Holy Communion – what’s in a name?

RollDid you know that there are a variety of names for the sharing of bread and wine in worship? Those names include the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Breaking of Bread, Eucharist, Mass, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Divine Liturgy, and the Divine Service. Each title highlights a unique aspect of the Meal.

The “Lord’s Supper” speaks of the meal that the risen Lord holds with the Church, the meal of the Lord’s Day, a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come. It also reminds us of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he was handed over to his death.

“Holy Communion” accentuates the holy community established by the Holy Spirit as we encounter Christ and are formed into one body with him and so with each other. The word “communion” reminds us of how the early church shared everything in common (Acts 2:44).

“Breaking of Bread” is a phrase used four times in the New Testament (Luke 24:35; Acts 2:42, 46, and 20:7). It recalls how the early church celebrated communion within the context of a larger common meal (known as the Agape Meal).

“Eucharist” calls us to see that the whole meal is a great thanksgiving for creation and for creation’s redemption in Jesus Christ. The term “Eucharist” is derived from the Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), meaning “thanksgiving.” Communion is understood as a meal of thanksgiving, reflecting how Jesus “gave thanks” as he broke and blessed the bread and wine.

The term “Mass” is derived from the old dismissal of the participants at the end of the service and the sending away of the bread and the cup to the absent. It invites us into mission. The term “Mass” originates from the Late Latin word missa (dismissal), a word used in the concluding formula of Mass in Latin: “Ite, missa est” (“Go; it is the dismissal”).

“Sacrament of the Altar” invites each one to eat and drink from the true altar of God, the body and blood of Christ given and shed “for you.”

“Divine Liturgy” says the celebration is a public action, carried out by a community of people. This is the term used in Byzantine Rite traditions, such as in the Eastern Orthodox Church. These churches also speak of “the Divine Mysteries,” especially in reference to the consecrated elements, which they also call “the Holy Gifts.”

“Divine Service” helps us to see that the primary action of our gathering is God’s astonishing service to us; we are called to respond in praise and in service to our neighbor.

(This article includes excerpts from The Use of the Means of Grace, Principle 36.)

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