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First Communion on the Moon

L-R Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin
L-R Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin

On Sunday July 20, 1969 the first people landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were in the lunar lander which touched down at 3:17 Eastern Standard Time.

Buzz Aldrin had with him the Reserved Sacrament. He radioed: “Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, whoever or wherever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the last few hours, and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

Later he wrote: “In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit.’ I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute Deke Slayton had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly…Eagle’s metal body creaked. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”

NASA kept this secret for two decades. The memoirs of Buzz Aldrin and the Tom Hanks’s Emmy- winning HBO mini-series, From the Earth to the Moon (1998), made people aware of this act of Christian worship 235,000 miles from Earth.

The 2003 Episcopal Church General Convention resolved that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music prepare propers and collects for churchwide observance of the 40th anniversary of the event, July 20, 2009, and to include “The First Communion on the Moon” in The Episcopal Church’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts and on the calendar in the Book of Common Prayer for July 20. (Biretta tip: @rrchapman)

I only have the 1991 Lesser Feasts and Fasts on my shelf so cannot quote more than what I have found online. If you have the revised version, please add any omitted material in the comments section. I understand that there is now a “Common” to commemorate “those who have died in the course of space exploration – among them a significant number of Episcopalians. In addition, it provides a way of praying for future space explorers and for the thousands of people whose work make the space program possible.” The collect for this “Common” reads:

Creator of the universe,
your dominion extends through the immensity of space:
guide and guard those who seek to fathom its mysteries [especially N.N.].
Save us from arrogance lest we forget that our achievements are grounded in you,
and, by the grace of your Holy Spirit,
protect our travels beyond the reaches of earth,
that we may glory ever more in the wonder of your creation:
through Jesus Christ, your Word, by whom all things came to be,
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.

Colonel Aldrin holds a doctorate in astro-physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was acknowledged as the most highly educated of the first astronauts. He is a wonderful example of a scientist who is a committed Christian.

There appear differing versions of the story whether Buzz Aldrin was a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian/Anglican. I hope this will finally be settled in the comments and then I can amend this post – please add a reference to your comment of the denomination to which Buzz Aldrin belonged at the time of the lunar landing. Here are the conflicting references I have found so far:
Anglican/Episcopalian 1, 2, 3 (click on number to got to website)
Presbyterian 1, 2 (click on number to got to website)

Update: At the time of the lunar landing, Aldrin was an elder in Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, TX.

Other useful sites:
Buzz Aldrin website

Update: an anniversary post is now online

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44 Responses to First Communion on the Moon

  1. Thank you for posting this! Wow, to think the first meal on the Moon was the Lord’s Supper. This is awesome, thank you so much for sharing. I am forwarding this to my Pastor.

  2. Add ‘the moon’ to the wonderful list compiled by Dom Gregory Dix in ‘The Shape of the Eucharist’ of places and contexts in which the Eucharist has been celebrated!

  3. Hi, Bosco-

    I’m guessing that he’s been both Episc. & Presby. The language he uses about communion is decidedly Anglican and decidedly not Presbyterian. (I grew up Presbyt. and went to a Presby. seminary.) Presbyterians value communion, but I’ve never heard one use the term “host.”

    The website says he was a ruling elder at the time of the landing. (Ruling elder is an ordained lay leader of a congregation.) I’m guessing he became an Episcopalian sometime after that, but before writing the book. I’d love to know for sure!


  4. Bosco+,

    It’s been several years since I read his autobiograpy or Andrew Chaikan’s “A Man on the Moon”, but in his autobiography he mentions being a Presbyterian and taking the elements, along with the vine and branches scripture. Chaikan confirms it in his account. Several astronauts were also members of an Episcopal church down the road a few miles, but Aldrin was not.

    As a space geek and a presbyter, this is one of my favorite anecdotes from the space program. I often wonder if astronauts who go to space today are given the Eucharist to take with them. You know, they could just make it much easier by putting me on the shuttle and letting me go up and be the Chaplain at the space station, but… NASA probably won’t do that. (They’d probably get mad when I took the flag patch off my spacesuit and replaced it with a Chi Rho)


  5. WOW. I’m in awe of this and had never heard the story before. It has always bugged me some that so many planets, stars, etc. were named after Roman gods and the like… though they were not so named for religious reasons, the hat tips have gone to the false gods and not the One True Creator. How amazing and cool that the “first meal” on the moon was Communion. How awesome that the presence of God was welcomed there in worship. Presbyterian or Anglican doesn’t ultimately matter (though determining the details is fine, of course); the point is that *Jesus* was there. Wow….

  6. I don’t think it matters what denomination he was! Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of Me”, He didn’t require us to be of a particular denomination!

    May well use that prayer on Sunday, though – and plan to link to the resources on your site in my sermon.

  7. I continue to be fascinated by reaction to my post. This post has been visited by about two thousand people and replicated on other sites. I’m delighted by the interest.

    To my wondering which denomination Aldrin was at the time I’ve had responses here, on the Facebook Liturgy page, and on the Twitter Liturgy page that he was:
    Methodist, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, and Baptist.

    My favourite was a tweet:”Nay. 39 Arts. forbid lifted up, carrying about w/Sacrament…not Presby either…no elder present to serve…must have been Baptist”

    Of course it does not ultimately matter which denomination he was, just as to some it does not ultimately matter if he was from USA or Russia, or whether the first person on the moon was a man or a woman, aged 23, 38, or 62, with an earned doctorate or an honorary one, in 1969 or actually 1968 – or even whether the landing actually happened or was staged somewhere in a television studio hidden in the desert. LOL.

    When we contend we live in the “information age” and pride ourselves in being able to find out everything rapidly it still fascinates me that something as simple as the denomination of the first communion on the moon in living memory and with those involved still alive is actually something that more than 2,000 people working together on the internet cannot come to with any real certitude…

    • In other words, you can rule out any “denomination” that doesn’t follow the Holy Scripture. I’m perfectly OK with that.

  8. Thanks Fr. Bosco,

    I must say that the video embedded in Anglican/Episcopalian 1 is pretty good for obvious reasons.

    As someone who spends time in various sanctuaries for various reasons (Episcopal/Anglican for “smells and bells,” “catholic and apostolic” liturgy, and Unitarian-Universalist for ecto-dogmatic spirituality and the resultant politics), I offer the conjecture that he was/is seriously involved in both, if not more, denominations.

    All the best,

    Brian in Boston

  9. God is everywhere because he created ‘everywhere.’ Whether one is Presbyterian, Episcopalian. Catholic or whatever does not truly matter. God created every human being with love.

  10. This is awsome. Thank you for realising that all things come from God and not ourselves. We can gaze at the moon and remember what was so important in our life and the first meal was celebrated there. Thank you!!!

  11. Why was this kept such a secret for so long? We need to hear beautiful events, such as this. I think this is just about the best news I’ve ever read. It doesn’t matter what denomination they were, it is Jesus that they loved and honored up there,and that’s what really counts. As a Catholic, who loves to take communion and the precious blood of Jesus, I marvel at these brave men who thought to take and receive Jesus on the moon as a beautiful gesture of love and trust to our Lord. God Bless them. Arlene

  12. I met Aldrin in the mid 80s and in the course of conversation he told me this story. If I recall correctly he said he was a Presby. As I was an Episcopalian, I felt a little twinge of disappointment.

  13. Greetings, All:

    I have the honor of serving as senior pastor of Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, TX. At the time of the lunar landing Aldrin was an elder in our church. A communion kit was prepared for him by the church’s pastor at the time, the Rev. Dean Woodruff. Since Presbyterians do not celebrate private communion, the communion on the moon was structured as part of a service with the congregation back at the church. Aldrin returned the chalice he used to earth. Webster Presbyterian continues to possess the chalice, which is now kept in a safety deposit box. Each year the congregation commemorates the lunar communion on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the landing.

    While we have to confess some pride in his being a Presbyterian (at least at the time – I don’t know anything about his affiliation now, if any) communion is certainly not solely a Presbyterian ritual. The Presbyterian communion table is open to all Christians. We call it “communion” because in it we commune with God and with all our brothers and sisters in faith, in all times and places and of all names. Aldrin did not take communion on the moon as a Presbyterian so much as he did as a Christian. We Presbyterian, even we Webster-type Presbyterians, do not own lunar communion. The communion on the moon belongs to us all. It can, and should, serve as a powerful symbol of God’s presence everywhere, and of our unity as one family of faith.

  14. Buzz Aldrin was actively serving as an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, TX, at the time of the lunar landing in April 1969. Elders form the governing body, known as a Session, in Presbyterian churches. The word “presbyteryian,” is a transliteration of the Greek word “presbuteros,” which means, “elder.”

    In the Presbyterian tradition, communion is essentially a “communal” event, thus, it is always taken either within the body or as an extension of the body. It is common, for example, for communion to be taken to homebound parishioners in the week(s) following a communion service held at the church. In Buzz Aldrin’s case, the communion he experienced on the moon’s surface was an extension of communion held in his home church. Buzz participated in a communion service at Webster Presbyterian Church before he left for Cape Kennedy, then the church held a special communion service on Sunday, July 20. Buzz’ communion on the moon was as close to the worship hour at Webster as could be managed, thus, he was participating in the communal act of receiving communion with his community of faith and with all believers everywhere. Presbyterians also celebrate an “open” communion, meaning that all baptized believers, wherever they may be and with whatever church they are affiliated, are welcome to share in communion with us.

    Presbyterian believe that God is revealed in the common elements of everyday life. Through these common elements–bread and wine–we acknolwedge God’s presence with us every day in every way.

  15. I am in awe and felt a spiritual connection when reading the inspiring event of the Communion on the Moon. Thank you.

  16. Very pleased to hear that. Regardless of the faith mentioned, it’s important to note G-d’s role in the universe.

    Israel’s 1st astronaut, Ilan Ramon, sought to follow Jewish observances while in orbit. In an interview he said, “I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis.” He was the first spaceflight participant to request kosher food.

    He also gathered rabbinic opinions from the local Chabad-Lubavitch representative about observing the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) while in space, since the period between sunrises in orbit is approximately 90 minutes. This later became famous by the words “Jerusalem we have a problem” (said in Rabbi Konikov’s speech at the Kennedy Space Center Memorial for Columbia on February 7, 2003[4]).

  17. This is great information. It confirms how God has worked through religious people, and Christians in particular through the ages. We need to note how these great men acknowledge God in their achievements.

  18. I had no idea that this had taken place until this morning.
    I am so moved and so happy to know this.
    Thank you for posting it.


  20. Does it really matter what faith Aldrin was, or is now? He was and is a Christian and he accepted communion on the moon in reverence to his faith. Why is it that we must debate every possible subject? Why is it that we cannot simply accept the fact that Aldrin received communion in reverence to his Creator and prayed his Thanksgiving as one of the first acts after landing on the moon? Rejoice!

  21. After everything is said and done, I believe the following scripture sums up this simple but magnificent occasion.The God who tries man’s hearts says, “Those that honour Me, them will I honour”.

  22. Amazing & Inspirational!Plan to use this true event illustration prior to serving communion to my congregation next time we Celebrate The Lord’s Supper! Thank you for sharing – when one man shares all can be blest!

  23. Nice to know that Lord was worshipped even on the Moon. but disappointed to know that it was not made public for 2 decades,for the fear of some atheist. when my children studied in Switzerland, there even for christmas program in school, Lord Jesus name was never mentioned. In my country India where christians are minority (only 2% of 7 billion people) and some of the best schools are run by church, in these school assemblies Bible is read regularly, Lord’s prayer is taught to all students including Hindus and muslims. christian songs are also taught to everyone.

  24. I had never heard of this. How wonderful. I cannot describe adequately the way I feel, but it is sense of communion with all. I am reading this on the death of Neil Armstrong, which makes it more moving.

  25. Interesting. Only just read this from a recent redirection. As for denomination am unsure. Definitely a Freemason however, indeed the square and compass featured on the flag he left up there. On that basis there are several denominations that would disown him, I think Episcopalian therefore most likely, Baptist or Evangelical less so.

  26. I was worried about sacrilege for a second, and then I was relieved to learn that Jesus was not really and substantially there due to lack of a legitimate consecration.

    • I am not going to allow this thread to be redirected to a debate about validity – there are other places (including on this site) where you can have that discussion. If, Ryan, you are commenting as a Roman Catholic, then you are confused about RC theology. Consecration which is not legitimate can still lead to validity. Otherwise, I’m not sure why you suggest Jesus is really absent. Nor why you have a concern for sacrilege – most find this the opposite, an awe-inspiring story. Blessings.

  27. This is a sermon! Preach the Gospel with actions – no need for words. What a wonderful testimony of the invisible presence of God in the world! Thanks be to God!

  28. What a beautiful happening, receiving our Dear Lord in Holy Communion on the Moon in outer space. Praise be to God – Now and Forever. Amen!!

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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