Celebrating the Lord’s Supper with the Reformers

If you want a general overview of how the Reformers worshipped, here’s a good resource: Worshiping with the Reformers by Karin Maag. This book is a readable survey explaining how the Protestant Reformers viewed and practiced prayer, preaching, baptism, communion, worship music, church attendance, etc. I recently read chapter six, which summarizes the Reformers’ views and practices of the Lord’s Supper. Here’s the brief section where Maag summarizes how Reformation churches actually partook of the Supper together:

In Reformed communities, there was little uniformity of practice when it came to ensuring that each member of the congregation who was eligible received his or her portion of bread and wine. In the Zwinglian church, the distribution took place while the congregation remained seated on their benches: the plates of ordinary household bread and the wooden cups holding wine went up and down the rows, passed from person to person. In most other Reformed churches, congregation members came forward to receive the bread and wine, but even then practices differed.

In Geneva, France, and Hungary, people came forward to stand in small groups around the trestle tables that had been set up: first the men, then the women. The pastor gave each person a piece of the bread in his or her hand. The congregants then put the bread into their mouths, chewed, swallowed, and then received the cup of wine from which they sipped, before returning to their places.

In the Reformed churches in the Netherlands and in Scotland, however, people came forward in groups, but in these countries, each church member actually took a seat at the table, passing the bread and wine from person to person beginning with the pastor at the center of the table. In 1634, an English visitor to the Dutch Republic, Sir William Brereton, left an eyewitness account of Communion practices he saw in Leiden:

“We found them receiving the sacrament at a long table covered with a white cloth, placed lengthways in an aisle which stands over across the church: the men, I imagine had all received together at the same place; we only saw women receive sitting; in the middle of whom, on the one side, was placed the minister, who after he had consecrated to bread and wine, did administer the same unto those who sat next to him, who conveyed, on both hands the predicant, the bread on plates, and the wine in cups to those who sat next unto them: they themselves broke the bread, being cut into long narrow pieces. When all these had received they departed, and others succeeded.… After all had received, a psalm sung, and then some short prayer read, and so concluded.”

I suppose it’s good to remember that when it comes to actually partaking in the Lord’s Supper, there is no single “Reformed” way to do it. Whatever our tradition or practice, the main thing is what the Supper points us to – the death of Christ which saves sinners.

[The above quotes came from  Karin Maag, Worshiping with the Reformers, Reformation Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2021), 166–167.]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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