How Often Should the Lord's Supper/Communion Be Observed?
The Lord’s Supper, Communion, and the Eucharist are all names for the same thing. What became known as The Lord’s Supper, and the other names given for it, was when Jesus asked his disciples at their last dinner together to remember Him whenever they broke bread and drank wine. The request—or “ordinance,” in religious terms—honors Christ’s sacrifice of his life on the cross when He died for our sins.
How often do we need to remember Jesus’ sacrifice by observing communion? When Christians decide this, it helps them determine which Christian worship service meets their spiritual needs. What each Christian denomination believes and how often a church observes the Lord’s Supper varies.
How Do Different Denominations Interpret the Lord’s Supper?
To get an idea of how different traditions view this event, here are some views from church law and various priests and pastors giving thier views on Quora.com.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, observing communion is a frequent reminder of Jesus’ supreme sacrifice. Roman Catholic parishioners celebrate communion at every mass—weddings and funerals included. Some devout Catholics attend mass every day to stay nourished by the sacrament. Catholic canon law states that during a communion service, bread becomes Christ’s body, and wine becomes Christ’s blood (a belief called transubstantiation).
The Roman Catholic communion ritual is believed to be propitiatory—it takes away people’s sins. Another benefit of communion includes creating a deeper union with Christ, as revealed in John 6:35: “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Communion, by definition, also strengthens our love for the poor, needy, and all Christian brothers and sisters.
In the Episcopal Church, the Eucharist is also a sacrament and not regarded as simply a memorial, said Rev. Ronald H. Haines, Episcopal bishop of the Washington Diocese. He wrote on Quora.com that Episcopalians believe the Lord is present in a communion service, though not physically present with body and blood. And Episcopalians follow the Roman Catholic tradition of celebrating the Eucharist weekly and at every funeral and wedding.
Baptists choose as a congregation how often to celebrate The Lord’s Supper, usually once a month or quarterly. Kevin Davidson who describes himself as a Recovering Baptist, wrote on Quora.com that Baptists take communion less often than more liturgical denominations because they consider communion an “ordinance, something Jesus told them to do, and it is not a sacrament.” In other words, Christ’s death and resurrection have granted grace to believers already, and the communal elements do not give it again.
Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Protestant congregations typically observe communion once a month or less, most commonly having communion on the first Sunday of every month. In the Reformed tradition, it is also a practice in some Protestant churches, as in the Catholic church, to serve communion to home-bound or hospital-bound people.
Chaz Hooser, a self-described but undefined “priest,” wrote on Quora.com that he believes the less frequent observance of communion in many Protestant denominations reflects pre-Reformation days when people examined their souls and went to confession before a priest to repent of their sins before receiving communion. A priest traditionally gave tokens to people to verify their worthiness for communion. Those parishioners who found themselves unworthy did not take communion, so priests served communion less frequently. Lay people commonly received communion a few times a year or just on Easter Sunday. Due to this restructuring of worship services, sermons rather than communion became the main focus of Protestant worship. Reformers did encourage Protestants to partake of communion more frequently, however.
Why Do We Call Communion the Lord’s Supper?
Although referred to as communion in many mainline churches—and called the Eucharist in Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches—the Lord’s Supper is common terminology in non-denominational and Baptist churches.
It refers back to the Gospel’s account of when Jesus and His disciples met for their last dinner together during the Jewish Passover celebration (Luke 22:19-20). The get-together began with Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, which they asked him about. Why such servility? This gesture was a prelude to a much larger sacrifice—Christ’s imminent death on the cross for our sins.
The Last Supper’s atmosphere became solemn when Jesus said the words recited in communion celebrations ever since:
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, ;and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Soon after this last meal together, Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified. Therefore, Jesus’ words regarding the observance of communion are His teaching regarding His sacrifice on the cross.
What Does the Lord’s Supper Teach Us about Jesus’ Sacrifice?
There is very human sadness in Christ’s death reflected in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus’ followers didn’t want Him to leave them. The time with Him suddenly seemed too short, just three years long. They wanted Him to stay and teach them more about God’s relationship with them.
Leaving the disciples was difficult for Jesus, too. He groaned for the sins of the world during His crucifixion. Before He suffered in His physical form, He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that “This cup may pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). Fulfilling His mission on earth and going to God was sad and frightening for Jesus. He felt all human emotions. Yet Jesus knew how His story would end in victory.
What Does the Lord’s Supper Teach Us about Being a Unified Church?
Rev. Ladislas Orsy, a Roman Catholic scholar at Georgetown University’s law school, wrote in The Washington Post, “Although the Eucharist is supposed to bring believers together, or into communion, the differing views on what it means and who can receive it have a lot to do with how Christian churches define themselves.”
The Roman Catholic church requires communicants to fast an hour before communion and be in a “state of grace” to take communion. Confession to absolve sins is desired and strongly encouraged during Lent and before a wedding. The Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church lists and explain the prerequisites to taking communion in Book IV, Part I, Title III, Chapter I, Article 2.
Non-Catholics are not normally invited to partake of the elements in a Catholic service because of a lack of preparation for the sacrament. There are circumstances when a non-Catholic may take communion in a Catholic mass, such as when a minister is unavailable.
Protestants have no such guidelines for taking communion, although it is a worship ritual with deep spiritual meaning for everyone in every denomination. Everyone attending a communion service is respectfully invited to partake at God’s table. This is called “open communion.”
People are never happier than when they are eating together. Food bonds relationships and it is God’s love poured out for us. Wayward followers of Jesus recognized Him when He visited and ate with them after His crucifixion, specifically when He broke the bread (Luke 24:28-32). Jesus appeared to the disciples again when he gave them fishing advice and prepared them a fish breakfast at the beach (John 21:1-13). In the same way, a communion service draws people back to the love and acceptance of Jesus—to the time he told them to remember Him “every time you eat this bread and drink this wine” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Does the Bible Say How Often We Should Observe the Lord’s Supper?
This question remains: How often should we honor Christ’s sacrifice in the communion ritual? What form should communion take? Should communion, or the Lord’s Supper, be open or closed to people of other denominations? Can you remember Christ’s sacrifice and be forgiven of your sins without celebrating communion?
Communion means “coming together.” Christians in the growing New Testament church “. . . devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper ), and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
These four practices became the foundation of the early Christians’ lives. First Corinthians 10:16-17 says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”
The Lord’s Supper builds up any and every church congregation and solidifies its relationship with Christ. Is it not then a blessing in whatever context?
God bless you in your eating and drinking, and may you do so in remembrance of Him.
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Betty Dunn hopes her articles help you hold hands with God, a theme in her self-published memoir Medusa. A former high school English teacher and editor, she works on writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets, and family. Check out her blog at Betty by Elizabeth Dunning and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com.