'The Order for the Administration of the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion' is not specifically discussed in the prefaces of the Prayer Book, but something of its theological significance is set forth in Articles 25-31. It is important to read these to get a full picture of the biblical and Reformed theology reflected in the liturgy. These are printed as 'The Articles of Religion' at the back of the Prayer Book and in modern versions

Only two 'sacraments' are recognised as having been ordained by Christ, namely Baptism and the Lord's Supper. These are described as 'badges or tokens' of our profession to one another, and also as certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him.' There is thus a horizontal and a vertical dimension to these ordinances. The unworthiness of ministers does not hinder the effect of a sacrament, 'because of Christ's institution and promise'. Critically, these 'signs of grace' must be received by faith.

The Lord's Supper is described as 'a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another', and also as 'a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ' (1 Corinthians 10:16).

Various aspects of Medieval Catholic teaching are denied, such as transubstantiation (the supposed change of the substance of the bread and wine), and the sacrifice of masses (the view that the priest offers or re-presents the sacrifice of Christ to the Father). Positively, it is claimed that, 'the Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.'

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!

Adapting the Prayer Book model, some modern revisions have made significant additions and subtractions to the 'eucharistic' or thanksgiving sequence at the centre of the rite.

For example, in the Second Order of the Holy Communion in An Australian Prayer Book, a more Trinitarian shape has been sought, praising God as Creator, celebrating every aspect of the Son's redemptive work (his sacrifice, resurrection, ascension, and coming again), and praying for the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in all God's people.

More congregational involvement has been achieved by providing praise responses throughout.

For example, all may say together, Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

And later, Blessing and honour and glory and power are yours for ever and ever. Amen.

A simplification of the whole sequence has been promoted by putting the Prayer of Humble Access at another point in the service, avoiding repetition in the petitions, and drawing aspects of the prayers after Communion into 'The Great Thanksgiving' (an expansion of the 'Prayer of Consecration' in the 1662 service).

Although some of these developments are defensible and helpful, certain problems have emerged. For example, celebrating every aspect of the Son's redemptive work may lead to a diminishing of the significance of the cross. Reference to the Holy Spirit in some modern liturgies has suggested an effect on the bread and wine, rather than the transformation of believers. Including certain petitions in 'The Great Thanksgiving' has sometimes introduced a hint of 'eucharistic sacrifice' - the idea that we offer the consecrated bread and wine to God, together with our praise and our selves, in the one action. Such developments move away from the theology of the Prayer Book and create divisions amongst Anglicans.

Next: Learning from the Baptismal Services