For widower Pastor Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Björnstrand) the divine service has become mere routine. Only a few guests appear in church on this cold Sunday morning, among them Märta Lundberg (Ingrid Thulin), the pastor’s former lover who is still in love with him, and the married couple Karin and Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow and Gunnel Lindblom). Since the death of his wife the Pastor has lost his believe and his ability to love. When Karin Persson begs him to help her husband, who has suicidal thoughts, he can only talk about his own problems and doubts.
NATTVARDSGÄSTERNA – which in the original title refers to guests taking Communion – represents the middle part of a trilogy in which Ingmar Bergman deals with the silence and the existence of God. Undeterred by doubts he often expressed about the potential appeal of the topic to film-goers, Bergman begins the film with a twelve-minute long divine service. He depicts a pastor who is so completely preoccupied with himself that he neglects his congregation and rejects the feelings of his former lover with cruel words, and evokes at first a dismal world with no hope. But precisely in the bleakness and austerity of the mise-en-scène, which requires the utmost commitment of the actors, and in the resoluteness with which he delves into the topic, Bergman succeeds in creating one of his most consequential works.