Communion

FAQ and Liturgies

Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, is Christ’s gift to the church. Communion is a means by which Christ continually nourishes, strengthens, and comforts us. It is one of two sacraments in the Reformed tradition. As such, the Lord’s Supper is a visible sign of something internal and invisible, the means by which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we follow what Jesus did when he broke bread and drank wine with his disciples on the night before he died. We receive gifts of bread and wine or grape juice, give thanks to God, and share the food and drink with each other. In these simple actions, believers experience a profound mystery: Christ himself is present, and his life passes into us and is made ours. However, Reformed Christians do not believe that the bread and wine or grape juice are physically transformed into Christ’s body and blood.

A deeper dive into the theology behind communion can be found in the introduction to the sacraments. Provided here is an overview of how communion is celebrated in the Reformed Church in America.

A loaf of bread and silver goblet sit next to a book opened to a communion liturgy. A shadow of the cross darkens the table upon which the communion elements are set.

How does the RCA practice communion?

Within the RCA, there is great diversity in the practice of communion. Some churches use a common cup for the wine or juice, and some use individual cups. Some churches practice intinction (dipping the bread in the wine), and some serve the elements separately. Sometimes people are served while seated. At other times, they may be invited to come forward to the table. These practical decisions are largely left to the leaders of the congregation.

How often should communion be celebrated?

The practice of the early church and the teaching of the Reformers of the 16th century was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly. Some churches serve communion once a month, some do more or less frequently. The RCA’s Book of Church Order calls for communion to be celebrated at least once every three months, if possible.

Who may participate in communion?

Christ is the host and invites us to his table. All who have been baptized into Christ are welcome to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Local boards of elders have been given the responsibility to decide at what age and under what circumstances young children may be served.

In 1988, the General Synod encouraged boards of elders in RCA churches to include baptized children in the celebration of communion (1988 Minutes of General Synod, p. 385). Because this sacrament is such an important part of our faith, we consider how we might include our children in the Lord’s Supper.

Adults don’t need a complete understanding of the covenant and grace to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Neither do our children. It is beyond understanding. The sacrament is a mystery in which the bread and wine are visible signs of God’s invisible grace.

What can we, including children, understand about communion?

  • Christ is the host at communion. He invites us, welcomes us, gives us food. At the Lord’s Supper, we are all guests. We show respect.
  • Communion is a family meal and shows that we belong to the church family. Invite children to think of special meals during visits with relatives—the tablecloth is spread and the good dishes are set out, maybe even with fancy napkins. During communion, we share in a special meal as part of the family.
  • Communion is the church’s thanksgiving to God. It is a special time to thank God for Jesus and his sacrifice to forgive our sins. From a young age, children begin to learn right from wrong. They know what it means to say they are sorry, and they know what it means to try to do better next time.
  • Communion is a way to remember. Some families have photo albums, videos, and other keepsakes that remind them of who they are. When we celebrate communion, we do the same things Jesus and the disciples did at the Last Supper, and we remember God’s promises. We remember who we are—and whose we are.
  • During communion, we think of the future realm with Christ. We don’t just look back at Jesus’s death, but we also look ahead to the future. An important feature of the covenant is promise and expectation.

Explaining communion to newcomers

Children and adults will be more comfortable in the communion service if the pattern of communion is explained prior to the service or if instructions are given prior to celebrating communion. As a gesture of hospitality toward guests or those who may be unfamiliar with the Lord’s Supper, consider offering a brief explanation each time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.

As a way of introducing and explaining the Lord’s Supper to children and adults, try a workshop or learning event.

Liturgies for the Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is typically shared during a worship service. For this sacrament, there is a fixed Liturgy, or order of worship. Yet the Liturgy also provides flexibility for local consistories to guide the worship of their congregations using orders of worship that have been generated for occasional or local use. The Liturgy for celebrating communion declares what the church has agreed to say in the same way as it gathers for worship.

Pastors and elders should take care to ensure that members of the church who are hospitalized or homebound also receive communion. A liturgy for this setting is also available.