Holy Communion

Taking communion

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Holy Communion is our most important service or celebration and has several names: Holy Communion (meaning fellowship and sharing); the Lord's Supper (meaning a meal given by Jesus himself); Eucharist (meaning thanksgiving); Mass and the Divine Liturgy. It is our most important service as it celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus, particularly remembering the Last Supper when we share the bread and wine as Jesus did with his disciples. Jesus was the host at the Last Supper and we believe he is the unseen host at the Holy Communion service today with the congregation as his guests. In the Church of England, Holy Communion may only be celebrated by an ordained bishop or priest, when he/she is called the celebrant or president.

An Explanation of the Service

The first part of the service concentrates on teaching: readings from the Bible, including a passage from one of the Gospels, and a sermon. The congregation recites the Creed which is the basic statement of Christian belief. A more personal part of the preparation is when the congregation confess together that they have sinned against God by doing things they should not have and by not doing things they should have. The celebrant assures them of God's forgiveness. There are also prayers of intercession for all the concerns of the church and the world, for fellow Christians and the bishop, for peace among nations and for those in need. People known to the congregation who are sick or troubled are prayed for by name. Those who have died are remembered.

The central part of the service often begins with the exchange of Peace, a very ancient Christian custom which has been revived. The president exchanges a spoken greeting with the congregation. Members of the congregation then turn and greet each other in friendship and as a demonstration of Christ's love which should be present among Christians. This greeting is expressed by a hand clasp and the words 'peace be with you'. It is essential to the Communion that those who come to it are, as the Book of Common Prayer says, 'in love and charity with their neighbours'. The bread and wine are placed on the holy table or altar, brought there by members of the congregation in procession during the singing of a hymn. A collection is taken of the people's offerings of money for the work of the church.

The service then approaches its climax. The celebrant gives thanks to God for his gifts and especially for the gift of his Son. He uses Jesus' own words at the Last Supper and prays for the coming of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus had the Last Supper he took some bread, broke it and shared it with the disciples. He passed a cup of wine round the group. He told them that he must die to save mankind and they must always share the bread and wine in remembrance of him. It is a very holy moment as the congregation joins silently in the prayer before the president invites them to partake of the bread and wine. Immediately before receiving the sacrament, the celebrant and congregation will say the prayer Jesus taught us: "Our Father ...".

The service ends with prayers of thankfulness, a commitment to living the Christian way of life in the world, a blessing and the dismissal.

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