ground between the doctrines of Luther and Zwingli. The Anglican doctrine affirms the real presence of Christ, without specifying its mode.

Some modern theologians have attempted to recapture the ancient Judaic sense of remembering the acts of God (anamnesis). By invoking the presence of God and by remembering in his presence the events by which he has delivered them, worshipers live through those events as present events. Thus, just as each generation of Israelites participated year by year in the exodus, the wanderings in the wilderness, and the crossing into Canaan, so each generation of Christians, week by week, participate in the Last Supper, the cross, and the resurrection.

Eucharistic doctrine also concerns the sacrificial character of the sacrament - how the Eucharist is related to Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches have traditionally taught that the Eucharist is a means by which believers can partake of Christ's sacrifice and the new covenant with God that it inaugurated. In popular belief this idea was sometimes interpreted to mean that each celebration of the Eucharist is a new sacrifice, rather than a partaking of the original sacrifice of Christ as officially taught by the church. Protestants in general have been hesitant to apply sacrificial categories to celebrations of the Eucharist.


The service is called the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion in most Protestant churches; the Divine Liturgy in Eastern Orthodoxy; and the Mass among Roman Catholics and some Anglicans. It is the central and most solemn Christian liturgy. See Liturgy.

Normally the service consists of two parts. The first, the "service of the Word," consists of Scripture readings, a sermon, and prayers. This part of the Eucharist, apparently adapted from Jewish synagogue worship, has been prefixed to the service of bread and wine at least since the middle of the 2nd century. The second part of the service, the "service of the Upper Room," consists typically of an offering of bread and wine (together with the congregation's monetary gifts); the central Eucharistic prayer (a prayer of consecration); the distribution of the consecrated elements to worshipers; and a final blessing and dismissal. This particular part of the service has its roots in the ancient traditional table prayers said at Jewish meals.

The central Eucharistic prayer, the Anaphora (Greek, "offering"), typically contains a prayer of thanksgiving for the creation of the world and its redemption in Christ; an account of the institution of the Last Supper; the oblation, or Anamnesis - the offering of the bread and wine in thankful remembrance of Christ; the Epiclesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine and on the congregation; and prayers of intercession.

Charles P. Price


Possibly a solid Clarification!

General Information

Dear Editor:

I was browsing your article concerning the various views of the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist. You noted that none of the Lutheran pastors who have spoken with you could cite anything, beyond modern articles, asserting that the Lutheran position is not "consubstantiation." Allow me, first, to present a source from the time of the Reformation and, second, to add some clarification.

Nicolaus Selneccer(1530-1592), one of the authors/orchastrators of the Formula of Concord writes, "Although our churches use the old expressions 'in the bread', 'with the bread,' or 'under the bread' ... they do not teach an inclusio, consubstantiatio, or delitescentia. The meaning is rather that Christ, 'when giving the bread, gives us simultaneously His body to eat...'" Vom hl. Abendmahl des Herrn etc. (1591) Bl E 2.

The reason Lutheran pastors get upset over the attribution of the term "consubstantaion" to our theology is two-fold.

First, you may find in early Luther (the Luther of whom he himself writes, in his introduction to his Latin writings, was still a "raving papist.") that he preferred "consubstantiation," as argued by Peter d'Ailly's "Questiones on Peter Lombard." Luther preferred d'Ailly's view, however, largely for philosophical reasons. It required only a single miracle whereas transubstantiation, as it had been pushed from Aquinas to Duns Scotus required a second miracle: the annihilation of the substance of the bread. Though, at the time, Luther only argues that it is "better philosophy" and would be preferred only if transubstantiation hadn't already been declared by the Church. So, the first reason why Lutherans reject the idea of consubstantiation is that the term itself is wrapped up in the same philosophical categories as transubstantiation and is, therefore, rejected on those grounds. The Lutheran objection to transubstantation wasn't so much that they excluded the bread/wine, but that the theory had dogmatized Aristotle which, in turn, speaks where Scripture has remained silent. It forces theology in a way typical of Scholasticism: it sets up a principle (principium/Oberbegriff) as the "first thing," under which all our theology must be made to fit. The Lord can't be forced into our principium, therefore, where the Lord has not declared the "how," we are best never to dogmatize our theories about how it may have been possible. Notice these words from the Smalcald Articles, III, 6 "We care nothing about the sophistical subtlety by which they teach that bread and wine leave or lose their own natural substance, and that there remains only the appearance and colour of bread, and not true bread..." The criticism, here, isn't merely the conclusion (that bread is no longer) but the philosophical method, or "sophistical subtelty" which attempts to expalin the how. Lutherans were quite willing to allow for transubstantation, or even consubstantation, so long as the Church would not make a dogma of such. The reason, in the Babylonian Captivity, Luther cites transubstantiation as one of the "three walls" having obscured the Gospel of the Sacrament is not that they have gotten rid of bread, but they have dogmatized a theory that can't be scripturally substantiated. Thus, the reason we reject consubstantiation is for the very same reason we reject transubstantiation. Instead, we prefer to speak of the "Sacramental Union," or the "unio sacramentailis." The unio sacramentalis is the Lutheran counterpart to Roman transubstantiation, and Late Medieval consubstantiation, with which is it often mistakingly confounded. Like consubstantiation, unio sacramentalis presupposes the bread and body, wine and blood, exist together. Bread and wine are not destroyed or "transubstantiated." The difference, however, is that no theory is built up about the coexistence of two substances, reflecting the accidents of one to the exclusion of the other.

Second, we prefer not to be call "consubstantiationists," because the differentiation implied by the use of the term suggests that our primary "difference" in our confession of the Sacrament, against Rome, is that of bickering over the presence of bread and wine. This isn't the matter, at all. While we do believe Rome is wrong to dogmatize a philosophical theory (transubstantiation) our real "criticism" with the Roman doctrine of the Eucharist is the *sacrifice* of the mass. Hence, as Luther says in the Babylonian captivity, they have turned what is truly Gospel (beneficium) into law (sacrificium). That is, they have turned something that is primarilly God's gracious, Gospel-deliviering action *for us* into an action we offer to God in order to appease the wrath of the Father.

Ryan T. Fouts


Orthodox Church Information

Preparation for Holy Communion

Every Sunday is a special day, it is the Lord's Day. It is the day when we gather as a family to worship and celebrate Christ's presence among us in the Holy Eucharist. It is when the Church as the people of God, the Body of Christ, is truly realized, and we become sacramentally what God intended us to be: united to Him in faith and love, and through Him, to one another. It is in love and faith and worship that we are truly members of the Church.

From this standpoint, one can more clearly see that a local parish lives up to its true task and is a most genuine expression of the Church when its activity and its life center on the heart of the matter, true membership, expressed in faith, love and worship. This is the ideal which each Parish and each Orthodox Christian holds before him.

One very important way of striving toward this ideal is preparation for partaking of Holy Communion, the purpose for which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. In our churches everywhere this Sacrament as well as the Sacrament of Holy Confession or Penance, are always touchstones of personal and parish renewal.

Orthodox Christians receive Holy Communion no less than four (4) times a year; Christmas, Easter, the Feast of the Holy Apostles (June 29), and the Feast of the Failing Asleep of the Theotokos (August 15). In every Divine Liturgy, however, the faithful are expected to approach and receive the Lord. Christian Orthodox should approach the Holy Chalice and receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ as often as possible following proper preparation, not just three or four times a year (See in. 6:53-58, Mt. 26:26-28, 1 Cor. 11:17-34).

What of the preparation for Holy Communion? The best preparation is itself spiritual and has to do with our inner self, our soul and its disposition. Thinking that we are to take Communion is obviously the most important part, accompanied by a sincere effort to examine our life, its goals, values, aspirations, and characteristics. Where am I going? What are my values and priorities? What do I hold most dear? These are some of the questions one should ponder. How tremendous if parents would discuss some of the questions with their children!

Secondly, heartfelt prayer is an essential pre-requisite to preparing for Holy Communion. Nothing prepares the soul for receiving Christ as much as sincere prayer, asking God for His forgiveness and thanking Him for all the many blessings and gifts He bestows upon us. This is most effective when accompanied by a firm resolve to live a renewed Christian life. Finally, there is fasting - meaningless without points one and two above. Fasting is both a means of self-discipline and a tangible reminder that one is indeed to receive Christ in Holy Communion. As regards to specifics, a two or three day fast from meat and dairy products, fish (shell fish can be eaten), and alcoholic beverages, should precede the receiving of Holy Communion, provided that one also abstains from other pleasures and entertainment, concentrating on prayer and religious and Scripture reading. The most appropriate way of preparation is to fast on Wednesday, the day Judas betrayed Christ, and Friday, the day of our Lord's crucifixion, prior to the Sunday Eucharist.

Orthodoxy insists on a strict fast before Communion, and nothing can be eaten or drunk after the previous midnight. In cases of sickness or genuine necessity, a Father Confessor can grant dispensations from this communion fast. The night before receiving Holy Communion one should read the Communion prayers, retire early, avoiding social engagements. Before going to church, children ask their parents for forgiveness, and parents, likewise, ask forgiveness of their children. Whether preparing to receive Holy Communion or not, we should not eat or drink anything prior to attending the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is our invitation to partake of the Lord's banquet and we are to receive the Holy Gift, in other words, Holy Communion, or the "antidoron", which means, "instead of the Gift".

Prayers Before Receiving Holy Communion (page 73 of the Holy Cross Liturgical Hymnal)

"I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me. Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom."

Thanksgiving Following Holy Communion (page 155 of the Holy Cross Liturgical Hymnal)

Glory to you, our God, glory to you.

Glory to you, our God, glory to you.

Glory to you, our God, glory to you.


Lord Jesus Christ, our God, let Your sacred Body be unto me for eternal life and Your precious Blood for forgiveness of sins. Let this Eucharist be unto me for joy, health and gladness. And in Your awesome Second Coming make me, a sinner, worthy to stand at the right hand of Your glory; through the intercessions of Your pure Mother and of all Your Saints. Amen.


I thank You, Christ and Master our God, King of the ages and Creator of all things, for all the good gifts You have given me, and especially for the participation in Your pure and life-giving mysteries. I, therefore, pray to You, good and loving Lord: keep me under Your protection and under the shadow of Your wings. Grant that to my last breath I may with a pure conscience partake worthily of Your gifts for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. For You are the bread of life, the source of holiness, the giver of all good things, and to You we give glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.


I thank You, Lord my God, that You have not rejected me, a sinner, but have made me worthy to partake of Your holy mysteries. I thank You that You have permitted me, although I am unworthy, to receive Your pure and heavenly gifts. O loving Master, who died and rose for our sake, and grnted to us these awesome and life-gigin mysteries for the well-being and sanctification of our souls and bodies, let these gifts be for healing of my own soul and body, the averting of every evil, the illumination of the eyes of my heart, the peace of my spiritual powers, a faith unashamed, a love unfeigned, the fulfilling of wisdom, the observing of Your commandments, the receiving of Your diving grace, and the inheritance of Your kingdom. Preserved by them in Your holiness, may I always be mindful of Your grace and no longer live for myself, but for You, our Master and Benefactor. May I pass from this life in the hope of eternal life, and attain to the everlasting rest, where the voices of Your Saints who feast are unceasing, and their joy, beholding the ineffable beauty of Your countenance, is unending. For You, Christ our God, are the true joy and the inexpresable gladness of those who love You, and all creation praises You forever. Amen.

Also, see:
Last Supper (Protestant-oriented)
Mass (Catholic oriented)
Seder (Jewish)

Extremely Early (425 AD) reference to Consubstantial

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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