Thinking Anglicans

London bishops write about the Eucharist

The London College of Bishops has published this excellent article: The Eucharist in a time of Physical Distancing. It is reproduced in full below. The current advice mentioned therein can be found here.

The Eucharist in a time of Physical Distancing

A paper from the London College of Bishops:

Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have gathered together to bless, break and share bread and to bless and share a cup of wine in obedience to the Lord’s command, given on the night before He died, to ‘do this in remembrance of me.’ The Church of England which emerged from the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, has maintained in its ‘historic formularies’ the centrality of the Eucharist in its account of Christian living. Along with Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, is a ‘Sacrament ordained of Christ’ (Article 25) and ‘a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death.’ (Article 28).

The Canons of the Church of England teach the importance and centrality of the Eucharist. Canon B14 requires the celebration of the Holy Communion in at least one church in every benefice on all Sundays and principal Feast days, as well as on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Canon B15 teaches that it is the duty of all who have been confirmed to receive the Holy Communion regularly, and especially at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

What, however, of the present circumstances in which, however desirous they might be of attending Holy Communion, the faithful are prevented by the strictures of lawful authorities both secular and ecclesiastical from doing so?

Rubrics at the end of the BCP Communion office plainly declare that ‘there shall be no celebration of the Lord’s Supper except there be a convenient number to communicate,’ a number which is further defined in a parish of twenty persons or less to be ‘three at the least.’

This reflects a ‘rule,’ which is both desirable and to be enjoined in all normal circumstances, that there should be communicants other than the minister at every celebration of Holy Communion. In teaching and holding this position, the Church of England does so in common with Christian tradition back to apostolic times. The Eucharist is intended, normatively, to be a corporate, not a private act, because it is given to offer the people spiritual nourishment (to “feed on the banquet of that most heavenly food“) [Exhortations in the BCP service of Holy Communion] build up the body of Christ in love and fellowship (Christ ordained the sacrament to move and stir all men to friendship, love and concord“) [Thomas Cranmer’s Treatise on the Lord’ Supper (1550)] and to “strengthen and confirm our faith in him.” [Article 25]

In Anglican understanding, sacraments are signs that both point to and embody the things they refer to. They are both “sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace” (Article 25). They both direct our attention to the ascended body of Christ, yet they also make the ‘benefits of his passion’ available to us here and now. There are therefore two aspects of sacraments as signs – they both point to and embody the reality to which they refer – the benefits and presence of Christ given to us and received by faith.

In our current circumstances, to the extent that they embody and offer the spiritual food of the body and blood of Christ, not being able to partake of the sacrament physically is an occasion for sadness and lament, as we are denied the opportunity of this particular aspect of this ‘holy communion’. At the same time, to the extent that they signify the promises of God and the gift of Christ, they can still benefit those who observe but cannot partake.

There is a benefit to be had for those who are ‘present’ at a celebration of Holy Communion, yet unable physically to partake of the elements. Because the sacrament is “given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner” (Article 28), even if a person cannot physically receive, their faith and love can still be strengthened by seeing, even if not tasting or feeling the gifts of bread and wine that signify the body and blood of Christ. As an example, the rubrics at the end of the order for the Visitation of the Sick in the 1662 Prayer Book envisage a situation in which someone might be in such grave or advanced sickness that they are unable to receive the Sacrament at a bed-side celebration of the Holy Communion. In such circumstances (and for a number of other causes), the sick person may, by associating him or herself with the benefits of the Sacrament which is not being physically received, nevertheless receive the gifts and graces which it brings.

Consistent with this position, we offer several options for parishes as long as the current physical distancing restrictions apply:

  1. Some parish churches may wish temporarily to suspend the celebration of Holy Communion until they are able to meet together in person again. We are already having to cease the practice of public Baptism for the duration due to the restrictions placed upon us, and so a church may choose to do the same with the other dominical sacrament. As one incumbent put it recently: “We will take this opportunity to fast from the Sacrament while we feast on the Word.”
  1. To ensure congregational involvement, where a parish church wishes to continue to celebrate the eucharist within the current advice issued by the London College of Bishops, and only the priest can be present, it should, whenever possible, be livestreamed, so that others can at least (as Cranmer put it) “see with our eyes” even if they cannot “smell with our noses, touch with our hands and taste with our mouths.” This enables the kind of spiritual reception that is at the heart of the sacrament, even if physical partaking is not possible.
  1. If that is not feasible, at the very least, it should be clearly advertised in the parish and among the congregation when the Holy Communion is to be celebrated in the home of the priest, with or without the presence of another member of that household. Such public advertising is insisted on in the ‘Exhortations’ in the BCP that are inserted between the Prayer for the Church Militant and the Confession. This way, others can be invited to pray and perhaps read the Scriptures at that time, so that the service takes place within some kind of extended communal act of worship in that parish, even if dispersed, and does not become merely a private act of devotion. Some prayers that would enable people to take part in such a celebration might be prepared.

In granting permission, exceptionally, for the clergy to celebrate Holy Communion in this way, our prayer must be that this time will be short. We pray too that God will give us a hunger and a thirst for that time when once again we can gather together to lift up our hearts in praise and adoration, to be nourished by the bodily reception of this sacrament which the Lord instituted on the night before he died and which he commanded us to continue ‘until he comes again’, to do again, indeed, all that is ‘meet, right and our bounden duty’ so to do.

The London College of Bishops

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Rowland WateridgeStanley MonkhouseJayne OzanneMichaelFather Ron Smith Recent comment authors
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Jayne Ozanne
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Jayne Ozanne

That’s a pretty long article to say something pretty obvious, isn’t it? However, sadly what the statement doesn’t do, and yet what many of us will be doing none-the-less, is to encourage lay members to break bread and drink wine in their homes as they participate in the service of the Eucharist so as to receive what Christ taught us to do – to share in His body and drink His blood in remembrance of Him. I’m sure God is more than able to accept this, particularly in these unusual “lockdown” circumstances, the question is whether we the Church are!… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
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peterpi - Peter Gross

“Do this in remembrance of me.” Amen and thank you. “For spiritual comfort” I have always seen the Mass or Eucharist as a memorial, as fulfilling what Jesus of Nazareth asked his followers to do, close to 2,000 years ago. And Christians worldwide are still following that command/request. That’s the mystical aspect to me, that’s the celebratory thing to me. If a priest or bishop celebrates a Mass or Eucharist with a virtual congregation, and each household breaks bread and shares wine, are the congregants not doing so in remembrance of Jesus of Nazareth? As a non-Christian child, I remember… Read more »

Russell Dewhurst
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Russell Dewhurst

Coronavirus aside, I don’t consider that it is possible to follow the rule about minimum number of communicants as people are not in the habit of indicating whether they intend to receive communion or not. The BCP rule relies on the BCP practice of notifying to the Curate the intention to communicate at least some time the day before. Where that practice is not followed (i.e. everywhere) the celebrant cannot know how many communicants there will be. On days when a priest has an obligation to preside at a celebration of Holy Communion I would argue (in normal circumstances) there… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Folks should follow their conscience. Rules and rubrics are applicable for official situations. During WW2 POWS celebrated Communion using bread and water. Doubt they were much taken with rubrics. The first women ordained priests in the Communion were ordained during wartime in China as a matter of pastoral pragmatism in order that people could have the sacraments. I think people who feel strongly about celebrating Communion ought to do so. Be creative, even creatively traditional, be a maverick. Church rules do not come from God’s mouth to the bureaucracy’s ear. Some experiments will fade with the pandemic, others will leave… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

German Lutheran NT scholar Joachim Jeremias in, Eucharistic Words of Jesus’, argues that Jesus’ words are a request by Jesus for Jesus himself to be remembered before God and by the community until he comes again. How may the community do this in a time of exceptional circumstance? I have little doubt that my Anglo-Catholic friends will celebrate Eucharist using the rubric “ there shall be no celebration of the Lord’s supper except there be one person to communicate with the priest” (BCP Canada):thus giving the rubric a permissive rather than prohibitive sense. Anglicans are verbal judo black belts. The… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

Firstly, thank you to the London College of Bishops for this. Unlike other recent documents it is helpful, has a pastoral tone, and cites the foundations on which the advice is based. Whether one agrees with the advice or not, the approach taken is very good indeed. In general I do agree with the advice for the most part. There are just two weaknesses in my opinion:- 1. Firstly it states that the archbishops have lawful authority to prohibit all worship in churches..As raised by the Archdeacon of Hastings, this is dubious. The probably false assumption means that some alternatives… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
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This excellent piece, from a group of people convened by the Presiding Bishop of TEC, is also excellent, though it takes a somewhat different view. https://mailchi.mp/episcopalchurch/presiding-bishop-michael-currys-word-to-the-church-on-our-theology-of-worshipla-palabra-del-obispo-presidente-michael-curry-a-la-iglesia-sobre?e=2549aa1e11

Kate
Guest
Kate

Thank you for sharing this. I am a huge fan of Michael Curry but I think the London bishops’ effort is the better on this occasion.

Dominic Barrington
Guest

A pastoral crisis is not a time to throw around law books. But – without reaching for my own collection of books, legal or otherwise, which are under lockdown – it does seem to me, as per Michael Curry, that the notion of a ‘private mass’ has been explicitly NOT a part of Anglicanism from the very beginning. I would have thought (but am happy to be corrected) that, frankly, the Bishop of London has no authority to claim that if a priest recites the words of the Eucharist in the physical absence of another human being it IS a… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

I’m not sure that doing things by the book, by any book, is what a crisis, any crisis, especially one if this magnitude, always warrants. Some folks will find comfort in Bishop Curry’s letter and accompanying reflection because they are ‘authoritative’. Other folks will find comfort in more maverick views. Are private (not ‘secret’ but distinguished from public) celebrations of the Eucharist under current circumstances any less warranted for those so inclined,than “ashes to go” offered at a metro morning commute on Ash Wednesday?

Kate
Guest
Kate

I guess we are re-defining what a private mass is. People are video calling loved ones. A singer in one city may collaborate live with a pianist in another city and broadcast the concert. Couples on narrowboats live stream a Q&A chat with their followers. We have people communicating with neighbours by holding up signs or even by putting a teddy bear in the window. Our sense of what being together, of what community means, has undergone a seismic shift. Inevitably our idea of what is or is not a private mass is also undergoing a radical shift. I have… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

As a dyed-in-the-wool Anglo-Catholic priest (retired but active – @ 90 years of age) – also a former novice of the Society of Saint Francis, I can attest to the vital importance, for me, of participation in the Eucharist which is the central act of worship in the Catholic and Apostolic Church around the world. It is also if some importance that, after WW2, a time of somewhat similar spiritual deprivation to the current COVID 19 crisis; the Church of England initiated a Parish Communion Movement, which encouraged the celebration of the Eucharist as the main worship event in its… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Very much agree with you and Jayne. Last Sunday, as my priest live-streamed the Eucharist form the vicarage, I assembled bread and wine on my computer table, and – in faith – believed the blessing of bread and wine could in so way inexplicable and unfathomable extend to blessing the elements on my table, and so I offered myself to God and gave thanks for God’s deep offering of self in Jesus, and received in faith. I wasn’t thinking abstract or working out theology at that little, intimate service. I was just trusting, and felt connected with my priest, with… Read more »

David Lamming
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David Lamming

I would echo the thoughts in the first part of your comment, Susannah. A local rector here in Suffolk, in introducing his live-streamed service of Holy Communion last Sunday, said: “We will be sharing Communion later in the service. If this is the first time you’ve come into a livestream, please do get yourself a drink – it can be wine, maybe something softer – and some bread, so that we can share; it’s important that we share Communion together with one another.” He has said subsequently: “For now I will let God decide whether the bread and wine in… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

That rector speaks a lot of sense.

Charles K
Guest
Charles K

Some words from St Edith Stein, Carmelite Nun, imprisoned in Westerbrook transit camp, August 1942

“We are very calm and cheerful. Of course, so far there has been no Mass and Communion; maybe that will come later. Now we have a chance to experience a little how to live purely from within.”

Some Holy pragmatic perspective!

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

See the story of POWs (link) trying to keep Eucharist going in their camp. “Many soldiers kept their spirits up through the ordeal by turning to religion and prayer, including the celebration of the Catholic mass. O’Brien said he and others stole a bit of flour from the kitchen to make hosts for holy communion… Having daily Mass, until Father Turner was taken away in early 1945, was the greatest blessing we had. Many non-Catholics in the prison became Catholics. ”
https://www.guampedia.com/wwii-prisoners-of-war-sent-to-japan/

Martin Henwood
Guest

I am finding this discussion and others about the sacrament and incumbent’s ability’s for opening up churches for prayer totally passe and irrelevant. The world is radically changing and won’t be the same. Thinking Anglicans get real about the emerging future. Work with the higher vocation as to what we are be calling into now. This discussion and our relevance is in danger of being totally lost in what will be a new environment.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

“The world is radically changing and won’t be the same.” Ah, the ubiquitous mantra. Of course the world will change, as it did after 9-11,or the introduction of deficit spending, or the development of digital technology.What is unknown is the dynamic interplay among the pandemic and other major vectors. Shades of Alvin Toffler. He correctly forecast the future of knowledge as a commodity. Yet here we are contending with the politics of knowledge denial on a massive scale. I’ll wait before writing institutional obituaries.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Not so, Martin! Semper Eadem! Semper Fidelis! Christ is eternally present in Believers – throughout eternity!

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Courtesy of “Affirming Laudianism”, to be sung to the tune ‘Aurelia’ by Samuel Sebastian Wesley:

The good old Church of England!
With her priests throughout the land,
And her twenty-thousand churches,
How nobly does she stand!
Dissenters are like mushrooms,
That flourish but a day;
Twelve hundred years, through smiles and tears,
She has lasted on always!

Among other major setbacks, the smiles and tears include the Black Death, later plagues and two world wars. I hope we might manage a smile as well as tears in present circumstances.

Tony Bellows
Guest

“Holy Communion is to be celebrated in the home of the priest, with or without the presence of another member of that household” This concerns me insofar as it seems to have almost an implicit kind of magical thinking that the act itself has some kind of potential in and of itself. I’m thinking by way of comparison of the ancient pre-Reformation chantry chapels, and the smaller ones, where there might just be one priest, whose purpose (and for which funding was given) was to say masses for the soul of the founder, and where the presence of anyone else… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

A Roman Catholic Church in Ontario, Canada is providing drive-thru confession in accordance with social distancing rules. They are also providing adoration of the blessed sacrament via a window in the church. I’ve attached a link to the story from Canada’s major private national broadcaster. Hopefully it will be accessible outside the country.

https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/would-you-like-confession-with-that-canadian-catholic-church-offers-drive-thru-sacraments-1.4880917

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Having just read the link provided by Rod Gills – on the privations suffered by prisoners of war in Guam, where a form of Mass was able to provide comfort to those whose faith was strong enough – one has to realise that any (even feeble) effort by us to reach out to God-in-Christ for consolation in time of trouble will be met by a response from God. Thus, in our current Eucharistic Fast (relevant in the Season of Lent), God will meet us through any means at our disposal. All we need do is to respond in faith. What… Read more »

Michael
Guest
Michael

The Service of Holy Communion is so much more than ‘what I get out of it.’ We confess, thank, share, pray and listen. Through worship we receive grace in different ways and may be changed and renewed. At every Mass in Lancashire I am in spiritual communion with Anglicans elsewhere every Sunday. This is no different now. I miss the Eucharist and look forward to that family meal which Christ asked me to share. There is no easy replacement for it. God’s presence and grace blesses us differently. We thank God for His coming, His going and His coming again.… Read more »

Jayne Ozanne
Guest
Jayne Ozanne

I rather like the Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy’s recent tweet, where he quotes John Chrysostom:

“No matter where you are you can set up your sanctuary. Just have pure intentions; neither place nor time will be an obstacle. Concentrate your mind; be wholly composed in prayer. God is not troubled by any place. God only desires a clear and fervent mind…”.

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

John Chrysostom – always right on. We should, I suggest, get used to this situation. There have been viral pan/epi/demics before (Asian flu, polio, measles, mumps, chickenpox, SARS, HIV, ebola in my lifetime) and there will be again. They will probably increase in frequency. Corona vaccine is at least 12 months away. By then the RNA virus will have mutated and who knows whether the new version will be more or less virulent and infectious than this one. Imagine if it were as infectious as measles. New viruses will emerge. Experts are to some extent guessing – this is a… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Well, the other day, in the midst of other turmoils, I thought of his beautiful prayer which concludes C of E BCP Evensong “when two three are gathered together in Thy name, Thou wilt grant their requests” etc. I think some, especially younger people, unfamiliar with BCP Evensong might gain so much from it, especially in these times. Compline is also another source of spiritual refreshment at the end of the day. I think that many people have lost much by the emphasis of Sunday morning services being the only ones. The Evening, and night offices, reflect on what has… Read more »