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The ritual services of communion are essentially the same. In Christianity this is true, although the ritual is expressed differently between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believe that the elements of bread and wine are charged into the actual body and blood of Christ, while maintaining their physical appearances of bread and wine, during the mystical act of transubstantiation during the celebration of the Mass; so when the priest and people partake of Communion they believe they actually receive or consume Christ's body and blood. Protestants, however, do not believe in transubstantiation, but believe that the bread and wine, or grape juice that they partake of is only a resemblance of Christ's body and blood. However, both Catholics and Protestants believe that they are commemorating the communion service that is described in the Bible. (Matthew 26:26-28)
According to scripture Christ changed bread into his body and wine into his blood for the remission of the sins of the world, and told his disciples to eat and drink. When they did they thought their sins were forgiven also. Their authority to renew the act came from Christ's words, "This is my body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19) Also, many Christians believe that when receiving communion they become more Christ like and better people.
In one sense, this is the meaning of communion; to become more like the person or god that one is connecting with. This can be seen in the Greco-Roman religion of Dionysus and its successor, the religion of Orpheus. Both were considered religions that possessed mysteries. The contained symbols associated with a god-man of androgynous character who was supposed to have an intimate understanding of the animal and plant world and be the master of initiation into their secrets.
Contained within the Dionysiac religion were orgiastic rites that suggested the initiate should abandon himself to his animal nature in order to experience the complete fertilizing power of Mother Nature. Wine served as the initiating agent for the rite of passage in this Dionysiac ritual. Supposedly it produced a symbolic lowering of consciousness necessary to introduce the novice into the closely guarded secrets of nature, whose essence were expressed by a symbol of erotic fulfillment: the God Dionysus joined with Ariadne, his consort, in a secret marriage ceremony.
Eventually the rites of Dionysus lost their religious significance. The religious was over come by the physical pleasures which the liberation of the rites brought about. The symbols for life and love grew stronger until the rites themselves became pursuits of physical frenzies. The Dionysiac religion died when becoming too wild and turbulent for more ascetic souls. They desired to experience their religious ecstasies inwardly as they worshiped Orpheus.
Speculation is that Orpheus was a real person, probably a singer, prophet, and teacher, who suffered martyrdom and buried in a tomb, which became his shrine. Naturally early Christians saw Orpheus as a prototype of Christ. However, there was a difference between the religion of Orpheus, Orphism, and Christianity. The Orphic mysteries continued the old Dionysiac religion. The spiritual impetus came from a god-man in whom was preserved the most significant quality of a religion deeply rooted in the art of agriculture. This quality was the old pattern of the fertility gods who came only for the season -- in other words, the eternally recurrent cycle of birth, growth, fullness, and decay.
Christianity, on the other hand, attempted to eliminate these agricultural mysteries. Their leader Christ had been a product and reformer of a patriarchal, nomadic, pastoral religion, whose prophets represented their Messiah as a being of divine origin. He came from God, He was God, born of a human virgin by an act of God, became incarnate in man, and returned to God after being resurrected from the death for which he suffered for the sins of man. He will come again, His Second Coming, "when the dead shall arise."
Modern Witchcraft and neo-Paganism continue the Dionysiac and Orphic mysteries by maintaining the belief in a Nature or agricultural religion. This is seen in the worship of the Slain God, where it is believed the god experiences resurrection. In ancient times the worshippers partook of the body and blood of this god in a sacrificial feast. By these means the people became one with the god. Also, blood and flesh of the sacrifice were given to members to be planted to insure the abundance of their crops; this signified the belief in the resurrection power of the god. Today this has been replaced with what is known as the "eating the deity" or consuming the Harvest Lord in the ritual cakes and wine (flesh and blood) during rituals.
Not withstanding the differences between the religions they share a commonality, all the participants desired to be in communion with the leaders. In the religion of Dionysus this was accomplished through the usage of wine, the consciousness was presumably lowered so the participant could feel the presence of the god. The religion of Orpheus continued this ritual and experience only in a different manner. In Christianity the communion curtails the consumption of the God in a like manner. A similar belief also is seen in current many Pagan religions. In all incidents the gods and people are joined.
This joining is the essence of communion; it is the ultimate hope of joining with the transcendent god. The purposes of this hope are for the betterment of the person and the continuation of spiritual existence after death. The hope for the betterment of the person is expressed by the desire to take on the qualities of the god, which is described in the Fermentation Mysteries. At times this hope to improve oneself has been expressed in other ways as described in the Attraction of Blood. Also described in the Fermentation Mysteries is the hope for a continuance of spiritual existence after death. Whether the individual seeks to repeat the birth, death, and rebirth cycle during which there is a return to the Goddess and/or God, or wishes to spend eternity with God, the desire for spiritual existence after death is the same.
Communion is symbolic of humankind's hope for a connection with the Divine. A.G.H.
Sources: 78, 333-335; 79, 141-143.