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“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” —Luke 24:51

Invitation to Christ
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When do you say the Words of Institution?

There are three options for the Words of Institution in the eucharistic liturgy of the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship: at the Invitation to the Lord's Table, during the Great Thanksgiving and at the Breaking of the Bread. Presbyterian pastors share their practices:

We say the words of institution at the breaking of bread, immediately before distributing the trays of bread to the servers, then, in the case of the cup, immediately before distributing the cup trays to the servers.

When we do communion by intinction, we say the words for both the bread and cup consecutively (one of the three ministers, followed by another of the ministers) just before distributing the platens and chalices to the serving teams.

— Bernie Nord, Pastor
Desert Palms Presbyterian Church, Sun City West, Arizona

In the early years of my ministry (1981–'87) I always proclaimed the Words of Institution during the breaking of the bread and pouring of the wine.

As my understanding of Holy Communion has moved more toward an emphasis on the risen Christ, it has influenced when I proclaim the Words of Institution. During Lent and Holy Week I still state the Words of Institution during the breaking of the bread and pouring of the cup.

At all other times, I prefer to include the Words of Institution in the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving.

My rationale? During Lent (especially Palm/Passion Sunday and Maundy Thursday), the liturgy focuses on the suffering and death of our Savior. On those occasions, the Eucharist emphasizes the memorial aspect of the Sacrament. In other times of the Christian Year (especially the Great Fifty Days of Easter and all Festivals of the Lord), including the Words of Institution as part of the Great Thanksgiving leads to underscoring the real presence of the risen Christ in the Sacrament.

— Joe Slane
Southminster Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama

In “Invitation to Christ,” you ask about when I use the Words of Institution in the Eucharist. Well, I vary my practice, but have two principles: I always use the Words of Institution, and I do not use them more than once in a celebration.

Most of the time, I use them after the Great Thanksgiving. I ask the people to stand for the Thanksgiving, then after we say the Lord’s Prayer, I invite them to be seated. Then I use the Words of Institution as words from the Scriptures addressed to them, and accompany them by breaking the bread and filling the Cup.

Occasionally — especially at festivals such as Easter, Epiphany and Pentecost, but sometimes at other times — I will include the Words of Institution during the Anamnesis. “We thank you that our Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread …” When I do that, then I generally accompany the breaking and pouring with “The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ?”

On Maundy Thursday I generally say the Words of Institution before the Great Thanksgiving, in the old practice of giving a “warrant.” In fact, I usually use that hoary word: “Hear now the Warrant for the Holy Supper of the Lord. Our Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed …” On a Heritage Sunday or other service that looks to our Presbyterian history, I will do likewise.

— Robert A. Keefer, Ph.D.
Westminster Presbyterian Church in Clarinda, Iowa

I always spoke the Words of Institution while actually breaking the bread and pouring the wine (juice), after the conclusion of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. The only exception I made to this practice was to recite them as a "warrant" on Maundy Thursday, prior to the prayer. I would then break the bread and pour the cup in silence after the prayer. I found that speaking the Words before the prayer and performing the actions in silence afterward helped me emphasize the memorial aspect of the Lord's Supper over its other meanings on that particular day.

—Mike Poteet, Member-at-Large
Presbytery of Philadelphia

I once had a conversation with Paul Westermeyer (Lutheran Church musician and liturgist) about the placement of the Verba [Institution Narrative]. He suggested that including them in the prayer focuses on Christ's death; placing them at the fraction focuses on the resurrection. Of course, the Book of Common Worship, as always, gives us options. I most often say the words of institution as I break the bread and pour the cup, this way the words are united with the visual drama of breaking and pouring. I try to teach this drama to my students at SFTS/So Cal, making sure they know their lines and can speak and act at the same time.

At times I use an Iona Community liturgy from the Wee Worship Book. They use "the story of the last supper" as a kind of invitation. As the bread is broken (right after the Lord's Prayer) the celebrant says "Look! The bread of heaven is broken for the life of the world." I like to add these words as I pour out the cup: "See! God's grace flows freely for us." One of my strongest memories of the Iona liturgy was in Iona Abbey in 1991. Allie Newell was celebrating. It was Saturday evening, candles blazing, we were gathered around a long table. Our heads were bowed for the Lord's Prayer. When she said "Look!" we all turned and watched as she broke the bread. It was very moving. I think the cup is also something to "see," so I added those words. By the way, I also use four sentences in that liturgy as a kind of memorial acclamation; I ask the whole congregation to repeat these words when we use this liturgy:

We cannot take bread and forget those who are hungry.
We cannot take wine and forget those who are thirsty.
We cannot hear your words of peace and forget the world of violence.
We cannot celebrate the feast of your family and forget our divisions.

—Rebecca Prichard, Pastor
Tustin Presbyterian Church in Tustin, California
Adjunct Professor of Theology and Worship, San Francisco Theological Seminary / Southern California

Most often, I do the words of institution following the Great Thanksgiving. I've not thought about doing them during the invitation, but don't like doing them during the Great Thanksgiving as that is a prayer and I like having people's eyes on the bread and wine during the words of institution.

—Patricia Berger, Pastor
Covenant Presbyterian Church in Gresham, Oregon

For recapitulation, I share the words in relation to the breaking and pouring of the cup, and follow with an invitation to feast.

— Christian Dominic Boyd, Designated Organizing Pastor
New Creation New Church Development in O'Fallon, Illinois

I say the words of institution every place I can in our weekly celebration, varying it from time to time. I am at the far right end of the 'habit/novelty' spectrum, and want to vary the service frequently. So I vary the location of the words of institution and the form in which they are said ... but they are always in the service!

—Houston Hodges, Parish Associate
Big Cove Presbyterian Church in Brownsboro, Alabama

And I say the words of institution at the breaking of the bread. That's why Houston and I work well together.

—Rosemary McMahan, Commissioned Lay Pastor
Big Cove Presbyterian Church in Brownsboro, Alabama


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