The sacraments (19): Eat and drink!

So far in our series on the sacraments in the church of Christ we have explored Holy Baptism. Now we are moving on to take a closer look at Holy Communion. What is the position of the New Apostolic Church?

Holy Communion, as Holy Baptism, is a sacrament that all Christian Churches share in common. It is dispensed not only once but repeatedly: in New Apostolic congregations in every divine service, in other churches a little less frequently. The content which the churches associate with the sacrament vary considerably. This is one reason why there is still no common celebration of Holy Communion to this day between the different denominations.

Instituted by the Lord Himself

“I believe that Holy Communion was instituted by the Lord Himself in memory of the once brought, fully valid sacrifice, and bitter suffering and death of Christ. The worthy partaking of Holy Communion establishes our fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is celebrated with unleavened bread and wine; both must be consecrated and dispensed by a minister authorised by an Apostle,” New Apostolic Christians profess in the Seventh Article of the Creed. The content and significance of Holy Communion cannot be fully grasped in rational or doctrinal terms, something that in effect applies to all of God’s acts of salvation. It is closely associated with the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ. In Holy Communion, the reality of God and His devotion to mankind can be directly experienced.

Whether one calls it Holy Communion or the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper or the breaking of bread, what is meant each time is that Jesus Christ Himself instituted the Lord’s Supper in the circle of His disciples. With the words, “Do this in remembrance of Me”, the Lord gave His Apostles the mandate and authority to administer Holy Communion in the way He Himself had done.

The liturgy of Holy Communion

Important moments have to be prepared. The sermon and the absolution are followed by the high point of the divine service: the celebration of Holy Communion by the congregation: a sublime and extraordinary event for the worshipper. Some thoughts leading to introspection and repentance have been spoken. The congregation has sung a hymn of repentance, prayed the Lord’s Prayer together, and the absolution has been pronounced and the Eucharistic prayer spoken.

This is followed by moments of silent pause. This is the time that is utilised for the visible and perceptible uncovering of the communion chalices. This is done with the greatest possible calm and dignity. In a figurative sense, the Most Holy is being opened up: the elements of Holy Communion are unveiled. And this is something the congregation is to experience in full awareness.

The table of the Lord is prepared

The Priest now extends his arms, holds his hands over the chalices in a gesture of blessing, and speaks the solemn words of the consecration formula: “In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I consecrate bread and wine for Holy Communion and lay thereupon the once brought, eternally valid sacrifice of Jesus Christ. For the Lord took bread and wine, gave thanks and said: ‘This is My body which is broken for you. This is My blood of the new covenant given for many for the remission of sins. Eat and drink! Do this in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this wine, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Amen!”

Jesus Christ has now entered into His congregation. Through the words of the Priest, the body and blood of Christ are joined to the bread and wine. God is present!

The words of consecration are recorded in 1 Corinthians 11: 24–26. In this passage, Apostle Paul cites the words of Jesus and describes the content of Holy Communion from its origin. Through consecration, the bread and wine have been set apart from their usual use. Through the spoken words of institution, the invisible presence of Christ’s body and blood becomes possible in the visible elements of bread and wine. The bread and wine are not changed in their substance as a result. Rather, another substance is joined to them, namely that of the body and blood of Christ (consubstantiation). There is no change in the substance of these elements (transubstantiation).

No change, but more than a mere symbol

And this is precisely the point on which opinions in the various denominations diverge. Some celebrate a change in substance, but for others the event is only symbolic. The New Apostolic understanding of Holy Communion states that while there is no change in substance, the event is more than merely a symbol. The bread and wine are not merely metaphors for the body and blood of Christ. Rather, the body and blood of Christ are truly present (real presence). Through the words of consecration, the substance of Christ’s body and blood are joined to the substance of bread and wine. The outward form (accidence) of the Holy Communion elements does not change as a result of this event.

The Son of God is now truly present in the elements of Holy Communion. And He remains present for as long as it takes for the elements to reach their intended recipients. Owing to its great importance, the congregation is called upon to celebrate Holy Communion in reverence, faith, and complete devotion to Christ.

Photo: Jessica Krämer

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Peter Johanning
sacraments, Holy Communion, Divine service