Article 56 — Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper shall be celebrated at least once every three months.
The ancient Christian church used to have ‘the breaking of bread’ at least every Sunday (Acts 2: 42, 46; 20: 7). At Jerusalem, according to the patristic literature, it even happened every day until far into the second century. Already in the early stages of Church history the idea of the sacrament that the Lord’s Supper was a sacrifice of man had crept in. It was soon accompanied by the theory of the transsubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine, and their elevation. The celebration of this sacrament degenerated and became the Mass, with its ‘show’ character.
A consequence of the idea of a sacrifice was, that participation of the ‘lay people’ was no longer an essential part of the Mass.
This led to the practice whereby the communion was reduced to a few times a year. To many people ‘communion’ at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost was a maximum.
The Lateran Council of 1215 ruled that everyone had to partake in the communion at least once a year, at Easter. This was also the result of another
rule, dating back to the middle of the eleventh century, which said that at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost the people had to offer a sacrifice for the financial support of the priests, but this prevented the poorer people from partaking in the communion except at Easter.
The above-mentioned dates were partly taken over by the churches of the Reformation. However, on the other hand we can say: They followed the frequency of the so-called ‘Gemeinde-kommunion’.
During the late Middle Ages there was some reaction against the show-character of the Mass. In places this led to the institution of separate communion services, namely in the South of Germany and in some regions of Switzerland. Consecration of the elements did not take place during the celebration. The people made use of the elements that had been consecrated during the Mass, but full emphasis was put on the “communion”.
So, the participation of the congregation, a remnant of the Lord’s Supper according to Holy Scripture was preserved.
These ‘Gemeinde-kommunion’-services were held at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas.
The Reformers took over these dates of communion.
However, on more than one occasion John Calvin expressed his strong desire to return to the practice of the ancient Christian church, but the Reformed churches have never complied with his wishes. In his own city, Geneva, the civil magistrates strongly opposed his efforts, and in other important cities like Zurich and Bern, the usual practice was also maintained.
In the Southern Netherlands (today’s Belgium) the churches agreed to a minimum of four times a year, in the Northern part of that country this minimum was determined as six times. But later on four times was added as an alternative.
This, then happened to be the rule of the old version of the Church Order:
The Lord’s Supper shall be administered at least every two or three months.
Since the Church Order was revised by Synod Kelmscott, 1983 the minimum frequency has been reduced to at least once every three months.
Alongside the historical Form our churches have adopted an “Abbreviated Form for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper”, following the Dutch sister-churches. It is rather strange though that the wish to have such a brief Form was related to the desire for a more frequent celebration of this sacrament,
when it was really intended to be used “for the second service” wherein the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is ‘continued’.
The Church Order does not make any mention of a ‘preparatory sermon’, nor of a ‘thanksgiving service’. Both are included in the Form.