Holy Communion is THE Sacrament of the Christian Church. It is the most essential means for our salvation, and for our progress in the way of Christian perfection. It is the Sacrament through which we receive the Body and the Blood of Christ, under the forms of consecrated Bread and Wine, for the remission of sins and for the reception of eternal life.
II. ESTABLISHMENT OF THE HOLY COMMUNION:
e Holy Communion are:
The Divine Institution was revealed and promised by our Lord in His preachings, before it was actually established at the Last Supper. The verses 32-50 of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John are considered as “a discourse about the food of the soul, the divine teaching made available through faith.” The latter part of the same chapter, verses 51-59, is “a discourse about the Holy Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of Christ.” The account of the establishment of the Holy Communion is explicitly recounted in the first three Gospels (Matt. 26 : 26-28, Mark 14 : 22-24, Luke 22 : 19-20). It is also clearly referred to in the Epistles of the Apostles. For our purpose we consider it worthwhile to bring forth verbatim the account
of the foundation of this Sacred Institution, as it is given by St. Paul, which is chronologically the first written account about Holy Communion. “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (I Cor. 11: 23-24).
III. THE MEANING OF THE HOLY COMMUNION:
It is plainly said in the New Testament, and it is clearly taught by the Church from the earliest times, that “The Bread and the Wine” should not be considered as ordinary elements, “but the very Body and Blood of the Lord.” This belief is shown in the great reverence paid to the Holy Communion by historic Christianity. The earliest Fathers of the Church are quite clear in teaching that the Consecrated Elements of the Holy Communion are the very Body and Blood of the Saviour. One of them, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, living in the first part of the fourth century, has said, “That which seems bread is not bread, even if it is so perceived by the taste, but is the Body of Christ.”
IV. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE HOLY COMMUNION:
Holy Communion is not only a Sacrament but also a Sacrifice. “As Sacrifice, it is the continuation of the sacrifice of Golgotha.” The very words used by our Lord clearly show this: “My Body given . . ., or broken for you,” “My Blood shed . . . for many for the remission of sins.” “These expressions indicate that this Institution is itself a propitiatory sacrifice.” It is not simply a representation of the death of our Lord, but actual and real sacrifice, in which “The Offerer and the Victim are one and the same, our Lord, even if the sacrifice be offered by the priest.” It is not simply a reminder or commemoration of the historical fact of Golgotha, but an actual and objective sacrifice. The purpose of the sacrifice on the Cross was the reconciliation of man with God, the atonement for the sins of man and their expiation, in general. Whereas the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered for specific people, it is the application of the general benefits of the sacrifice of the Cross, to those for whom the Eucharist is celebrated, both for the living and the dead.
It is also a Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, Worship, and Praise, which we offer to God, for His goodness and loving kindness. In this Sacrifice of Thanksgiving the congregation joins with the priest, taking part in the singing or following it in spirit.
All those who would take Holy Communion must prepare themselves by repentance and obtain absolution by confession. Willful indifference to the Holy Communion or carelessness in regard to it deprives us of its benefits.
V. THE DIVINE LITURGY:
VI. RECEIVING THE HOLY COMMUNION
Any member of the Church desiring to take communion must previously make preparation. The first step in this preparation consists of examination of conscience, the reading of the Bible, refraining from certain pleasures, and reconciliation with your fellowman. This last is the most important requirement.
The next step is to go to the church and make confession to the priest and receive absolution a week or a few days before taking communion.
It is necessary to fast during the morning of the day when Communion is to be taken. The fast should be observed from twelve o’clock midnight until the time of Communion, which would be the first thing taken in the mouth on that day. According to common practice prevailing in America, the service of Divine Liturgy is not over before eleven o’clock A.M. Therefore, persons who are sick or unable to fast, for health reasons, can obtain a dispensation from the priest, by explaining the circumstances to him at the time of confession; or they can ask the priest to given them Holy Communion early in the morning with the presanctified and reserved Sacrament.
The prospective communicant must attend the Divine Liturgy early and devoutly on the day in which he desires to communicate. Toward the end of the service he should come into the chancel, when the curtain is being withdrawn, and the deacon calls: “With fear and with faith draw near and communicate in holiness” (Yergughiv yev havadov harach madik yev surpoutiamp haghortetsarouk). When the priest turns and comes to the edge of the bema (altar stage), the communicant should approach him, and make the sign of the cross, say “Megha Astoudzo,”2 and standing should open his mouth, slightly protruding his tongue, and on which the priest lays a small particle of the Host (Sacred Body) dipped in the Cup (Precious Blood).
It is customary for men to precede women in approaching the altar to take Communion.
The communicants should come in line from the right, and after receiving the Holy Communion, should pass to the left and remain in the chancel, or when there is no more space in the chancel, in the forepart of the nave (middle part of the church), until the partaking is ended and the priest stands and blesses the people saying: “Save thy people, O Lord, and bless thine inheritance, feed them, and lift them up from henceforth for evermore.” The communicant should then go back, take his seat and say his private prayers.
Women should refrain from using lipstick before receiving Holy Communion.
There is no doubt that all of us love the “Sourp-Badarak,” the Divine Liturgy sung in the Armenian sacred music. But that is not enough. A practicing Christian should also partake of the Holy Communion, approaching the altar, as often as he can; because the Holy Communion is our means of receiving eternal life, and the true sign of the unity of the Church. By no other act of the Church is the unity of the people of God in the church more proven than by the Holy Communion. By Communion not only are we united with God, but also with our fellowmen. Holy Communion deepens man’s communion with other men.
The real progress and strength of a church does not consist merely in its financial success, but in its spiritual oneness and love. A church cannot make any real progress unless and until Holy Communion occupies its rightful position in it. Holy Communion is of primary importance in the Church.
May God give us His grace and wisdom to know this vital truth about Holy Communion. May He create in us an ardent desire to approach His altar for Holy Communion and may He make us worthy of this greatest privilege given to men.