Saturday, 30 January 2021

On the third day

The Gospel according to John begins with allusions to the creation story at the beginning of the Bible: “In the beginning...” So when the Gospel reports that the first event through which Jesus revealed his glory took place “on the third day” (John 2:1), it is perhaps worth asking what happened on the third day of creation.

On day one God had created light and thereby time. On the second day, he had created the firmament to divide waters below and above, thus making space by differentiating what had been before just one unified matter.

On the third day God did, for the first time, two things. First, he let waters gather together so that dry land would appear, then he summoned earth to produce grain and fruit trees. I find this interesting for two reasons. 

(1) For the first time God works with what already exists. On the first two days it was “Let there be...(light, a dome)” but now we hear “Let the waters...(be gathered)” and “let the earth...(put forth vegetation)”.

This is of course also what happens in the miracle at Cana. Jesus did not snip his fingers over a few empty jars to let wine materialise out of nothing. He first asked for those jars to be filled with water. And then he turns the water into wine.

God does sometimes have to create ex nihilo (out of nothing). But he LOVES to be creative with what is there. We see this in Jesus many times. He feeds thousands from five barley loaves and two fish – why, when he could have fed the multitude by creating food out of thin air (I mean from nothing)? Because he loves to be creative with what is there.

The glory of God is not simply his power. God’s glory is his love and his generosity. We see in this story that Christ came to bring life in all its fullness (wine, not just water) and we get a glimpse here not only of his creative power but his desire to get others involved in his work.

(2) The second thing that impressed itself upon me when I reflected “on the third day” in Genesis and in John’s Gospel is that the third day is the creation of grain and fruit which, among other things, with human co-operation will one day become bread and wine. Before the third day there was only water!

Psalm 104 speaks about how God provides grass for the cattle and crops for people to cultivate and “wine to gladden the human heart” (v15). How does God give wine? God gives the fruit, the sunshine, the water and human ability to cultivate the vine stock and to turn grapes into wine. God loves to co-operate with us.

Christ reveals his glory to make something new and beautiful and enriching out of the ordinary stuff of life.

Looking beyond the creation story, it is quite common in the Bible, and especially in the book of Genesis, for something new or exciting to happen on the third day:

·         On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. (Gen. 22:4)

·         On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. (Gen. 31:22)

·         On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males (Gen. 34:25)

·         [Having put his brothers in custody] on the third day Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: (Gen. 42:18)

The third day comes up in only one chapter in the second book of the Bible, namely in Exodus 19:10–17 which is the day on which the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai “in the sight of all the people” – surely a potent text to have in the back of one’s mind when reading about the revelation of glory in John 2.

The third day is truly a special day. It deservedly made it into our creeds.

Is there a message to “the third day”? Well, let me hazard a guess. The third day is not straight away, immediately. Not like the day of repentance which is always TODAY. “Today, when you hear his voice, harden not your hearts!”

The third day is not straight away but it is before the week is half way over and in this sense sooner rather than later. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of our need for endurance, For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb. 10:37), alluding to Habakkuk’s vision.

If something is said to happen “on the third day” it does not happen straight away but neither does it happen in the distant future, say “the eight day” – the beginning of the new creation.

A “third day” attitude to the revelation of the glory of God in Christ may be one which is both content to wait (something may not happen immediately) and expectant in the knowledge that Jesus can sue the ordinary, even embarrassing circumstances, to reveal his glory in the middle of the week, as it were.

 

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Quincunque Vult

A few years ago I gently updated the English translation of the so-called Athanasian Creed, also called Quincunque Vult (Whoever wishes) after its opening words in Latin for a sermon preached at All Saints Highgate. Here it is, formatted for greater ease of understanding.

 

Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, retain the catholic faith [= the faith held by the whole Church].

Whoever does not keep it whole and inviolate will doubtless perish eternally.

Now the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in trinity, and the Trinity in unity;

neither confusing the persons, nor divid­ing the substance [= divine being {what makes God God}].

For the person of the Father is one, that of the Son another, and that of the Holy Spirit another,

but the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is one ― equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

The Father is uncreated; the Son is uncreated; the Holy Spirit is uncreated. 

The Father is unlimited, the Son is unlimited, the Holy Spirit is unlimited. 

The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal

― and yet there are not three eternal beings but one who is eternal,

just as there are not three uncreated or unlimited beings but one who is uncreated and unlimited. 

In the same way, the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Spirit is almighty

― and yet there are not three almighty beings but one who is almighty.

Thus, the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God

― and yet there are not three gods but one God. 

Thus, the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord―and yet there are not three lords but one Lord.

 

For just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord,

so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say that there are three gods or three lords. 

The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten by any­one. 

The Son is from the Father alone, not made or created but begotten. 

The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, not made or created or begotten but proceeding

Therefore there is one Father, not three fathers;

one Son, not three sons; 

one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits. 

And in this Trinity there is no before or after [as to duration], nor is there greater or lesser [as to degree, power, dignity], but all three persons are in themselves coeternal and coequal,

so that (as has been stated above) in all things the Unity in trinity and the Trinity in unity is to be worshipped. 

Therefore, who wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity. 

 

But it is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully [with integrity] believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Therefore it is the right faith that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at once God and a human being.

He is God, begotten from the substance [being] of the Father before all ages, and a human being, born from the substance of his mother in this age;

perfectly God and perfectly a human being, composed of a rational soul [mind] and human flesh;

equal to the Father with regard to his divinity, less than the Father with regard to his humanity.

Although he is God and a human being, nevertheless he is not two, but one Christ. 

However, he is not one by turning deity into flesh but by taking humanity into God,

truly one, not by mixing humanity with deity, but by a unity of person. 

For, as [by ana­logy] the rational soul [mind] and the flesh is one human being, so God and the human being is one Christ.

He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell [Hades], rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, is seated at the right hand of the Father, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead. 

At his coming all human beings have to rise again with their bodies and will give an account of their own deeds. 

Those who have done good will go into eternal life; those who have done evil into eternal fire. 

This is the catholic faith; everyone must believe this faithfully and firmly, otherwise they cannot be saved. Amen.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

The distribution of the elements

 A few brief comments on the Church of England document Holy Communion and the distribution of the elements.

Liturgical Considerations

1. "Holy Communion is a shared sacramental meal at which the risen Christ presides." This is one reason why conformity to our Lord's instructions is paramount.

2. Necessary "adaptations need to take account of the primary symbols associated with each element." The primary symbol of one is brokenness and unity of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, "one bread"), the pouring from the cup relates to the shed blood of Christ (Luke 22:20).

3. It is right that "the piece of consecrated bread that the communicant receives should, wherever possible, have been broken." It is noteworthy that the Church of England’s Advice on the Administration of Holy Communion from 1 July 2020 which encouraged use of individual wafers thereby made the latter permissible. "The administration of a piece of broken bread is therefore permitted."

4. As observed above, the symbol of unity relates more directly to the bread than the wine. Sharing in a common cup means sharing in a common fate. This symbolism requires that each participant drinks up (cf. the motif of draining to the dregs the cup of God's wrath). In addition, the rubrics require that "any consecrated bread and wine which is not required for the purposes of communion is consumed at the end of the distribution or after the service" (emphasis added). There is no requirement here on clergy to drink up what has already been distributed to the congregation. 

5. Since the sixteenth century (and for most of the time before) until recently the Church of England has always (not "normally") administered Holy Communion in both kinds. Possible use of more than one vessel for this purpose ("be it Chalice or Flagon") is already recognised in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

6. Common Worship, unlike the Book of Common Prayer, explicitly allows for communicants to receive in one kind. Such a permission to receive in one kind is fundamentally different from refusal by the clergy to offer both kinds.

7. Until confirmation parents have some authority over their children's reception of one or both elements.

8. Receiving Holy Communion in one kind, under specific circumstances, is not controversial. Only offering Holy Communion in one kind very much is.

Legal Considerations

9. A refusal to contemplate the use of individual cups hardly constitutes a "true necessity in law" to allow for distribution of one kind only. There seem to be no historical examples to demonstrate true necessity in law to depart from the legal requirement to offer Holy Communion in both kinds other than absence of one of the elements in question.

10. It stands to reason that where use of a common cup is inadvisable, finding other means of sharing from the common cup is preferable to excluding some or all of the congregation from the act of drinking.

11. Just as it is " not permissible for the bread alone to be consecrated, or for the president to receive in one kind alone," so it should not be permissible for the president alone to receive in both kinds. Such a situation is nowhere envisaged in the Book of Common Prayer or in Canon Law.

12. The LAC's opinion is not based on sound reason.

Public Health Considerations

13. While it is arguably possible to use a common cup (with purificator drenched in 95% alcohol) within the current Government guidelines, in our context it seems wise not to do so.

14. The ordinary practice of Free Churches may inform our thinking but is of little relevance.

15. The practicalities of distributing consecrated wine from a flagon into communicants' own cups are actually very straightforward.

16. There is absolutely no reason why anyone other than the communicant should touch the cup they have brought from home, unless they want to share it within their household. 

17. The practice of Free Churches does not concern me; I trust that they, too, seek and follow PHE guidance. The most recent CofE proposals for presidential intinction present a greater health risk than the carefully governed use of a common flagon and home-brought cups, especially in terms of prolonged breathing over the uncovered cup during distribution and increased risk of accidental touching. It also raises issues for any suffering from coeliac disease.  

Conclusion

18. There is no basis in this paper for confidence in the judgement of its authors.

19. The hypocrisy of a church leadership that overthrows church tradition by withdrawing the cup from the laity for many months and allowing clergy to celebrate Holy Communion on their own in their private homes, while baulking at granting permission for the use of individual cups to facilitate drinking from a common vessel (one consecrated flagon) stinks to high heaven.



Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Receiving Holy Communion

In August, the Church of England offered guidance on the celebration of Holy Communion. The theological reflection attached to it opens with the observation, "God’s presence is always with us, in ways that often escape explanation" (cf. my post on God's Real Presence).

The guidance rightly notes: "The dominical sacraments, as the Church of England has understood them, both signify and convey the realities to which they refer." Although it should be pointed out that according to our formularies the realities are truly offered but not necessarily received. This is so because what is supremely offered in the Eucharist cannot be received with hand and mouth but must be received by faith. Unbelievers who receive the elements have the body and blood of Christ truly offered to them but they do not receive the body and blood of Christ. The doctrine of transubstantiation, as commonly understood, is erroneous in suggesting that the true substance of the Eucharist is received by material means. 

We recognise that the present circumstances have raised in a new way many questions about the celebration of Holy Communion in the Church of England. It is our hope that the Faith and Order Commission and the Liturgical Commission will be able to give more extended theological consideration to these than is possible within the constraints of this short guidance document. While God’s people are seeking to discern how to live as a eucharistic community under the current restrictions, we believe that there is much we can learn from the present situation about the celebration of Holy Communion at any time. We encourage deep reflection on our practices, as all members of the Church seek to respond to changing circumstances and the spiritual needs that emerge from them.

I have found this to be true. The present circumstances have encouraged me to reflect more deeply on our practices, raising questions and clarifying some matters in the process. It has clarified for me that "Holy Communion is, both in form and substance, a shared sacramental meal, and any exceptions to this principle" do not merely "fall short of what would be expected in any normal circumstances," as the guidance claims, but turn the Lord's Supper into something different, a memorial event rather than a dominical sacrament. What a priest celebrates in the absence of a congregation is not Holy Communion.

"The physical handling and sharing of the elements by participants in the same celebration is traditionally seen as essential to the sacramental action of Holy Communion." Because it is. This is not to deny that God in His grace can do marvellous things and, say, convey to a small gathering in a concentration camp without ordained minister or wine all the blessings Christians would ordinarily receive from Holy Communion. But where Ribena is substituted for wine, where rice is used instead of bread, or where only a single individual eats and drinks, there is not Holy Communion as instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ.

The guidance further notes: "In circumstances where there is a reasonable chance of contagion, the canonical doctrine of necessity permits the reception of Holy Communion in one kind." (The appeal to the 1547 Sacrament Act is not without problems, however, as I have observed in previous blog posts.) While the Book of Common Prayer nowhere envisages anyone receiving Holy Communion in one kind, it is true that "The Notes to the Celebration of Holy Communion at Home or in Hospital indicate that ‘Communion should normally be received in both kinds separately, but where necessary may be received in one kind whether of bread or, where the communicant cannot receive solid food, wine.’"

What seems to be overlooked here is that the permission given to communicants to receive in one kind is not at all the same as giving clergy permission to withhold the cup from those who desire to receive it, let alone instructing them to refuse the cup to the laity. It is difficult to see what the legal and canonical grounds for this latter move might be. 

The guidance asks that all communicants other than the presiding minister "should receive the bread only, in the hand." It adds: "As the Liturgical and Faith and Order Commissions have made clear, this is still ‘complete communion’." But is it? The claim that what previous Anglican divines have sometimes spoken of as a "half-communion" or a "mutilated sacrament" nevertheless allows for communicants to make "complete communion" is not wrong but it says both too little and too much.

The guidance does well to point to the following:

The Book of Common Prayer instructs us that if we offer ourselves in penitence and faith, giving thanks for the redemption won by Christ crucified, we may truly ‘eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ’, although we cannot receive the sacrament physically in ourselves.

In other words, the reason why it is possible to receive "complete communion," even while not drinking from the cup is that it is possible to receive "complete communion" without either eating or drinking, without receiving the sacrament physically at all. It is not the case that the bread conveys something which cannot be received apart from the sacrament (and to which the cup does not add anything). In this sense the claim about "complete communion" in the guidance arguably says too little.

We understand why this is so once we ask what is received in Holy Communion. What is supremely offered in the Sacrament (and received by those whose instrument of reception consists of faith as well as mouth) is Jesus Christ himself. And it would of course be ridiculous to claim that the bread gives us one part of Christ, the wine another. Christ is not divided. Still, Anglicans in previous centuries were right to reject the doctrine of concomitance as commonly understood in that it introduces an erroneous material concept to what is received. 

Given that Christ is offered to us also in the Word, is anything different offered to us in the Sacrament? As it is true that the Sacrament cannot gives us the body and blood of Christ without giving us Christ, the whole Christ, both body and soul, in his divine as well as human nature, so it is true that the Word does not offer us Christ apart from his body and blood. Ultimately we receive the exact same grace in Word and Sacrament: Jesus Christ. 

But this does of course not mean that the Sacrament is superfluous. We receive Christ differently in eating and drinking. I hope to elaborate on this in a future post. But given that our Lord instituted both the eating and the drinking ("Drink this, all of you!"), the claim about "complete communion" is problematic. There can be complete spiritual communion, as noted just now, in that our communion is with Christ, but according to the sacramental mode of communion it is questionable whether we should speak of "complete communion" once people have eaten, as if drinking from the common cup poured for us is superfluous. 

In sum those who without faith merely receive the elements, even if they receive both, do themselves more harm than good. It is better to receive just one element with faith that both without. Indeed, it is far better to make spiritual communion than to receive the Sacrament in a merely carnal way. But it is better still if those who can receive Holy Communion in both kinds. Clergy are "ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1) and have no right to change these mysteries or celebrate Holy Communion contrary to Christ's institution. 

Monday, 21 September 2020

Celebrating Holy Communion

There has been much controversy throughout the ages around the central liturgical event celebrated by the church, the Eucharist. The restrictions relating to containing the coronavirus have raised some of these afresh.

Holy Communion is not what it used to be. Let me list the reasons. First, we only gather in small numbers, when ideally the Eucharist is celebrated by the whole church. Secondly, in order to minimise risk, there is no sharing of the Peace through physical contact. Thirdly, government guidance indicates that ministers should not speak over uncovered “consumables” which means that bread and wine are covered during the Eucharistic Prayer. It also means that we lose the symbolism of people eating from the same broken bread and drinking from the same cup. Fourthly, the use of assistants is discouraged. Fifthly, the requirement to wear face masks in public places makes eating and drinking more of a fuss – sanitising before and after face masks are removed for communion is recommended and physical touch between minister and communicant must be avoided. Sixthly, the use of singing is severely restricted. Seventhly, kneeling at the altar rail is discouraged.

Seven is a full number, so I stop here. It is clear that our worship life is disrupted. Some of the precautions we are taking merely present an inconvenience. Kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion is our tradition but it is not essential for the rite. It is important that we are at peace with one another as we approach the Lord’s table but it is not essential that we have an opportunity to hug before eating and drinking. The disruption of other liturgical acts such as the breaking of the bread seems to me tolerable, even if undesirable.

At Monken Hadley we are used to individual communion wafers. As a result of the deep reflection on our practices encouraged by the Church of England at this time, I am inclined to think that we should abandon this in the long run. “We are one body because we all share in one bread” is a truth more readily present to us when we actually share from one loaf of bread broken for us. But for now we must be content with the wafers being distributed from one ciborium (cup that holds the wafers).

The current Church of England guidance also advises that at present “Communion should be administered in one kind only with no sharing of the common cup.” The advice recognises that “Holy Communion is, both in form and substance, a shared sacramental meal, and any exceptions to this principle fall short of what would be expected in any normal circumstances” (emphasis added). They observe: “This is reflected in the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer, which states that ‘there shall be no celebration of the Lord’s Supper, except there be a convenient number to communicate with the priest…” We may add that this is also clear from a careful reading of the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer relating to the Communion of the Sick.

Nevertheless, members of the Liturgical Commission and the Faith & Order Commission appeal to “the doctrine of necessity,” a legal principle “which allows for exceptional actions to preserve a greater principle.” On this basis, they, and the House of Bishops, allowed the reintroduction of private masses in the Church of England.

Alas, I believe that they are fundamentally mistaken here. The Holy Communion is the church’s Eucharist and cannot be celebrated by an individual on their own. This has been “a greater principle” within the Church of England for the last 500 years and across the world in most other churches, excepting the Roman Catholic church.

Always offering both sacramental elements to all communicants is also a universal practice of the church, again with the exception of the Roman Catholic church. It is therefore disappointing that the Church of England guidance states that “The president alone should always take the wine, consuming all that has been consecrated; other com­municants should receive the bread only, in the hand.”

This is based on two or three things. Theologically, the observation that it is possible for a communicant to receive Holy Communion in one kind only leads to the alleged permissibility of withdrawing the cup from the laity altogether. But this does not follow. It is one thing for individual communicants to participate only partly in the eating and drinking of the church, it is another thing for the eating and drinking to be restricted to one individual. In the latter case it is no longer the body of Christ celebrating the Eucharist by eating and drinking. I therefore believe this to be illegitimate.

Legally, appeal is made to the 1547 Sacrament Act. The Reformation in England was shaped by political forces as well as theological ones. Henry VIII supported the Reformation in some ways and hindered it in other ways. His death paved the way for greater consistency in being a Reformed Catholic church. The return to the ancient practice of offering communion in both kinds, which Henry VIII had resisted, was part of this. The very first act of parliament under King Edward VI was the 1547 Sacrament Act, whose full title is: “An Acte against suche as shall unreverentlie speake against the Sacrament of the bodie and bloude of Christe commonlie called the Sacrament of the Altar, and for the receiving thereof in bothe kyndes.”

Since then Holy Communion has been offered in both kinds in the Church of England. The Act has since been largely repealed, except for section VIII, “Primitive Mode of receiving the Sacrament; The Sacrament shall be administered in both Kinds, Bread and Wine, to the People: After Exhortations of the Priest, the Sacrament shall not be denied. Not condemning the Usage of other Churches.” Again, the title tells the story. Lawyers arguing for the permissibility of offering Holy Communion in one kind only take comfort from the fact that the Act includes the phrase “excepte necessitie otherwise require.” They argue that the COVID-19 situation presents us with such a necessity. They do so in spite of the fact that Holy Communion in both kinds is celebrated in other churches and in spite of the fact that there is no evidence that Bishops ushered a similar instruction during the great plague or any other outbreaks of illness in the last few hundred years.

The fact is that the original Book of Common Prayer was published only two years later (1549) and nowhere anticipates that anyone might take communion in one kind only. The rubrics relating to the Communion of the sick indicate that even in this case communion was in both kinds. When the Council of Trent in July 1562 enshrined the doctrine of transubstantiation and the practice of with­holding the cup from the laity and condemning those who taught otherwise, our Archbishop Parker replied (1563) by writing what we now know as Article XXX of the Thirty-Nine Articles:

The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

I have consulted a good number of volumes from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries with titles such as An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles and found not one suggesting that this Article has been or might be suspended during a plague or at any other time. Several Anglican writers throughout the centuries spoke of withdrawing the cup as mutilating the sacrament. (Some citations can be found at https://hadleyrectory.blogspot.com/)

I hope to say more about this in the next issue of the magazine, in which I also plan to examine the claim of the Liturgical and Faith and Order Commissions that what some earlier Anglican divines referred to as a “half-communion” is still “complete communion.”

For now, it is sufficient to say that I take my stand with the Reformed Catholic tradition enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles and will therefore not celebrate Holy Communion in a form in which “Drink this, all of you” is suspended.

Thankfully, the Church of England has so far issued guidance on this matter, not instruction. In the light of concerns about drinking from a common cup, I have decided to consecrate a flagon with closed lid alongside a ciborium with individual wafers. I wear a face mask and visor during the actual distribution.

Any baptised Christian who is reconciled with God and with fellow members of the body of Christ and who wishes to receive the bread shall come forward and open their hands (traditionally putting the right hand over the left). Those who also wish to receive from the common cup (flagon) are invited to bring their own glass or cup into which I then pour from the flagon.

Words like “the Body of Christ given for you” and “the Blood of Christ shed for you” are at present not said to individuals, again to minimise breathing over the elements. Nevertheless, as you receive, know that this is personal and individual as well as something we do together as the body of Christ.

May we soon be able to mingle and celebrate freely without any of these restrictions, but in the meantime let us give thanks to God in all circumstances, rejoicing in the fact that no virus can limit Him in the way He wants to minister to our souls.

PS: The House of Bishops has not given permission for the use of individual cups on the grounds that the legal opinion given to them claims that such would be illegal within the Church of England. I have carefully studied this legal opinion and myself do not believe that it would stand up in court. I am not a lawyer, of course, but I take comfort from the fact that the flaws in the reasoning are fairly obvious and that another lengthy legal opinion has now been published, arguing that the use of individual cups is not illegal.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

God's Real Presence

 Emmanuel – God is with us – But how?

Our Lord Jesus Christ is also called Emmanuel (or: Immanuel), which in English means God-with-us. He promised that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” But does this mean that he is not with us when we are on our own? And does his real presence in the Eucharist mean that he is really absent when we do not celebrate the Eucharist?

God is omnipresent. The Scriptures testify to this, logic demands it based on what God has revealed about who he is, and our tradition unequivocally affirms it. But while God is everywhere, He has chosen to dwell among his people. While God is everywhere present, He can be said to depart and to be absent. Thus, in Ezekiel 10–11 we read a dramatic account of the glory of the Lord leaving the temple and the city of Jerusalem. How does this work?

God is omnipresent in the sense that everyone and everything in all of creation is always present to him – nothing escapes His notice; none can flee from His presence (cf. Psalm 139). But while everyone is present to Him, He is not always present to everyone in the sense of being accessible to everyone. For God to withdraw Himself means that God withdraws His accessibility. It is a horrifying prospect to contemplate.

God is perfectly good and cannot tolerate evil in His presence. Evil therefore drives Him away in the sense of making Him inaccessible. The apostle Paul observes with words from Psalm 14 that we have all turned aside from God (Romans 3:12). And we do not have the ability to turn back to Him. But God has turned to us. In Christ He came to dwell among us, dealing with the sin that separates us from Him on the cross. God is present everywhere but in Christ He is present to us in all his favour and compassion.

And Christ promised His disciples to be with them always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), not of course in the form of his risen and ascended body but through the Spirit He poured on His people on the day of Pentecost.

Christ has given the Holy Spirit to each one who puts their trust in him. He is therefore always present with a Christian, even when that Christian is on his or her own.

So why did Jesus say, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)? First, note that this is the conclusion to a debate that begins with a question the disciples had put to Jesus: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (verse 1) He answers by calling a child and speaking about being humble. He says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (verse 5). In other words, we can welcome Christ in welcoming (even) the humblest (apparently most insignificant) of people.

Jesus continues this by warning about the seriousness of creating a stumbling-block for such little ones, or despising them. He speaks of the need to deal with offences committed within the church, if at all possible, in a way that leads to reconciliation, although, if an offender refuses to listen to the church, exclusion is required. Such a decision cannot be made by an individual. It is in this connection that Jesus speaks of binding and loosing (verse 18, retaining guilt or absolving) and promises that His Father will honour such an agreement, before adding “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

In other words, Jesus speaks into a situation in which two or three witnesses are required to confront and convict a church member of their sin and affirms that in this process He is with His people. It is not a matter of Christ being more present when two or three are gathered in His name but of Him being present in a specific process.

This may help us, as we reflect on Christ’s presence when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. Trusting His promise, we do believe that Christ is present with us, as we gather to worship Him, even if we do not celebrate the Eucharist. And because Christ’s presence cannot be divided into bits and pieces, it would be wrong to say that He is more present when we celebrate the Eucharist. But we may want to say that He is present in a different mode.

Christ is present to us in the Eucharist as a host who gives us to eat and drink. The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians speaks of partaking of “the table of the Lord” and calls the cup that we drink “the cup of the Lord” (chapter 10). He speaks of Holy Communion as “the Lord’s Supper” (chapter 11). Thus, it is clear that Christ meets us here as the host, giving us bread to eat and wine to drink. But as our mouth receives bread and wine, we share in more than bread and wine.

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16) In the Eucharist Christ provides us with a sensible connection to Calvary in that we can taste and feel that He brought His body as a sacrifice and shed His blood for us on the cross and “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

And we are also made sensible of the fact that the “us” for whom Christ’s blood was shed is a body. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:17). It is not possible to celebrate Holy Communion on one’s own. Just as church discipline requires at least two or three to be gathered in agreement, so does the Eucharist.

Much more could be said about the contexts in which it is proper or improper to celebrate the Eucharist. Sufficient to say here that the Church of England requires an ordained presbyter/priest to preside at Holy Communion. This is to safeguard that the gathering is really of the body of Christ rather than a splinter group.

What does this mean in our current situation? It means that there is a mode of Christ’s presence which we cannot experience, unless we meet together eating and drinking at the Eucharist. We should desire and pray for this to become possible for all of us. But when we gather for services without the Eucharist, we still gather as the body of Christ and Christ is present to us in a different mode from when we pray on our own. There is a special blessing on Christ’s presence as his body; we should not neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).

Alone, I am member of the body of Christ. I am not the body. For the body of Christ to come together, it does not need all Christians to be in the same place at the same time. But as far as possible, we are to meet with Christians in our neighbourhood.

What about Zoom? There is much that is lacking when we meet via Zoom, not least the Eucharist. But we have experienced real fellow­ship over recent months and we are able to do something together as the body of Christ, with some people reading, others leading us in prayers, others leading us in singing, the children sharing their art work. Surely Christ continues to be present not only with each one of us individually but in the manner of his body, as we meet virtually.  

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Concomitance

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 11:16)

The “Catholic Dictionary” offers the following definition of concomitance:

The doctrine that explains why the whole Christ is present under each Eucharistic species. Christ is indivisible, so that his body cannot be separated from his blood, his human soul, his divine nature, and his divine personality. Consequently he is wholly present in the Eucharist. But only the substance of his body is the specific effect of the first consecration at Mass; his blood, soul, divinity, and personality become present by concomitance, i.e., by the inseparable connection that they have with his body. The Church also says the "substance" of Christ’s body because its accidents, though imperceptible, are also present by same concomitance, not precisely because of the words of consecration.

In the second consecration, the conversion terminates specifically in the presence of the substance of Christ’s blood. But again by concomitance his body and entire self become present as well. (Etym. Latin concomitantia, accompaniment.)

This doctrine relies on the belief that communicants are offered Christ’s risen and ascended body and blood, and not his body and blood as given for us at the cross. While no Christian would want to deny that our fellowship is indeed with the living Christ who by His Holy Spirit makes Himself present to us, and while it may be granted that in the Sacrament we are raised to heaven, receiving a foretaste of the future, nevertheless “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) This is in accordance with the words of Christ at the institution: “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28) What is offered to communicants is the blood shed for our sins, not the blood throbbing through the veins of the risen and ascended Christ.

Reformed Catholics have therefore largely rejected the doctrine of concomitance:

“We say and believe, that we receive the body and blood of Christ truly, and not a figure or sign ; but even that body which suffered death on the cross, and that blood which was shed for the forgiveness of sins.”

Bishop John Jewel (1522-1571), On the Sacraments, cited in An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles by the Reformers – the Rev. Thomas R. Jones (1849), 189

The dream of the Church of Rome, that he that receives the body receives also the blood, because, by concomitance, the blood is received in the body, – is ... not true, because, the eucharist being the sacrament of the Lord’s death, that is, of his body broken and his blood poured forth, the taking of the sacrament of the body does not by concomitance include the blood; because the body is here sacramentally represented as slain and separate from blood.

Jeremy Taylor [1613-1667], Ductor Dubitantum or The Rule of Conscience in All Her General Measures: Serving as a Great Instrument for the Determination of Cases of Conscience in Four Books, vol. 2 ed. by Alexander Taylor (Eugene: Or: Wipf and Stock, 2009), 544; cf. The whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, vol. 13: Containing a Continuation of the Rule of Conscience (1839), 28–29.

The following citations were gleaned by following links from the Resources on the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion on the Prydain blog.

The design of the sacrament is “to represent Christ to us as dead, and in his crucified, but not in his glorified state.”

An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England – Bp. Gilbert Burnet (1699, although this revision by James R. Page is dated 1842), 454-55.

“Now the Romanists do but trifle, when they say, that the blood is with the body; since in the eucharist we commemorate, not the life of our Lord, but his death, in which his blood was separated from his body.”

The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England – Archdeacon Edward Welchman (1713 or shortly after that, although this reprint is dated 1842)

“to partake of both body and blood, we must receive both the bread and the wine” 

An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England – Bp. William Beveridge [1637-1708] (1830), 519. This exposition offers a good number of citations from the earlier church.

“It is material to notice the reason assigned by our Redeemer why all the Apostles were to drink of the Cup, “for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” All, therefore, who stand in need of remission of sins, are to drink of the Cup; that is, all mankind, laity as well as Clergy.”

The Churchman’s Guide in Perilous Times, – the Rev. Thomas Pigot, A.M. (1835), 94; cf. Elements of Christian Theology (vol.2) – Bishop George Pretyman Tomline (first published 1799; this edition 1843), 432

“our Lord appointed each of the elements by consecration to communicate a particular blessing, and therefore those who deny the cup to lay people deprive them, so far as lies in their power, of a portion of the benefit of the sacrament.”

A Catechism on the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England – the Rev. James Beaven, D.D. (1850), 94. Bp. A.P. Forbes in An Explanation of the Thirty-Nine Articles  (1871) seeks to define the deprivation, arguing that, “While the Sacrament under one kind conveys all the graces necessary to  salvation, the Chalice has a special grace of its own – the grace of gladdening...that of the meat is to strengthen the weak” (599).

cf. Sermons, explanatory and practical, on the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, by the Rev. T. Waite (1826), 440