Holy Communion: inexplicable, essential, a mystery
The content and significance of Holy Communion cannot be fully grasped in rational or doctrinal terms, the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church states. It is a mystery and is closely associated with the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ.
A mystery is something inexplicable, something beyond human comprehension, something that defies a full explanation. For humans its essence remains hidden and makes an assessment impossible. We are reluctant to accept this. We want to make everything accessible and rationally understandable.
So Holy Communion is a mystery. And yet it is the central event in a divine service and must take a central place in the consciousness and life of the believer. How does this fit together? How can something that is inexplicable in all its aspects attain such great significance? Well, maybe that is precisely the reason—because it is inexplicable. For centuries people have been racking their brains about what takes place during the celebration of this sacrament. Is it a symbol? Or maybe it is even a repetition of the sacrifice of Jesus? All churches recognize this sacrament, but all celebrate it differently. The Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican community refer to it as the Eucharist. The Protestant Churches speak about Holy Communion. Some free churches use the expression “breaking of bread” in order to avoid giving the impression that they are celebrating a sacrament. Different perceptions which, at their core, all deal with essentially the same question: is Jesus Christ really present during the celebration of the sacrament, or is He present in a transformed state, or is it symbolic?
Neither transformation nor a symbol
With Martin Luther, New Apostolic Christians believe in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. The elements of bread and wine are not changed in their substance through the consecration, in other words, there is no transformation of the substances (transubstantiation). Bread and wine remain bread and wine. Through the words of consecration by the Priest and the power of the Holy Spirit, the substance of Christ’s body and blood is joined to the substance of the bread and wine. After their consecration, however, the elements of Holy Communion constitute a dual substance—like the two natures of Jesus Christ—namely that of bread and wine and that of the body and blood of Christ. The Son of God is then truly present in the elements of Holy Communion: in His divinity and in His humanity.
Celebration and receiving of Holy Communion
The consecrated wafer is dispensed with the words: “The body and blood of Jesus given for you.” The use of communion wafers sprinkled with wine dates back to a decision by Chief Apostle Hermann Niehaus in 1917. Before that time, both elements were dispensed separately. But with World War One and the given circumstances, this practical solution was adopted, and it has remained to this day.
All members of the Church as well as guests are entitled to partake of Holy Communion. However, it should only be taken by Christians who have been baptized. After all, Holy Communion is clearly a meal of profession in several ways: the communicant professes Jesus Christ as His Lord and Saviour, and professes His death and return. The profession of the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ is part of the fundamental profession of the Christian faith. It is required of all those who wish to partake of Holy Communion for salvation.
Those who partake of Holy Communion in divine services of the New Apostolic Church publicly profess their faith in the activity and authority of the Apostles of Jesus at work today. The content and significance of Holy Communion remain concealed to man, but its effects are revealed: “The worthy partaking of Holy Communion establishes our fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Seventh Article of Faith). In this respect, Holy Communion strengthens faith in Jesus Christ as well as the desire and the ability to follow Him. In Holy Communion, believers have sacramental fellowship with Jesus Christ as their Lord, and are strengthened in order to live their lives accordingly.
Photo: Frank Schuldt
Holy Communion, Divine service, Congregational life