The Frequency of the Holy Supper

One main objection I hear against frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper is this: “If we have the Lord’s Supper too much it won’t be special any more.”  This would be a valid objection if the Lord’s Supper was like Christmas or any old birthday.  If the Supper is simply something that the church does to remember Jesus’ death, it would be possible to overdo it – much like a birthday and cake wouldn’t be special if you did it every month.

However, in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition, we believe the Supper is more than just a reminder.  It is that (Luke 22.19), but (in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 76) “it means more.”  The Supper is also a proclamation of Christ’s death (1 Cor 11.26) and a participation in it (1 Cor 10.16).  So as the Heidelberg says, in the Supper Christ “surely nourishes and refreshes” our souls “for eternal life with his crucified body and poured out blood.”  In a real sense, then, the Supper is always “special” because Christ feeds believers his life-giving body and blood whenever they come to his table with repentance and faith (cf. WCF 29).  Here’s Bavinck on this.

“Of primary importance in the Lord’s Supper is what God does, not what we do.  The Lord’s Supper is above all a gift of God, a benefit of Christ, a means of communicating his grace.  If the Lord’s Supper were only a memorial meal and an act of confession, it would cease to be a sacrament in the true sense.  The Lord’s Supper, however, is on the same level as the Word and baptism and therefore must, like them, be regarded first of all as a message and assurance to us of divine grace. … Indeed, the host here, in granting the signs of bread and wine, offers his own body and blood as nourishment and refreshment for their souls.  That is a communion that far surpasses the communion inherent in a memorial meal and an act of confession.  It is not merely a reminiscence of or a reflection on Christ’s benefits but a most intimate bonding with Christ himself, just as food and drink are united with our body.”  (Bavinck, Dogmatics IV, 567).

Speaking of frequency, I agree with Calvin in his “Treatise on the Lord’s Supper.”  There he says “If we have careful regard to the end for which our Lord intended it [the Supper], we should realize that the use of it ought to be more frequent than many make it. …The custom ought to be well established in all churches of celebrating the Supper as frequently as the capacity of the people will allow.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 thoughts on “The Frequency of the Holy Supper”

  1. I think Bavinck’s “the supper is on the same level as the Word” is questionable. What do you think, Shane?

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    1. It’s fine in the context – he’s talking about means of grace, so in the “means of grace” sense the statement is right (word and sacraments are means of grace). He was reacting against reducing the Supper to less than the means of grace by making it simply a memorial. Make sense?
      shane

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  2. One of the things I deplore is that communion has almost been removed from the corporate life of the church. At least in the circles that I travel. Some churches do not even offer it, and I am talking evangelical churches. Perhaps it is because the death of Christ offends non-christians? There is no acceptable reason to remove this from our corporate gatherings.

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    1. Sacramental churches have made communion the absolute center of worship and a re-sacrificing of Christ; thus, this distortion has caused many to suffer from Rome-a-phobia. So if it looks like Rome, it must be gone!
      We need to recapture this sacrament in its right form and purpose.
      J

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