Decoding the Lord's Supper

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

In the days prior to Vatican II, I was a seven-year-old convert to Catholicism, being catechized along with the rest of my second-grade classmates in preparation for First Communion.

For weeks, Sister Mariella had been schooling us about the Sacrament and how we were to receive it. Most of her instruction was in making certain her little catechumens knew that the communion wafer, upon consecration by the priest, was turned into Jesus incarnate, and that to receive it faithfully we had to be clean, spiritually, by Confession—preferably on Saturday evening—and physically, by fasting from midnight the night before.

Sister was very specific that under no circumstances were we to touch it. Rather, when the priest placed the host on our tongue, we were to let it moisten there for just a moment, then swallow it immediately, so as not to let it come in contact with our plaque-covered teeth.

So you can imagine my horror when, after receiving communion in my white suit and white buckskin shoes, I returned to the pew with my other classmates, knelt, and with hands folded, caught, in the corner of my eye, the classmate next to me, rapt in wonderment as he gazed at the host he had just plucked out of his mouth. I was certain that the earth would open up and swallow us all down into the deepest reaches of hell.

It didn’t. But, as I think back, I don’t recall seeing that little fella again.

Well, that was a long time ago. In the years hence, my faith journey has taken me from Catholicism to Seventh Day Adventism to Anglicanism. Along the way, I learned that there are widely varying views about the Lord’s Supper and what Jesus meant when he broke bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

The differences center on whether the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic ritual for our remembrance, a sacramental ordinance for our spiritual nourishment, both, or something else, and whether the communion elements of bread and wine are symbols of His body and blood, material substances physically transmuted into His body and blood, hosts for His actual presence, hosts for His spiritual presence, or something else.

As discussed in Part 1, when Jesus concluded His “bread of life” discourse in John 6, He said that the words He had been speaking “are spirit and they are life.” It indicated that His teaching on “eating and drinking” was not about consuming Him physically, symbolically, or ceremonially but about experiencing intimacy with Him by trusting in Him as Savior and feeding on His Word.

So how does that apply to the Lord’s Supper and how we observe it today? Read more. 

Originally published December 12, 2015.

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