The Administration of the Lord’s Supper

“This do in remembrance of Me.”

Luke 22:19

“Are not the sacramental elements, actions and words to be reckoned, all three together as the outward, sensible sign in this ordinance for exhibiting, sealing and applying Christ and his benefits to worthy communicants?

John Willison
A Sacramental Catechism, p. 67



The Common Cup
Sitting at the Table
Communion Sermons and Table Addresses
Common Bread



Order of Contents

The Administration of the Supper  4
The Sacramentally Significant Actions of the Supper  5
Communion Seasons  5


The Administration of the Supper


Rutherford, Samuel – The Administration of the Lord’s Supper, 1642, 6 paragraphs, being Chapter 20, Article 6 of his A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland

Rutherford describes the Biblically rich way the Church of Scotland practiced the Lord’s Supper during his day, with a preparatory sermon the day before, the singing of psalms, sitting at a table, using a common cup, with Table addresses by the minister, etc.

Henderson, Alexander – The Order of Ministering the Communion, or, the Lord’s Supper, 6 pages, being The Government and Order of the Church of Scotland, pp. 20-25

Henderson describes the practice of the Church of Scotland in his day, which corresponds to Rutherford’s description below.

The Westminster Standards on the Administration of the Lord’s Supper 

Specifically with regard to a Common Cup and Sitting at the Table.


The History of

Isbell, Sherman – The Administration of the Lord’s Supper  2006  20 pp.

This historical essay describes the Biblically principled practice of the reformation Scottish Church’s administration of the Lord’s Supper.  Special attention is given to their communion seasons which were often held outdoors in fields, ministering to thousands, and included preparatory preaching, sitting at tables, and using common cups. 



The Sacramentally Significant Actions of the Supper

Bruce, Robert

pp. 53-54 of ‘The Second Sermon’ in Sermons on the Sacrament  †1631  2 pp.

This is the most influential work on the Lord’s Supper in Scottish history.  Bruce here explains:

(1) the spiritual power conferred on the bread and wine arising from their consecration by the words of institution and prayer, and

(2) that this holiness remains till the end of the table service (a neglected point, which is sometimes answered wrongly).

pp. 54-56 of ‘the Second Sermon’ in Sermons on the Sacrament  †1631  3 pp.

Bruce teaches that essential, spiritually significant ceremonies in the Lord’s Supper include:

1. Breaking the bread;
2. Pouring out the wine;
3. The distribution and giving and eating of the elements;

Gillespie, George – ‘Part 4, Ch. 7’  1638  6 pp.  in The English-Popish Ceremonies

Gillespie argues that the following parts of the administration of the Lord’s Supper are not indifferent:

– the minister’s pronouncement of ‘This is my body’
– the breaking of the bread as a Sacramental act
– speaking in the plural, ‘take ye’, ‘eat ye’, etc.
– the prayer and blessing of the bread and wine

Boston, Thomas – ‘The Signifying Actions’ in ‘The Nature of the Lord’s Supper’  a sermon, in Works, vol. 2, pp. 484-7

Boston delineates several morally necessary, distinct actions to be done in the Lord’s Supper:

1. The minister taking the bread and the cup into which the wine has been poured, into his hand;
2. Consecrating the bread and wine by the words of institution and prayer;
3. Breaking the bread;
4. Giving the bread, and then the wine, to the people;
5. The people taking the bread and wine in the hand;
6. and eating and drinking.

Willison, John – pp. 61-68 in A Sacramental Catechism  †1750   pp.

Willison delineates these actions as sacramentally significant in the Supper:

1. The minister taking bread;
2. Blessing the bread and wine;
3. Breaking the bread;
4. Giving the bread and wine to the disciples;
5. The people taking the bread and wine into their hands;
6. Eating the bread and drinking the wine
7. Dividing the elements among themselves, and giving one to another;
8. Doing all of this in a feasting posture.



The Frequency of the Lord’s Supper


Kuehner, Adam – ‘Calvin, Weekly Communion, and the Scottish Reformed Tradition’  30 pp.  This article can be read for free by opening a free Lulu account.


Historical Quotes

The Church of Scotland

First Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland, 9th Head  1560

“It appertains to the policy of the church to appoint the times when the sacraments shall be ministered…

Four times in the year we think sufficient to the administration of the Lord’s Table, which we desire to be distinct, that the superstition of times may be avoided so far as may be.  Your honors are not ignorant how superstitiously the people run to that action at Pasche, even as [if] the time gave virtue to the sacrament; and how the rest of the whole year they are careless and negligent, as that it appertains not unto them but at that time only…

We do not deny but that any several church, for reasonable causes, may change the time, and may minister oftener; but we study to suppress superstition.  All ministers must be admonished to be more careful to instruct the ignorant than ready to satisfy their appetites;”


Walter Stewart of Pardovan, Collections and Observations Concerning the Worship, Discipline and Government of the Church of Scotland, 1709

15.  Secret Preparation

It is so far from being a warrant and satisfying to a man’s conscience for approaching the Lord’s Table because the discipline of the church admits him, that even a man habitually gracious and prepared will not for ordinary adventure to approach it except he has made conscience of getting himself actually prepared and his graces put in exercise, and set apart some considerable time for that purpose.


On the Westminster Assembly

Adam Kuehner,  ‘Calvin, Weekly Communion, and the Scottish Reformed Tradition’, 10-12 pp.

The Westminster Assembly’s ‘Directory for the Publick Worship of
, which was adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1645,
contained the following statement on communion frequency.

‘The communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated; but how often, may be considered and determined by the ministers, and other church-governors of each congregation, as they shall find most convenient for the comfort and edification of the people committed to their charge.’

At the very least, the foregoing statement indicates a rejection of divinely-mandated weekly communion, since it leaves frequency up to the church courts.  However, it is particularly helpful to consider the communion practices of the seventeenth century Church of Scotland, the only church to actually adopt and enforce the directory.

Without a doubt, the seventeenth century Church of Scotland did not practice (or even attempt to practice) weekly communion.  Rather, it embraced the quarterly practice and disciplinary rationale outlined by Knox in the Book of Discipline.  Sherman Isbell observes, 

‘The seriousness with which the authorities approached the Examination is indicated by a postponement of the communion at St. Andrews in 1600.  After six weeks of examining the parish population, in which the communicants alone numbered over three thousand, the sacrament was delayed a week to allow the examination to be completed.

In 1645 the General Assembly confirmed that this long-standing custom of examining congregations prior to communion was to be continued. Into the middle of the seventeenth century, the Examination constituted a demanding responsibility for ministers, who could be excused from meetings of Presbytery to allow them time for preparing the people in this way for the Lord’s Supper.’ (‘The Administration of the Lord’s Supper’, p. 18)

Clearly, the Church of Scotland would never have adopted the Westminster Directory if it had understood it to mandate or even encourage a level of communion frequency that would prevent the examination of communicants. Therefore, its adoption of the directory indicates that it understood this document to be perfectly suited for use within the context of quarterly communion.¹

¹ It should be noted that Scottish communion frequency is too often viewed in a simplistic manner. Some rural Scottish congregations celebrated the Lord’s Supper only once or twice per year, while others kept a quarterly schedule. Nevertheless, the common practice of parishioners communing in adjacent parishes meant that many were able to commune more frequently than four times per year. This fact is often overlooked.



Communion Seasons

Quotes on Preparatory Worship Service Before the Lord’s Supper

See also Isbell’s article above

Love, John – Sermons Preached by the late Rev. John Love (Glasgow: 1853) pp. 212–213

Sherman Isbell: ‘A Thursday Fast Day sermon by John Love at Greenock in 1785 contains an apology for observing times of self-abasement prior to the communion. His text is Gen. 18:27: “And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes.” Love remarked that,

“Times of peculiar nearness to God, will be times of special abasement and humiliation of soul before him. Abraham was at this time admitted into great nearness to God, and we see the effect which it had upon him. He has not much to say. God’s people at these times have such views of their own vileness, as it is beyond the power of language to describe; it is not a time to pay compliments to God, in neatness or fluency of speech. . . . This observation will vindicate the propriety of appointing a day of fasting and humiliation, preparatory to the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper. It may be asked, What is the reason for such appointments? Is it not a feast of gladness and of triumph? It is true it is so, but who are they that are to be the partakers at this feast? Are they not sinners, who have many things about them to humble them? And it is most fit, that their humility and lowliness of spirit should bear some proportion to the dignity and glory of this ordinance, and to their nearness of access to God in it.”‘

Houston, Thomas – ‘Season of Humiliation and Fasting’  1878  3 pp.  in The Lord’s Supper: its Nature, Ends and Obligation, pp. 173-175

Houston was a late-1800’s Irish Reformed Presbyterian.

Anderson, John – Communion Seasons Defended  30 pp.  This booklet can be read for free by signing up for a free Lulu account.

Milroy, William – A Scottish Communion  1882  240 pp.

Kennedy, John – A Ross-shire Communion Season & A Communion Season, in The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire, ch. 4, pp. 109-111 & 224-230

Cheape, Hugh – The Communion Season  1997  12 pp.

Murray, David – The Scottish Communion Season  n.d.  25 paragraphs

Murray, a Scot and a professor at PRTS, gives an introduction and overview of the Scottish communion season.




Related Pages

The Sacraments

The Lord’s Supper