Communion in the Episcopal Church
Communion (also known as the Eucharist or The Lord’s Supper) is one of the two main sacraments in the church, baptism being the primary sacrament. What is a sacrament, you ask? Sacraments are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. They are things we can touch, see, taste, hear – things we can experience, that convey the presence and participation of the Holy. It is through the sacraments that we receive God’s grace. Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills. Sacraments are an important part of our faith life.
Communion is our prayerful remembrance and reenactment of our Lord’s last supper with his disciples when he took break and wine, gave thanks, and shared it with his beloved friends. He told them to do it to remember him, and the church has long done it when we gather together. It puts us in mind of his death and resurrection and the great gift that is offered through Christ’s sacrifice for the world.
It has long been the norm for Anglican Christians to celebrate communion when we gather together. We call it The Great Thanksgiving, as it represents to us our giving of ourselves to God in Thanksgiving for what God has given us. We offer the first fruits of our human, broken lives, and God gives us back a measure of God’s perfect grace through the mystery of the Holy Spirit.
How do I receive Communion at Christ Church?
At Christ Church, all who seek Christ or a deeper knowledge of him are welcome to receive communion. After the communion prayer, which ends with the Lord’s Prayer, an usher will invite you to come towards the altar to receive communion. Typically we fill the altar rail from right to left as people get up and return to their pews. It is appropriate to kneel at the altar rail or to stand behind it to receive. In our tradition we use round wafers for bread and real wine.
To receive the bread wafer, people typically hold out their hands, one on top of the other, palms up, to receive the bread. The priest will place the bread in your hand with one of the sentences appropriate to the service, after which it is customary to say, Amen. At that time you may eat the bread, or you may hold onto the bread to dip it into the wine. If you prefer the priest to place the wafer into your mouth, do not put your hands out at all, but simple open your mouth, and the priest will place the wafer on your tongue.
When the chalice bearer comes to you with the wine, it is best to assist the person with the wine by guiding the chalice to your lips while you take a sip of the wine. If you have kept your bread and would like to dip it into the wine instead, make sure the bread is visible, and the chalice bearer will make sure you can dip into the wine. If you are dipping, it is most helpful if you dip carefully, avoiding getting your fingers into the wine. After dipping you would eat the bread at that point. If you would like the chalice bearer to dip the wafer and place it on your tongue, hold your wafer up on your turned up palms and the chalice bearer will dip the wine and place it on your tongue. If you choose not to receive the wine at all, and only want bread, simply cross your arms over your chest to signal that you do not want the wine.
If you do not want to receive communion, but would like to receive a blessing from the priest, come to the altar rail, and cross your arms over your chest. This will signal to the priest that you want a blessing instead of communion.
When you are done at the altar rail, you may return to your pew.
Also, if you are unable to come forward for reasons of infirmity, please let an usher know and the clergy will bring communion to you in your pew.
Children are welcome to receive communion at the discretion of their parents. It is often best reserved for children who understand that communion is something special and can received bread and/or wine respectfully. Contrary to the assertion of some, it is not necessary for children to “understand” communion before they can receive. Indeed, many adults do not fully “understand” the mysteries of the Eucharist. Instead, we encourage families to encourage their children to participate and teach them by example and through discussion afterwards. If you have any questions about communion don’t hesitate to speak with a member of the clergy.