What happens at The Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s Supper?

I’ve had varying chats about Communion over the years that I’ve been a Christian, and I doubt that they will cease as I grow older, and, eventually, become a vicar. The Eucharist or The Lord’s Supper, or Communion or whatever you call it has been the topic of much discussion, and much schism over the years. And people still want to know what it’s all about. What exactly happens to the bread and wine at the point of blessing? Is it just a memorial or something more? Can anybody do communion, or is it only reserved for the pastor? Is it OK to use coke and crisps for communion? Does the wine have to be alcoholic?

I think all these questions have been in the back of my mind and I’ve been trying to work out answers to them. I have some, but don’t know whether they’d be everyone’s cup of tea! And then I found the picture which is featured in this post. How does it make you feel? Some would find it hilarious, whilst some find it deeply insulting. Why do you feel what you feel about the picture?

What about these pictures:












Why do you think the artists/cartoonists ‘spoofed’ the original Last Supper painting?

I think in their own way, they’re trying to convey a message… don’t ask me what message that is, though!

However, it got me thinking about the varying theologies on communion.

I mean, the spectrums range from Transubstantiation (bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus) and the Memorial (just a remembrance)

I think communion is special and important… but I wouldn’t go as far as Transubstantiation or Memorial. I’m probably somewhere in the middle. What do you think? I was learning about the Eastern Orthodox Church the other week, and my lecturer said that if you researched communion in their theological libraries, you wouldn’t find anything. Why? Because they feel that communion is a mystery and shouldn’t be messed around with!

Sometimes, I wish theology was a bit more like that!

Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • Perhaps unusually for a Baptist (though arguably in keeping with Baptist history), I also stay more away from the extreme of just a memorial – I think that is an inadequate explanation of why Communion is so central to the church.

    My doctrine of Communion and doctrine of the Bible are very closely linked (as per Webster) – in both God’s Spirit comes in and fills, transforms and sanctifies earthy, imperfect, human things and makes them items of grace, taking on a saving role in God’s Economy.

    Both catch us up from where we are and rush us into the bigger drama of God’s salvation history and then we come away from both empowered as the church (cos both Scripture and Communion find their place primarily to the church, secondarily to individuals) to join in God’s mission on earth.

    • Yes, I do love Webster’s theology and I think it is valuable in thinking about these things.

      Of course, the stripping away of communion as important and reducing it to a mere memorial is simply unbiblical to me, and quite costly. Even those who say it’s merely a memorial subconsciously go against what they say in the fact that they believe it is important to remember so frequently.

      So I’m definitely in your circle of thinking on this one, David!

  • Becca

    Hey Dean!

    This is (obviously :p) a topic close to my heart, so I was just curious as to what you feel the Eucharist is, if it isn’t a memorial? I don’t think memorials are unimportant in anyway – we remember Jesus’ birth and death every year, and you could say the image of a cross is also a way of remembering Jesus’ death etc., and it not being the actual cross doesn’t make it any less powerful…

    It’s weird because I was chatting to someone about this last night, and out of curiousity, looked it up in the YouCat 🙂 It says:

    ‘Christ is mysteriously but really present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. As often as the Church fulfills Jesus’ command, “Do this is remembrance of me”, breaks the bread and offers the chalice, the same thing takes place today that happened then: Christ truly gives himself for us, and we truly gain a share in him. The unique and unrepeatable sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is made present on the altar; the work of our redemption is accomplished’

    Now you may say that He has died for us already, so this is unnecessary, but it also says:

    ‘Every Holy Communion unites me more deeply with Christ, makes me a living member of the Body of Christ, renews the graces that I received in Baptism and Confirmation, and fortifies me for the battle against sin’

    …pretty incredible, eh? 🙂 xx

    • Becca! Good to see you on here 😉

      I thought you may pass by on this particular post.

      I should clarify what I meant. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ, but at the same time I wouldn’t say that it was ‘merely’ a memorial. To me, these are two sides of the spectrum.

      So I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not entirely sure of the wording on YouCat, but I do like the fact that they say that in taking part in communion, you’re receiving afresh the graces done in faith.

      So, for example, as David above commented, the Bible speaks to us and is a means by which grace is expressed to us. The Spirit fills us afresh with his power through the Bible. And I believe the same thing is done at communion.

      So I would say that communion is special, and give a few reasons as to why I think it’s special, but I think there definitely is an element of mystery there that we try to work out without really touching on the perfect, exact answer! I hope that makes sense?!

  • I’m closer to the transubstantiation view myself. I believe the host is Christs body. How? No idea. But He said it and that settles it!

    Also, having been in dialogue with some orthodox Orthodox Christians, I would say that’s a very liberal interpretation of how they deal with the mystery of Communion. Whilst they tend not to approve of the Western appetite for exegesis, from what I read by the Eastern Church Fathers, they explain it through what it does rather than how it does it. So whilst they might not attempt the sort of dissection we find in western theology, they certainly wouldn’t be airy-fairy enough to go along with ‘it’s [just] a memorial’!

    • Biscuitnapper – interesting responses!

      Going with transubstantiation then… you say you’re not sure how the host is made into Christ’s body – but are you interpreting ‘This is my body broken for you’ in a very literal sense rather than the metaphorical?

      In my opinion – and I could be wrong of course, it seems quite weak in that sense if that is your justification for bread and wine being transformed into body and blood.

      Do you have any other reasons as to why you lean that way? Very interested to know as I don’t know a lot of people who hold to this view!