Spanish churches have now been told to administer Holy Communion in one kind, to nod rather than shake hands during the peace & to empty the holy water stoops, all to avoid the risk of spreading swine flu.
In England I notice that the previously dissenting Dioceses of Salisbury & Peterborough are now towing the archiepiscopal line. What are to make of it all? Today I thought I’d share a few observations.
- Our reactions. As I was away when the story broke, I only found out about it after trawling through many e-mails. Like many of you my reaction ranged from scepticism, to annoyance & a little anger.
- Ritual. If we analyse our feelings what emerges is that having long cherished & practised religious rituals changed by Governmental & Episcopal decree is disturbing, not least because they are so much a part of us. It feels odd to withhold the sacrament because to do so goes against the nature of sacraments that they have to do with God’s generous gift of himself in Jesus.
- It may be a good thing. Obviously at the practical level it is no bad thing to take steps to reduce the rate of infection. (Sharing the common cup can pass on the flu virus & silver doesn’t kill it.) To act on governmental advice shows that the church shares in general concern for others in making such a gesture. To act on Episcopal recommendation reminds us that we are more than a local congregation, that we are led by bishops.
- Having our rituals disturbed is no bad thing. With the passing of the years we get used to doing things the same old way & we take them for granted. This includes Holy Communion. Being asked to administer communion on kind has the effect of making us examine what we do & why. Different Christian traditions have approached Holy Communion in many ways. The current change in our practice gives us an opportunity to explore these.
- Catholicism. Until Vatican II is was the custom of the RCC to administer communion in one kind only & infrequently after confession & only on the tongue. The important thing was to be at Mass, to look & to see the Elevation of the Host. There is still a stress on being in the presence of Christ present in the Eucharist. Thus in catholic churches the Host is displayed in a monstrance at benediction & reserved for our adoration. Presence & adoration – two good words for us to ponder.
- Reformed Churches. In Protestant churches the Lord’s Supper is seen as a memorial of the Last Supper – the real absence. Even so Christ is to be received by the believer if they have made good personal preparation. In churches with infrequent communion services the sacrament is approached with far greater seriousness than is the case with our weekly reception that can be glib & superficial. Preparation another good word.
- Anglicanism. As we know, the C of E embraces both those two traditions being more or less catholic, more of less reformed according to churchmanship. With the impact of the liturgical movement & the growth of parish communion in the last 50 years, the Eucharist has been restored to its rightful place at the centre of Anglican worship. Before it was matins with occasional communion – once a month, once a quarter, despite Cranmer’s intention. Knowing our Eucharistic history, our breadth, a third good thing.
- Finally, a need for patience. When the pandemic has passed all will be restored. In the meantime I guess we have to go along with what is being recommended & use the time productively to think about why we do this in remembrance of Him.
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