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11. Distribution of the Elements

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XVI. Of the Lord's Supper

11. Distribution of the Elements. 

Both the bread and the wine were universally administered to the clergy and laity alike until about the twelfth century, when the cup began, in the Western church, gradually to be withdrawn from the laity, on account of the disorders to which the use of it had given rise. The Greek retains substantially the ancient custom. Protestants universally concur in administering both elements.

The strictest order was observed in distributing the elements to the different ranks of people. The clergy first received them, and the others in a regular succession. This rule is disregarded by protestants, with the exception of the English episcopal church.

The communicants received the elements at the altar. The council of Laodicea, however, admitted only the clergy to the altar. The laity, and communicants of the other sex, from this time, usually received the elements from without the chancel.

It is remarkable that the primitive Christians used no established form in presenting the elements. This is the more remarkable, inasmuch as they were so careful in regard to their baptismal formulary; and is to be accounted for only from the fact, that the form Of the original institution was introduced into the consecrating prayer.

The earliest form of which we have any record was also the most simple and concise. In presenting the elements respectively, the presiding elder said: "The body of Christ; the blood of Christ; the cup of life." To which the communicant replied, "Amen." This response was, in time, omitted by the laity, and only repeated by the clergy; but it is not known at what time this change took place.

Under Gregory the Great, and subsequently, the forms following were in use: "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve you unto eternal life." "The body and the blood of the Lamb of God, which is given to you for the remission of sins." "May the body and the blood of the Lamb of God be to you the salvation of soul and body." "May the body and the blood of the Lamb of God avail you to the remission of sins, and to life eternal." 

When the bread was dipped in the wine, the form of distribution ran thus: "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, dipped in his blood, preserve your soul unto everlasting life." 

The Syriac and Greek churches had also each their own peculiar forms. But the protestant churches have, with great propriety, restored the original and significant form: "Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you," etc.

Abuses connected with the celebration of this ordinance very early crept into the church. To correct these the bread and wine were, at one time, mingled together; at another, the wine was withheld, and the bread only administered; and again, the elements were presented to the lips, instead of being delivered into the hands. The protestant churches, generally, have returned to the ancient mode of presenting the bread and wine singly into the hands of each communicant.

The custom of the Greek church was to receive the sacrament standing, and such at first was probably the usage of the Western church.

The most important rites connected with the celebration of this ordinance, as detailed above, are brought together in the following extract.

"However much they ahered in different places, and at different periods, the times of celebrating this sacred ordinance, they never varied except, perhaps, in some trifling circumstances, in the mode of observance. The peculiar service of the faithful was commonly introduced by a private and silent prayer, which was followed by a general supplication for the church and the whole family of mankind, and then each of the brethren came forward to contribute a free-will offering, according to his ability, to the treasury of the church, – the wealthy always being careful to bring part of theirs in articles of bread and wine. Out of this collection both the sacramental elements were furnished, – the one consisting, from the first, of the common bread that was in use in the country, and the other of wine diluted with water, according to the universal practice of the ancients. Preliminary to the distribution of these, two ceremonies were always observed with the greatest punctuality, – the one emblematical of the purity that became the ordinance, the other of the love that should reign among all the disciples of Christ. The deacons brought a basin of water, in which the presiding ministers washed their hands in presence, and on behalf, of the whole congregation,– a practice founded on the words of the Psalmist, – "I will wash my hands in innocence, and so I will compass thine altar;" and then on a given signal, the assembled brethren, in token of their mutual amity and good will, proceeded to give each other a holy kiss, ministers saluting ministers, the men their fellow-men, and the women the female disciples that stood beside them. At this stage of the service, another prayer of a general nature was offered, at the conclusion of which the minister, addressing the people, said, "Peace be unto you," to which they responded in one voice, "and with thy spirit." Pausing a little, he said, "Lift up your hearts to God," to which they replied, "We lift them up unto God;" and then, after another brief interval of silence, he proceeded, "Let us give thanks to God," to which they returned the ready answer, "It is meet and just so to do." These preliminary exhortations being completed, the minister offered up what was called the great thanksgiving for all blessings, both temporal and spiritual, especially for the unspeakable love of God as manifested in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and for that holy ordinance in which, in gracious adaptation to the nature of man, He is evidently set forth as crucified and slain; concluding with an earnest desire, that intending communicants might participate in all the benefits it was designed to impart, to which all the people said aloud, "Amen." As the communicants were about to advance to the place appropriated for communion, – for up to that time it was unoccupied, – the minister exclaimed, "Holy things to holy persons," – a form of expression equivalent to a practical prohibition of all who were unholy; and the invitation to communicants was given by the singing of some appropriate Psalms, such as the passage in the 34th, – "O taste and see that God is good," and the 133d, beginning, "Behold! how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" The elements having been consecrated by a prayer, which consisted chiefly of the words of the institution, the minister took up the bread, and breaking it, in memorial of Christ's body being broken, distributed it to his assisting brethren beside him, and in like manner the cup, both of which were carried round by the deacons to the communicants in order; and while they presented them in this simple form, "the body of Christ," "the blood of Christ," each communicant, on receiving them, devoutly said, "Amen." The manner in which they received the element, was by taking it in the right hand, and placing the left underneath to prevent any of it from falling. The act of communion being finished, a thanksgiving hymn was sung, and an appropriate prayer offered, after which the brethren again gave each other the salutation of a holy kiss, and having received the blessing of their pastor, were exhorted to "" Go in peace." "Such was the manner in which the holy rite of the supper was usually celebrated among the primitive Christians. But we shall have exhibited a very imperfect view of their manners in this respect, unless we take into consideration some peculiarities, which, while they were professedly founded on a literal interpretation of the words of Scripture, gave rise to customs that have been almost universally exploded by every succeeding age of the church. According to their ideas, the feast of communion, implying a fellowship in spirit and feeling, might be celebrated by persons who were absent, as well as those who were present at the solemnity; and accordingly, they were in the habit of sending, by the hands of the deacons, portions of the sacred elements to their brethren, who, from sickness or imprisonment, were unable to attend. Such causes of absence as these, which arose from the unavoidable dispensations of Providence, ought not, in their opinion, to deprive any of the comfort and privilege of communicating; and as numbers of those who were ranked in this class, were martyrs, confessors of the truth, and devoted followers of the Saviour, they considered it would have been the height of cruelty to withhold from such honored characters the means of participating with their brethren in an act of communion that was essentially spiritual. Frequently did they transmit, therefore, to the sick-beds or the dungeons of their brethren, fragments of the bread that had been consecrated in the church; or, where that could not be procured, the minister consecrated it on the spot: – nay, so far were they carried by their benevolent desire to extend the benefits of this sacred ordinance to all who were anxious to partake of it, that they scrupled not to send it to penitents when in a dying state, though they would not, in other circumstances, have been deemed qualified, according to the established rules of the church. A memorable example of this is furnished in the case of Serapion, a Christian of whose faith and sincerity no doubt was entertained, till, on the outbreak of a violent persecution, he fell from his profession. Returning to his first love, belong and importunately solicited in vain a restoration to the privilege of communion. Being overtaken, at length, by a severe indisposition, which brought him in four days to the verge of the grave, he despatched a messenger to one of the neighboring ministers, with an earnest request that he would come and give him the consolations of the sacrament. The minister was prevented by sickness from going in person, but perceiving the urgency of the case, he sent a portion of the consecrated bread by the hands of the messenger, who administered it to the dying penitent.

"Another peculiarity of theirs – arising from an impression of the absolute necessity of this ordinance to salvation, – was their admission of persons to partake of it of all ages, and in every variety of circumstance. Provided only that they had received the initiatory rite of baptism, the primitive Christians scrupled not to administer the other christian sacrament to all, without exception, even though they might be altogether unconscious of the service in which they were made to engage. Hence the custom of giving the communion to infants – a custom which, for many ages, prevailed in .the ancient church; and as persons of that tender age were unable to eat the bread, the practise early came into use of dipping it in wine, and pressing a drop or two from the moistened sop into the mouth of the babe. Hence, also, the custom of administering it to the sick in the delirium of a fever, or in such circumstances of bodily weakness that they were incapable of communicating their own wishes, – which, however, if the attendant nurse testified had been previously and anxiously expressed, were gratified by a participation of the sacred rite, just as if they had been in the full possession of bodily and mental health. Hence, also, the custom of many religious persons carrying home a portion of the consecrated bread from the church to their own homes, and reserving it for future use among their most precious and valuable treasures. In a chest appropriated to the purpose this sacred deposit was laid, and when no opportunity was afforded of attending the morning service, every time they rose from bed, and before engaging in any worldly business, they were accustomed to consecrate the day by the solemn act of participating of the sacrament; or, when a christian stranger came to their houses for their hospitality, ere ever he tasted of the viands that were produced for their refreshment, the morsel of the consecrated bread was broken between them, and their social intercourse hallowed by the preliminary rite of communion. Customs like these, which savored so strongly of superstition, could have originated only in a profound feeling of reverence for the ordinance, and in an impression of its supposed indispensable necessity to the well-being of the soul in a future world." – Jamieson, pp. 125 – 130.

J. Ge. Calixti, Liber de communione sub utraque specie, etc. Helmst. 1642. 8: J. A. Schniid, De fatis calicis cucharistici. Helmstad. 1708. 4: L. Th. Spittler's Geschichte des Kelchs im Abendmahl. Lemgo, 1780. 8: Chr. Sonntag, De intinctione panis eucharistici in vinum. Alth. 1635. 4: Jo. Vogt, Hisioria fistulae eucharisticae. Brem. 1740. ed. 2. 1771. 8: Jo. Chr. Koecher, Historia fistularum eucharisticaruni. Osnabr. 1741. 4: S. M. C . . . de ritu vet. formulae adplicativae individualis in S. Coena. Lubec. 1741. 4.

Cone. Laodic. c. 19, 44.

Tertull. De Spectac. c. 25: Euseb. h. e. 6. 43: Cyrill. Hieros. Catech. Mystag. 5. § 18: Arnbros. De Sacram. lib. iv. c. 5. De Init.c. 9: August. Contra Faust, lib. xii. c. 10.

Bona, Rer. Lit. lib. ii. c. 17.

Muratorii, Antiq. Ital. Med. Rev), torn. iv. p. 178.

Tertull. De Orat. c. 14. Ad Uxor. ii. c. 5: Cyprian, De Laps. c. 7: Basil M. Ep. 289: Hieron. Ep. 05: Cpnc. Caesaraugust. c. 3: Cone. Tolet. 1. c. 14: Tolet. 11. c. 11.
(No tag #7 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.) 8: Certum est, omnes passim clericos et laicps viros et mulieres, sub utraque specie sacra mysteria antiquitus sumsissej cum solemni eorum celebrationi aderant et ofFerebant et de oblatis participabant. Extra sacrificium rero et extra ecclesiam semper et ubique coramunio sub una specie in usu fuit. Primae parti assertionis consentiunt omnes, tara catholici quam sectarii; nee earn negare potest, qui vel levissima reruin ecclesiasticarum notitia imbutus sit. Semper enim et ubique ab ecclesiae primordiis usque ad saeculum XIJ sub specie panis et vini communicarunt fideles; coepitque paulatim ejus saeculi initio usus calicis obsoleseere, plerisque episcopis eum populo intercidentibus ob periculum irreverentiae et efFusionis, quod inevitabile erat auctafidelium multitudine, in qua deesse non poterant minus cauti et attenti et parum religiosi. . . Paulatim introducta est communio sub sola specie panis, posteaquam intolerandi abusus religiosos antislites ad abrogandum communem calicis usum induxerunt. Moribus enim immutatis leges quoque niutandae sunt, quae aliquando utiles atque optimae fuerunt. Haec autem mutatio facta est primum a diversis episcopis in suis ecclesiis, deinde aSynodo Constantiensi canonica sanctione pro omnibus stabilita. Bona Rer.Liturg, lib. ii. c. 18, § 1. – Ab ecclesiae exordio ad saeculum usque XII eucharistiam etiam laicis sub utraque specie in publico soleninique eucharistiae ministerio fuisse ministratam (etsi non semper et necessario), nullus est inter catholicos qui ignorat, si vel levissima rerum ecclesiasticarum notitia sit imbutus. Verum crescente indies fidelium numero, cum sanguis non raro a populo minus cauto et parum religioso fuerit efFusus, primum introducta fuit consuetude, ut ope tubuli vel fistulae cujusdam sumeretur, quae fundo calicis,. teste Lindane, quandoque fuit ferruminata, ne ob incuitioris populi rusticitatem tam facile effundi posset. Ast cum et haec praxis sua haberet incommoda, coeperunt sacerdotes populo panem eucharistieam pretioso sanguine intinctum distribuere: qui mos saeculo XI et XII multis eoclesiis fuit familiaris. Verum cum ilium reprobarint ecclesiae aliae, nee inconvenientiis satis iretur obviam, calicis usus saec. XIII semper semperque minui, et tandem saec, XIV fere generaliter obsoleseere coepit, donee saec. XV post exortam Hussitarum haeresin ealix publico ecclesiae decreto Laicis omnibus fuerit sublatus. Krazer de Liturg. p. 567. 9: Ordo communionis hie erat, ut primo quidem Celebrans seipsum communicaret, deinde Episcopos, si qui aderant, vel Presbyteros simul cum eo synaxin agentes: turn Diaconos, Subdiaconos ct Clericos, Monachos, Diaconissas et sacras Virgines; novissime populum adjuvantibus Presbyteris, primum viros, postea mulieres. Idem in calicis distributione servabatur, nisi quod Presbyteri per se ilium sumebant, Diaconi a Presbyteris, reliqui a Diaeonis, ut ex Ordine Romano et ex Graeeorum Euchologio constat. Bona Rer. Liturg. lib. ii. c. 17, p. 858.


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