Calvin on the Frequency of Communion

In his tract against Heshusius, Calvin quotes himself from the Institutes, in order to show that he has always placed high value on the Lord’s Supper. Those who try to claim that the Reformation was a protest against “sacramental worship” lose all support when these quotes are examined:

“What we have hitherto said of this sacrament abundantly shows that it was not instituted to be received once a year, and that perfunctorily, as is now the common custom, but to be in frequent use among all Christians.” After mentioning the fruits of it, I proceed thus: — “That such was the practice of the Apostolic Church, Luke tells us in the Acts, when he says, that the believers were persevering in doctrine, in communion, in the breaking of bread, etc. (Acts 2:24) Matters were to be so managed that there should be no meeting of the Church without the word, prayer, and the communion of the Supper.

After severely condemning this corruption, as it deserved, by quotations from early writers, I next say, “This custom of requiring men to communicate once a year was most assuredly an invention of the devil.”

Again, “The practice ought to be very different. The table of the Lord ought to be spread in the sacred assembly at least once a week. No one should be compelled, but all should be exhorted and stimulated: the torpor of those who keep away should also be reproved. Hence it was not without cause I complained at the outset that it was the wile of the devil which intruded the custom of prescribing one day in the year, and leaving it unused during all the rest.”

Treatises on the Sacraments pg. 556

Notice that Calvin says the supper ought to be held “at least” once a week. Relying on Acts 2:24, Calvin states that there should be no meeting of the congregation without the word, prayer, and Supper.

Also see that it is Rome, under the spell of the Devil, who changed the apostolic practice of frequent communion. They made it a yearly event, on Easter, and forbade access to the cup. The barring of the cup from the congregation continued until Vatican II, which made the cup legal for the laity, but unfortunately this practice still continues in many Roman congregations to this day. The traditionalists, with their unfortunate love of antiquity over all things, voluntarily give up access to the Blood of our Lord, sometimes driving hours to find a congregation that will continue the devilish practices of the medieval era.

Certain pietistic strands of Calvinism give Rome a run for her money on this though, as certain Dutch churches only celebrated the Supper yearly, and the Scots and Southern Presbys developed a tradition of having it four times a year.

Calvin sounds a different note, however, and so it is my hope that the traditionalists among the Reformed churches will return to his vision.

This entry was posted in calvin, eucharist by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

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