Clergy come and go, bringing—and eventually taking—their idiosyncrasies with them. One such idiosyncrasy I’ve been living with for a bit is the habit of some catholic-minded clergy of prefacing the prayer of thanksgiving in the Communion service with something along these lines: ‘We offer this service with special intention for’, followed by reference to a situation or person in particular need of prayer. Tot verba tot errores:

‘We’: who does this refer to? If it is intended to include me, couldn’t my agreement have been sought beforehand? If it isn’t intended to include me, in what sense is this Common Prayer?

‘Offer this service’: we’ve noted the problem with this idea before (here and here and here), but the usage in this case seems slightly different. The question raised here is not so much whether Communion is a sacrifice that we offer, as whether, even if it is, it belongs to the celebrant in such a way that he can ‘offer’ it, even to God, on his own authority. The Communion service is the act of all those gathered in response to Christ’s commandment to ‘do this in remembrance of me’, and the celebrant simply the one delegated to set the bread and wine apart in their name.

‘Special intention’: Jesus has the only intention appropriate to a service of Holy Communion: ‘do this in remembrance of me’. To take something God has decreed for one purpose and put it to our own purpose, however laudable our purpose may be, is something that gets pretty dire warning labels attached in Scripture. In Exodus 30 we read about the oil with which the priests and the furniture in the Tabernacle were to be consecrated, and it was blended in accordance with a special formula. And in vv 31f, we hear God’s voice saying, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be poured upon the bodies of ordinary men, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people.’ It was not to be used for anything but God’s stated purpose. That’s what it means to consecrate something. The only justification for calling it Holy Communion is that God has given it a particular purpose: ‘do this to remember me’. The place for other concerns is the Prayers of the People.

But Anglican Evangelicals are used to misunderstandings of this sort when they are at a service whose celebrant is not an Evangelical. When I come to receive, I pray that God will forgive the mistake, because the celebrant has probably not thought it through and therefore knows not what he does, and express my own desire to do only what Jesus asks us to do, and to do it for the reason He had in mind. And I continue to pray for the further reformation of the Episcopal Church.

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