Communion is a time to remember the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist, another term for Holy Communion, literally means "thanksgiving" in a reference to the fact that Jesus gave thanks before receiving the Last Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:24, believers are told to have communion with the text, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." Protestant communion is a declaration and celebration of faith. The bread and wine used in the ceremony are a significant part of this tradition.
Although the Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation, which states that the bread and wine are literally changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, Protestant churches acknowledge that the bread and wine are simply symbolic. Because Jesus stated that his words were "spirit and life" and that “the flesh is of no avail” in John 6:63, many Protestant churches conclude that Christ meant the receiving of the bread and wine took on a spiritual symbolism, not that it literally became his body or blood.
Many Protestant churches use wine for communion just as Catholics do. However, many denominations, such as United Methodists and Baptists, use unfermented grape juice instead of wine. The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) drink water during communion. Abstaining from drinking wine during communion allows children, teenagers and recovering alcoholics to join in the ceremony as well.
The use of unfermented grape juice for communion dates back to the late 1800s when there was a strong movement against drinking alcohol and most Protestant churches of the time turned to the alternate beverage. Thomas Welch, a Methodist pastor who strongly objected to the use of wine in communion, invented what is known as modern grape juice. By applying Louis Pasteur’s pasteurization process to grapes, he was able to stop the grapes from fermenting and turning into wine. After a struggle, he was able to get his own church and many others to substitute this unfermented grape juice for wine, and his son, Charles Welch, developed the famous grape juice company with their name that thrives today.
Sacramental bread refers to what is going to be served as the Communion bread. Protestants believe that Jesus Christ imparted the promise of the sacrifice of His body and blood with the bread and wine given at the Lord's Supper. What is used as the sacramental bread varies greatly. The Christian Congregation uses an unleavened loaf of bread that is divided among the congregation. Lutherans follow the Catholic Church in using unleavened wafers. Some Methodist churches use simple crackers that are broken and shared on a platter.
Although all can attend communion ceremonies, some denominations place restrictions on who can receive communion. Much like the Catholic Church that places restrictions on who can receive Holy Communion, many Protestant churches have closed communion and only allow church members to receive the bread and wine in the celebration. Even some seemingly similar churches differ in these rules. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America offers open communion, while the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod only offers closed communion.
- Providence Baptist Ministries: Baptists and Beliefs: Baptists and The Lord's Supper
- The United Methodist Church: Communion: Overview
- Communion: Protestant Communion
- Catholic Doors: Catholic Teachings Regarding Communion at Protestant Services
- The United Methodist Church: Why Do Most Methodist Churches Serve Grape Juice Instead of Wine for Holy Communion?
- Fundamentally Reformed: Welch's Grape Juice, Worldly Wisdom, and Wine
- Christianity Today: Welch's Innovation
- The Book of Concord: The Augsburg Confession
- Eucharistic Bread-Baking As Ministry; Tony Begonja
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images