The Lord’s Supper

Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

History Of The Lord's Supper

One of the most profound events in the life of Jesus was the supper he shared with his disciples on the eve of his death. At that supper, Jesus commanded his disciples to share this meal until he comes again. For centuries the church has followed this command, sharing the Supper of the Lord, eating the bread and drinking the cup as a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. No sacred action has been as significant for the life of the church as the Lord's Supper. Every worship tradition has developed theologies and liturgies for the Lord's Supper-attesting to the rich diversity in the church. In the past few decades we have has witnessed a convergence of the theology and practice of the Lord's Supper-attesting to the essential unity of the church. The following entries outline the history, theology, and practice of the Lord's Supper. Developed from Jewish models, the liturgical form of the Christian Eucharist was well established in the earliest centuries. Although embellishments took place in the fourth century, a remarkable continuity with earlier practices is visible. The liturgies of the major Eastern cities replaced local liturgies in the East beginning in the fourth century, while in the West the liturgy of Rome dominated much later (in the ninth century and following). In the early church, eucharistic theology developed against the background of controversies over the Trinity, Christ's human and divine natures, and the goodness of creation. In the Middle Ages, controversies over the exact nature of Christ's presence in the elements of bread and wine emerged, leading to the scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation in the thirteenth century. Eucharistic devotion flourished during the late Middle Ages. Decrying what they perceived as abuses, Protestant Reformers themselves split over the nature of Christ's presence in the elements of bread and wine: Luther insisted on the real, corporeal presence of Christ; Zwingli and others insisted on the mere recalling of Christ's sacrifice in the human mind and heart (memorialism). Calvin occupied the middle ground with his doctrine of Christ's spiritual presence. In response, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (15451563) reaffirmed transubstantiation and the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. These doctrines continue to flourish in Western churches today. A variety of eucharistic liturgies are employed by Christians in the Eastern churches. These groups tend to follow regional traditions (Syrian, Byzantine, Armenian, Alexandrian) rather than doctrinal lines.

  1. The Lord’s Supper In The Early Church
  2. The Lord’s Supper In The Medieval West And The Modern Roman Catholic Church
  3. The Lord’s Supper In The Eastern Churches
  4. The Lord’s Supper In The Reformation Era
  5. The Lord’s Supper Among Radical Protestants (1525–1900)
  6. Convergence At The Table

Theologies Of The Lord's Supper

From the early church's firm belief in the Real Presence of the risen Christ in the Eucharist have developed a variety of Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant explanations of how this mystery takes place (or, as Radical Reformation Protestants asserted, if any change at all occurs). Eastern Orthodox churches generally avoid complex theological and philosophical explanations. In the West, modern Roman Catholic theologians have searched for biblical language to explain this mystery, notably, the Pauline language about being inserted into Christ. They continue to uphold the doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches the sacramental and substantial (real)-but not carnal or physical-presence of Christ. Reformed (Calvinist) theology recognizes Christ's real and spiritual presence, but resists the idea that the sacrament is efficacious in and of itself. Anglicans assert Real Presence in a variety of ways, ranging from a position very close to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation to an explanation that emphasizes the occasion when the bread and wine are received by the believer. With his roots in the Anglican tradition, John Wesley considered the Lord's Supper a powerful sacrament even while emphasizing inner renewal and sanctification. The radical Protestant memorialist viewpoint of the Anabaptists and Ulrich Zwingli continues to be held by the groups descended from the Anabaptists (Mennonites and others), as well as by some mainline Protestants, many evangelicals, and all Pentecostal churches. However, as seen in this section, each of these groups recognizes something worthy of reverence and devotion in the Communion service.

  1. An Early Church Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  2. An Eastern Orthodox Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  3. A Roman Catholic Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  4. A Lutheran Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  5. A Reformed Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  6. An Anglican Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  7. An Anabaptist Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  8. A Wesleyan Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  9. A Restoration View Of The Lord’s Supper
  10. An Evangelical Theology Of The Lord’s Supper
  11. A Charismatic Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

The Practice Of The Lord's Supper

Although the liturgies of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and certain Protestant communions may seem forbiddingly complex to members of nonliturgical Protestant traditions, the heart of the Communion service in all the liturgical groups is the great prayer of thanksgiving and blessing over the bread and wine. The prayer's roots extend all the way to the Jewish liturgy Jesus himself used. A combination of scholarly research and interconfessional discussion has brought a large degree of consensus about the main outlines of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving in the early church. The fruits of this research and discussion, together with guidelines for constructing one's own form of this basic prayer, are offered in the following section.

  1. The Heart Of Communion
  2. The Prayer Of Thanksgiving
  3. A Common Text For The Prayer Of Thanksgiving
  4. Guidelines For Preparing Communion Prayers
  5. An Inclusive Language Prayer Of Thanksgiving