During the Reformation in the sixteenth century, great care was taken in revising the Communion Service, because of the widespread error and confusion about the significance of this action mentioned above. The biblical meaning of the Supper was expressed in the wording of the exhortations, in the 'rubrics' (instructions about the way the service is to be conducted), and in the content and structure of the prayers. For the sake of brevity, only certain prayers will be examined here.

But it should be recognised that when people make up their own prayers, they may miss out on the depth of teaching expressed in the authorised services and leave room for possible misunderstandings about the Supper.  The conservative revision of this service in An Australian Prayer Book (1978) will be quoted in what follows.


After the ministry of the word and intercessions, various exhortations precede a corporate confession of sin, a form of absolution, and the reassuring 'comfortable words' (Matthew 11:28; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:1). As in Morning and Evening Prayer, the promises of the gospel are publicly applied to those who come to God with repentance and faith. In this position, confession of sin is specifically a form of preparation for Communion. The bread and the wine are then taken and received, as a means of proclaiming the Lord's death 'until he comes' (1 Corinthians 11:26) and affirming the redemptive significance of his death for us.

Praise and petition

The invitation 'Lift up your hearts' begins a section of praise and thanksgiving, concluding with the congregational response 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Glory to you, O Lord most high' (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8, 11). 'Proper prefaces' for major celebrations in the Christian year can be inserted here, mostly highlighting key gospel events and focussing on different aspects of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then the so-called 'Prayer of Humble Access' acknowledges that God's mercy is the only basis on which we can come to his 'table (1 Corinthians 10:21) and have a genuine relationship with him:

We do not presume to come your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.

When we pray that we may 'eat the flesh' of Christ and 'drink his blood', the reference is not directly to the Lord's Supper but to faith in the sacrifice of Christ that saves us. In John 6:53-6 Jesus reveals that all who would come to him must rely on his atoning death to have eternal life. The Lord's Supper points us back to that gospel challenge. The words spoken at the time of the Communion make it clear that eating the bread and drinking the cup together is a way of remembering that Christ died for us, but also a way of continuing to feed on him 'in our heart by faith with thanksgiving.'

The so-called 'Prayer of Consecration' begins with praise for the achievement of the Lord Jesus in his death for us:

All glory to you, our heavenly Father, for in your tender mercy you gave your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death on the cross for our redemption: who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

Then follows the recollection that Jesus instituted and commanded us to continue a 'perpetual memory' of his precious death until his coming again (Luke 22:14-20).  The apostle Paul calls this 'the Lord's Supper' (1 Corinthians 11:23-6).

Next comes a petition, which echoes the Prayer of Humble Access:

Hear us, merciful Father, and grant that we who receive these gifts of your creation, this bread and this wine, according to your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood.

Once again, the focus is on reception on the benefits of Christ's death by faith, in accordance with his intention. Then follows a summary of what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper, as a means of setting aside or 'consecrating' the bread and wine to fulfil his purpose. The need to eat and drink by faith with thanksgiving is repeated when the bread and wine are delivered to the people:

The words said to each participant begin with a form of prayer, followed by an exhortation about the way to receive the bread and wine:

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul to everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.

The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you, preserve your body and soul to everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for you, and be thankful.

Concluding prayers and praise

When all have received the bread and wine, the Lord's Prayer is said, reminding us of the coming kingdom and the need to live faithfully as we await his return. Then a choice of prayers enables us to thank God for the benefits conveyed to us by the Communion. These prayers give the opportunity for those present to rededicate themselves to the Lord's service, in grateful acknowledgment of his mercy to them.

It is important to notice that the only mention of sacrifice in the service takes place in one of the prayers after Communion: we offer the sacrifice consisting of our praise and thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15), and we present ourselves to the Lord, 'to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice' (Romans 12:1). There is no suggestion that the bread and wine are an offering to God. The ancient hymn 'Glory be to God on high' follows, pointing back again to the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus as 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29).

In short, a cycle of praise, thanksgiving, faith and commitment surrounds the central prayer recalling the meaning of Christ's death and his purpose in instituting the Supper. Eating the bread and drinking the cup together is presented as a means of drawing on the benefits of his once-for-all sacrifice and being renewed and strengthened in his service. Affirmation, thanksgiving, and petition are brought together to deliver us from misunderstanding the action and its significance.

This whole structure represents a significant repudiation of the theology and practice of the Medieval Mass. It is a liturgical way of expressing the Reformation teaching about justification by grace alone, though faith in Jesus and his finished work. Leaving out parts of the sequence diminishes the theological balance and impact of the whole!


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