Celebrating Communion

Leonardo da Vinci, Last Supper, tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic, 1495-1498, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy.
Leonardo da Vinci, Last Supper, tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic, 1495-1498, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy.
The Service of the Lord's Table is the central ritual of the Christian Church. It is a celebration which our Lord Himself instituted and which reminds us every time we receive it of the precious gift we have received in salvation. In the Presbyterian Church we recognize only two rituals as sacraments: the Lord's Table (also often called Communion) and Baptism.

The Service of the Lord's Table includes elements which may be reworded or modernized but which in their root form can be traced back for many centuries. Some elements can even be traced back before the time of Jesus to early versions of Jewish table blessings. There are many versions of this service but most western services include sections paralleling the words below. The ordering of the placement is a matter of some controversy in some churches. We tend to be less stringent as to the order of these sections as long as good logical sense is maintained.

The Service of the Lord's Table

The Service of the Lord's Table comes in the worship service after the time of assembling in God's name and declaring God's Word as part of our giving thanks to God. The Nicene Creed (still part of the declaration of God's Word) usually precedes the Service of the Lord's Table.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, being of one Being with the Father through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven, and is seated on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene Creed

The Emperor Constantine assembled a group of bishops in 325 in the city of Nicea in what is now Turkey. He ordered them to address the questions in the church regarding the relationship between Jesus Christ and God. A creed was written but was not universally accepted. In 381 a second council was called in Constantinople which revised the original creed. This revision is what we now know as the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is the most ecumenical of creeds. Although the statement in it that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father (and the Son)" is still a point of contention for members of the Eastern Orthodox churches. The phrase in parenthesis is a very major part of what separates Eastern and Western Christianity.

The Nicene Creed is used at communion to remind us of our connection with Christians around the world and to give us a quick reminder of the key points of our faith.

The Prayers of the People

The Prayers of the People

The thanksgiving, intercessions, supplications and adoration of the congregation are collected into one prayer. This prayer includes the intercessions that in some forms of communion are included in the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving just before the Lord's Prayer.

The Offering

The Offering

We offer ourselves and all that we have to God. This is also the time when the communion elements are brought to the table. In ancient times when people did not give money but produce and livestock, the priest would have selected out of the offering the bread and wine to become the communion elements.

The Doxology

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Christ, all people here below;
Praise Holy Spirit evermore;
Praise Triune God, whom we adore.

The Doxology

These words adapted from a hymn by Thomas Ken allow us to praise God and be reminded of the Trinity at the same time.

The name "doxology" comes from the merging of the Greek word for "glory" or "praise" and the word for "teaching" or "words." The doxology is the "praise words."

The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

The words of this prayer may vary, but the outline remains largely unchanged.

Pastor: Friends: This is the joyful feast of the people of God!

People: People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. This is the Lord's Table. Our Savior invites those who trust him to share the feast, which he has prepared. According to Luke, when our risen Lord was at table with his disciples, he took the bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.


This is a statement of what is about to happen so that all will be aware and responsive. This is also the time when the pastor or liturgist will provide needed explanations to visitors about the logistics of how we will receive communion. The pastor may also remind the congregation that all persons seeking to follow the Lord are invited to participate.

Pastor: The Lord be with you.

People: And also with you.


Also called the Dominus Vobiscum from the Latin of the opening sentence, this is the ancient greeting that Christians would have used as they gathered. It was the equivalent of "Hello, how are you?"

Pastor: Lift up your hearts.

People: We lift them up to the Lord.

Pastor: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

People: It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Sursum Corda

Named for the Latin of the first sentence, this call is the opening dialogue of the eucharistic prayer. This dialogue is in a sense the agreement between the pastor and the people that they will now celebrate communion.

Pastor: Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God:

[words appropriate to the season are inserted here.]

Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Your ways are just and true. With people of faith from all times and places, we lift our hearts in joyful praise, for you alone are holy:


This section gives thanks to God for creation and for redemption. It is the section that varies to reflect the specific time in the liturgical calendar or in the life of the congregation.

The train of thought in the Preface is completed with the Sanctus.

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna in the highest.


This section of the Service of the Lord's Table is mentioned by Clement of Rome as a regular part of the service in his day. Since Clement died in 104, this section has the oldest external confirmation of any part of the service.

These words are too important to be said merely by the presiding minister. They are reserved to be sung or spoken by the entire congregation (or at least the choir). They are derived from the song of the seraphim recorded in Isaiah 6:3.

Holy God: we thank you for your Son Jesus, who lived with us sharing joy and sorrow. He told your story, healed the sick, and was a friend of sinners. Obeying you, he took up his cross and was murdered by people he loved. We praise you that he is not dead, but is risen to rule the world; and that he is still the friend of sinners. We trust him to overcome every power to hurt or divide us, so that, when you bring in your promised kingdom, we will celebrate victory with him.

History of Salvation

This recalls the public ministry of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. It is also where we place ourselves in the story of salvation because of God's love. The two major aspects of this section is the story of Jesus and the use of the words "we" and "us."

Remembering the Lord Jesus, we break bread and share one cup, announcing his death for the sins of the world, and telling his resurrection to all people and nations.


The Greek word "anemnesis" is used in I Corinthians 11:24 and Luke 22:19. It is translated "remembrance" or "memorial."

The anemnesis states who is remembered (Jesus) and what is done in remembrance (the bread is broken and the cup is shared).

Great God: give your Holy Spirit in the breaking of bread, so that we may be drawn together, and, joined to Christ the Lord, receive new life, and remain his glad and faithful people until we feast with him in glory.


The word "epiclesis" can be translated "invocation." It is the time in the prayer when the work of the Holy Spirit is requested. Most prayers contain a double epiclesis calling down the Holy Spirit upon the communion elements and upon the people present.

In this prayer the two are combined. The key words in this section are "pour out your Spirit" or "give your Spirit."

O God, who called us from death to life: we give ourselves to you; and with the church through all ages, we thank you for your saving love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The word "oblation" comes from the participle form of the Latin verb meaning "to bring, to carry, or to offer." This is where we offer ourselves to God.

This part of the prayer is often extracted and adapted as part of the prayer used to receive tithes and offerings at services where communion is not served or as the thanksgiving after communion.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

The Lord's Prayer

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4. The "Lord's Prayer" we pray in our services is adapted from these two different prayers Jesus taught.

The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took bread, and after giving thanks to God, broke it and said: "This is my body, which is for you; do this, remembering me."

In the same way, he took the cup after supper, and said: "This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this, remembering me."

Every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.

Institution Narrative

The account of the Last Supper which includes the words of Jesus which institute this sacrament.

The key words in this section are Jesus' words, "This is my body," and "This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood."

The words are taken from Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-23, and I Corinthians 11:23-26.

The bread is broken and the cup poured as the relevant sections are read.

The gifts of God for the people of God. Come now, the feast is ready.


At Presbyterian Churches, the invitation to the Lord's Table is to all.

The bread and wine/grape juice are distributed.


God our help: we thank you for this supper shared in the Spirit with your Son Jesus, who makes us new and strong, who brings us life eternal. We praise you for giving us all good gifts in him, and pledge ourselves to serve you, even as in Christ you have served us. Amen.

Thanksgiving after Communion

We thank God for the new spiritual energy we have because of the communion we have just received and promise to serve God with that new energy.

This prayer is closely related to the oblation or offering above.

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