Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The history of the Communion season

From Leigh Eric Schmidt's book 'Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period' (1989) it appears that the history of the communion season begins very early in Scotland. Preparatory services, sitting at the table, tokens, self examination and fencing of the table were all always present from the beginning of the Reformation. Schmidt says that at least as early as the 1590s, Presbyerian resistance found partial expression in popular religious gatherings that were heralds of the later revivals and sacramental occasions. Thoughout the years 1587 to 1631 Robert bruce's preaching was popular. Bruce first officiated at the communion in Edinburgh in 1588, this resulted in 'elevated affections among the people, as had not been seen in that place before' and as Robert Wordrow described it an 'extraordinary effusion of the spirit'. Attendances were large from 1613 where Bruce was preaching at communions. Multitudes came from all corners to hear him. John Livingstone records: 'I had the advantage of the Acquaintance and Example of many gracious Christians, who used to resort to my Father's House, especially at Communion-occasions: such as Mr. Robert Bruce, and several other godly ministers'. From 1618 people withdrew from ministers who had accepted the articles of Perth and 'travelled abroade to seeke the Communion where it was minstred in puritie'. The thronged communions of 1620s were therefore testimony to the popular resistance to episcopacy. These involved outdoor preaching by a number of ministers to gatherings of many people where long vigils of prayer were held.

It was John Calvin, apparently, who first saw the usefulness of tokens for dealing with admission to the Lord's Table in decency and order. He wrote, "Each person should receive tokens of lead for those of his household who were instructed; and the strangers who might come, on giving testimony of their faith, should also receive tokens, and those who had none should not be admitted to the tables".

Calvin's proposal to use tokens was then adopted by the French reformed church. John Knox and other leaders of the reformed church in Scotland were in close contact with Calvin and the practice of using Communion Tokens came to Scotland.