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Communion on Good Friday

I have been asked why this past Holy Week we had Communion on Good Friday and not Maundy Thursday. I don’t think either one is right or wrong, but I thought I should lay out my reasoning here.

Communion, as it is celebrated today in many churches, is highly stylised and ritualised. That has its place. However, for the first few centuries it seems that Christians had a meal together and during that meal bread and wine were blessed and Jesus’ death remembered (see for example 1 Corinthians 11:17–34). I think that at least on one day of the year a more substantial meal with remembrance of Jesus’ death is appropriate. In many churches, therefore, a seder (Passover) meal or agape meal is celebrated on Maundy Thursday. We had a meal without any liturgy and then remembered Jesus’ death through songs. In future we could explore different ways to remember the last supper and Jesus’ command to love one another.

There is a long Catholic tradition of not celebrating the Eucharist on Good Friday. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the Eucharist is seen as a form of thanksgiving and celebration. Because Good Friday is a day of mourning and fasting, celebrating the Eucharist would add a note of thanksgiving, which would be discordant with our sadness. That’s why in some churches wafers (and wine) that were previously consecrated are distributed on Good Friday. The Eucharist would also break the fast during this holy day. Some also argue that the Eucharist not only is a participation in the death of Jesus, but also the resurrection. Because we should not rush too quickly to the resurrection, it is not right to have Communion on Good Friday. In Catholic understanding, the Eucharist is also an offering of Christ (or the elements) to God, and since we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross particularly on Good Friday, this renewed sacrifice should not occur then.

The practice of Anglican churches has been varied; having reserved communion may be the most common practice. In Catholic churches the Eucharist is not celebrated on Good Friday. In most reformed churches Communion is celebrated on Good Friday.

Together with most reformed churches I do think that Communion is particularly a remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross for humanity. When we celebrate Communion we also remember the resurrection and our hope of communion with God. Similarly, there clearly is an aspect of thanksgiving in Communion. Many Passion hymns express this profound gratitude for God’s love and a hope for God’s continuing presence, even intermingled with sadness. This is appropriate for Good Friday. I think seeing Communion as an offering to God is unbiblical and therefore do not see that as a hindrance.

I think that the more stylised version of Communion is appropriate for a solemn Good Friday service. If a liturgy is carefully chosen there is not too much joy expressed during Communion, but rather remembrance of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. That is what we remember on Good Friday.