Understanding Communion: How it Shapes Worship Across Christian Faiths
What is Communion?
Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist, is a sacred practice observed in various Christian denominations to remember Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. The roots of communion can be traced back to the Last Supper, where Jesus shared bread and wine with His disciples. Many Christians still celebrate similar practices to keep Christ’s commandment to remember Him.
But remembrance is only part of it; some denominations view communion as a symbolic act of remembrance, while others believe in the real presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine. Understanding these differences is essential for interfaith understanding. With that in mind, here’s our rundown of the origins, reasons, and practices of communion today.
The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 from the New Testament, recounts the words of Jesus during the Last Supper, solidifying the practice of holy communion within the Christian tradition. This act of breaking bread and sharing wine symbolizes the body and blood of Christ, representing His sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life to the faithful.
Communion as a Sacrament: Why Is It Essential?
Sacraments are an outward sign of our commitment to follow Jesus Christ. As a sacrament, many Christians view communion as a means through which believers can experience God’s saving power and the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.
For some, the sacrament is seen as a conduit for divine grace and spiritual nourishment, strengthening the faith of each person and uniting the community of believers. This unity is particularly evident during worship services where communion becomes a central and deeply meaningful aspect of practice.
Communion also reminds believers to be more like the Savior—to seek reconciliation, practice forgiveness, and extend compassion to others. By partaking in communion, Christians affirm their faith, share in the body of Christ, and deepen their relationship with God and fellow believers weekly.
Which Christians Take Communion?
Most prominently, Roman Catholics (called “Eucharist” in Catholicism), Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and several Protestant denominations regularly observe communion. Each group may approach the sacrament with distinct beliefs and rituals, but the shared acknowledgment of Christ’s sacrifice and its significance in fostering a deeper connection with God remains consistent.
Many denominations emphasize proper administration of communion by priesthood authority, just as Jesus appointed apostles to lead His church. Other denominations (particularly Protestants) are less concerned with the ritualistic aspects of communion, so long as it is treated with solemn reverence.
Many independent and/or non-denominational Christian communities also incorporate communion into their worship services, emphasizing its symbolic or sacramental importance. The widespread celebration of communion reflects its enduring impact on Christian worship and its capacity to draw believers together in faith.
Diverse Communion Practices in Christian Traditions
While the central elements of bread and wine remain constant, there are different perspectives on the meaning and administration of communion.
For example, in Roman Catholicism, the Eucharist is regarded as a sacrament of the highest order, known as the Real Presence. According to this doctrine, the bread and wine used in the sacrament undergo transubstantiation—a literal transformation into the actual body and blood of Christ. This belief underscores the profound reverence and awe with which the Eucharist is approached in worship services within the Catholic Church.
On the other hand, many Protestant denominations reject transubstantiation and view communion as just a symbolic act—not a transformation on the outside, but on the inside. Protestant schools of thought teach that the bread and wine remind us of Christ’s sacrifice, but that we must accept Him into our lives through our choices.
Also, some traditions practice “open communion” (everyone at the service may partake), while others practice “closed communion” (only certain members of that particular denomination can partake).
How Communion Enhances the Spiritual Experience
As Christians receive communion, they participate in a sacred ritual that symbolizes unity with Christ and each other. Partaking of bread and wine not only commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice but also fosters a profound sense of connection with our Father in Heaven.
During Communion, believers reflect on their relationship with God, seek forgiveness for sins, and renew their commitment to live according to Christ’s teachings. Personal introspection and spiritual renewal create a reverent atmosphere of spiritual change, wherein Christ-like transformations can happen.
Communion is also vital in building and strengthening the sense of the Christian community. As congregants partake in the elements together, they share a common experience that transcends individual differences, uniting them in their faith journey. This unity reinforces the communal aspect of worship, reminding believers of their interconnectedness and mutual support as they seek to follow Christ’s example.
What Do Christians Who Don’t Take Communion Celebrate Instead?
Sharing Communion binds many Christian denominations. Although many churches offer their congregants communion regularly, some churches don’t.
The Quakers, for example, don’t provide communion to their members because they believe every life is a sacrament. They believe that if God loves us, then people can experience His presence at any time. They feel scheduling a specific time to experience the Lord’s presence is strange. Most Quakers feel that rituals like communion are a distraction instead of focusing a Christian’s mind on God.
So instead of an official ceremony, Quakers interact with the Lord in every aspect of their lives, not only during church services. However, some Quakers practice a partially silent church service, similar to the reflective aspects of communion in that church members are attentive and reflective to the leading of God.
But unlike a communion service, there’s no leader in a non-programmed, silent church service. Instead, everyone shares when they feel the leading of the Holy Spirit to do so.
The Salvation Army also doesn’t provide communion to its members, due to the many alcoholics they minister to. (In fact, before the temperance movement, all Christian denominations and churches used alcoholic wine, albeit sometimes watered down, in communion services.) Due to the parallels between the taste of wine and any grape product, the Salvation Army believes practicing communion might be unproductive to restoring an alcoholic’s brokenness.
Other Christian denominations that don’t offer communion to their members practice the love feast tradition. These feasts are more informal than communion traditions; they include praise, prayers, homilies, testimonies, singing of hymns, and scripture reading. But they don’t include the consecration of the bread and wine. If any similar sacrament is present, there are fewer restrictions on what beverage and bread may be used. These rituals are ideal for online services because congregants can participate in the tradition from home.
Other Ways We Promise to Follow Christ
Baptism is a pivotal rite of passage, symbolizing the cleansing of sins and the initiation into the Christian community. Baptism is typically a one-time event, (unlike communion, which is often a repeated practice). Baptism is an outward expression of inward transformation, signifying spiritual rebirth and union with Christ.
Prayer is a fundamental form of worship in Christianity, transcending denominational boundaries and uniting believers in conversation with God. They are a direct channel to commune with God, strengthening the believer’s relationship with the divine. During a prayer, a believer speaks with God and can express gratitude, seek guidance, find solace, and intercede on behalf of others.
Unlike the community gathering of communion, prayer is a deeply personal and intimate practice. That being said, there’s also great power in collective prayer as a congregation.
Singing and Praise
Hymns, worship songs, and choruses provide a collective means for expressing devotion, thanksgiving, and adoration. Songs of praise foster unity among worshippers and evoke a shared emotional connection to the spiritual aspects of faith. As with many forms of worship, songs are a wonderful way to bring the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Scripture Reading and Reflection
Reading and contemplating scripture allows believers to gain insights into God’s teachings and draw inspiration for their lives. Scripture reading is often accompanied by sermons or teachings and builds personal and communal intellectual and spiritual growth as they continue to learn and share their knowledge with others.
Communal Acts of Service
Worship for Christians extends beyond the confines of a church building or the length of a sacrament. A true disciple of Christ reflects His love in all that they do. For example, acts of service and charitable deeds are forms of worship, a tangible expression of faith, and an embodiment of the teachings of Jesus and his character.
Communion may be practiced differently, but it has similar roots across Christian denominations. Whether your congregation celebrates communion or not, find ways to express your devotion and experience God’s presence in your life.
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