Catechism: The Lord’s Supper

V. The Lord’s Supper

§ 1. Scriptural

1. What means this sacrament?

It is an institution ordained for perpetual observance to commemorate the Saviour and especially His death; to be the seal of the individual and constant union of His people with Him by faith; and a bond of their communion with each other in their common Lord and Head.

2. How do the names it bears indicate this?

(1) It is the Eucharist, as a thankful commemoration: from the Lord’s act of giving thanks. It may be observed that of the two words εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασε the latter gave the first name in the Acts (1 Cor. 11:24; Acts 2:42), the former we adopt.

(2) It is the Communion: the κοινωνία, participation in the blood and in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16).

(3) It is the Lord’s Supper: that is, a common feast; When therefore ye assemble yourselves together (1 Cor. 11:20). There were gatherings without it; but this was the most sacred fellowship in the gathering; hence the Greeks called it the συνάξις.

3. How was the institution related to the passover?

Our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ (1 Cor. 5:7). He ordained His commemorative feast at the close of the last typical feast; retained its cup of blessing (1 Cor. 10:16); but included more in His eucharist than the ancient rite represented.

4. What light does its history in the New Testament shed?

We have only a few references; fewer than to the other sacrament; but enough.

(1) In the Acts the sacred use of the ordinance is referred to as very common, being apparently celebrated on the Lord’s Day; and, with allusion to one marked symbolical act, as the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42).

(2) In the first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:11), the sacred use is referred to, but chiefly the abuse. There we learn that it was connected with a previous common feast, the Agapæ; that a prayer of invocation, rather than consecration, was offered; that the partaking was the seal of fellowship in the sacrifice of Christ; that the apostle makes an emphatic distinction between the altar of the Jews and the table of the Lord; and that individual self-examination was necessary, in order that those who discerned themselves might discern the Lord’s body, and not be judged (1 Cor. 10:18, 21; 1 Cor. 11:29, 31).

5. What is St. John’s relation to this sacrament?

He does not record the institution of this or the other sacrament. But, as in the third chapter of his Gospel he gives our Lord’s high testimony to the true meaning of baptism, so in the sixth chapter he gives His testimony to the true meaning of the supper.

§ 2. Historical

1. What were the first traces of development?

In the age succeeding the apostles both the doctrine and the usages of this sacrament were uncorrupted. But afterwards signs appeared of a tendency to make it the central mystery of Christian worship, and the germs of those coming errors which have transubstantiated the whole design of our Lord in its institution.

2. How did they commence to take form?

(1) In respect to the eucharistical sacrifice, the memorial character was gradually changed into a renewal of the one oblation on the cross.

(2) And then of necessity the emblems were gradually changed into the very substance of the offering itself.

3. Did this perversion proceed unchecked?

In the ninth century there was a great controversy. Paschasius Radbertus boldly avowed a conversion of the elements: whence this error is sometimes called Paschasianism. In the eleventh century Berengarius was a protestant on this subject. But in the thirteenth century, at the Lateran Council of 1215, transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass took their final form.

4. What followed from this?

The adoration of the host (hostia, sacrifice), with the various ceremonies which made the table of the Lord an altar, and His simple memorial feast a most elaborate ceremonial. Masses were offered for the departed: even as the other sacrament was very early perverted by those who baptised for the dead.

5. Did the Greek church keep pace?

In essentials it did; but it did not withhold the cup from the laity, and administered the eucharist to children.

6. How is the secret mystery of transubstantiation defined?

On the one hand, it is declared to be an unsearchable mystery, as much so as the incarnation: the whole Christ comes into being anew that he may be again offered. On the other hand, this explanation is offered to reason: that the substance of bread and wine are gone, but the accidents remain.

7. What was the Lutheran protest?

It rejected the repetition of the one sacrifice, as also the transubstantiation of the elements. But it insisted on a real presence of the glorified humanity of Christ in and with and under the emblems: literally and not spiritually partaken, for good or evil. This has been termed consubstantiation: the rèal Christ with the substance of bread.

8. How did Calvin and the Reformed treat it?

Calvin’s teaching, keeping far from the Lutheran actual participation in the glorified body as present with the elements, yet regarded the feast as the most special union of the soul with the whole Christ in heaven by faith. And Zuingli earnestly maintained a special sacramental blessing in the spiritual eating.

9. What is the teaching of the Real Presence which some make their watchword?

It is the dogma which has come about between Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation: making the effect of priestly consecration to be the conjunction of the Lord with the elements in a real manner (præsentia realis); not that He is spiritually present, and only to faith.

10. If this is abandoned what is there in the Lord’s supper more than any other act of united worship?

There is a real presence by the Spirit, who specially reveals Christ as the Bread of Life to the faith of the recipient, at once assuring him of his communion with the life of his Head and strengthening that life.

This excerpt is from William Burt Pope’s Higher Catechism of Theology. Read more in Logos Bible Software or PDF (scans from Fred Sanders).