This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion
was adopted by the 2004 GeneralConference of The United Methodist Church. Copyright © 2003, 2004 The General Board of Discipleship of TheUnited Methodist Church, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003. This paper may be printed, copied,distributed, or otherwise used for nonprofit education by individuals, local congregations, and agencies of TheUnited Methodist Church with the inclusion of the copyright citation. It may not be used for profit orrepublication without prior permission.
This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of HolyCommunion
is submitted to the 2004 General Conference with the same purpose.Both of these documents reflect United Methodism’s efforts to reclaim itssacramental heritage and to be in accord with ecumenical movements insacramental theology and practice.
This Holy Mystery
is characterized by the effort to avoid rigidity on the onehand and indifference on the other. Neither extreme is true to our heritage nor faithful to the Spirit who leads the church forward in the work of making disciplesliving toward the new creation. The document is made up of two main parts. Theexpository introduction titled “Part One: There Is More to the Mystery” describesthe document’s development and provides grounding in historical tradition andsacramental theology. “Part Two: Christ Is Here: Experiencing the Mystery ” isorganized by principles. Under each principle, “Background” provides anexplanation for the principle, while “Practice” provides guidelines for applyingthe principle. The principles make assertions that are truthful and doctrinallyclear. They honor the historic and ecumenical center of the Christian church’stheology and practice. The committee has endeavored to explain in the“Background” sections how the principles are rooted in the theology and practiceof Christians past and present, particularly United Methodist Christians. In the“Practice” sections we have applied the principles to contemporary sacramental practices of the church in the various contexts of United Methodism.The church is always universal and particular, catholic and local, united anddiverse. United Methodists vary geographically, racially, and culturally.
This Holy Mystery
invites United Methodists to share common understandings whileallowing for appropriate, faithful applications. Some United Methodist practicesdiffer from those of other Christian traditions. Being truthful about thesedifferences recognizes our ties and responsibility to the wider church whileclaiming God’s work in leading us to affirm distinctive understandings and practices. Both within our own United Methodist community and in fellowshipwith other traditions, we reject cavalier or arrogant attitudes. We seek tostrengthen the bond of unity by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as,with humility and openness, we acknowledge our principles, explain our backgrounds, and affirm our practices.
Names of the Sacrament
Several terms naming the sacrament are used in past and present Christianity.In
This Holy Mystery
some are used more than others, but all are largelysynonymous.
The Lord’s Supper
reminds us that Jesus Christ is the host and thatwe participate at Christ’s invitation. This title suggests the eating of a meal,sometimes called the Holy Meal, and makes us think of the meals that Jesus atewith various people both before his death and after his resurrection. The term
the Last Supper
is not appropriately used for the sacrament, but it does encourage usto remember the supper that Jesus ate with his disciples on the night when he was