Don’t Snap the Communion Host

Who in the world thought it would be a good idea to have communicants snap their communion hosts in half? That seems to be the almost universal practice now among those who practice a “low-church” non-sacramental form of communion. Ushers distribute the elements – a tiny cup of juice and a communion wafer – to the people in the pews. After the elements are distributed, the pastor says the words of institution – or at least he alludes to them. At some point, he and the members of the congregation all snap their crackers together. It sounds like someone is popping popcorn or breaking a sack full of chicken bones in the sanctuary.

This snapping was not the practice when I grew up in Baptist churches, so I wonder where it came from. Is it an off-target imitation of liturgical practices? Whatever its origins, I think it is a horrible innovation.

Here’s something to think about: Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples – four actions, in that order.The disciples only received their portion of bread because it had already been broken. He didn’t say, “Get your own piece and and break it for yourselves.”

When celebrants take bread, pray the Eucharistic prayer and then break the bread, they are following the same pattern Christ instituted at the Last Supper. Communicants receive Christ’s body broken for them in bread that has been broken for them – not in bread that has been broken by them. That would be a completely different symbol, wouldn’t it?

Take-and-snap communion points the church in the wrong direction. Communion is communal; it is significant that we share the same broken bread. Even if we eat Styrofoam wafers, we should look on them as pieces of one broken body given for us. The bread doesn’t need to be broken again after I receive it.

It is a powerful thing to receive with my brothers and sisters a share in the one broken body of Christ. It is a moment of pure grace in union with Christ and his church, during which my self-will fades into the background. It is quite another thing to take bread that represents Christ’s body into my own hands and break it myself – while others do the same all around me. Unfortunately, the latter practice may be a more accurate (and ironic) symbol of how we actually live in Christ’s church.