I hope you are having a blessed Advent season. I'm writing today to say a few things about receiving Communion. For some of us, this will be a refresher. For others, there may be some helpful information here that you've not heard before. If any questions come up, please feel free to ask me.
All Baptized Christians
The Body of Christ is like a family. The entrance to that family is once-and-for-all through Baptism. Communion is the on-going family meal. If you have been baptized at some point in the past and today put your faith in Christ, you are welcome to the table. If you have not been baptized, please speak to me about Baptism. In the meantime, you should refrain from Communion.
Refraining from Communion
If you are in a state of active and unrepentant sin, you should refrain from Communion (1 Corinthians 11:28). If you are a sinner, like me, then you should definitely receive Communion. I hope you see the difference. The first person is unrepentant, disregarding the call of the Gospel and the grace of Christ. The second person is a sinner, someone who actively and sometimes brazenly sins. But they are also seeking the Lord, desiring a new way of being, and open to his mercy and grace.
Age of Receiving
All baptized Christians may receive. This includes children of any age. I encourage parents to allow their children to receive Communion as soon as the child can physically eat the bread. Some parents prefer to wait until the child asks to receive, or until they are able to have a conversation with their child about the importance of of Communion. That is, of course, up to the parents.
Taking Only the Bread or the Wine (Gluten and Alcohol)
The bread which we use is made with wheat and the wine comes from fermented grapes. This is the age-old tradition, and originates at the original Communion table. If you are unable to receive one of those things (alcohol or wheat), but can receive the other, that is fine. The Church has always taught that receiving one of the elements is as good as receiving both. So, taking the bread without the wine, or the wine without the bread, are both considered fully receiving Communion.
Several years ago, I found out that there were a few people who could not receive either the bread or the wine. These are folks who are quite allergic to gluten. They can't eat the wheat bread, obviously. But they can't drink the wine either, because there is gluten in the wine as a result of others dipping their bread in the cup. In order to serve these folks, we started offering gluten-free bread. That way they can take the bread, but will refrain from the wine. This is why gluten-free wafers are available. Just ask the priest for one.
To Sip or to Intinct
You have the choice of either sipping from the cup or dipping your bread in the cup (which we call intinction). I don't recommend sipping from the cup if you are sick. However, the risk of spreading disease through the cup is incredibly low. Here is a link to a fascinating article about the use of the common cup.
If you do intinct, please do this: make sure you hold the wafer with the very end of your fingers, and make sure you only touch the bread to the wine. If you have a child, please dip the bread for them and then hand it back to the child. If you are having difficulty, you can hand the wafer to the person who brings the cup. They can intinct for you and hand the wafer back to you, or to your child. Intinction is much more likely to spread disease if someone touches their fingers into the cup.
What to Say
When the minister gives you the bread or the cup, they say something like "the body of Christ" or "the blood of Christ." This sentence is, on one hand, a statement of fact. Christi is truly, mystically present and so this is, in a way we do not understand, his body and blood. On the other hand, this sentence is also a prayer. It is a prayer for you that you will receive the body and blood of Christ and, therefore, be made one with Him and us. Because it is both a statement of fact and a prayer, the most appropriate verbal response is "Amen." I would encourage all of us to say "Amen" when we are given the bread or the cup. Of course, whatever you choose to say or not say is up to you, and there is no judgement in this at all.
Receiving a Blessing
If you cross your arms over your chest at the Communion rail, that's a sign to the minister not to give you the bread or the wine (whichever they happen to have). It's also a sign to the priest to give you a blessing. Crossing your arms allows you to receive only one of the elements (bread or wine), or to refrain from Communion but still come to the rail with the community.
Kneeling or Standing
The suggested posture for receiving Communion is kneeling. This puts us in a place of humility and reception before the Lord. It gives me the sense of being a child, taking what I need from the hands of the Father (who is represented in that moment by the minister). However, for some of us kneeling is very difficult if not impossible. For you, feel free to stand. We will be happy to serve you.
If You Can't Come Forward
Sometimes we can not physically come forward to the altar rail. In those cases, please do two things. First, notify the usher when you come into the service. That way the usher can let the priest know. Second, try to sit on the end of a row, so that the ministers can more readily bring your the Sacrament (which they are happy to do at the end of Communion).
If You Can't Come to Church
If you are unable to come to church on Sunday because of illness, hospitalization, grief, etc., please notify the church office. We will make every effort to bring Communion to you. If you miss church on Sunday for some reason, and would like to receive Communion, consider making an effort to attend the mid-week service. It takes place at noon on Wednesdays, in the chapel.
Communion is the center of Christian worship. I'm glad we're part of a church that celebrates in both Word and Sacrament every Sunday. I hope these notes have been a blessing to you, and will help you more fully engage in our common liturgy.