Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Extending Communion

In my previous post (below) I drew attention to Richard Hooker's understanding of the real presence of Christ in respect of the sacrament of the bread and the wine: it is to be sought in the receiver and not in the sacrament itself. This (I humbly suggest) is more or less 'the Anglican line' on communion.

On this line of understanding, is it possible to 'extend communion' to congregations at which a priest is unable to be present, and what might 'reserved sacrament' mean?

I suggest that communion can be extended from one service to another where in one service bread and wine is consecrated in the prescribed orderly manner (a priest presiding over an authorised service) and in the other service the sacrament from the first service is distributed in an orderly manner according to the authorised service provided for such an occasion. According to Hooker's teaching, the bread and the wine at communion are necessary for the real presence of Christ, following the promise of Scripture, to be received by those receiving the bread-wine-become-sacrament by faith with thanksgiving. Thus the sacrament is received not as the body and the blood of Jesus but as necessary to feed on the body and blood of Jesus in our hearts 'by faith with thanksgiving'! To take the sacrament from one congregation to another, or from one congregation to a sick bed is a reasonable action to take in order to incorporate into the communion of the church those otherwise unable to be present at a communion service presided over by a priest.

'Reserved sacrament' would then be about sacrament from one service 'reserved' for later use (e.g. for home communions during the following week, for a service in an outlying centre a week later) but it would not be the subject of any veneration for, on Hooker's understanding, the bread and the wine have not become 'the' body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On this understanding here - undoubtedly flawed and full of shortcomings - the sacrament of the bread and the wine has a double significance: a sign of the body and blood of Christ and a sign of fellowship between one congregation and another.

With respect to the latter I make this observation: in some of our parishes I am given to understand that extended communion using reserved sacrament may take place at time intervals as great as a month from the last occasion when a priest has presided at communion. This raises the question how long the sacrament may be reserved. I suggest the answer is subjective and not objective (i.e. specifying a certain time interval): the question a parish in this kind of situation could usefully ask is this, what kind of presence, including what regularity, from our priest(s) enables our sense of communion with the remainder of the parish to be a lively experience?


liturgy said...

You write "the sacrament is received not as the body and the blood of Jesus".
This appears to go against what our liturgies teach.
We receive the bread and wine as Christ's body and blood, his person and his life.
I can never quite work out why those who have no difficulty finding God's Word in the human words of the scriptures, and Christ's presence in their proclamation, make such heavy weather of Christ's presence in other ways. And whilst they do not make much effort to minimise God's ability within scripture, God's ability in the eucharist appears to need careful analysis.

The formularies to which Anglican clergy assent include:

Praise and glory to you creator Spirit of God;
you make our bread Christ's body
to heal and reconcile
and to make us the body of Christ.
You make our wine Christ's living sacraficial blood
to redeem the world.

NZ Prayer Book p.541

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
I see our liturgies as reflecting the subtlety, ambiguity and mystery of Anglican understanding of the eucharist!

By 'the sacrament is received not as the body and blood of Jesus' I mean (but have clumsily expressed) that the bread and wine have not changed their 'substance' - I understand our liturgies not to teach transubstantiation.

Nevertheless our liturgies use language which speak of 'making' bread/wine into body/blood. I understand this to be consistent with traditional Cranmerian understanding that the body and blood of Christ are present in the believer who receives the bread and the wine 'by faith'.

Yet such wording could be happily adhered to by a transubstantiationalist! At such points in our liturgies evangelical Anglicans may harbour thoughts that our prayer book revisers could have worded things differently.

On reflection I think the Cranmerian approach could stand some flexibility in the word 'as' and my statement could lose its negative modifier and become, 'the sacrament is received as the body and blood of Jesus'.


liturgy said...

I suspect you are using "substance" and "transubstantiation" with the Aristotelian categories in mind.
You will have to search widely to find many theologians who still hold to such philosophical concepts.
"Transubstantiation" is now used normally in Roman Catholicism as a synonym for Christ being really present in the eucharist - fully in the bread, fully in the wine, rather than an adherence to Aristotelian categories.
Such a belief of Christ's presence is consistent, I posit, and my quote demonstrates, with Anglican formularies to which we assent.
The bending over backwards, as I indicated, to demonstrate Christ is present everywhere EXCEPT in the bread and the wine of holy communion, is a tendency I cannot make sense of.
Why would you not use similar language of scripture:

"the words in the scriptures have not changed their 'substance'
... I understand this to be consistent with traditional evangelical understanding that the words of God are present in the believer who receives the words of the Bible 'by faith'."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
I shall post upon these comments soon-ish!