The Synod Theological Response and Review Committee has issued a guideline on the various options which churches can take regarding the administration of Holy Communion during the circuit breaker period. In order for congregants to continue to receive the spiritual benefits of Holy Communion during a prolonged suspension of worship services, PSPC will administer “Online Communion” on 3 May 2020 (Communion Sunday); the Mandarin Service will do so on 10 May 2020. This communique sets out the sacramental theology of “Online Communion”, provides instructions on how to prepare the Communion elements at home as well as guides congregants on how to partake in the sacrament.
1. Sacramental Theology of “Online Communion”
The doctrine on Holy Communion (also known interchangeably as the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist) is a major component in sacramental theology. Within the confines of this communique, it will suffice to provide a brief survey of the various main doctrinal positions on the understanding of Holy Communion. At one spectrum is the Roman Catholic position of Transubstantiation which believes that the bread and wine are substantially changed into the physical body and blood of Christ while retaining the outward appearances of bread and wine. At the other spectrum is Memorialism which believes that the bread and wine are merely symbols to help believers recall Christ’s sacrifice and do not convey any further spiritual benefits.
The Presbyterian Church in Singapore is in the Reformed Tradition that holds the position of “Spiritual Presence”, i.e. Christ’s body and blood are spiritually present in the bread and wine to convey spiritual benefits to believers. This position emphasizes that it is the Holy Spirit who nourishes believers when they partake Communion by faith. Our theological forefather, John Calvin, put it this way, “For the sacraments I claim only that they are instruments which the Lord employs for our sake – instruments which would be pointless and vain without the work of the Holy Spirit, but which take full effect when the Spirit is active within.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion on ‘The Sacraments’)
Therefore, Reformed sacramental theology is intrinsically linked to the role of the Holy Spirit. In conducting an “Online Communion”, the presiding Minister is physically separated from congregants by time and space. However, since the power of the Holy Spirit can transcend chronological and spatial constraints, believers are similarly nourished by faith through an “Online Communion”. Calvin wrote, “We must hold in regard to the mode, that it is not necessary that the essence of the flesh should descend from heaven in order to our being fed upon it, the virtue of the Spirit being sufficient to break through all impediments and surmount any distance of space… Therefore, in the sacred Supper, we acknowledge a miracle which surpasses both the limits of nature and the measure of our sense, while the life of Christ is common to us, and his flesh is given us for food.” (Tracts and Letters 2:577, emphasis mine)
Notwithstanding the spiritual benefits of “Online Communion”, it is still presided by an ordained Minister to safeguard theological orthodoxy. Furthermore, we need to be reminded that Holy Communion is meant to be a communal meal that is to be celebrated as a gathered community, not as a household or as an individual. Even Communion for homebound members are usually conducted in the presence of a visitation team who represents the congregation. Hence, this administration of “Online Communion” is a special dispensation for extreme times such as the current closure of Places of Worship. When worship services can be resumed, we should all look forward to a communal celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
2. Preparing the Communion Elements
The administration of “Online Communion” requires congregants to make prior preparation of the Communion elements of bread and grape juice before the start of the online service on 3 May. The key is the posture that congregants should adopt in the preparation process. The Apostle Paul exhorted in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 to partake the Lord’s Supper in a worthy and reverent manner. By extension, the preparation of the Communion elements should be done in a reverent and prayerful posture as well:
• As per PSPC’s practice illustrated above picture, congregants can take a piece of bread and slice it up into small cubes that are about 2cm by 2cm.
• Congregants can pour grape juice such as Ribena into cups.
• The bread and grape juice can be put onto a plate/tray in an area where the household gathers to participate in the online service.
Since uniformity is not possible when congregants are required to prepare their own Communion elements at home, we need not be overly concerned with the exact kind, quantity or brand of bread and grape juice so long as our sacramental theology is sound, that we focus on Christ’s spiritual presence with reverent faith and do not succumb to legalism. Again, Calvin advised, “Whether believers take the bread in their hands or not, whether they divide it among themselves or each eats what he has been given; whether they give back the cup into the minister’s hand or pass it to their neighbour; whether the bread is leavened or unleavened… – that is unimportant and of no consequence.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion on ‘The Lord’s Supper’)
3. Partaking Online Communion
After the sermon and Communion Hymn in the online service, the Minister will conduct Communion as per PSPC’s liturgy. Only congregants who had undergone Baptism or Confirmation in PSPC or in any branch of the Church of Jesus Christ may receive Communion. Congregants are to partake by faith and in a reverent and prayerful posture. The head of the household may distribute the bread and juice.
In sum, Reformed sacramental theology informs us that the administration of “Online Communion” by a Minister and received by congregants in a reverent manner with faith in the transcending work of the Holy Spirit will convey spiritual benefits. May God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, continue to sustain, nourish and bless PSPC through word and sacrament. Amen.
Rev Darryl Chan
With PSPC Session
[Announced in church bulletin on 26 April 2020]