Prayer in Preparation for Communion

By Jean Claude (1619–1687), from Self-Examination in Preparation for Receiving the Lord’s Supper

My God, my Savior, and my Father, I prostrate myself at the foot of your throne, to adore your majesty, and to acknowledge your righteousness. I am in your presence but dust and ashes, a worm of the earth, and most unworthy of your turning of your eyes towards me, or employing the cares of your Providence towards my good. For what is mortal man that you should regard him, or the son of man that you should visit him?

But moreover I am criminal dust and ashes, a sinful creature which deserves your severest judgments; and the more I consider myself, the more I find myself guilty of violating all your commandments, ungrateful for the many favors which I have received from your goodness, and unfaithful to all the engagements of my vocation. Alas! Lord, if you should take notice of my iniquities, how could I subsist in your sight? I have stopped my ears a thousand times against the exhortations of your Word, and have been deaf to your threatening, and scarce sensible of your corrections; busied with the vain and perishing things of this world, I have allowed myself often to be surprised in their snares, neglecting the things of my salvation, and your Kingdom. How often have I preferred my passions, and interests against the rules of my duty, and your righteousness? How many times have I wandered from your ways, and thrown myself into the ways of the world, where I should have been lost, if you had not stretched out your hand to have rescued me? Every moment of my life might reproach me for my weaknesses, and my imperfections. My conscience accuses me, and my sins are on every side, clothing me with confusion, for your eyes are too pure to allow sin, or to take delight in unrighteousness. I condemn myself therefore in your presence, and confess, that if you would deal with me in your rigor, you would find in me too much reason to deliver me up to your just vengeance, and have cause enough to withdraw from me all the precious signs of the Covenant and of adoption which you have given me and so absolutely reject me from your Communion.

But you are a gracious and compassionate God, and moved with the bowels of a Father towards his children. Those that you do once love, you love to the end; your gifts, and vocation are without repentance, and you have promised, that though our sins are red as blood, you would make them as white as snow. Have mercy on me then, for I fly to your great mercies; my God, pardon me my faults, and according to the greatness of your compassion, blot out all my transgressions. I know you require the conversion of sinners that they might live, but I know also, that though my repentance is not such as it ought to be, yet you do not quench the smoking flax, nor break a bruised reed. Your dear Son died for me, and rose again for my justification, and is ascended into Heaven, and there makes intercession for me; listen to the voice of his blood, pleading for me, and in respect of his sufferings and merits, restore to me your joy and salvation. I acknowledge no other Savior nor Mediator but him, nor place any confidence but in his sacrifice, for he is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, and none can come unto you, but by Him. Impute his dying obedience unto me, and clothe me with his perfect righteousness, that I may appear unreproved in your sight.

And since you now call me to your divine table; grant me grace, O Lord, to receive worthily these sacred testimonies of my salvation. Loosen my thoughts from earthly things, and raise me to the meditation of the great and celestial objects, which are represented to me in your Sacrament. Increase in me the faith of these mysteries, that with a heart truly purified, I may receive the Body and Blood of your Son, as the victim which was once offered unto you on the cross; and now represented to me in this heavenly action. Let me receive them with a lively faith, and with a sincere acceptance, as you are pleased to give them in sincere love. Let me accompany this faith with a profound humility, and holy gratitude, that without any merits of our own; no, when we were plunged into sin, and condemnation, you did draw out of your treasury this eternal manna, this Bread of Life; to communicate thereby to us, a hope of a most happy and heavenly immortality, which you have prepared for us above in your celestial mansions. These things, my God, I beg of you, in the name of your Son to whom, with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God blessed forever, be given all honor and power and glory, from age to age, Amen.

13 Replies to “Prayer in Preparation for Communion”

  1. What a blessed and extraordinary passage. It’s at once humbling, encouraging, doctrinally precise, Christ-honoring, and God-exalting. The only proper response is to worship and adore.

  2. That’s a beautiful prayer overflowing with excoriating candor toward oneself and awe and adoration toward Holy God.

    Oh, gracious and merciful heavenly Father, may such hearts be granted to all your children that we stay forever more humbled in our dependence and lifted up by your beneficence. Amen.

  3. I agree with the other brothers and thank you, Wes, for posting these magnificent and edifying gems. How gracious and refreshing!

    And how we need to be refreshed in the grace of our Lord. I have become convinced in recent years particularly that we–many in the Reformed faith–have been lured into mistaking every act of public worship for real spiritual communion with the Triune God. We may, in fact, draw near outwardly and yet our hearts remain far from Him. The recognition of such a reality–commonly acknowledged among our fathers–is excoriated by some today as pietism or revivalism. Not so. It’s simple Reformed piety.

    Weekly communion, singing psalms without instruments, etc., apart from the efficacious work of the Spirit is not the panacea that many imagine it to be (not to mention false teachings, like paedo-communion). I am an advocate of historic Reformed worship, but I fear that if we do not approach the table in this way, indeed, all of our worship in this way, we may well be those who honor only with our lips but inwardly remain obdurate. True worship from the heart is both my greatest need and greatest failing.

    I pray that in the coming Lord’s Day, Christ would be exalted, sinners abased, and God receive all glory.

  4. But by the same token, well crafted prayers are not a panacea either. After all, well crafted prayers can be exercised just as “apart from the efficacious work of the Spirit” as any administration of the sacraments. I understand that weekly communion is not well received in these parts, but it is odd to suggest that preparatory prayers are able to do what the ordained visible means of grace can do or even supercede. I’m all for well crafted prayers of preparation, but I fail to see how they can edge out the ordained signs and seals. Why can’t they attend the visible means?

    But I do wonder if part of the problem is if anyone–weekly communion or weekly preparatory advocates–actually think either means can do an end run around human depravity unto greater piety.

  5. Who ever said that they can edge out the ordained means?

    Only the Holy Spirit can do an end run around human depravity unto greater piety, which is precisely why all of these things should be approached with prayer. The ordained means are not simply automatic dispensers of grace. Their effective working is dependent on the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, it is most natural that we would seek the Holy Spirit’s blessing on the ordained means before and during the service if we wish for them to be successful.

    In addition, the Lord’s Supper requires self-examination and preparation. Consequently, prayer is extremely important before taking communion. In my view, a prayer like this is helpful because it helps us understand what we should be praying about from a man who is learned in the Scriptures. The pastors and teachers of the church are themselves a God-ordained means of instruction and building us up in faith and holiness unto salvation.

  6. Wes, as a weekly advocate I certainly agree that the Supper requires self-examination and preparation and that prayer is important before taking it. What I find odd is the idea that it takes a week or more to do so. It makes me wonder why the shock amongst preparatory advocates of abiding pietism; aren’t we commanded to make our prayers shorter instead of longer? If it’s about the Reformed virtue of simplicity (and I agree it is) then it isn’t clear to me why it takes three or more weeks to prepare instead of an hour or so of a Word-centered service. What’s more is how an over-emphasis on preparation not only seems to diminish simplicity but also unduly and ironically elevates the specialness of the Supper. Don’t routine and regularity actually keep our regard at a more sober level?

    But I’m not so sure how helpful it is to suggest that the Holy Spirit can do an end run around human depravity unto greater piety by way of prayer or bread and wine. I think it’s better to say he mortifies our flesh and vivifies our souls by all such means, which is to say Word and sacrament. And what is vexing is the idea that on a Lord’s Day that a prayer, even a well crafted one, is preferable over the instituted means. I still don’t understand why one shouldn’t attend the other as often as we meet.

  7. Zrim, first prayer and the Word are the heart of our communication to and from God. The sacrament is an occasional seal of both. At the very least, private prayer and the Word are means of grace that are used daily by the people of God, whereas the Lord’s Supper would be used only on the Lord’s Day (according to your view). Thus, the Word and prayer have a priority of use to the Lord’s Supper. In addition, the church generally meats for worship more than once on the Lord’s Day, and the Lord’s Supper does not occur at both services, even in weekly communion advocating Reformed churches.

    Even though no one here has mentioned that a week of preparation is necessary for taking communion, I have no idea why such an idea would be considered pietism. I guess I also don’t see a problem with the Lord’s Supper being seen as a special part of worship and not just a regular one.

    I do agree that applying the end run around human depravity is not the best way to describe the Spirit’s work! You’re the first person who claims to be Reformed that I have seen use that language to describe the prayers and preparation of other Reformed brothers, so please forgive me for simply adapting it in that way!:)

  8. “as a weekly advocate I certainly agree that the Supper requires self-examination and preparation and that prayer is important before taking it. What I find odd is the idea that it takes a week or more to do so.”

    And as an advocate of non-weekly (traditional) LS, I find it odd that many and sundry weekly advocates forget that Reformed piety included tokens for attendance to LS (France, Swiss, etc.) and the Scots had preparatory services Saturday and post-examination Monday. Dutch order required elder examination of members before communion as well.

    Something to think about friend. Perhaps you disagree with that tradition. But it is part of our history.

  9. What an odd reply about “well-crafted prayers” not being a panacea. There was not the slightest suggestion that they were.

    But it is the case that the ministry of Word and Sacraments needs particularly to be acompanied by prayer. Not because our prayers are in and of themselves efficacious, but because prayer is the vehicle whereby we especially express our dependence upon God in Christ.

    We need to look away from ourselves to Him and such extraspective activity is particularly expressed in prayer. So we come prayerfully to hear the Word and receieve the Sacrament, recognizing that if the Sovereign Spirit does not work, both Word and Sacrament as means fail to lead us to the intended end, Christ.

    My real point is not to exalt prayer as such but to affirm that our truest need is to have Christ ministered to us by the Spirit. The prayer that Wes cited involves a keen recognition of that, though I would hardly want to turn the prayer itself into an ex opere operato means of grace, as many seem to be doing today with all the means of grace, prayer not being excepted from that.

    And, by the way, I am not here addressing the question of frequency of communion. That is a shibboleth. I am simply maintaining that frequent communion itself is not the panacea that many seem to think that it is.

    Broader evangelicalism has rejected the forms that we hold precious. The response to such should not be formalism, however, in which we simply identify the sign and what it signifies and speak and act and think as if grace is automatically bestowed upon all the recipients of the means. We wait on Him in the means of grace, looking to Christ alone. He only is our hope and help.

  10. Wes, you’ll find no argument from me that the Word has priority to the use of the sacraments. What I wonder about is how priority of the Word means occasional use of the sacraments. Yes, the Word comes first, but how does that mean the sacrament comes not only second but occasionally?

    Re pietism, I was responding to Alan’s initial point about the misguidance of weekly communion in relation to prayer. Maybe I’m wrong, but by doing so it seemed to suggest some sort of competition between a robust prayer life and regular/frequent use of the sacraments where the former is esteemed over the latter. But from where I sit they are not in competition but complement one another, and to suggest prayer beats communion seems more in keeping with a pietistic impulse than an ecclesiastical tradition.

    Shawn, as providence would have it, I just finished reading your paper the other day opposing weekly communion. You make some good and interesting points, I’ll admit. But the token example wasn’t one of the more compelling: as a credo-communionist, I agree that examination and fencing are necessary, but handing out tickets seems like a hard case to make biblically. The “it’s what we’ve always done” argument is a bit more credible, but a high view of the tradition isn’t the same as an infallible one. And I have to believe that Calvin himself came across similar arguments as yours in his bid for “at least weekly” and yet maintained his convictions. Odd to have appealed to him so often in light of that.

    And the question that lingers for me is, “If the Supper does what we confess it does, namely ‘nourish and strengthen our faith, etc.’ (Belgic 33) then why would we want to deprive ourselves of that?”

    Alan, my point about well-crafted prayers not being a panacea was in response to what I took by your ding on weekly communion being a “panacea,” which I take to mean a misguided way of simplistically solving problems. I’m saying that neither frequent prayer nor frequent communion is a panacea so described. See, to me it’s as odd to suggest that weekly communion is a misguided practice as it is to suggest that daily prayer is.

    You brought up the weekly communion issue in relation, evidently, to the prayer and seemed to disparage the practice by suggesting its advocates think it’s some sort of “panacea.” But when an advocate of weekly communion responds to what he thinks is an unfair characterization it’s now “a shibboleth” and you’re not actually here addressing it? But then you repeat your point that it’s not the panacea many seem to think it is. So again, while I can’t speak for other advocates, this one doesn’t see it as a panacea.

  11. Zrim, I would not simply say that the Word should be done first. I would say that the Word is essential to Christian worship, but we can still have Christian worship without having the sacrament in a particular service. The sacrament is an accessory to the Word. It is the very nature of the relationship that determines the occasional nature of the sacrament. However, I would also argue that the sacrament should be occasional on various other grounds, but Shawn has addressed this in his paper. Perhaps he can provide a link in his reply to you.

    As for tokens, it sounds strange to us but it is really a circumstance. If someone fences the table, there must be some way of doing so. God does not specify precisely how. Tokens are just a way of authenticating that a person has been examined which is certainly within the right of a session. In the United Reformed Churches, you generally must sign a card after answering questions. I don’t see much difference between the two practices, though maybe you disagree with both!

  12. We need rich and thoughtful communion of the kind that the prayer in the original post sought to engender and foster.

    We need such whether we come to the table weekly, bi-weekly, montly, or quarterly. In my view, the broken, and rejoicing, heart that we bring to, and take from, the table is more important than the specific question of how frequently we partake.

    I think that a good argument, in fact, can be made for more frequent rather than less frequent communion (I have argued for weekly communion in the past). However, I have backed off from my past advocacy as I think it unfitting that the sacrament of unity should become a source of contention and disunity as I have seen happen in cases in which weekly communion has been unduly pushed.

    And I have also seen in recent years folk of many stripes (FV and non-FV) champion weekly communion as if it is the be-all and end-all of our ecclesiastical life. All that I am saying is that nothing is automatic and I have come to see that we tend too quickly to imagine that something is the magic bullet for true spirituality.

    I am not arguing that the form prayer above is such a magic bullet. We need, rather, to learn what it means to wait on the Lord in all the means, publically and privately. All I meant by my original comment was that what I saw represented in the prayer was something that we need to bring to the table whenever we have it. The emphasis should be on fostering such a quality rather than thinking that we are fine as long as we have communion weekly, sing psalms only, or the like.

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