Another important consideration when trying to avoid any implication that Holy Communion somehow re-enacts Christ’s sacrifice is the way we treat the bread and wine before the consecration. Lifting them up in a gesture suggestive of offering is clearly misleading, but so is bringing them to the priest along with the congregation’s alms in triumphant procession. The elements should not be treated as something that either the congregation or the priest offers. Colin Buchanan wrote a Grove booklet on this some years ago, The End of the Offertory: an Anglican Study, in which he argued that the preparation of the elements is not part of Christ’s institution, and it does not matter when or how they are put on the table. ‘They do not need to be carried about by lay people, as there is no theological mileage in this. If the “specialised wafer” and vino sacro are being used, then it is actually misleading to pretend that they have been contributed by the congregation in the way that alms have.’ In a large part of Anglican history the elements were on the table before the service started, and the bread was uncovered, and the wine poured into the cup, without ceremony immediately before the consecration began.

Unfortunately, many congregations have been taught that a procession with alms and elements symbolises lay participation in the liturgy, or gives them their proper role in the liturgy. Buchanan has particularly strong words about this: ‘Fancy a dud procession with two, four or even six silent laymen carrying materials which do not need to be carried, and fancy it all being over in 45 seconds, and our calling that the ‘layman’s liturgy’! How could we have ever been so blind?’ It will take a great deal of patient and persistent teaching to get such a congregation to understand the need for this to change, but this is the work that faces Evangelicals in today’s Episcopal Church.

The use of special prayers or gestures relating to the elements at the preparation, such as the Roman ‘through your goodness we have this bread to offer’ etc is especially unfortunate liturgically, Buchanan argues, since they amount to a thanksgiving over the elements, which is all that the prayer of consecration actually is. The use of such prayers renders the ‘great thanksgiving’ superfluous.

Concerning re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice, Bishop Hoadley’s words are worth remembering: ‘the Lord’s Supper was not instituted as a Stage-Play, to act over our Saviour’s death (which is an unworthy thought), but as a Rite, for the remembrance of his death once past and not to be repeated’ (A Plain Account of the Nature and End of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper [1735] p 55).

Advertisements