The communal nature of Communion

Is Communion primarily an individual or communal act?

Is Communion primarily an individual or communal liturgical act? The normal answer is that it is both and in the Church the communal aspects have become very important. Can we, then, as a lone communicant, think of ourselves as part of a community when we are guided through Communion via some electronic medium? When we take Holy Communion in a church, with other people, the communal aspect of Holy Communion is implicit. 

When working with the web we often use the term “virtual” to refer to some non-corporeal activity.  Holy Communion on the web is not a “virtual Communion,” however, because the “communion” in all cases takes place between the communicant and God. What is “virtual” in a web-based Communion service is the liturgical guide through the ritual of Holy Communion. The communicant will be real and corporeal as will be the bread and the wine (the elements) used in the service.

The communal side of Communion offered via the web involves the collective number of people who may be guided through the Communion liturgy in a church or on the web, who have done so in the past, or who will do so in the future. If this is taken into account liturgically, this point can be presented during a web-based Communion service so that it is real and important to the communicant. The interpretation given here is consistent with the Christian concept of the "communion of saints."

Each year we celebrate All Saints' Day.  All Saints' Day, in the Christian church, is a day commemorating all the saints of the church, both known and unknown, celebrated on November 1 (or the first Sunday in November) in the Western churches and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Eastern churches. All Saints is a day of remembrance for the saints, with the New Testament meaning of all Christian people of every time and place. This celebration commemorates the communion of saints in the Christian church.  When we celebrate Holy Communion we are remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation for "all the saints."

This interpretation is also reasonably consistent with the views of such early Methodists as Lady D’Arcy Maxwell, a person who gave considerable thought to the need for and implications of frequent Communion.  Lady Maxwell looked on constant Communion as an act of obedience to Christ. For her it formed a bond of union among God's faithful followers and the most intimate participation of God in the life of the believer. The Sacrament also became if not the primary means of grace certainly one of the most important. It was a practical avowal of the Christian's attachment to Christ as well as a public renewal of the covenant between God and his people.

Having said all this, however, we must recognize that it is difficult to satisfy the communal aspect of Holy Communion on the Web.  The key here is that it is "difficult," but not impossible.  Even before Holy Communion is a communal act, it is a means God has chosen to make his grace known to people.  That grace is available to us independently and Holy Communion is a rite that helps us center and focus on the acceptance of God's grace.  Holy Communion on the Web should be viewed as a supplement to Holy Communion in a church, not as a substitute for more institutional forms.  If, however, the communal aspect of Holy Communion on the Web is a problem for you, I encourage you to use this site with others rather than by yourself.