The combo-wafer and what necessity has to do with it

Bread and wine in one. This has been the standard Holy Communion practice in the New Apostolic Church for one hundred years. There is a story to this: two problems, three solutions, and an emergency measure.

It really was a case of necessity being the mother of invention here. Because even in the New Apostolic Church it was originally customary to dispense the bread during the celebration of Holy Communion as a wafer and the wine in a cup, which the participants would sip from. But with World War One raging in Europe, it was almost impossible to find wine. “We have already tried to solve the problem by mixing the wine with water, but even so there will not be enough,” Chief Apostle Hermann Niehaus said in a historic divine service in April 1917.

But the fear of epidemics such as cholera, typhoid fever, and tuberculosis had forced the Church to focus on hygiene. The cup was wiped with a cloth after each participant had taken a sip from it, and then it was rotated slightly. In fact, it did not go unnoticed that even the partakers of communion rotated the cup, and some only sipped from it, barely touching the cup with their lips.

Individual cups or maybe even a fork?

An article in a German Church magazine of the time (Neuapostolische Rundschau), published on 25 March 1917, offered three solutions.

One option was to introduce small individual cups, as the Protestant Church in Germany had already done. But more or less ornate vessels would introduce class differences into the celebration of Holy Communion, which was to be avoided from a strictly religious point of view.

The second option was to spear the wafer with an ivory fork, dip it into the wine, and then dispense it to the brothers and sisters—something the congregations in Holland did. But in no time the wafers were soggy and stuck to people’s hands. From a hygienic point of view, this approach was not much better.

The last option, and what finally decided it, came from an entirely unexpected direction: something the Church had to deal with as a result of the war.

An emergency measure becomes a firm fixture

October 1915 at the front lines in France. A soldier with the initials W. G. receives a letter from the Chief Apostle, containing Holy Communion wafers: “We do not only pray and intercede for you, but also let you participate in the sacrifice of Jesus through this.” In reply, W. G. writes: “I am as a happy as a little child here on my straw bed.” This response is printed in the January 1916 edition of the Neuapostolische Rundschau.

Initially, the wafers that were sent to the front were accompanied by small bottles of wine. But they somehow always disappeared from the parcels—as did cigarettes. Soon after the outbreak of World War One in 1914, the Chief Apostle therefore provided soldiers fighting at the front with a combination wafer. “We consecrate the cup [with the wine] and the wafers and then drizzle some of the wine on the wafer.”

Introduction in two steps

“There will be a change in the celebration of Holy Communion.” These were the words Chief Apostle Hermann Niehaus used to introduce a new era on 6 April 1917 in Bielefeld (Germany). From now on, the wine would be found on the wafer in the form of three drops.

To begin with, he instituted this in his own working area as an Apostle. It became compulsory for all following a joint decision, which was communicated by way of a circular in the latter part of the year 1919. “Following a resolution by the Apostles’ Council, this now applies throughout the Church.”

Does this way of dispensing Holy Communion do justice to the way Jesus Christ intended it? Answers are given by looking back over a thousand years of history. The next part of this series will discuss the changes in form over the course of time.

Photo: NAK Zentralarchiv Westdeutschland

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Andreas Rother
Holy Communion