The centenary of the communion wafer — More than mere confirmation

In the one hundred years since its introduction the communion wafer has hardly changed. There have, however, been changes in the understanding of Holy Communion in the New Apostolic Church, particularly in its relationship to forgiveness of sins.

There is immense wealth in Holy Communion. Already the various designations testify of this: the Last Supper, the thanksgiving expressed in the Greek noun Eucharist, the profession of faith to the Saviour in the Lord’s Supper, and the fellowship in breaking of bread.

This is reflected in the aspects of Holy Communion as described in the Catechism (CNAC 8.2): meal of remembrance, meal of profession, meal of fellowship, and an eschatological meal, which is a reference to the marriage supper in heaven.

Important are the spiritual dimensions: especially the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the elements of bread and wine, but also the relationship to the sacrifice of Christ and the forgiveness of sins.

Following a good tradition

In this respect, the New Apostolic Church followed the traditions of the Catholic Apostolic Church. The understanding of Holy Communion of the Catholic Apostolic Church, our Church’s predecessor, is positioned between two denominational extremes. With regard to the real presence it follows the Protestant teaching of consubstantiation. And with its emphasis on the great meal of remembrance, and the continual celebration thereof, its understanding is closer to that of the Roman Catholic conception, namely the representation of Christ’s sacrifice.

In many things, the New Apostolic Church is close to the Catholic Apostolic Church, even though we only began to document things in writing at a much later stage. Clear statements on the real presence can be found in the Neuapostolische Rundschau of 1917, at the time that the communion wafer with the three drops of wine was introduced. A book on the ministries and the sacraments of the New Apostolic Church (Die Ämter und Sakramente der Neuapostolischen Kirche) published in 1935 explains how the congregation responds to the sacrifice of Jesus during the celebration of Holy Communion: “Also we have to bring our sacrifices … namely blessed bread and wine in order to express our gratitude and proclaim the death of the Lord.”

From a mere appendage to the central event

A textbook dating from 1908 and written for Priests and those involved with teaching shows that another aspect became formative for the New Apostolic Church’s conception of Holy Communion: the relationship between the forgiveness of sins and Holy Communion: “Through the absolution the believer has his sins forgiven, but by partaking of Holy Communion he receives the confirmation of having received forgiveness of sins and the seal of new life.” Thereby the sacrament itself becomes an appendage, while the forgiveness of sins is almost raised to the level of a sacrament without expressly being declared as such.

With time the New Apostolic Church dissociated itself from this tradition. It was not until the Questions and Answers book of 1972 that the thought of the completion or the confirmation of the forgiveness of sins no longer played a role. “The forgiveness of sins creates a spiritual state in which Holy Communion can be partaken of worthily.” And with the reform of our liturgy in the year 2010, Holy Communion finally received the status it has today: the central event of divine service.

Right in the middle of a wide range of Christian denominations

The Apostle ministry is and has always been central for the conception of Holy Communion in the New Apostolic Church: “Jesus Christ instituted Holy Communion in the circle of His Apostles and entrusted it to them” the Catechism says in section 8.2.15. Therefore “whenever an Apostle or a priestly minister commissioned by Him performs the consecration, this occurs by the commission and authority of Jesus Christ. Here it is the Holy Spirit who effects the real presence of the Son of God, His body and blood, in Holy Communion.”

Here the New Apostolic conception is close to the view held by the Roman Catholic Church, because without a properly ordained Priest the “genuine and total reality (substantia) of the Eucharistic mystery have not been preserved”. Nevertheless, every Christian who has been baptised with water and who professes Jesus as His Lord is invited to partake of Holy Communion in the New Apostolic Church as a guest. This leans toward the Eucharistic hospitality practised by the Protestant Churches. This means that the New Apostolic Church—similar to its Catholic Apostolic precursor—is right in the middle of a wide range of Christian beliefs.

Photo: Romolo Tavani

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