The Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, Lord's Supper, or Mass is the central
act of Christian worship,
as the Incarnation that it commemorates and to which it corresponds is the central Christian belief.
Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist.
The Church Catechism speaks of two sacraments "ordained by Christ Himself".
We are bound to believe that He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper,
and we need not hesitate to do so for it is historically certain.
We have three independent accounts of this event:
St. Paul's (I Cor.11.23), St. Mark's (14.22), and St. Luke's (22.17-20).
St. Matthew's account (26.26-29) is probably based on St. Mark's.
Besides these we have the discourse on the Living Bread in John 6.
St. Paul is our only certain written authority for our Lord's command,
It does not occur in St. Mark or St. Matthew, and in St. Luke it only occurs
in a doubtful reading.
But the evidence of St. Paul is quite enough,
especially as he declares that it was part of what he had "received of the Lord"
and as it is supported by the universal practice of the Church.
His account is probably earlier than any of the Gospels.
The discourse in St. John 6 is a companion piece to the discourse on Baptism
in St. John 3.
It must refer directly to the Eucharist, which was, by the time that this Gospel was written, a long-established Christian practice.
When our Lord said,
I am the Door,
I am the true Vine,
He was speaking metaphorically, but not when He said,
I am the Living Bread.
The institution of the Eucharist and the practice of the Church show that
when He spoke of the Living Bread,
He was referring to the sacrament which He was going to institute;
and the departure of many of His disciples shows that they knew He had said something very important which none the less they could not accept.
The practice of the Apostolic Church is shown by Acts 2.42,
I Cor.11.23 ff.
The "breaking of bread" was one of the distinctive marks of the Christian community.
(Luke 24.30 is probably not an instance, and Acts 27.30 is certainly not one.)
In spite of this evidence and in spite of the unique character of the Christian
Eucharist, attempts have been made to show that it was brought in from the
Mystery Religions and was not part of the original Christian tradition.
These attempts are now discredited, but they still have their effect on those who have not understood the weight of the evidence against them.
When it was discovered that in many early religions, and particularly in
the "mystery religions" of the Roman Empire, which contained some
very primitive features, there were ceremonies superficially resembling the
Christian Eucharist, many people assumed that the Christian Eucharist was
derived from the mystery religions.
St. Paul sometimes used words that were employed in a technical sense by the adherents of these cults, and it was suggested that as St. Paul gives us the earliest account of the Eucharist, it was he who adapted a practice of the mystery religions to Christian use.
It was a theory especially attractive to "Liberal" theologians, to whom the sacramental, like the miraculous, element in Christianity was incredible and required to be explained away because it was a hindrance to their theory that Catholicism is a perversion of the original simple non-miraculous Christianity.
It was also supported by the adherents of the equally one-sided and misleading theory of the "apocalyptic Christ".
But all the evidence we have for the sacramental practices of the mystery
religions is later than the New Testament.
Closer examination of them shows that their differences from the Christian Eucharist are greater than their resemblances to it.
St. Paul, though he used technical words to illustrate his meaning,
tells us that he received his teaching about the Eucharist from the Lord.
If he knew anything about the banquets of the mystery religions, it can only have been vaguely (as most educated men today know something about Freemasonry).
There can be no doubt that those banquets were to him "the table of devils" which he contrasted with "the table of the Lord" (I Cor.10.21).
The Holy Eucharist differs from the other sacraments in having not two parts
The Church Catechism recognizes this when it asks two questions about Baptism,
What is the outward sign?
What are the benefits which we receive thereby?
In Baptism as in other sacraments the thing signified is the same as the
but not in the Eucharist.
The OUTWARD SIGN (signum) in the Eucharist is bread and wine.
The THING SIGNIFIED (res) is the Body and Blood of Christ.
The BENEFITS (gratia) are the strengthening and refreshing of our souls.
We take first the outward sign;
the subject, matter, form, and minister.
The SUBJECT of the Eucharist -
that is, the person capable of receiving it -
is any one who has been baptized.
The communion of the unbaptized is invalid.
In no conditions whatever may a person who is known to be unbaptized be admitted to communion.
Even if he is dying, he must be baptized first.
A person who is baptized but not confirmed may be admitted to communion
for urgent reasons (such as illness or danger of death) if he is ready and
willing to be confirmed.
Otherwise his communion is irregular but valid.
To admit to communion a person who is not in full communion with the Church
is gravely irregular.
Even if he has been confirmed, he ought not to be admitted to communion while he belongs to any sect that is not in communion with the Church.
But in some circumstances his admission may be allowed;
for instance, if he is dying or in danger of death and earnestly desires it
(provided that he has been baptized).
Sometimes the Church allows members of separated communions this privilege when they have no access to their own clergy, but this permission should be given with great caution and only to members of communions whose doctrine of the sacraments is orthodox.
[The Orthodox churches have sometimes permitted members of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Anglican Communions, when far from their own churches, to receive communion by "economy", as a special privilege.]
The MATTER of the Eucharist is
bread and wine which the Lord hath commanded to be received.
The bread must be wheaten bread and may be leavened or unleavened.
Wafer bread specially made is to be preferred to common bread since in common bread the flour is nowadays always mixed with other substances.
The Eastern churches, except the Armenian, use leavened bread specially prepared, which seems to have been the practice of the early Church to avoid the unleavened bread used by the Jews.
But unleavened bread has been used in the West for at least a thousand years.
(The Assyrian Church has a custom peculiar to itself.
The priest bakes the bread himself before each liturgy, adding to it a small portion reserved from the last liturgy.
This is called the Succession of the Leaven, and the Assyrians believe that it goes back to the Last Supper.)
The wine must be the juice of grapes in which fermentation has not been
Fresh grape juice is allowed and is sometimes used in grape-growing countries.
The so-called "non-alcoholic wine" in which fermentation has been stopped artificially is not allowed, and the use if it makes the sacrament invalid.
It has been sufficiently proved that in the Bible the word "wine" means fermented grape juice.
The FORM of the Eucharist is a prayer in which
the account of the institution is recited.
In all ancient liturgies the central feature is a prayer to the Father thanking Him for all the acts of redemption, and including (except in the Liturgy of Mar Adai, used in the Assyrian Church where its presence is uncertain) the recital of the story of the institution of the Eucharist as our authority for continuing to do what our Lord did. This central prayer is called the ANAPHORA, or CANON of the Mass.
In all the Eastern liturgies, the Gallican liturgies,
[The group of Western, Latin, but not Roman, liturgies used in France, Spain, and the Keltic countries before 800, and surviving only in the Mozarabic Liturgy of Toledo.]
and the modern Anglican liturgies except the liturgy of the English Church, this prayer leads up to the EPICLESIS or prayer for the descent of the Holy Ghost, which is usually considered to go back to Hippolytus of Rome in the third century (some scholars think that the Epiclesis in Hippolytus is a later interpolation).
In the Roman Liturgy, the early history of which is obscure and disputed, there is no Epiclesis, though some scholars hold that there once was one. Nor is there one in the present English rite which in its chief features dates from 1552.
No other liturgy, ancient or modern, lacks an Epiclesis.
[Except the Lutheran liturgies.]
The medieval Schoolmen taught that the consecration in the Eucharist was effected by the recital of the words
This is My Body;
this is My Blood.
These words were therefore surrounded from the thirteenth century with special
ceremonies of which the elevation of the elements is the most important.
But this theory is not consistent with the text of the Roman Liturgy in which the elements are called
this holy Bread of eternal life
and this cup of everlasting salvation,
after the words have been said by which
(according to the theory of Transubstantiation)
the bread has ceased to be really bread.
Still less is it consistent with other ancient liturgies, although it is enforced upon the Uniat Eastern churches subject to Rome that use those liturgies.
The theory is founded upon the teaching of St. Ambrose,
though it is not certain that St. Ambrose really taught it.
If he did, he may have been influenced by the pagan religion of Rome,
which was a religion of formulae.
(St. Ambrose was not a trained theologian but a civil servant who was not baptized until after his election to the bishopric of Milan in 374.)
The Elevation and the ceremonies which accompanied it were disused in England
after the Reformation,
[The Elevation was forbidden by the rubric in the First Prayer Book;
and Queen Elizabeth I, who resisted the Calvinist attack on ceremonies, would not allow the Elevation.]
and the removal of the Epiclesis from the English rite in 1552 is due to the influence of Bucer and other foreign reformers who regarded the Eucharist as only a commemoration of Christ's death, and did not connect it, as the ancient liturgies did, with the whole work of redemption including the coming of the Holy Ghost.
The theory of the Schoolmen, though prevalent in Latin Christendom since the thirteenth century, has never been known in the East where the older belief that the consecration is effected by the whole prayer, not by one phrase in it, is still held. From the seventeenth century the ancient and Eastern view has been held by the best Anglican divines, and all the revisions of the English rite since 1764 have contained an Epiclesis after the words of institution.
The ancient doctrine makes the consecration the direct work of God in answer
to the prayer of the Church; whereas the theory of the Schoolmen, according
to which the priest is said to "make the Body of Christ", emphasizes
the work of man.
The undue emphasis given to the priest as the man empowered to "make the Body of Christ" has led by reaction to the denial of the change in the elements and of the doctrine of the priesthood.
The recital of the words of institution by themselves, as in the Lutheran
liturgies and as ordered by the Anglican rubric providing for a fresh consecration
(altered in all modern Anglican rites), is at least gravely irregular, for
in all other liturgies the words of institution occur in a prayer, never
The MINISTER of the Eucharist is a bishop or priest.
In early times the bishop was the normal celebrant,
the priests present joining in celebrating with him.
(There was in the third century a short-lived custom that confessors - that is, men who had suffered for the faith - were ranked as priests without ordination, but there is no evidence that they ever celebrated the Eucharist or had any privilege other than sitting with the priests in church. According to the ancient document known as the Didach?(Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), "prophets" were sometimes invited to preside at the Eucharist; but its date and source are unknown, and there is no other instance of such a practice.)
The minister of the Eucharist must receive Communion himself.
Even if he celebrates more than once a day (which he should not do without necessity), he must communicate himself each time.
If he does not, that Eucharist is invalid.
This has been the rule of the whole Church in all ages except the Churches of Sweden and Finland since 1602.
(For the reason, see p. 370).
The reception of BOTH KINDS,
the bread and the wine,
was expressly commanded by our Lord, who said,
Drink of it, all of you
(πίετε ἐξ οὐτοῦ πάντες : Matt.26.27).
Three Popes, Gelasius, St. Leo, and Urban II, forbade the practice of communicating
in one kind only, condemning those who refused to receive from the cup.
Young children and sick persons who could not receive solid food were allowed to receive from the cup only;
and there is evidence that the bread was reserved alone, but how common this was is disputed.
About the thirteenth century the custom of refusing the cup to the laity sprang up through mistaken reverence in spite of papal prohibitions.
This took place about the same time as the definition of Transubstantiation, the emphasis on the Elevation of the Host, and its extra-liturgical use as in processions.
All these novelties marked a profound change in the popular attitude towards the Eucharist.
The restoration to the laity of the right to the cup was one of the chief demands of John Huss and his Czech followers, and the Council of Constance (1415) which burned Huss gave the first formal sanction to communion in one kind only, which was afterwards repeated by the Council of Trent.
The Utraquists, or moderate Hussites, were allowed communion in both kinds by the Council of Basle, but this was never sanctioned by the Pope.
However, communion in both kinds was allowed in Germany for about ten years when the Reformation was at its height; but when the Counter-Reformation removed the danger of the loss of all Germany to Rome, the permission was cancelled.
The Anglican churches strictly forbid communion in one kind only as contrary to the Lord's command.
Both parts of the Lord's Sacrament, by Christ's ordinance
and commandment, ought to be administered to all Christian men alike
Then shall the Minister receive the Communion in both kinds himself, and then proceed to deliver the same to the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in like manner, if any be present, and after that to the people also in order
(Rubric in the Liturgy).
The church may not
ordain anything contrary to God's word written,
from which it follows that the Church has no right to permit communion in
one kind only except in case of absolute necessity.
This by itself would fully justify the Anglican rejection of the jurisdiction of Rome.
All the Eastern churches administer communion in both kinds.
Since some time in the Middle Ages the laity (but not the clergy) receive both kinds together.
Even the reserved sacrament is always administered in both kinds.
(Two Greek priests whom I met in Jerusalem, discussing the Roman claims, said to me, "The Pope can have all the honour, but he has no right to forbid us to obey our Lord's command".)
Concomitance, which is sometimes put forward as the basis of communion in
one kind only, is the doctrine that the whole Christ is given and received
under either kind alone.
We do not deny this doctrine, though it would not be easy to prove it from Scripture;
and therefore we do not insist that communion in one kind only (though our old divines called it the "half communion") is invalid.
But the theory of Concomitance must not be given as a reason for disobeying the command of our Lord.
This would be "to make the word of God of none effect by our tradition" for which the Pharisees were condemned (Mark 7.13).
Some have objected to drinking from a common cup for fear of infection.
(For this reason many Presbyterian and Congregationalist congregations use "individual cups", but the Church does not allow it.)
All reasonable precautions should be taken,
but there is no serious danger if they are taken.
The clergy run more risk than anyone, and statistics show that the clergy is the most long-lived class in the country.
Persons suffering from infectious diseases may be communicated in both kinds by INTINCTION (dipping the bread in the wine and touching with it each HOST [For the meaning of this word see p. 360.] that is to be received).
But intinction, though the usual method of communicating the laity in the East, should only be used by Anglican priests for special reasons such as communion with the reserved sacrament (when necessary), and communion of infectious persons or those suffering from alcoholic disease.
Reservation in one kind only is not permissible in the Anglican Communion.
It was allowed in the early Church, but so were many other practices connected with the reserved sacrament, which no one would now defend.
Communion in both kinds is a Divine command which the Church has no right
to disobey except where communion in one kind only is the sole alternative
to no communion at all.
Any Anglican priest who refuses the cup to the laity,
and any lay person who refuses to receive it
(except for the most necessary reasons,
and then only with the bishop's permission)
is committing a grave sin
and rendering himself liable to the severest ecclesiastical penalties.