Do Presbyterians Take Holy Communion?
29 SEP 2017
Few Christian sacraments are as overtly symbolic as Holy Communion, in which believers reenact the Last Supper. John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism, called communion “a spiritual feast," during which body of Christ symbolically feeds worshiper's souls in preparation for immortality after death. Centuries after Calvin, communion remains one of Presbyterians' two sacraments.
1 Symbolic Interpretation
Like most Protestants, Presbyterians do not believe in the miracle of transubstantiation, whereby communal bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood. Calvin argues that the miracle is unnecessary, because Jesus' bestowing of the blessing of salvation is the true miracle.
Theologian Melva Wilson Costen calls Holy Communion “the Lord's feast," promising a heavenly feast hereafter. She explains that its transcendent purpose is to create a bond among those who are physically present, those who are symbolically present, and God. This belief dates back to Calvin, who taught that "the only food of our soul" is the body of Christ, a symbolic nourishment which leads to true spiritual vigor.
Calvin advocated frequent communion and the Presbyterian Church decrees that Holy Communion can appropriately be celebrated every Sunday, and in any case should be celebrated often enough to be seen as integral to worship. However, few Protestants today participate in Holy Communion each week -- it's more likely to be a monthly or even quarterly event.
Holy Communion is meant to be an inclusive rite and the Book of Order makes this inclusiveness explicit, extending the invitation to communion to everyone present, regardless of age or background, who has been baptized. For Presbyterians, participation in the sacrament is not a right that worshipers earn, but rather a privilege to be shared by all the faithful.
In the Presbyterian Church, Holy Communion includes a thankful Invocation, to be preceded by reading of Scripture, so that congregants may receive “Word and Sacrament together” according to the Book of Order -- which dictates both church worship services and governance.
- 1 Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics; Institutes of the Christian Religion; John Calvin
- 2 Presbyterian Mission Agency: What Do Presbyterians Believe about Communion? The Lord’s Feast; Melva Wilson Costen
- 3 Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: Lord’s Supper Practices in the Reformed and Presbyterian Tradition; Joan Huyser-Honig
- 4 Book of Order: The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
- 5 The Theologian: A Spiritual Banquet, John Calvin on the Lord’s Supper; Matthew W. Mason