Christian Communion


Figure 1.--Catholic American boys used to get new suits, often decorated with large bows for First Communion. Considering this boys' age, he is probably dressed for his confirmation.

Communion in the Christian is an ecclesiastical term signifying the relationship to each other, involving mutual cliaims and duties, in which those persons stand who are united by unifomity of belief into one religious body or belief. The most important symbol of the realization of communion is the act of partaking of the Lord's Supper, a rite itself known as Communion. For all Christian churches, communion or the Eucraist is at the center of religious belief. There is a great deal of common thought on communion. Communion viewed as remembering what Jesus did for us. The first Communion is seen as the Last Supper. It is generally seen as the most important of the sacraments. Thus it was perhaps inevitable that with the Reformation, Communion would be at issue. And in fact, one of the many points of differences, and in some ways one of the most important, between Catholics and Protestants is the sacrement of Holy Communion. Here there are not only differences between Catholics and Protestants, but also very substantial differences among the various Protestant faiths. There are also differences in how Holy Communion is presented to children. First Communion is very important in the Catholic community and Catholic children do First Communion are a very early age. Protestants generally introduce it at an older age when youth people are more able to make real commitments based on commitment and understanding.

Prevalence

Most Christian denominations accept Communion as a sacrament, including Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians. It is probably, along with Baptism, the most important and wudely accepted sacraments. As part of the Reformation, many Protestants rejected other sacraments that were practiced by the Catholic Church.

Theology

Communion is an ecclesiastical term signifying the relationship to each other, involving mutual claims and duties, in which those persons stand who are united by unifomity of belief into one religious body or belief. The most important symbol of the realization of communion is the act of partaking of the Lord's Supper, a rite itself known as Communion. It is of course based on the New Testament account of Jesus' Last Supper. When Jesus had the last supper he took some bread, broke it and shared it with the disciples. He passed a cup of wine around for the entire group to drink. He told them that he must die to save mankind and they must afterwards share bread and wine to remember him. This is the basis for the central rite of the Christian Church.

Terminology

The terms vary: Mass, Eucharist, Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper. Often the Catholics used the word Communion instead of Eucharist. The Communion is, however, only the last part of the Mass. The term Mass comes from a sentence at the end of the Roman Eucharistic Latin rite, usually spoken by the deacon: ' ita missa est ('Go, the Mass has ended'). Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and some Lutherans sometimes use the term "Mass" for the Eucharist, but Protestants use either Eucharist or Lord's Supper. "Mass" is an offensive word in many Protestant circles.

Denominational Differences

There are theological differences between different denominations. There are also denominal differences between First Communion celebrations. One of the many points of differences, and in some ways one of the most important, between Catholics and Protestants is the sacrement of Communion. Here there are not only differences between Catholics and Protestants, but also differences among the different Protestant faiths. The Cathloic Church believes that God is present in the Holy Host. Here the Anglicans are in agreement. Luther was a priest and celebrated Mass regularly so that at the beginning he accepted the Roman Catholic view of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) which explained that the bread and wine, while retaining the outward appearance of ordinary bread and wine, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. This doctrine is usually referred to as "transubstantiation" and is based on Aristotle's logical distinction between "accidents" (appearance) and "substance' (real nature). Luther after his break from the Roman obedience continued to believe in the "real presence" of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion, but was critical of the Roman Catholic explanation of what happened in the Mass (i.e., the term transubstantiation) as a product of Medieval scholasticism, a tradition of thought which he generally rejected. Some scholars have labled Luther's view of what takes place in the Mass as "consubstantiation" (that the bread and wine are simultaneously bread and wine and the body and blood of Jesus). But this view is historically flawed--actually a false definition of Luther's belief. Like Anglicans, Luther believed that a real transformation of the bread and wine takes place when a priest consecrates them and that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Jesus, not merely a symbolic or memorial act. Luther always believed in the "real presence" of Christ in the bread and wine, although he was critical of the way the Roman Catholic Church DESCRIBED the transformation (rejecting the term "transubstantiation"). Of course he also emphasized the memorial aspect but not to the exclusion of the real presence. Some later Lutherans (especially of the evangelical wing) seem to have doubted the real presence, while other more high church Lutherans accepted it. But these were later developments.Many other Protestant Churches, however, believe that Communion is a more symbolic act. In the Gospel, it is written: "Do this in memory of Me" [Paul and Luke] This passage is the basis for the Protestant view that Communion is a menorial or symbolic rite. Lutherans, like Anglicans, are suspicious of any rational or logcial explanation of just how the bread and wine miraculously are changed into the body and blood of Christ as a foolish attempt to explain what can only be accepted by faith. But at a level deeper than the traditional Roman Catholic teaching about the Eucharist, an official teaching that clings to the Thomistic term "transubstantiation," Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and most Lutherans are agreed about the doctrine of "real presence" in the Blessed Sacrament. They may differ somewhat in their explanations of what actually happens, but they agree on the basic truth that Christ is actually present, not merely symbolically present, in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Ceremonies

We note several ceremonies involving children and Christian Communion.The sacrament of First Communion is the first major step of a child in joining the Church. Perhaps because of the way the Catholic Church views Communion, it tends to be a more important event in the Catholic Church than in other churches. The Catholic Church tends to give special importance to First Communion. In many churches, altar boys assist the priest in celebrating the mass. First communion is a major event in the life of a child. Practices vary from church to church and country to country. Children receive First Communiin at various ages, depending on the church or country. The event is celebrated differently. The First Communion is especially important in Catholic churches. Normally the child dresses up for the rvent, often in a new suit--although this is now less common for boys. The styles of suits worn at First Communion is a good reflection of formal boys' clothing. Readers in France and French Canada have mentioned Solemn Communion to us. While First Communin takes place in the first orcsecond year of prinary school, solemn communion takes place the last year of prinary school. Before World War II, this was a time when many children would be ending their academic studies. Some churches also make a major event out of the child' renewing his vows. HBC has less information on this event. It thought initially it was primarily a Catholic celebration called "Renewal" because the ininial information was from a French source and the French word is a cognate for renewal. The actual event is of course "Confirmation" and is a major event in a child's life when he or she confirms membership in the church. Confirmation is the renewal of baptismal vows (usually taken on a child's behalf by his sponsors when the child was a baby in arms). Catholics tend to put more of an emphasis on First Communion than many Protestant churches. Protestant churches tend to put more emphasis on Confirmation. The rite of receiving Holy Communion in Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches does not involve any official vows. The vows are associated with Baptism, Confirmation, and of course Ordination.

Personal Experiences

HBC has collected some individual experiences reported by readers concenrning Forst Communion, Solemn Communion, and Confirmation. The accounts vary. Some deal mostly with the suiyts they wore, while others describe the sxperience in more detail. Hopefully other readers will contribute their experiences here so we can better understand the event in different countries and at different times.






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Created: December 20, 1998
Last edited: 8:43 PM 1/29/2011