• Jim West

The German title of this short work is literally rendered, “Action or Practice of the Lord’s Supper,” a title that may leave modern readers of English scratching their heads. A more appropriate English translation would be, “The Implementation of the Lord’s Supper,” because that is exactly what this pamphlet addresses. It is literally a step by step, line by line, phrase by phrase, and word by word implementation of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper for Zwingli’s newly-reformed congregation in Zurich and elsewhere in the German-speaking cantons of the Swiss Confederation.

The critical edition of Zwingli’s works, the justly famous Corpus Reformatorum, includes a copy of this tractate in volume 4, pp. 1-24, most of which is taken up with introductory matters (pp. 1-12) and copious explanatory footnotes.1 The editors of the critical edition explain that the pamphlet was only printed twice and that both printings date from 1525. These editions are designated A and B. The first has a colophon, indicating that it was printed in Zurich by Christopher Froschauer on April 6, 1525. The second was issued without any designation of place, publisher, or date, and the copy held by the Kessler Collection represents this printing.2 The differences between the two editions are orthographic or dialectical and so do not represent a different textual base. So, for example, while the first edition has “kilch,” the second uses the more common “kirch,” and while the first uses “sin,” the second uses the more common “sein.” Since these differences are insignificant for purposes of translation, they will receive no further attention here. What follows is a translation of the critical text presented in Corpus Reformatorum.

Zwingli’s pamphlet itself sprang from the author’s growing awareness that the Lord’s Supper was a “memorial” and not an event at which the bread became the actual body of Christ and the wine his blood. It also springs from an era before Zwingli and Luther began their occasionally acrimonious debate about the meaning of the Supper. This debate culminated in the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, which itself ended in hardened positions and a recognition that these two reformers would never see eye to eye on the subject.3

More specifically, Zwingli’s re-thinking of the meaning of the Mass had begun several years earlier. Indeed, as early as the 67 Theses of 1523 we find Zwingli moving towards an understanding of the Supper as “memorial” but–in contrast to the various misrepresentations of Zwingli’s thought promulgated by Lutheran partisans—-never merely as a memorial. Here he simply, plainly, and forcefully illustrates the practical nature of his reformation of the Mass.4

The pamphlet at hand allows readers “virtually” into the liturgy of the Zurich congregation itself, permitting them to “sit on the back pew” and watch the celebration of the Lord’s Supper unfold, as it was actually practiced by Zwingli and the other Reformed of the canton from 1525 on. Consequently, it is an invaluable historical work, and not least because it shows us that Zwingli was well before his time in allowing women to participate in liturgical acts. As will be seen in the translation that follows, women have a role to play in the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper.

The work itself is divided into two chief segments. First, readers receive basic theological instruction concerning the purpose and meaning of the Supper, and then in the second part the liturgy of the Supper is described. The translation below is not wooden and in many places it is more paraphrase than translation. This is necessary, since a relatively literal rendering would make little sense to modern readers. Nonetheless, the spirit of Zwingli’s intention is retained throughout, even when the translation treats his actual words rather freely.


  1. Huldrych Zwinglis Sämtliche Werke (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag Zurich, 1982) 4: 1-24.
  2. The first edition of the pamphlet is VD 16 M4921, and the second edition VD 16 M 4922. While the editors of the Corpus Reformatorum suggest that the second edition was issued in Augsburg (on the basis of orthographic considerations), the editors of VD 16 assign it to the print shop of Hans Hager in Zurich. However, it has also been assigned to Heinrich Steiner in Augsburg by Michael A. Pegg in A Catalogue of German Reformation Pamphlets (1516-1546) in Libraries of Great Britain and Ireland (Bibliotheca Bibliographica Aureliana, 45; Baden-Baden: Valentin Koerner, 1973) 307 (#3968). Cf. also Lee Palmer Wandel, The Eucharist in the Reformation: Incarnation and Liturgy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 73. The assertion by the editors of the critical edition that the same woodcut was used in both printings is erroneous, since the same woodblock was not used for both printings (one woodcut is a copy of the other).
  3. Most recently, Scott H. Hendrix, Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015) 204-207.
  4. See, e.g., Carrie Euler, “Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger,” in A Companion to the Eucharist in the Reformation, ed. Lee Palmer Wandel (Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition, 46; Leiden: Brill, 2014) 57-74.