I’ve read and thought a bit about the theology of communion (see this post by Camassia for a good discussion of some of the theological issues surrounding communion), but not as much about the act—how to actually “do communion.” In other words, I’ve thought about how often to do communion, what it means, what it does spiritually, but haven’t thought about how it’s actually administered.
From the churches I’ve attended I’ve seen communion done 4 different ways (I’m sure there are more, which I would be interested to hear about):
- There’s the take-it-on-your-own-up-front-with-God way. The crackers and wine/juice are up at the front of the church and whenever you’re ready you get in line, come down to the front, and take communion. It’s a very low-church, Protestant way of doing things. There are no human mediators between me and God. It’s highly personal and is a bit like an altar call for people who already believe and a confession time for those who don’t have confession booths. It’s how we do it in my church now, and I rather like it. However, its main weakness seems to be that it is highly individualistic. Communion is solely between me and God. I can be having a horrible row with the guy standing behind me, or not have a clue who the woman is taking communion in front of me and it won’t affect my communion experience (much).
- Next is the pass-around-the-little-church-cups-and-take-it-when-we’re-all-ready way. Here, the cups and wafers are passed around and then everyone takes it together. It does emphasize the solidarity or unity within the church, but only to a degree. Again, you don’t have to know the person next to you and everyone is still facing forward. And, to me anyhow, it just seems a little hokey. Mostly because of the little miniature plastic cups which always remind me of the medicine cups the nurse gives (hmm, maybe there is theological significance behind the plastic cups after all!)
- Then there’s the everyone-line-up-and-have-the-priest-administer-it-to-you. This is how it’s done in the Catholic church as well as some Protestant churches. As someone who believes pretty strongly in the priesthood of all believers it’s hard for me to swallow that the priest has a special ordained role that gives them the ability to administer Christ’s body and blood. However, on the good side it does remind the communicant(?) that Christ is made visible and present through the church (though still in a special way by the priest).
- Finally there’s the pass-around-the-loaf-and-wine-and-give-it-to-one-another. I’ve seen this done at a Disciples of Christ church and an Episcopalian church. The plusses to this way of doing it are many. It seems the closest approximation of how it actually happened the first time between Jesus and his disciples. It makes it more difficult to not know or be in a broken relationship with someone in the church since I’ll be administering communion to them sooner or later. It fits well into a priesthood of all believers theology (and it actually gives some concrete action as to what being a priest means). The only drawback: it’s hard to do in a big church since it would take so long (which might not be such a drawback depending on your view of how big a church should be).
I also realized as I was writing that some people might actually eat a meal together (ala 1 Cor. 11:20ff.), though I’ve never heard of a church that actually does that.
While I don’t think any of the above ways are wrong, I’m find the pass-around-the-loaf-and-wine-and-give-it-to-one-another most compelling because it does the best job of maintaining the horizontal (relationship with others in the church, again see 1 Cor. 11:20ff.) and vertical (forgiveness of sins, rememberance of Jesus) components that are inherent in the communion act.