Persons admitted to the holy communion. It appears from the Apostolical Constitutions, that, after the doors had been carefully closed and a guard set, the deacon made a public proclamation of the different classes of persons who were not permitted to be present on the occasion. These were the first and second classes of catechumens, the * – the unbelievers, Jews and pagans, and reputed heretics and separatists of every description. The penitents and energumens are not here mentioned, but it appears from other sources that they were not permitted to be present at the Lord's table. None indeed but believers in full communion with the church were permitted to be present. All such, originally, partook of the sacrament. Neither in the New Testament, nor by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, or any of the earliest christian writers, is any intimation given of a selection of communicants. All persons present communicated; and, according to Justin, the sacred elements were even sent by the hands of the deacons to absent members of the church, who might be sick, or otherwise prevented from coming to the table of the Lord. According to the rule of St. Ambrose, omnes christiani, omni dominica, dehent offerre, "all Christians ought, on every Lord's day, to partake of the Lord's supper." Such as came to church without receiving the sacrament, are repeatedly threatened with excommunication for this irregularity. But such cases of absence must have become customary in the fourth and fifth centuries, as appears from the severity with which this delinquency is rebuked by Chrysostom and others.
In the sixth century, persons of this description, who did not wish to receive the sacrament, withdrew before the solemnity began, but not until they had received the blessing of the minister. This was virtually sanctioning the custom of absenting one's self from the communion, and gave rise to the distinction, among the members of the church, of communicants and non-communicants, a distinction unknown in the primitive church.
Front this it afterwards became customary for the presbyters to keep consecrated bread, called eulogia, to offer to such persons as chose to partake of it instead of uniting in regular communion with the church. To this substitute for full communion it is easy to refer the origin of private masses, and of communion in one kind. This per-' version of the ordinance became common in the thirteenth century. To the same origin, no doubt, is to be traced the idea of a half-way covenant, which has at times prevailed in the church. They that received the eulogia in the place of the sacrament, were called halfway communicants.
Agreeably to all the laws and customs of the church, baptism constituted membership with the church. All baptized persons were legitimately numbered among the communicants, as members of the church. Accordingly the sacrament immediately followed the ordinance of baptism, that the members thus received might come at once into the enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of christian fellowship. But in all these instances the baptized person is of necessity supposed to have been of adult age, capable of exercising faith, according to the injunction, "Believe and be baptized."
After the general introduction of infant baptism, the sacrament continued to be administered to all who had been baptized, whether infants or adults. The reason assigned by Cyprian and others for this practice was, "that age was no impediment; that the grace of God, bestowed upon the subjects of baptism, was given without measure and without any limitation as to age." Augustine strongly advociates this practice, and for authority appeals to John 6:53, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
The custom of infant communion continued for several centuries. It is mentioned in the third council of Tours, A. D. 813, and even the council of Trent, A. D. 1545, only decreed that it should not be considered essential to salvation. It is still scrupulously observed by the Greek church.
The African church were accustomed to administer the eucharist to the dead, as has been already mentioned; and, in some instances, even to bury with them some of the consecrated elements. But the latter custom seems not to have prevailed to any considerable degree, and the former was severely condemned. The consecrated elements were frequently conveyed to such as were sick or in prison; but they were seldom consecrated in a private house.
Preparation of the Communicants. The several preliminary rites of baptism which have been already detailed, were regarded as a due preparation both for that ordinance, and for the sacrament which immediately followed. But, for every subsequent return to the table of the Lord, a special and solemn preparation was required of each communicant. The ordinance was regarded with the deepest religious awe, which none could duly approach without self-examination, and a tender christian spirit, coupled with a holy life.
The following rites especially, were observed preparatory to the communion of the Lord's supper.
- Self examination., and confession of sin before God, as taught in 1 Cor. 11:28.
- Absolution, or a removal of ecclesiastical censures and penalties. No one who was the subject of discipline could come to the Lord's supper until he had first been restored to full and regular standing with the church.
- Fastings humiliation, and abstinence from sensual pleasures, in much the same manner as was required of the officiating minister. See previous page.
- The communicants wore a peculiar apparel suited to the occasion. This was probably white raiment similar to that which was put on after baptism, though no specific law was given on this subject. The women wore veils, usually white, called Dominicalia
- Communicants of both sexes were accustomed to wash their hands, previously to receiving the sacred elements. This was not a ceremonial purification, but a rite dictated by a sense of propriety, quiddam secundum se conveniens.
The following extracts from Chrysostom are given to exhibit the elevated sentiments of piety which according to that venerable father should pervade our breasts at the table of the Lord.
"When thou sittest down to a common table, remember that spiritual table, and call to mind that supper of the Lord. Consider what words thy mouth hath spoken, words worthy of such a table, what things thy mouth hath touched or tasted, what meat it has fed upon. Dost thou think it no harm with that mouth to speak evil of and revile thy brother? How canst thou call him brother ) If he is not thy brother, how couldst thou say * Our Father? – for that implies more persons than one. Consider with whom thou stoodest in the time of the holy mysteries; with cherubim and seraphim. But the cherubim use no reviling. Their mouth is filled with one office, glorifying and praising God. How then canst thou say with them, 'Holy, Holy, Holy,' who usest thy mouth to reviling? Tell me, if there was a royal vessel, always filled with royal dainties, and set apart only for this use, and one of the servants should use it for mean purposes, would he afterwards dare to place it, filled with that which is vile and refuse, among the other vessels appointed for royal use? No, certainly. Yet this is the very case of railing and reviling. You say at the holy table, 'Our Father,' and then immediately add, 'which art in heaven.' This word raises you up, and gives wings to your soul, and shows that you have a Father in heaven. Therefore do nothing, speak nothing, of earthly things. He hath placed you in the order of spirits above, and appointed you a station in that choir. Why then do you draw yourself downward? You stand by the royal throne, and do you revile your brother? How are you not afraid lest the king should take it as an affront offered to himself? If a servant beats or reviles another in our presence, who are but his fellow-servants, though he does it justly, we rebuke him for it. And dare you stand before the royal throne, and revile your brother? See you not these holy vessels? Are they not always appropriated to one peculiar use? Dares any one put them to any other? But you are more holy than these vessels, yea, much more holy. Why then do you pollute and defile yourself? You stand in heaven, and do you still use railing? You converse with angels, and do you yet revile? You are admitted to the Lord's holy kiss, and do you yet revile? God hath honored and adorned your mouth so many ways, by angelical hymns, by food, not angelical, but super-angelical, by his own kisses, and by his own embraces, and do you after all these revile? Do not, I beseech you. Let that which is the cause of so many evils be far from the soul of a Christian." (Horn. 14 in Ep. ad Ephes.) – "Be grateful to thy benefactor by an excellent conversation; consider the greatness of the sacrifice, and let that engage thee to adorn every member of thy body. Consider what thou takest in thy hand, and never after endure to strike any man; do not disgrace that hand by the sin of fighting and quarrelling, which has been honored with the reception of so great a gift. Consider what thou takest in thy hand, and keep thy hand free from all robbery and injustice. Think again, how thou not only receivest it in thy hand, but puttest it to thy mouth; "and keep thy tongue pure from all filthy and contumelious speech, from blasphemy and perjury, and all words of the like nature. For it is a most pernicious thing that the tongue, which ministers in such tremendous mysteries, and is dyed with the purple of such precious blood, and made a golden sword, should be put to the vile practice of railing and reviling, and scurrilous and abusive language. Regard with veneration the honor wherewith God has honored it; and do not debase it to such mean offices of sin. Consider again, that, after thy hand and thy tongue, thy heart receives that tremendous mystery: – then never devise any fraud or deceit against thy neighbor, but keep thy mind pure from all malicious designs. And after the same manner guard thy eyes and thy ears." (Horn. 21 ad Pop. Antioch.)