Dates and Timings of Services

Given that the communions involved large numbers of people attending, including many from immediately neighbouring parishes, and therefore took place for the most part in the open air it was not surprising that they tended to be held mainly in the summer months, from June to August, when the weather might be expected to be more clement. However, there were special circumstances which could affect the timing of the various local celebrations of communion. Sowing time, harvest time and, in Bo’ness and Carriden, the movements of fishing fleets, all influenced the times appointed for the sacrament. At Bothkennar in 1725 it was decided to set a date for the Sacrament to be dispensed there “as soon as the seed time is over.” In 1708 the kirk session of Bo’ness recorded:

“Ye Minister presenting to them that the fleet now being at home and several of the seamen very desirous as he found by conversing with them that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should be administrate before they went again to sea, they also said they had been deprived of this Ordinance these last two times it was given here. Which the Session considering, they without a contradictory voted the same to be administered Sabbath come a day twentie days being August twentieth and second and accordingly to be intimated Sabbath next.”

In 1828 Carriden Session

“having taken into their serious consideration the propriety in a general point of view for the purpose of cherishing & encouraging true piety & godliness & from the peculiar circumstances of many in the Parish who go to Sea in the Spring & thereby have no opportunity of communicating at the Summer Sacrament, having on these grounds considered the propriety of dispensing the Ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in the Parish more frequently than it has hitherto been: resolved that it be celebrated twice in the year..”

At Bo’ness in 1758 we find “the Session being informed that by dispensing the Sacrament of the Supper on 20th August they might interfere with the Harvest resolved that it should be dispensed on the 13th (4).

Muiravonside, in common with several of the local parishes, had also moved to twice yearly celebrations by the early decades of the nineteenth century and were also accommodating the harvest in 1846:

“The Minister proposed that in consequence of the form and state of the harvest the Sacrament should be dispensed the first Sabbath of November next; which the Session for the reasons submitted, unanimously agreed should be the Winter Sacrament…”

The timings of local and distant fair days were also taken into consideration, showing their importance in a largely agricultural society. Two examples are found in the kirk session records of Denny. In 1808

“they agree upon Tuesday first to be the day of Humiliation previous to the dispensing of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on Sabbath first, instead of Wednesday as the Fair of Kilsyth happens to be on this day.”

Again, in 1832, the Fast Day was once more kept on a Tuesday rather than the customary Wednesday as the Glasgow Market fell on that day. At Falkirk in 1719 a date was chosen for the Sacrament “as the fittest time to be free of fairs and not to interfeir [sic] with other Communions in neighbouring Parishes.” This last point was of particular importance as dispensation of the Sacrament in one parish, as we have seen, attracted many communicants from surrounding parishes.

A special and poignant celebration of the Sacrament is found in the Denny records for the year of the Disruption, 1843:

“In the solemn circumstances of the Church of our Fathers at this time particularly in the painful prospect of a disruption of the Church at the approaching Assembly there is a desire among the Members of the Denny parish to assemble together on Sabbath the fourteenth instant for the special purpose of uniting in the Commemoration of our Lord’s Redeeming love at the Communion Table that day.”

Allan Ronald, 2021

See Structure of the Services to continue reading about the administration of Communion