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Shared Celebration
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What is Shared Celebration?

The 215th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to “encourage each presbytery to arrange for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in one of its churches each Lord’s Day.” Weekly presbyterywide celebrations of the Eucharist are an important embodiment of our unity in Christ and a way to “taste and see” the reality of our common ministry.

Why weekly Eucharist?

The Rev. Yena Hwang, Chair of Korean American Presbyterian Clergy Women, breaks bread during worship at the 219th General Assembly (2010). Photo by Danny Bolin.

The Rev. Yena Hwang, Chair of Korean American Presbyterian Clergy Women, breaks bread during worship at the 219th General Assembly (2010). Photo by Danny Bolin.

The Directory for Worship declares that “Scripture — the Word written, preaching — the Word proclaimed, and the Sacraments — the Word enacted and sealed, bear testimony to Jesus Christ, the living Word” (Book of Order, W-1.1004).

John Calvin was even bolder, taking it as “a settled principle that the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace” (Institutes, 4.14.17). That is why Calvin thought it would be faithful “to require that the Holy Supper of the Lord be held every Sunday at least as a rule.” Calvin failed in his efforts to convince the Geneva authorities — and Reformed churches since — to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. In our own time, however, Reformed churches are recovering Calvin’s two marks of the true church: “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists” (Institutes, 4.1.9).

The Book of Order is cautious. It indirectly encourages weekly celebration of the sacrament: “It is appropriate to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as often as each Lord’s Day. It is to be celebrated regularly and frequently enough to be recognized as integral to the Service for the Lord’s Day.” (W-2.4009).

The Book of Common Worship (BCW) makes a stronger case, however. It notes that the basic movement of the Service for the Lord’s Day is “from hearing to doing, from proclamation to thanksgiving, and from Word to table” (BCW 33). Moreover, it is explicit that “From New Testament times the celebration of the Eucharist on each Lord’s Day has been the norm of Christian worship ... From the church’s institution, the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper were joined” (BCW 41).

Few Presbyterian churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day. Of those that do, most confine the sacrament to one of several Sunday worship services. The move in many congregations from quarterly to monthly observance is welcome, but “first Sunday of the month” celebration does not fully express the central convergence of Word and Sacrament.

The Geneva civil authorities did not accede to Calvin’s wish that the Lord’s Supper be celebrated every Lord’s Day. However, at least for a while, Calvin managed to schedule services in Geneva churches so that the sacrament was celebrated somewhere in the city on every Lord’s Day (John Calvin, “Articles Concerning the Organization of the Church”; James Smylie, A Brief History of Presbyterians, 20). Presbyteries can follow Calvin’s lead.

Though weekly celebration of Eucharist in every Presbyterian congregation is unlikely, celebration of the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day is a possibility in every presbytery. A presbytery can ensure that the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in at least one of its churches each Lord’s Day. The designated church can understand its celebration to be “on behalf of” the whole presbytery, including in its worship prayers for the presbytery and its congregations. Other congregations in the presbytery can be encouraged to pray for the church in which the “presbytery’s communion” is being celebrated. A presbytery might provide a special communion set to be used in the church that celebrates the Eucharist for the whole body. Other means may be devised to proclaim that “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body” (1 Corinthians. 10:17).

“Celebrating the Lord’s Supper Each Lord’s Day” does not direct presbyteries. Instead, it encourages presbyteries to choose a course of action that will proclaim the church’s unity in Christ while honoring the deep tradition of the church and the Reformed tradition of Word and Sacrament.

For more of the historical background on John Calvin's proposal for weekly Eucharist in Geneva, read an excerpt from Harold M. Daniels' book To God Alone Be Glory: The Story and Sources of the Book of Common Worship.

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