Q: #226. What is the right way to take and receive Communion/The Lord's Supper?
A: The Bible is relatively silent on how Communion should be offered, or who should be distributing the elements. When Jesus initiated this ritual, He “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples…, then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it…”” (Mt 26:26-27) (Also see: Mk 14:22-23, Lk 22:17-20). Based upon this, some believe that since one loaf of bread, and one cup is pictured here, that the elements should be given in this way. In addition, some believe that, based on the verses in Matthew, Jesus gave each of them the elements. However, (Lk 22:17) seems to dispel this belief saying, “And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves.”
In general, there are 3 ways that Communion/The Lord’s Supper can be taken.
#1. There is a “common cup” (chalice or goblet) from which each person (or communicant) drinks wine or grape juice (usually wine for those who practice this method), after which they take bread (often individual wafers, but sometimes pieces broken from a loaf of bread). This method is often practiced in Catholic and Episcopal churches.
#2. There is also a method called “intinction.” In this, there is a “common cup,” but rather than drinking from the cup, a person takes a piece of bread and dips it into the cup, thereby taking the wine/grape juice and bread at the same moment.
#3. Perhaps the most popular way to offer Communion/The Lord’s Supper today though is by offering each person an individual little glass/cup of wine/grape juice and an individual piece of bread, cracker, or wafer. Sometimes these are also offered together in a small sealed package.
In addition, there are also several processes for distributing the elements. Some churches have you go to the front of the church (or altar) to take them, while others pass them out where you are sitting. For those who have you go to the front of the church, they are often given to you by a priest, elder, or sometimes deacon. For the Catholic church, it is demanded that an ordained priest be responsible for passing out the elements (they believe the elements become the actual body and blood of Christ after they are consecrated [transsubstantiation]: see Q: #223 for why I do not hold to this). Catholics also believe the bread must either be placed in the communicant’s hand or on their tongue, and given NO other way.
Some churches have the bread and wine sitting on a stand where you can either take the individual elements back to your seat or take them right there. Those that have them on a stand often use the “intinction” method.
There are also several other ways that Communion/The Lord’s Supper can be taken and distributed, but these are the primary ways. As I said above, the Bible is relatively silent on these issues, as it has been on several of the previous questions we have addressed regarding Communion/The Lord’s Supper. When the Bible is silent, then I believe that we cannot say one method is better than any other. Two things about Communion/The Lord’s Supper are quite clear in the Bible though: Jesus COMMANDED us to take it “in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19)(1 Cor 11:25), and we are told to examine and judge ourselves before we take partake of this meal, and if we take Communion in an unworthy manner, it can lead to sickness and even death (1 Cor 11:27-32)! These last two issues are what I believe we need to focus on.