The Meaning of the Communion

for Transylvanian Unitarians of Today


                By Rev. Dr. Imre Gellérd. Translated by Dr. Judit Gellérd


The Lord's Supper can be understood as a real or imaginary communion with the intuited divine. Even historically this is our most popular service. The number of participants at the Lord's Supper is usually two and a half times than the average church attendance. What is the explanation for this?

The roots of the Lord's Supper are very deep. The Communion fulfills certain spiritual needs that just nothing else can do. The second reason is that this is our only permanent service. While baptism, confirmation, marriage, and funeral occur a single time in one's life, the Lord's Supper recurs four times each year. In this service church members have a certain active participation and this is always attractive. We could also argue that the Lord's Supper is our most concrete service; this is not only about abstract ideas and words, but actually about bread and wine, that is, tangible conditions. Simple people are more moved by concrete things than by the abstract.

The communion has also a certain compensatory character today. People who neglect or lack the conditions for church attendance, try to make up for.  And, finally, the popularity and prestige of the Lord's Supper is greatly increased by the special opportunity for us to face ourselves inwardly.

. . . As far as the Lord's Supper is concerned, the Unitarian position seems to be the closest to early Christian principles. Jesus clearly said: "Do this in memory of me". Therefore the Lord's Supper is an act of remembrance, or condition to bring up memories. Like pictures left by our parents who passed away. The Lord's Supper is also a picture in which Jesus's face is shining back to us. Jesus is asking, calling, evoking devotion, urging, and opening a whole world before us: the world of love, of purity, of joy for being in the divine, in the light of values, of God's kingdom.                                                                                             

The Lord's Supper pertains rather to psychology than theology. It starts a fertilizing process of association in us which leads eventually to value transformation. Remembering Jesus and his teachings reminds us of our commitment to follow his example. This then urges us to evaluate our spiritual life and to meditate upon our moral weaknesses. It gives us an opportunity to affirm what is positive in us. At the same, time it creates the psychological conditions for repentance and change, for forgiveness, for purifying ourselves, for becoming better human beings, for getting closer to the divine, and eventually to divinize—to become divine in spirit. The Lord's Supper is not only the first, starting step of this process, but it is the acting forth as well. It is the divine spark which starts positive changes and it is the fuse which leads to the explosion of right actions.                                                                                

The communion is the starting point: stepping onto the path. It won't bring miracles or automatic salvation. It is just the way toward the divine, toward perfection. And it is not a stairway either. It only guides us, but we have to walk on the path, make personal effort.

Preparation for the Lord's Supper has a great capacity for growth. It is the sacred moment of being face to face with ourselves, [our consciences], when we renew our commitment to follow the path. It is a communion with the divine and with our neighbors: a communion of ourselves with our highest values. Jesus invites us to sit at the table and eat and drink, absorb these higher values of spiritual growth so that we can prepare similar tables for others.                                                                                 

The elements of the Lord's Supper are the bread and the wine. Religious history provides us with plenty of reasons for this. Throughout human history, many associations have been linked to the notion of bread and wine. Two theological problems will be address:

1. What did Jesus' affirmations represent when he compared himself to bread and wine? Are our theological associations the same as those associated by early Christianity?

2. What is the basis for us to reject the theory of transubstantiation and consubstantiation? Is religious experience enough to reject these theories?

From a practical viewpoint the following questions arise:

a) Are there any criteria about the quality of the wine and bread?

b) Is cutting or breaking the bread is more expressive?

c) Which method is better: the common chalice or individual cups?

d) In the past the woman was praying while she was baking the bread for this occasion. The same rule applied to the minister who prays before cutting the bread.

e) Can Unitarians talk about the validity of the Lord's Supper?

As we had already mentioned, from a Unitarian viewpoint the bread and wine are symbols and, as such, cannot be underestimated. However, they are not creators of the desired change but rather its material elements; they are not a goal but a means for change.

Time of the Lord's Supper

According to Tertullianus the ancient Christians partook communion each day, and later each Sunday. According to Heltai, Unitarians in the 16th century partook it six time each year, but at people's request even more often. The custom four communions yearly started relatively early in our church.                                                                                               

From the position of religious psychology, the best time for the Lord's Supper is the time which is optimal for religious experience. According to some psychological works, the morning hours facilitate intellectual and theoretical activities, the afternoon the volitional and the evening hours the emotional, introvertive or spiritual functions. If we follow this pattern, we should have the communion in the evening, like the ancient Christians did. But we follow the tradition of the church which administers communion in the morning worship service. However, social demands might dictate other times.

The place of the Lord's Supper

The natural place of the communion is the church, but occasionally it can be a hospital, home, prison or in nature. According to our religious precepts, there are no sanctified places privileged by God. The main criterion for the place is that it be inspiring—but at least not to disturb devotion. Disturbing circumstances should result in suspending communion.

Preparation of the Lord's Supper

Preparation of the Lord's Supper is extremely important task with a great responsibility upon the minister. It has two aspects: the ministers' own preparation and preparing his church members. Ministers have a twofold responsibility: liturgical preparation and their own inner, spiritual preparation. It basically consists of a conscientious intensification of his continuous self-pastoration. During the week of the Lord's Supper, ministers should live an intense spiritual life, pray much more often, read the Bible and avoid any disturbing situations which would violate their devotion and inspiration. This is the time for the minister to analyze his [or her] faults and shortcomings, feel repentance and find the way out of them. He does it not in isolation but along with his congregation.

Though the two preparations are happening simultaneously, they are not the same in their method or objectives. From the pastor is required much more than from the flock.

Preparation of the congregation starts with the worship service just before the holy week starts. The minister announces the Lord's Supper at this occasion. Preparation is continuous for the whole week. Its methods include counsilling, occasional prayers, Bible-study and other religious practices. The minister calls the congregation to listen to the sound of the church and pray. The minister should study the relationship among church members and must do anything possible to reconcile them among themselves. The great minister Ferenc Balazs made copies of the program of preparation and distributed it to all the members, asking them to post it on the most visible wall of their homes. (It is also a very efficient way of the Presbyterians to have daily short prayer services in the church.)

The minister should preach a so-called faith-strengthening sermon the Sunday before, which prompts people to self-examination and repentance. The minister must safeguard over the week and keep it undisturbed. In every contact with church members, he should remind them about the holy week"and that the Lord's table is waiting for them.

The worship service of the first day of the feast must also serve spiritual preparation. Though the sermon is dominated by the theme of the feast, the Lord's Supper should be in its focus.

The tablecloths of the Lord's table and clenodia [chalice, etc.] must be cleaned, and the bread and wine must be properly prepared.

The communal homily [in Hungarian called the Agenda]

One of the main moments of the Lord's Supper is the special homily before the communion. Etymologically, the word Agenda comes from the Latin ago which means action, remembrance, effect. Even the word suggests its goal. But let us analyze it:

The Agenda  especially reminds those who come to the church on the first day of the feast, but had no time or opportunity for spiritual preparation. The ultimate goal of the homily is expressing the communion-char­acter of God-human relationship. This is the place and moment of being face to face with ourselves and before the divine. The moment of experi­encing the divine, comprehends that transcendent presence and closeness. It is a religious experience, a vision of Mount Horeb, a drama of Bethel. It is the entering the divine and letting God enter our lives. The homily expresses this experience of communing. Certainly the minister has to compose this experience within himself first of all. If he is capable, the homily is a matter of a simple transfer.

Another goal of the homily results in communion with ourselves. We create wholeness within, re-balancing, regaining our integrity and reconciling ourselves with others.

The homily should preach Jesus. Not as a mere historic personality, but as a present ideal. He is also the way to the ideal. . .

The words of the Lord's Supper are not remember my death, but "do this in memory of me." So we rather focus on his life and teachings, his humanity, and the wholeness of his personality. We don't deny the power and significance of his death, however, his impact is not to be found only in his death. Actually death is a part of life.

The homily should help people get closer to each other. The common table, common chalice and common bread, and the physical closeness of people all suggest that. The symbol not only expresses but obliges everyone. The homily reaches into the depths of the spirit and portrays people in their social relationships. It emphasizes sister- and brotherhood. Love those who are standing right near you, demolish the walls that divide us, accept others as they also accept you.

The homily goes further. It must prompt people to action, to value accomplishment, to service for country, church, and humanity. It also must stimulate sacred emotions, shake us up, cause a maximum inner tension, and release certain crisis in the joyful moment of the ritual.

The homily and following prayer are also a form of confession of our weaknesses. They call people to confess in secret their negative feelings and behaviors—to bring them before God. The minister must be a master, an artist of this moment, to guide in this "crying out" process. It must bring healing instantly. Ministers should study psychology and become like psychotherapists to a certain extent.

The minister must be careful and not be harsh in criticism. He rejects evil as such, but not people who err. The judge is God not the minister. The homily must be a healing tool. The minister must know his people's spiritual wounds.

Gratitude must be a part of homily. As to formal criteria concerning the homily , it is quite different from the sermon. The homily focuses on the Lord's Supper; it is affirmative and not analytic as the sermon can be. It has a deeper psychological potential. We can say that while a sermon is an oratorical act, the communal homily is characteristically a prophetic one.   

The homily has also a biblical text, which is less important than in the sermon. The homily is short, it shouldn’t be longer than ten minutes.

Prayer before the Lord's Supper                                                                                     

The prayer comes naturally if the minister has been preparing for the Lord's Supper. The prayer should be a lyrical, emotional continuation of the homily, a final accord of communion with the divine, a dramatic mo­ment of facing the divine and ourselves.               

The main element of the prayer is giving thanks and praying to be able to keep the accomplished values in ourselves.


The Order of worship service and of the Communion

(at Easter, Pentecost, Fall Thanksgiving, Christmas Sunday)


1. First hymn (standing)                                                                                     

2. Invocation and greetings (by the minister from the pulpit)

3. Call for worship (by the minister from the pulpit) "Blessed be our Lord, the one God, who guides us to this sacred house. Come, sisters and brothers, dedicate this day to holy service: working for six days to care for life and on the seventh day to rest in the holy. Let us designate this day for spiritual growth and praise."                                                                     

4. Second hymn (seated)                                                                                                    

5. Short prayer and Lord's Prayer

6. Hymn (continuation of the pervious one)

7. Biblical text                                                                                                      

8. Sermon                                                                                                             

9. Free, concluding prayer                                                                                

10. Call for silent meditation: "God is spirit and those who worship him, should worship in spirit and truth... (Meantime soft organ music)

(11. Unitarian Creed. On the feast day the liturgy of the Lord's Supper replaces this.)          

12. Announcements                                                                                                            

13. Closing hymn                                                                                                                

14. Lord's Supper (at Sunday of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and Thanksgiving) 

For the Lord's Supper the minister comes down from the pulpit to the Lord's table.               

Agenda or short communal homily [as described before]

• Communal prayer [as described]

• The Minister now takes the plate with the bread, uncovers it and says the traditional biblical words: "Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it..." The minister eats the first piece of bread, serves it to his assisting lay president adn cantor, then administers to the congregation which surround the Lord's table [in Transylvania first men, then women]. The minister goes to each of the members and gives them a piece of bread from the plate.

The bread is cut into 2-3 cm cubes, the crust of the bread is not used. The minister cuts it early in the morning while praying. The bread is piled up in the form of a pyramid.

• The minister goes back to the Lord's table and takes the chalice of wine, and says the biblical words again: "After the supper ended..." He drinks the wine first and then the same order is followed. He carefully wipes the chalice with a cloth after each member. The wine is being replaced by the lay president using a special clenodium for this purpose. Only the minister may administer the Lord's Supper.

• After this a short prayer follows. During communion the rest of the congregation keeps singing special hymns for the occasion.

15. Benediction

16. Closing, parting hymn

The leftover bread and wine are taken to the parish by the members of the Consistory (Presbyterium). They greet the minister's family and each other and they eat the bread and drink the wine more casually along with the traditional sweet bread (kalacs), which is being baked in each house.

Recently the ancient tradition of wearing national folk costumes for the church worship service of feast days is coming back. People of each village who live far from their homes come home from all over the country for this day to partake Lord's Supper. This day is a great reunion day; churches are filled everywhere. Outside of the church after worship service, the minister greets the homecoming people and reads the gospel of the week before they leave for their homes for lunch.