Eucharistic discipline

Eucharistic discipline
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also known as
"The Eucharist",
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"Divine Liturgy" or


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Theologies contrasted
Anglican Eucharistic theology
Eucharist (Catholic Church)
Eucharist (Lutheran Church)
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Related Articles
Sacramental bread
Christianity and alcohol
Catholic Historic Roots
Closed and Open Table
Divine Liturgy
Eucharistic adoration
Eucharistic discipline
First Communion
Infant Communion
Mass · Sacrament
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Eucharistic discipline is the term applied to the regulations and practices associated with an individual preparing for the reception of the Eucharist. Different traditions require varying degrees of preparation, which may include a period of fasting, prayer, repentance, and confession.


Roman Catholic practice

Sufficient spiritual preparation must be made by each Roman Catholic prior to receiving Holy Communion. A Catholic in a state of mortal sin should first make a sacramental confession: otherwise that person commits a sacrilege. A sacrilege is the irreverent treatment of sacred things. Deliberate and irreverent treatment of the Eucharist is the worst of all sacrileges, as this quote from the Council of Trent shows:

"As of all the sacred mysteries ...none can compare with the ...Eucharist, so likewise for no crime is there heavier punishment to be feared from God than for the unholy or irreligious use by the faithful of that which...contains the very Author and Source of holiness." (De Euch., v.i).

The above applies to both Latin and Eastern Catholics. In addition, they abstain from food and drink (except water and medicine) for at least one hour before receiving, and believe truly in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The discipline for Eastern Catholics generally requires a longer period of fasting and some Latin Catholics observe the earlier (pre-1955) discipline of fasting from the previous midnight.

The official regulations of the Latin Church are found in Book IV, Part I, Title III, Chapter I, Article 2 (Participation in the Holy Eucharist) of the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 916: A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.
Can. 919: §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.
§2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day can take something before the second or third celebration even if there is less than one hour between them.
§3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour. [3]

Eastern Catholic Churches have rules that do not necessarily correspond to those of the Latin Church. The rules of the Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine tradition correspond to those of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as detailed in the next section.

Eastern Orthodox practice

Orthodox Christians are required to fast from all food and drink and abstain from marital relations[1][2] in preparation for receiving the Eucharist, the fast commencing no later than when the communicant retires to sleep the preceding evening and no later than midnight or, depending on local tradition, or even from Vespers or sunset the night before, and the abstinence from marital relations extends through the preceding day (for which reason married priests may not celebrate the Holy Liturgy daily) and in some places (notably in Russia), a married priest sleeps in a separate bed from his wife the night before celebrating the Liturgy. Fasting in monastic practice can be even more strict, requiring a strict fast for the previous day as well. During this fasting period, many faithful will keep a period of quiet reflection; for example, by limiting or turning off their television and by reading devotional literature.

Fasting regulations are often relaxed for pregnant women, the ill, the elderly, and young children. Whether menstruating women should be permitted to receive the Eucharist is a matter of some controversy [4]. Traditional churches do not allow menstruating women to enter the nave of the church or receive any of the Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments) except in extremis; while some other churches permit both. Men also who are bleeding, for instance from a recently extracted tooth, should not receive Holy Communion unless they are in danger of death.

Orthodox Christians typically receive the Mystery of Confession before receiving the Eucharist. Those receiving the Eucharist infrequently will usually go to confession before each time, while those receiving on a regular basis will go to confession more frequently—typically, once a month. However, for those who are either mentally incapable of recognising or recalling their sins, or who are mentally or physically incapable of communicating their sins to a priest, this requirement is dispensed with, just as it is for very young children.

In some parts of the Russian church, the day before receiving Holy Communion, there is a custom that each person who intends to communicate, in addition to reading the Morning and Evening Prayers and attending Vespers the night before, reads three devotional canons and an akathist. The canons will usually be to the Lord, the Theotokos and the Guardian Angel. There is a tradition, among those who have the liturgical resources, to chant the following canons according to the day of the week:

  • For a Liturgy falling on a Monday: Canon to the Lord, the Theotokos, the Archangels, and if he so desire, the Guardian Angel
  • On a Tuesday: Canon to Lord, the Theotokos, the Forerunner, and the Guardian Angel
  • On a Wednesday: Canon to the Lord, the Theotokos, and the Guardian Angel
  • On a Thursday: Canon to the Lord, the Theotokos, the Guardian Angel, the Apostles and, if he so desire, Saint Nicholas
  • On a Friday: Canon to the Cross, the Theotokos, and the Guardian Angel
  • On a Saturday: Canon to the Lord, the Theotokos, the Guardian Angel, and All Saints
  • On a Sunday: Canon to the Lord, the Theotokos, and the Guardian Angel

For Pascha (Easter) and Bright Week, the requirement for three canons and an akathist is usually relaxed.

In all Orthodox churches, special pre- and post-Communion prayers are recited by the faithful before and after the Eucharist. In current practice, at least a portion of the pre-Communion prayers are usually recited during the Divine Liturgy. These prayers express humility and the communicants' sense of unworthiness for the gift they are about to receive. The post-Communion prayers are often read aloud by a single member of the congregation (often a reader) after the end of the Liturgy and during the Veneration of the Cross. These prayers of thanksgiving express the communicants' joy at having received Christ "for the healing of soul and body."

Anglican/Episcopalian practice

From the American Book of Common Prayer 1979

The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again. Because the Eucharist, the Church's sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself. The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord's Supper, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering.

The outward and visible sign in the Eucharist is bread and wine, given and received according to Christ's command. The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith. The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.

Prior to receiving the Eucharist, it is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people.

However, some Anglicans and Episcopalians, especially Anglo-Catholics and those of the High Church party, observe the practice of fasting for one hour before receiving Communion, while others abstain from any food or drink from midnight until the time of communing. Anglicans also believe in the real, objective presence of Jesus Christ in the holy sacrament.

Lutheran practice

In the Lutheran tradition, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is believed to be really present in the sacrament of the Euchatist (see Sacramental Union). Those who believe this, trusting that their sins are forgiven when they receive it, are worthy communicants. They are given the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through this Means of Grace.

Lutherans are taught to prepare to receive this sacrament through prayerful reflection upon their sinful nature, their need for a Savior, the promise that their sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus' death on the Cross, and that the Eucharist gives this forgiveness to them. "Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training," Martin Luther said, "but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." [3]

Most Lutherans (such as LCMS, WELS, ELS, and many in the ELCA) practice closed communion and require catechetical instruction for all people before receiving the Eucharist.[4][5][6][7] Failing to do so is condemned by most Lutherans as the sin of unionism.[8] Lutherans restrict communicants to members of their own Synod and those churches and Synods with whom they share “alter and pulpit fellowship”, which may mean excluding even other Lutherans from Eucharistic reception.

Recently, more liberal ELCA Lutheran churches, however, have begun practicing open communion (meaning the Eucharist is offered to adults without receiving the catechetical instruction, as long as they are a baptized believer in Christ).[7]

The timing of First Communion also varies. Historically, First Communion was delayed until after an individual had completed catechism classes and been confirmed, but gradually the timing of First Communion shifted so that it was administered before Confirmation rather than after, sometimes even as a public beginning to the Confirmation process. In many Lutheran churches, the average age of first communion is somewhere between the ages of seven and ten, though a considerable number of Lutheran churches offer First Communion even earlier. In North America, the time for administering First Communion is usually determined by the parents in consultation with the local pastor, but some Synods may have guidelines which prevent communion before a specific minimum age.

Methodist practice

In Methodism, the table is made available to all people, and none are turned away. This practice is referred to as keeping an "Open table". The general invitation is typically made in the ritual, "Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another." All are free to communicate at the appropriate time.

Unbaptized persons who respond to the invitation are urged to be instructed in and receive baptism as soon as possible, as Methodism recognises that in normal circumstances, baptism should be a prerequisite to a person's partaking in the Eucharist.

Presbyterian practice

Among Presbyterians, there is neither requirement, nor prohibition, of any of the traditional understandings of what it means to "make ready": it is left to local custom. In modern times, there is no uniform practice of earlier patterns of fasting, public or private prayer, or the preparatory service (Vespers).

However, the Westminster Larger Catechism has rather extensive instructions on how those who "receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves unto . . . ." Specifically, they are to prepare "by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer." Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 171.

Therefore, the Presbyterian Church in America's Directory for the Worship of God advises that a week's notice be given to the congregation prior to the administration of the Lord's supper: "It is proper that public notice should be given to the congregation, at least the Sabbath before the administration of this ordinance, and that, either then, or on some day of the week, the people be instructed in its nature, and a due preparation for it, that all may come in a suitable manner to this holy feast." PCA Book of Church Order, Directory for the Worship of God, ch. 58, para. 3.; see also Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order, Directory for Worship, W-3.3609 (requiring one week's notice if the sacrament is not observed weekly); Orthodox Presbyterian Church Book of Church Order, Directory for the Public Worship of God, ch. IV, para. 1. (requiring "adequate preparation").

The Westminster Larger Catechism also provides extensive instructions on "what is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper" during and after its administration. [5]


  1. ^ [1] "The Fasting Rule of the Orthodox Church", Retrieved 2011-09-11
  2. ^ [2] "The Orthodox Wiki — Marital fasting", Retrieved 2011-09-11
  3. ^ Martin Luther, Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971), 21, Small Catechism 6.3. Hereafter cited in notes as Small Catechism
  4. ^ "Closed Communion" @ Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  5. ^ WELS Closed Communion FAQs. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  6. ^ ELS Closed Communion. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  7. ^ a b At what age do ELCA congregations allow members their first Communion?. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  8. ^ Christian Encyclopedia: Unionism. Retrieved 2010-01-18.

See also

External links


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