43. But as for the outward ceremony of the action — whether or not the believers take it in their hands, or divide it among themselves, or severally eat what has been given to each; whether they hand the cup back to the deacon or give it to the next person; whether the bread is leavened or unleavened; the wine red or white — it makes no difference. These things are indifferent, and left at the church’s discretion.
However, it is certain that the practice of the ancient church was for all to take it in their hands. And Christ said, “Divide it among yourselves” [Luke 22:17, Vg.]. The histories narrate that common leavened bread was used before the time of the Roman Bishop Alexander, who was the first who delighted in unleavened bread. But I see no reason for this, unless to draw the eyes of the common people to wonderment by a new spectacle, rather than to instruct their minds in sound religion. I ask all who are in the least affected by a zeal for piety whether they do not clearly see both how much more brightly God’s glory shines here, and how much richer: sweetness of spiritual consolation comes to believers, than in these lifeless and theatrical trifles, which serve no other purpose than to deceive the sense of a people stupefied. They call this the holding of the people by religion when they lead them at will — dulled and befooled with superstition. If anyone should like to defend such inventions by appealing to antiquity, I also am not ignorant of how ancient the use of chrism and exsuffiation is in baptism; how soon after the apostolic age the Lord’s Supper was corrupted by rust. But this, indeed, is the stubborn boldness of men, which cannot restrain itself from always
trifling and wantoning in God’s mysteries. Let us, however, remember that God so esteems obedience to his Word that he would have us judge both his angels and the whole world in its light [1 Corinthians 6:2-3; Galatians 1:8].
Now, to get rid of this great pile of ceremonies, the Supper could have been administered most becomingly if it were set before the church very often, and at least once a week. First, then, it should begin with public prayers. After this a sermon should be given. Then, when bread and wine have been placed on the Table, the minister should repeat the words of institution of the Supper. Next, he should recite the promises which were left to us in it; at the same time, he should excommunicate all who are debarred from it by the Lord’s prohibition. Afterward, he should pray that the Lord, with the kindness wherewith he has bestowed this sacred food upon us, also teach and form us to receive it with faith and thankfulness of heart, and, inasmuch as we are not so of ourselves, by his mercy make us worthy of such a feast. But here either psalms should be sung, or something be read, and in becoming order the believers should partake of the most holy banquet, the ministers breaking the bread and giving the cup. When the Supper is finished, there should be an exhortation to sincere faith and confession of faith, to love and behavior worthy of Christians.
At the last, thanks should be given, and praises sung to God. When these things are ended, the church should be dismissed in peace.
44. …Luke relates in The Acts that this was the practice of the apostolic church, when he says that believers “…continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers” [Acts 2:42, cf. Vg.]. Thus it became the unvarying rule that no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper, and almsgiving. That this was the established order among the Corinthians also, we can safely infer from Paul [cf. 1 Corinthians 11:20]. And it remained in use for many centuries after.
—Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Battles edition), 4.17.43, 44.