“Sometimes a meal is just a meal, and eating with others is simply eating with others. More often than not, though, it’s not. Once or twice a semester at least, I will stop discussion of the story or play under consideration to intone (and I invariably intone in bold): whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion.For some reasons, this is often met with a slightly scandalized look,communion having for many readers one and only one meaning. While that meaning is very important, it is not the only one. Nor, for that matter, does Christianity have a lock on the practice. Nearly every religion has some liturgical or social ritual involving the coming together of the faithful to share sustenance. ”

The paragraph is from How to read literature like a professor. I just don't know what the true meaning of communion in this sentence:communion having for many readers one and only one meaning. Here, “the only one meaning”,I wonder whether it refers to “a ceremony in christian church ” or “the state of sharing thoughts and feelings”.

  • 1
    To those voting to close: The word "communion" has a number of meanings, but this writer is combining these to make a personal observation which may not be readily apparent from a dictionary definition. There's a lot of nuance to the sentence which a non-native speaker might miss.
    – Andrew
    Jan 15, 2018 at 17:27

3 Answers 3


The paragraph in question plays on at least two and perhaps three different meanings of the word "communion." The author does not intend the reader to understand the word in a single sense throughout the paragraph. He starts by giving his definition, namely "communion" = "whenever people eat or drink together." Although the author does not say so, he is deliberately conflating "communion" and "commensal event."

That is not a standard definition, but people are not prohibited from stipulating a definition. The OP gives two of the standard definitions in "sharing of thoughts and feelings" and "a ceremony in the Christian church." From the single quoted paragraph, it is impossible to be sure of the author's complete thought, but it seems to be that a commensal event frequently may, or perhaps invariably does, lead to some degree of sharing of thoughts and feelings and that a commensal event can symbolize sharing of thoughts and feelings.

The author then alludes to another standard meaning, namely the Christian ceremony of Holy Communion, which many people do abbreviate as "communion." The author then implies that many people believe that Christian abbreviation to be the only meaning of "communion," but asserts that such a belief is incorrect. It is indeed incorrect: the dictionary gives at least three definitions of "communion." (Of course, none of the dictionary meanings is the author's own definition.) Moreover, as the author points out, other religions have commensal events intended to evoke a sharing of thoughts and feelings.

The paragraph is an attempt to link eating and drinking together with a general type of religious ceremony and the very broad meaning a sharing of feeling and thoughts.


The writer argues that while the term "communion" has "one and only one meaning" to certain people -- related to the Catholic Eucharist -- the word itself has other, non-religious meanings, and should be perfectly acceptable to use for any kind of social gathering.

Furthermore Christianity is not the only religion that practices a form of ceremonial "communion", so even if we only consider the religious aspects of "communion", there's no reason to limit it to only Christian beliefs.

I expect that the writer will go on to explain more what he considers to be the "true" definition of communion and why he feels it is important.


The one and only one meaning is the Holy Communion or Eucharist, a Christian religious ritual whereby people drink wine (symbolizing Jesus' blood) and eat bread (symbolizing Jesus' body).

The passage is trying to say that communion is not selective to Christianity; other religions have some ritual that is the same (sharing sustenance, or celebrating life).

  • This answer is utterly wrong as written. The word "communion" simply means "sharing, particularly of feelings" (see Merriam Webster or Harper Collins). It is true that "Holy Communion" has a special meaning in the Christian church and that "Holy Communion" is often abbreviated as "communion." But the phrase "communion with nature" is not Christian, indeed, it is anti-Christian to the extent that it is pantheistic. I believe, however, that the answer could be edited to explain that it is merely elucidating a mis-conception. "Quotation marks have a purpose. Jan 15, 2018 at 3:59
  • @JeffMorrow What? The OP is asking for what the meaning of communion is in the phrase communion having for many readers one and only one meaning. I answered the question. I don't know what part of my answer you saw that says that communion only refers to the Christian ritual...
    – Kman3
    Jan 16, 2018 at 2:09
  • "The one and only meaning [of "communion"] is the Holy Communion or Eucharist..." says quite clearly that "communion" has a meaning only as a sacrament of the Chritian church. That is false. I strongly suspect that you do not mean what you in fact wrote, but your answer needs to be edited. Jan 16, 2018 at 2:31
  • @JeffMorrow Did you not read my response? One and only one meaning are the exact words used, and that meaning of communion is what it refers to.
    – Kman3
    Jan 17, 2018 at 3:51
  • If you meant to quote rather than assert, use quotation marks. Moreover, the phrase quoted is not intended to be construed as correct. Irony is a thing. You persist in refusing to edit what is clearly wrong. Jan 17, 2018 at 4:03

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