In my first blog in this series I looked at what communion is. In this blog, I take on the question of what happens during communion.
The problem with this is that the church does not generally believe the same thing about what happens during the sacrament or even that it is a sacrament. There are generally four views.
Memorialism is held by many independent and Baptist churches. It is a view that there is nothing particularly sacred and nothing especially spiritual happening during communion. It is simply a symbolic act.
Catholics believe in transubstantiation. In this view, the elements change into the actual body and blood of Jesus. These are sacrificed by the priest and then received by the congregants. This does not mean that it tastes different. The bread and wine remain in appearance and to the senses as it was before. But its substance is in a miraculous and unexplainable way into the body and blood of Christ. This helps explain why Catholics are only supposed to receive communion from a priest.
The Lutheran tradition generally follows the idea of consubstantiation. Though Luther never used that term, he did talk about the communion elements as being special. He thought that we do not need another sacrifice since Christ’s sacrifice was complete. This means that the elements do not become the actual body and blood to be sacrificed again. But Christ is present “in, with, and under” the elements.
John Calvin moved the spiritual activity of communion away from the elements of bread and wine and toward the table. His view is called real presence because God is present in a special way at the table. Calvin loved the liturgy that says, “Life up your hearts” and is answered, “We lift up our hearts to the Lord.” For Calvin, that is what happened. We are met in a special way at the communion table as we are lifted into the presence of the Lord.
Not everyone fits neatly into one of these perspectives. The Orthodox church see the sacrament as a mystery of special presence and does not try to explain that. The Salvation Army and the Quakers do not even have a practice of communion.
We can say a few things for sure. We know from 1 Corinthians 11 that communion is centered around remembering. Jesus says to “do this in remembrance of me.” (vs 24-25) Paul adds the words that, “as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you show forth the Lord’s death until we come again.” (vs 26) Clearly we are remembering and showing the Lord’s death in the sacrament. Yet the seriousness with which Paul treat the practice of communion makes it clear that more is going on than just remembrance. (vs 27ff) You bring judgment on yourself if you are not careful going to the table.
I personally am in the Real Presence camp. I think the sacredness makes more sense biblically associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit at the table.
What is your view? Why do you hold that view?
How do your practices of communion jive with your view?