FOR MOST CHRISTIANS, the church’s supreme rite is the re-enactment of the last supper, when participants receive the consecrated, or blessed, bread and wine. Catholics know this as the Mass or Eucharist, Orthodox Christians call it the Holy Liturgy, and Protestants may call it the Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. In all churches, the bread and wine are identified with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Protestants see the two elements as reminders of Jesus’ sacrifice. Catholics believe that Christ’s body and blood are actually present in the elements of the Mass.
The design on this kneeler combines the bread and wine with chi and rho, the first letters of the word Christ in Greek.
THE ANGLICAN WAY
The various branches of the Christian church celebrate Holy Communion in different ways. These two pages show how Communion is celebrated in an Anglican church. The first part of the service focuses on the word. It includes prayers, one or more Bible-readings, a sermon, the Creed (the statement of belief in God), and the Peace (“The Peace of the Lord be always with you”).
1 TAKE THE BREAD
After the Peace, a hymn, and an offering, the priest’s words recall the last supper. He takes the bread from the Communion table, which may also be referred to as the Lord’s table or altar.
2 GIVE THANKS FOR THE BREAD
The priest gives thanks to God for the bread, echoing as he does so the description in the Gospels of how Jesus blessed the bread.
3 BREAK THE BREAD
Again following the actions of Jesus at the last supper, the priest breaks the bread. This is so that those present may “share in the body of Christ”.
4 RECEIVE THE BREAD
The priest invites the congregation to take Communion, and prays that their bodies will be cleansed through Jesus’ body. The priest then takes and eats part of the consecrated bread. (Some priests receive the bread after blessing the wine.)
5 TAKE THE WINE
Next, the priest takes the wine from the Communion table. The wine is usually contained in a special goblet, or cup, called a chalice. The chalice represents the vessel that would have held the wine at the last supper.
6 GIVE THANKS FOR THE WINE
The priest blesses the wine. By giving thanks in this way, he has prayed that the souls of both clergy and congregation may be washed with Jesus’ “most precious blood”.
7 RECEIVE THE WINE
Raising the chalice to his lips, the priest receives the wine. He is now ready to offer Holy Communion to those members of the congregation who have come forwards to take it.
8 GIVE THE BREAD
When enough bread for the congregation to share has been broken, it is distributed to those present. In some churches, the bread may take the form of small, unleavened wafers.
9 GIVE THE WINE
Then members of the congregation take the wine from the chalice in turn. Afterwards, they say a further prayer of thanksgiving before the final hymn, prayer, and blessing bring the service of Holy Communion to an end.
This 16th-century chalice is made of silver, and is beautifully decorated with the heads of saints. Although similar chalices are still used today, in some churches, especially those with large congregations, tiny individual cups are handed round instead.
The consecrated bread at Holy Communion is placed on a plate, known as a paten, which usually matches the chalice. Because the bread and wine are so important, both the paten and the chalice are often made of precious metals, such as silver or gold.
Although the usual place to celebrate Holy Communion is in church, it may also take place elsewhere. If a priest or vicar is celebrating Holy Communion with a sick person, he or she will take a portable Communion set consisting of a box for consecrated bread or wafers, a bottle for wine, and a scaled-down paten and chalice.