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Frequency of Communion Questions

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  • chongshinwv
    Greetings - I m new to the group and a new student of Covenanter history. Our Session is discussing the topic of frequency of communion. Question: The WCF
    Message 1 of 12 , Nov 29, 2003
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      Greetings -

      I'm new to the group and a new student of Covenanter history. Our
      Session is discussing the topic of frequency of communion.

      Question:

      The WCF calls for "frequent" communion; some interpret this as
      weekly, others monthly, others quarterly.

      - Have any churches out there changed their frequency of communion
      (e.g. from weekly to monthly or vice versa?

      - Did it make a difference in the life of the church
      (either plus or minus)?

      - Why does the WCF use the term "frequent"? Is this based mainly on
      practical, political, or Scriptural considerations?

      Thanks,

      Jim Williams, RE
      Providence Reformed PCA
      Barboursville, WV
      chongshinwv@...
    • gmw
      Hello, I don t know if I ll be able to sufficiently answer your questions, but I ll take a shot. ... I think the Convession uses the term frequent to
      Message 2 of 12 , Dec 1, 2003
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        Hello,

        I don't know if I'll be able to sufficiently answer your questions,
        but I'll take a shot.

        > Question:

        > - Why does the WCF use the term "frequent"? Is this based mainly on
        > practical, political, or Scriptural considerations?

        I think the Convession uses the term frequent to distinguish it's use
        from Baptism which is but once and not to be repeated. The Lord's
        Supper, however, is to be repeated. I see you live in West Virginia,
        which isn't quite as North East as I am. But suppose I would say that
        where I live, we have "frequent snowstorms," or that California has
        "frequent earthquakes" or that I "frequent a restaurant"... this
        "frequency" is not exactly defined, is it? What it means is more than
        once, or relatively often. Now, I lean towards the IDEAL of weekly
        communion, however, I also know that it may be impractical and even
        detrimental in some (most?) congregations. Let me give you an
        example: Suppose there is a congregation where the majority of the
        congregation has not even learned the Small Catechism, what benefit is
        it to them if we should feed them the Lord's Supper weekly? Does this
        not qualify as "ignorant," which our Standards (according to the
        Scriptures) state is a disqualification from the Lord's Supper? I
        think that frequency needs to be balanced with the Minister's duty to
        guard the Table, and if the two can be balanced, then I have no
        problem with weekly communion. Off the top of my head, I recall
        Calvin arguing for very frequent (weekly?) communion, though he
        conceded to practicing it 4 times yearly due to various circumstances.

        I've not spent a whole lot of time studying this, so I would
        appreciate the thoughts of others as well.

        gmw.
      • gmw
        Just thought I d add this from our doctrinal standards (Directory for Public Worship): THE communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated;
        Message 3 of 12 , Dec 1, 2003
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          Just thought I'd add this from our doctrinal standards (Directory for
          Public Worship):

          "THE communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated;
          but how often, may be considered and determined by the ministers, and
          other church-governors of each congregation, as they shall find most
          convenient for the comfort and edification of the people committed to
          their charge."

          And this from the First Book of Discipline:

          "Four times in the year we think sufficient to the administration of
          the Lord's Table, which we desire to be distinct, that the
          superstition of times may be avoided so far as may be....We think
          therefore most expedient, that the first Sunday of March be appointed
          for one [time]; the first Sunday of June for another; the first Sunday
          of September for the third; and the first Sunday of December for the
          fourth. We do not deny but that any several church, for reasonable
          causes, may change the time, and may minister ofter; but we study to
          suppress superstition."

          gmw.
        • thebishopsdoom
          ... Actually, I sent a reply privately to the individual who asked the question, mostly because of his asking about practical consequences of the switch from
          Message 4 of 12 , Dec 1, 2003
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            --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, "gmw"
            <raging.calvinist@v...> wrote:
            >
            > Just thought I'd add...

            Actually, I sent a reply privately to the individual who asked the
            question, mostly because of his asking about "practical consequences"
            of the switch from more to less or vice versa on frequency in a
            particular congregation, and I didn't see the need to express
            particulars in public forum.
            If I recall correctly:
            Calvin pressed for weekly, but could not get the reform. he later
            admitted pastoral discretion to determine what frequency may best
            benefit the people. I think Basel may have ended up doing it weekly,
            but most reformed churches in that area of Europe by default followed
            a 4x a year scheme derived from a certain medieval schedule. I think
            some others did the 2x a year schedule, but I don't recall where or
            if I may be even remembering that wrong.
            Knox presented the idea of a monthly communing in his Order of Geneva
            I understand, and in Scotland, they believed that 4x for cities, 2x
            for rural areas should be sufficient, but there was allowance for
            some variation.
            1640s, I think 2,3, or 4x a year was common in Scotland.
            At some point after the Revolution Settlement, 1x a year became
            increasingly common. I don't recall my resource, but I have heard of
            less than 1x in a decade in one parish. Sometimes it was due to lack
            of available pastors, sometimes not.
            The mainline presbies in America established 4x a year sometime in
            the 1700s (not sure offhand what was going on in the Isles at this
            same time, I had thought they may have begun going towards that
            frequency as well, but don't recall if I saw anything on that before
            or not). Other groups due to lack of ministers and distances
            travelled by some in order to attend a communion service when one was
            available in maybe a couple days journey away had very infrequent
            communion - less than once a year (or even decade, we can't forget
            all the presbies that were over here from the late 1600s without
            pastors sometimes for decades; and that not just with respect to
            dissenters, but also other presbies scattered about the colonies).
            The infrequency became a habit among some, while others complained
            that the infrequency was causing abuses during the services that
            preceded the communion service (it was a Thursday to Monday season,
            each day to be treated as a sabbath, with preaching sometimes going
            on for hours) and superstitious views of the sacrament.
            It think the tendency generally arose since that time to press for
            either weekly or quarterly as THE view taught in the Bible (only a
            very few taught annual as THE view).
            As you pointed out, there seems to be a tendency in various standards
            and formulas for some amount of discretion in the frequency, so long
            as superstition is avoided and the people are benefited. At the same
            time, there is a tendency to argue that it gets to a point of
            question when a pastor whose congregation is prepared refuses for
            long lengths of time to have theLord's Supper. While no hard and fast
            line was necessary drawn as essential, most believed that less than
            once a year when there were ministerial means for having it and the
            congregation was not in a state of scandal was generally regarded as
            waiting too long.
            -thebishopsdoom
          • gmw
            ... wrote: Thanks, buddy. Hey, can you clarify this for me: The infrequency became a habit among some, while others complained that the
            Message 5 of 12 , Dec 1, 2003
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              --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, thebishopsdoom
              <no_reply@y...> wrote:

              Thanks, buddy. Hey, can you clarify this for me:

              "The infrequency became a habit among some, while others complained
              that the infrequency was causing abuses during the services that
              preceded the communion service (it was a Thursday to Monday season,
              each day to be treated as a sabbath, with preaching sometimes going
              on for hours) and superstitious views of the sacrament."

              Speak more of this "season," if you please.

              gmw.
            • thebishopsdoom
              ... Well, from what I gather, it involved preaching from Thursday to Monday in services that sometimes were not unlike what we would call today tent meeting
              Message 6 of 12 , Dec 1, 2003
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                --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, "gmw"
                <raging.calvinist@v...> wrote:
                > --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, thebishopsdoom
                > <no_reply@y...> wrote:
                >
                > Thanks, buddy. Hey, can you clarify this for me:
                >
                > "The infrequency became a habit among some, while others complained
                > that the infrequency was causing abuses during the services that
                > preceded the communion service (it was a Thursday to Monday season,
                > each day to be treated as a sabbath, with preaching sometimes going
                > on for hours) and superstitious views of the sacrament."
                >
                > Speak more of this "season," if you please.
                >
                > gmw.
                Well, from what I gather, it involved preaching from Thursday to
                Monday in services that sometimes were not unlike what we would call
                today "tent meeting revival services." Communicants were expected to
                attend services and work was forbidden from 6p.m. Wednesday night
                until I guess the next Tuesday morning. The whole time if I recall,
                was a part of "communion season."
                Preaching was long. I have heard of John Cuthbertson holding a
                service 9 hours long.
                The other thing I am aware of is that some families (not just covies)
                were exceedingly strict with the "no work" requirements, though I
                won't say it was universally held as strictly as the example I am
                giving here. I understand from some records online regarding a
                certain John Bourne and his family, 18th century American covies,
                that it is recorded that on sabbaths, washing dishes was forbidden.
                They had to leave dirty dishes until Monday. Cooking was also
                forbidden, including heating food - only coffee could be heated, and
                only in the morning (to help waken the family, no doubt). It is
                recorded that it was forbidden to crack nuts, or to pick up a fallen
                apple off the ground and eat it because it was defined as "unecessary
                work." Whether the rules were so strictly enforced for the whole
                communion season or no, I can't say, but my inkling is that some
                families were really taking with them a whole week's worth of cold
                food and unwashed dishes.
                -thebishopsdoom
              • gmw
                ... I guess I m not understanding the idea of why a communion season where every day is treated as a holyday was deemed necessary. I mean, doesn t the
                Message 7 of 12 , Dec 2, 2003
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                  --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, thebishopsdoom
                  <no_reply@y...> wrote:

                  > Well, from what I gather, it involved preaching from Thursday to
                  > Monday in services that sometimes were not unlike what we would
                  > call today "tent meeting revival services."

                  I guess I'm not understanding the idea of why a "communion season"
                  where every day is treated as a holyday was deemed necessary. I mean,
                  doesn't the Directory simply say,

                  "Where this sacrament cannot with convenience be frequently
                  administered, it is requisite that publick warning be given the
                  sabbath-day before the administration thereof: and that either then,
                  or on some day of that week, something concerning that ordinance, and
                  the due preparation thereunto, and participation thereof, be taught;
                  that, by the diligent use of all means sanctified of God to that end,
                  both in publick and private, all may come better prepared to that
                  heavenly feast." ?

                  > only coffee could be heated,

                  This I understand, coffee is an act of necessity and mercy.

                  gmw.
                • thebishopsdoom
                  ... mean, ... Let me clarify. I m discussing what became the historical practice among presbyterians, I m not advocating what I believe about required
                  Message 8 of 12 , Dec 2, 2003
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                    --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, "gmw"
                    <raging.calvinist@v...> wrote:
                    > I guess I'm not understanding the idea of why a "communion season"
                    > where every day is treated as a holyday was deemed necessary. I
                    mean,
                    > doesn't the Directory simply say...

                    Let me clarify.
                    I'm discussing what became the historical practice among
                    presbyterians, I'm not advocating what I believe about required
                    preparations for communion, or what the old standards required.
                    From the habit of infrequent communing and the fact that these things
                    were going on, it seems to have become an idea in some presbyterians'
                    minds as though such intense preparation was always required in order
                    for anyone to be properly prepared to partake, and spoke out against
                    more frequent communing that it would not allow such
                    intense "preparation" for communion as was being thought necessary.
                    Or if not necessary, those who questioned whether it could be done
                    another way were sometimes attacked as being of no piety for not
                    desiring to have such drawn out and elaborate services surrounding
                    communion.
                    The practice of Thursday to Monday services for communion persists in
                    some presbyterian churches. For example, the Free Pres. Church of
                    Scotland appears to do a Thursday thru Monday communion season. (I
                    also noticed on another FP site a notice that such and such
                    session "has decided there will be no communion this year.") A Free
                    Church of Scotland website also had an "end of season assessment"
                    from this past October where the minister wrote:
                    "For all our emphasis on the simplicity of New Testament worship, we
                    seem to have built an elaborate formal structure around the Lord's
                    Supper. We have services from Thursday through to Monday, in most
                    cases in both morning and evening. In my own congregation there are
                    fourteen distinct acts of worship spread over these five days, all of
                    which are designed in some way to make the sacrament meaningful,
                    although just how I am not sure."
                    A Free Church of Scotland Continuing site gave reports of upcoming
                    communion in various locations, and they list dates starting on
                    Thursdays and ending Mondays.
                    My experience with the RPCNA was simply to let people know well in
                    advance when communion would be, and to touch upon the things the
                    Directory mentions above with repsect to communion during the
                    previous Lord's Days rather than having a weekday preparation service
                    (which would have been impractical anyway seeing that for worship
                    services they rented out a room on Lord's days from a local YMCA and
                    would not have been guaranteed being able to do so on a weekday -
                    especially since it couldn't be covered in one meeting since
                    different people worked very different schedules and there would have
                    had to have been one in the morning and one in the evening to
                    accomodate everyone).
                    You might find the historical essays here of interest in relation to
                    the practice:
                    http://www.kintyremag.co.uk/2000/42/page4.html
                    http://web.ukonline.co.uk/d.haslam/mccheyne/hewat/COMMUNION_SEASONS.ht
                    m
                    http://www.freechurch.org/revival/revival6.htm
                  • revrayjoseph
                    I grew up in the Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter) Church in Hopkinton, Iowa, where we had Thursday Preparatory Service (at 10:00 am - I was excused from
                    Message 9 of 12 , Dec 2, 2003
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                      I grew up in the Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter) Church in
                      Hopkinton, Iowa, where we had Thursday Preparatory Service (at 10:00
                      am - I was excused from school) - and Friday Preparatory Service (at
                      7:30 pm) - and Saturday Preparatory Service (at 3:30 pm after 2:00
                      pm Communicants' Membership Class) - Sabbath am Communion Service -
                      (at 11:00 am) - Sabbath evening Thanksgiving Service - (at 7:30 pm) -
                      and Monday morning Thanksgiving Service - (at 10:00 am - I was
                      excused from school) - all this with the preaching of a visiting
                      pastor called a "Communion Assistant".

                      Ray Joseph




                      --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, thebishopsdoom
                      <no_reply@y...> wrote:
                      > --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, "gmw"
                      > <raging.calvinist@v...> wrote:
                      > > I guess I'm not understanding the idea of why a "communion
                      season"
                      > > where every day is treated as a holyday was deemed necessary. I
                      > mean,
                      > > doesn't the Directory simply say...
                      >
                      > Let me clarify.
                      > I'm discussing what became the historical practice among
                      > presbyterians, I'm not advocating what I believe about required
                      > preparations for communion, or what the old standards required.
                      > From the habit of infrequent communing and the fact that these
                      things
                      > were going on, it seems to have become an idea in some
                      presbyterians'
                      > minds as though such intense preparation was always required in
                      order
                      > for anyone to be properly prepared to partake, and spoke out
                      against
                      > more frequent communing that it would not allow such
                      > intense "preparation" for communion as was being thought
                      necessary.
                      > Or if not necessary, those who questioned whether it could be done
                      > another way were sometimes attacked as being of no piety for not
                      > desiring to have such drawn out and elaborate services surrounding
                      > communion.
                      > The practice of Thursday to Monday services for communion persists
                      in
                      > some presbyterian churches. For example, the Free Pres. Church of
                      > Scotland appears to do a Thursday thru Monday communion season. (I
                      > also noticed on another FP site a notice that such and such
                      > session "has decided there will be no communion this year.") A
                      Free
                      > Church of Scotland website also had an "end of season assessment"
                      > from this past October where the minister wrote:
                      > "For all our emphasis on the simplicity of New Testament worship,
                      we
                      > seem to have built an elaborate formal structure around the Lord's
                      > Supper. We have services from Thursday through to Monday, in most
                      > cases in both morning and evening. In my own congregation there
                      are
                      > fourteen distinct acts of worship spread over these five days, all
                      of
                      > which are designed in some way to make the sacrament meaningful,
                      > although just how I am not sure."
                      > A Free Church of Scotland Continuing site gave reports of upcoming
                      > communion in various locations, and they list dates starting on
                      > Thursdays and ending Mondays.
                      > My experience with the RPCNA was simply to let people know well in
                      > advance when communion would be, and to touch upon the things the
                      > Directory mentions above with repsect to communion during the
                      > previous Lord's Days rather than having a weekday preparation
                      service
                      > (which would have been impractical anyway seeing that for worship
                      > services they rented out a room on Lord's days from a local YMCA
                      and
                      > would not have been guaranteed being able to do so on a weekday -
                      > especially since it couldn't be covered in one meeting since
                      > different people worked very different schedules and there would
                      have
                      > had to have been one in the morning and one in the evening to
                      > accomodate everyone).
                      > You might find the historical essays here of interest in relation
                      to
                      > the practice:
                      > http://www.kintyremag.co.uk/2000/42/page4.html
                      >
                      http://web.ukonline.co.uk/d.haslam/mccheyne/hewat/COMMUNION_SEASONS.h
                      t
                      > m
                      > http://www.freechurch.org/revival/revival6.htm
                    • gmw
                      ... Right, right, yeah... I know that. I was just confused as to why Presbies would be insisting on these things. I get it now, given the great infrequency,
                      Message 10 of 12 , Dec 2, 2003
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                        --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, thebishopsdoom
                        <no_reply@y...> wrote:

                        > Let me clarify.
                        > I'm discussing what became the historical practice among
                        > presbyterians, I'm not advocating what I believe about required
                        > preparations for communion, or what the old standards required.

                        Right, right, yeah... I know that. I was just confused as to why
                        Presbies would be insisting on these things. I get it now, given the
                        great infrequency, they were playing catch up.

                        gmw.
                      • gmw
                        Wow, Mr. Joseph. How things have changed, huh? gmw.
                        Message 11 of 12 , Dec 2, 2003
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                          Wow, Mr. Joseph. How things have changed, huh?

                          gmw.

                          --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, revrayjoseph
                          <no_reply@y...> wrote:
                          > I grew up in the Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter) Church in
                          > Hopkinton, Iowa, where we had Thursday Preparatory Service (at 10:00
                          > am - I was excused from school) - and Friday Preparatory Service (at
                          > 7:30 pm) - and Saturday Preparatory Service (at 3:30 pm after 2:00
                          > pm Communicants' Membership Class) - Sabbath am Communion Service -
                          > (at 11:00 am) - Sabbath evening Thanksgiving Service - (at 7:30 pm) -
                          > and Monday morning Thanksgiving Service - (at 10:00 am - I was
                          > excused from school) - all this with the preaching of a visiting
                          > pastor called a "Communion Assistant".
                          >
                          > Ray Joseph
                          >
                          >
                          >
                          >
                          > --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, thebishopsdoom
                          > <no_reply@y...> wrote:
                          > > --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, "gmw"
                          > > <raging.calvinist@v...> wrote:
                          > > > I guess I'm not understanding the idea of why a "communion
                          > season"
                          > > > where every day is treated as a holyday was deemed necessary. I
                          > > mean,
                          > > > doesn't the Directory simply say...
                          > >
                          > > Let me clarify.
                          > > I'm discussing what became the historical practice among
                          > > presbyterians, I'm not advocating what I believe about required
                          > > preparations for communion, or what the old standards required.
                          > > From the habit of infrequent communing and the fact that these
                          > things
                          > > were going on, it seems to have become an idea in some
                          > presbyterians'
                          > > minds as though such intense preparation was always required in
                          > order
                          > > for anyone to be properly prepared to partake, and spoke out
                          > against
                          > > more frequent communing that it would not allow such
                          > > intense "preparation" for communion as was being thought
                          > necessary.
                          > > Or if not necessary, those who questioned whether it could be done
                          > > another way were sometimes attacked as being of no piety for not
                          > > desiring to have such drawn out and elaborate services surrounding
                          > > communion.
                          > > The practice of Thursday to Monday services for communion persists
                          > in
                          > > some presbyterian churches. For example, the Free Pres. Church of
                          > > Scotland appears to do a Thursday thru Monday communion season. (I
                          > > also noticed on another FP site a notice that such and such
                          > > session "has decided there will be no communion this year.") A
                          > Free
                          > > Church of Scotland website also had an "end of season assessment"
                          > > from this past October where the minister wrote:
                          > > "For all our emphasis on the simplicity of New Testament worship,
                          > we
                          > > seem to have built an elaborate formal structure around the Lord's
                          > > Supper. We have services from Thursday through to Monday, in most
                          > > cases in both morning and evening. In my own congregation there
                          > are
                          > > fourteen distinct acts of worship spread over these five days, all
                          > of
                          > > which are designed in some way to make the sacrament meaningful,
                          > > although just how I am not sure."
                          > > A Free Church of Scotland Continuing site gave reports of upcoming
                          > > communion in various locations, and they list dates starting on
                          > > Thursdays and ending Mondays.
                          > > My experience with the RPCNA was simply to let people know well in
                          > > advance when communion would be, and to touch upon the things the
                          > > Directory mentions above with repsect to communion during the
                          > > previous Lord's Days rather than having a weekday preparation
                          > service
                          > > (which would have been impractical anyway seeing that for worship
                          > > services they rented out a room on Lord's days from a local YMCA
                          > and
                          > > would not have been guaranteed being able to do so on a weekday -
                          > > especially since it couldn't be covered in one meeting since
                          > > different people worked very different schedules and there would
                          > have
                          > > had to have been one in the morning and one in the evening to
                          > > accomodate everyone).
                          > > You might find the historical essays here of interest in relation
                          > to
                          > > the practice:
                          > > http://www.kintyremag.co.uk/2000/42/page4.html
                          > >
                          > http://web.ukonline.co.uk/d.haslam/mccheyne/hewat/COMMUNION_SEASONS.h
                          > t
                          > > m
                          > > http://www.freechurch.org/revival/revival6.htm
                        • Abigail
                          My sister is a member of an RPCNA church where they have communion twice a year, starting with a Saturday evening service, then communion in the a.m. on the
                          Message 12 of 12 , Dec 3, 2003
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                            My sister is a member of an RPCNA church where they have communion
                            twice a year, starting with a Saturday evening service, then
                            communion in the a.m. on the Sabbath, then a thanksgiving service
                            Sabbath evening, usually with a visiting "communion assistant".
                            The church I've been attending (RPCNA) has communion once a month, in
                            the afternoon service. The congregation is always advised the week
                            before communion to prepare by self-examination and renewed
                            repentance, meditating soberly on the work of Christ. I haven't been
                            to any nine-hour services yet!

                            Abigail

                            --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, revrayjoseph
                            <no_reply@y...> wrote:
                            > I grew up in the Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter) Church in
                            > Hopkinton, Iowa, where we had Thursday Preparatory Service (at
                            10:00
                            > am - I was excused from school) - and Friday Preparatory Service
                            (at
                            > 7:30 pm) - and Saturday Preparatory Service (at 3:30 pm after 2:00
                            > pm Communicants' Membership Class) - Sabbath am Communion Service -
                            > (at 11:00 am) - Sabbath evening Thanksgiving Service - (at 7:30
                            pm) -
                            > and Monday morning Thanksgiving Service - (at 10:00 am - I was
                            > excused from school) - all this with the preaching of a visiting
                            > pastor called a "Communion Assistant".
                            >
                            > Ray Joseph
                            >
                            >
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