Lord’s Supper. Holy
Communion. The Eucharist.
The meaning and nature of this sacrament divided the Sixteenth
Century Reformers from the Roman Catholic Church.
Further, understandings of the Lord’s Supper varied enough
among the Reformers to divide the movement into separate denominations.
It is no surprise, then, that the liturgical center associated with
this sacrament is subject to so many interpretations.
altar is used in Catholic liturgy and Christ’s sacrifice is central to
their celebration of the sacrament. Protestants
are uncomfortable with an act that appears to repeat the sacrifice. Reformed
belief holds that the sacrifice was made once for all at the Crucifixion.
Any repetition implies that it was insufficient.
A somewhat nuanced view of Catholic theology is that there was one
sacrifice, but that the benefits are experienced by the faithful each time
they participate in the Eucharist.
Left: Roman Catholic Altar, St. Peter's Catacombs, Salzburg, Germany - photo Art History Images
Anglican Communion Table, St Michael’s
indicate that Catholic doctrine characterizes the Eucharist as both
sacrifice and meal. However, Pope Benedict XI rejects the Reformed
singular focus on The Lord’s Supper.
Writing as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in The
Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), he claims,
Eucharist that Christians celebrate really cannot adequately be described
by the term “meal”. True, the Lord established the new reality of
Christian worship within the framework of a Jewish (Passover) meal, but it
was precisely this new reality, not the meal as such, that he commanded us
the Presbyterian view of the Communion Table and its use in the sacrament,
we do well in turning to the Reverend
Dr. John Dalles. He is
Pastor of Wekiva
Presbyterian Church (
Communion Table, Wekiva Presbyterian Church
Communion Table at Wekiva Presbyterian Church is part of a redesigned
Chancel, completed several years ago. All of the Chancel furniture
is made of oak, based upon an organic design that incorporates variations
on the cross in the supporting members. The table, as well as the
font and pulpit, were custom made by a
Detail: Table, Wekiva Presbyterian Church, Cruciform pattern echoed in design
of the symbolism adopted by some Reformed churches was to use a liturgical
center that looks like a table. This
includes such attributes as construction of wood and an open design under
the tabletop, so that it would be possible to be seated at the table.
(This distinguished it from an altar, which is typically stone and
often contains relics in a closed space under the tabletop.)
The table’s location in the worship space was to be close to the
congregation: between the
pulpit and the pews, like the table described by Dr. Dalles.
1938, the table used at
Communion Table, Shadyside Presbyterian Church
its use is emphatically as the Lord’s Table.
The pastors assemble behind it, facing the congregation to break
the bread and fill the cup. A
pastor offers the elements to all those assembled, often saying, “These
are the gifts of God, for you, the people of God.”
The church’s elders (ordain laypersons) serve the bread and cup
to the pastors (seated behind the Table) and the congregation in the pews.
This reinforces the sense that through this meal, they are in
communion with the Risen Christ, with each other and with Christians of
all time and every place. All
those receiving the elements are gathered around the table (somewhat more
than symbolically) for the communal meal.
Detail: Shadyside Table, Agnus Dei
all of the liturgical furnishings at Shadyside, the Communion Table is
carved with explicit Christian symbolism.
On the central panel is a raised carving of the Agnus Dei,
the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. A
banner signifies that through his crucifixion and resurrection, he has
defeated death – a victory he shares with us through his invitation to
commune with him. This
symbolism reminds us that the sacrament is more than a commemoration.
It is a means of grace that gives us evidence of our connection to
so, we have examples of two ways expressing and symbolizing the sacrament:
At Wekiva, a traditional open, wooden table, reinterpreted in fresh
proportions and forms that are, at once, spare and elegant.
At Shadyside, a table of a design that recalls the ancient origins
of the sacrament while facilitating Reformed practice which seeks to
recover the ancient meanings of Communion.
A third example combines the simple, wooden table model with
intentional expression of Christian symbolism.
Presbyterian Church is congregation in the North Hills of
in the Fall of 2008, Reverend Ted Martin (Pastor) and Bill Haberlein
(congregation member) began a labor of love constructing a communion table
that would reflect the depth of God’s love for His people.
Built into the table are several layers of symbolic representation
and correlation to the sanctuary.
primary wood is cherry, a domestic hardwood native to
Communion Table, Hampton Presbyterian Church
tabletop is made of 10 boards; each board represents one of the Ten
Commandments. The boards are
fastened together with biscuit joiners.
The number used is as follows: 7, 5, 3, seven for the days of
creation, five for the Pentateuch, three for the Trinity.
The shape of the top is an oval.
There is no head or foot to this table, because when we gather
around the Lord’s Table, we are all one in Christ with equal stature.
as an inlay central to the tabletop is a traditional symbol of the
Trinity: three interlocking
circles. The materials are hard
maple (for the purity of Jesus Christ) and Walnut (a precious hardwood
that distinguishes the symbol of the fish).
In Greek, the word for fish results when the acrostic “Jesus
Christ, God’s Son, Savior” is spelled out.
This symbol, used during the time of Roman persecution, indicated
the location of the church body. Here, it points to the people gathered in
Detail: Hampton Table, Trinity/Fish Symbols, Tau & Chi Symbols
legs of the table are designed to match the architectural structure of the
cruck beams in the sanctuary. These
beams recall the hull of a ship, long a symbol of the Church.
When viewed straight-on, the legs form an “X” or “Chi, the
first letter in the Greek word for Christ. The pedestal that connects to
the tabletop forms “T”; a reminder of the cross that Jesus hung upon
to redeem us from sin. At the
bottom of the pedestal is a tear drop for the tears Jesus shed in the
garden. Each leg has pairs of
buttons at the attachment point to the pedestal.
Two buttons represent the Law and the Prophets.
Jesus came to fulfill all that was written in the Law and the
The designs here do not begin to exhaust the possibilities for the Lord's
Table in the Reformed tradition. The range would be even wider if we
were to examine those denominations who see Communion as merely a
remembrance or those, such as the Baptists, who do not consider it to be a
sacrament. The three Presbyterian tables here do show the same high
regard for worship in Word and sacrament demonstrated by the Reverend Dr.
Hugh Thomson Kerr, long time pastor of Shadyside Church. He presided
over the 1938 sanctuary remodeling that gave such a prominent place and
exquisite execution to Shadyside's Communion Table. Five years
earlier, he and the leaders of his church instituted Worldwide
Communion Sunday. Nearly eight decades later, it continues to be
celebrated widely on the first Sunday in October. The Hampton
Presbyterian Table was first used in worship on World Communion Sunday,
October 2, 2011.
The designs here do not begin to exhaust the possibilities for the Lord's Table in the Reformed tradition. The range would be even wider if we were to examine those denominations who see Communion as merely a remembrance or those, such as the Baptists, who do not consider it to be a sacrament. The three Presbyterian tables here do show the same high regard for worship in Word and sacrament demonstrated by the Reverend Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr, long time pastor of Shadyside Church. He presided over the 1938 sanctuary remodeling that gave such a prominent place and exquisite execution to Shadyside's Communion Table. Five years earlier, he and the leaders of his church instituted Worldwide Communion Sunday. Nearly eight decades later, it continues to be celebrated widely on the first Sunday in October. The Hampton Presbyterian Table was first used in worship on World Communion Sunday, October 2, 2011.