Was Holy Communion really celebrated on the moon?


Do you know if it’s true Christian Communion was celebrated during the first moon landing?


Yes. And that Apollo 11 Communion followed a related event on Christmas Eve of 1968 during Apollo 8′s first manned flight to the moon. The earlier flight didn’t attempt a lunar landing but the astronauts transmitted a breathtaking live telecast of moon photographs while in orbit.

Then William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman took turns reading the familiar account of God’s creation of the universe and planet Earth from Genesis 1:1-10 in the august King James translation. Commander Borman concluded, “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you -- all of you on the good Earth,” with the last phrase referring back to Scripture’s verse 10. Last year, the 85-year-old Lovell joined a Yuletide re-enactment of the lunar Bible reading at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

There’s something about such momentous events that makes mere mortals reach for transcendent themes. Think FDR’s D-day radio prayer for God to bless the invading Allied soldiers in their “struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization.”

Countless viewers were deeply moved by the Christmas Eve recitation but atheistic activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair was angered. O’Hair had won fame by filing one of two lawsuits through which the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed ceremonial Bible readings in U.S. public schools. After the Apollo 8 Bible incident she filed the “O’Hair v. Paine” federal lawsuit, akin to her earlier school case, accusing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of creating an “establishment of religion” that violated the Constitution.

That dispute played into the Communion during the historic moon landing on July 20, 1969. Astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin wanted the rite to be broadcast to the public but NASA required secrecy due to the legal snarl with O’Hair. Aldrin revealed the Communion in a 1970 article for the inspirational monthly Guideposts. The story was then picked up by other media.

Aldrin, then a lay elder of Webster (Texas) Presbyterian Church, had discussed ways to mark the lunar landing with his pastor, Dean Woodruff. Aldrin raised the Communion idea and Woodruff checked with Presbyterian headquarters, which said under those unusual circumstances it was proper for a solitary layman to serve himself the elements. (Catholicism allows priests to celebrate Mass by themselves but Protestants always perform sacraments during group worship.)

Two Sundays before liftoff, Aldrin received Communion in a private service where Woodruff gave him a second tiny bit of bread and a small silver chalice containing some of the wine that he included with personal items astronauts were allowed to take into space.

The Eagle landed on a Sunday.

Continue reading "Was Holy Communion really celebrated on the moon?" by Richard Ostling.

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