Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Eucharist or
Holy Communion
in the Church of Ireland and Anglicanism

The Church of Ireland, as part of the world-wide Anglican church, has a long tradition of Eucharistic theology at the centre of the Church’s life

By Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland sees itself, alongside the Roman Catholic Church, as the ancient church of this land, and part of the Anglican Communion, the world’s third largest grouping of Christians.

The historical, foundational documents for Anglican theology are The Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles and the Ordinal.

THE EUCHARIST AS A SACRAMENT

In the 39 Articles, Article 19 states clearly that the Church is found where “the pure word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all things …”

Article 23 specifies that only priests ordained by bishops may preside at the Eucharist, while Article 25 describes Baptism and the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper as the two “Sacraments ordained of Christ,” alongside the five other sacraments. Article 28, often seen as the foundational Anglican doctrinal statement on the Eucharist, states: “The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the Love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; … the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.”

However, the interpretation of Article 28 varies throughout Anglicanism. In one interpretation, those who receive sacrament of the Holy Communion in faith, receive the spiritual body and blood of Christ. Others say the real objective presence of Christ is in the Eucharist, although the precise nature of that presence is a mystery of faith. Still others identify with the Eucharistic theology of consubstantiation often associated with Martin Luther.

The classical Anglican understanding of the Eucharist as mystery is found in words from the poet-priest John Donne often ascribed to Elizabeth I:

He was the Word that spake it;
He took the bread and brake it;
And what that Word did make it;
I do believe and take it


WHAT’S IN A NAME

The first Book of Common Prayer (1549) referred to “the Supper of the Lorde and the Holy Communion, commonly called the Masse.” Many outside observers are surprised that the word Mass survived the Reformation. Although it was excised from the second Book of Common Prayer (1552), and its use is less frequent in Ireland, it continues among Anglicans with a Catholic tradition and in more popular use for special occasions such as “Midnight Mass” at Christmas Eve.

The term “Lord’s Supper” is derived from Saint Paul (see I Corinthians 11: 20). It was preferred by many Reformers, but is also found in pre-Reformation English texts. The use of the word “Communion” for sacramental celebrations comes from the Vulgate text of I Corinthians 10: 16, and was widely used in pre-Reformation English.

In the Church of Ireland today, the terms used in the Book of Common Prayer (2004) include the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, and the Eucharist. Of these three, the Holy Communion is most frequently used to describe the full rite, although the Eucharist is used increasingly.

THE CENTRAL ACT OF THE CHURCH’S WORSHIP

The Book of Common Prayer (2004) says “the Holy Communion is the central act of worship of the Church” and “it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and in each parish church” on Sundays and on the principal Holy Days, such as Christmas, Easter, the Epiphany, the Presentation, Maundy Thursday, Ascension Day, Trinity Sunday and All Saints’ Day. There is no provision for celebrating the Eucharist on Good Friday.

The Ordinal clearly sets out that priests (who are both male and female) are ordained both to preach the word and to “minister his holy Sacraments” – the sacramental life is central to any understanding of ordained ministry.

Despite the expectations of the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer, the frequency of celebrations varies according to the traditions of cathedrals and parish churches. For example, the Eucharist is the main Sunday service in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, in Saint Bartholomew’s Ballsbridge, All Saints’, Grangegorman and Saint John’s, Sandymount, all in Dublin, and Saint George’s, Belfast, and, during term time, the Chapel of Trinity College Dublin. Christ Church and Saint Anne’s are alone among Irish cathedrals in having daily celebrations of the Eucharist.

However, in many parishes where there is a weekly Sunday Eucharist, this may take place at an early hour (typically 8.30), with half a dozen or a dozen people present. The main Sunday service in parish churches is usually at 10.30 or 11 a.m., and typically alternates in many parishes between the Eucharist and Morning Prayer. Although the Book of Common Prayer says “Members of the Church should partake of the Lord’s Supper regularly,” in some churches the Holy Communion may be celebrated only once a month, and in those places this is usually on the first Sunday of the month. Celebrations of the Eucharist at Easter and Christmas can see many parish churches packed to capacity, and in the past Easter Communion provided a clear definition of membership of the Church of Ireland.

In the past, Easter Communion
provided a clear definition of
membership of the Church of
Ireland


REFORMING THE LITURGY

Before modern liturgical reforms, it was commonplace to find that on Sundays when Holy Communion was celebrated on a Sunday, it followed an abbreviated form of Morning Prayer. The vast majority of parishioners left the church during the final hymn, and only a handful of people remained for short service of Holy Communion. This practice is dying out, mainly because it is no longer facilitated by the liturgical structures in the Book of Common Prayer. Increasingly, all present receive the sacrament, but few parts of the Church of Ireland have come to the stage of liturgical awareness in the Church of England where, thanks to the Parish Communion Movement and later liturgical reforms, the Eucharist is the normal Sunday morning service.

Communion vessels, Christ Church Cathedral (Patrick Comerford

The Book of Common Prayer provides for two Eucharistic rites. Holy Communion 1 more-or-less follows the format of Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Holy Communion 2 (pp 201-240) draws on the insights of the modern liturgical movement and its format is immediately recognisable to Christians of other traditions. There are provisions for some variations, with three Eucharistic prayers, and a variety of collects, prefaces, post-communion prayers and blessings that set or develop themes according to the liturgical calendar and seasons.

In some cases, Communion hosts
are used, with one large host for the
celebrant. My own preference is for
one, large, tasty bap


The Book of Common Prayer encourages full Scriptural readings at each celebration (normally Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel), followed by a sermon and the Nicene Creed. A westward celebration, with the priest standing behind the altar and facing the people, is increasingly normal, the dominical words are used, and the full, four-fold movement described by Dom Gregory Dix (taking, blessing, breaking and giving the bread; taking, blessing and giving the cup) is regarded as one continuous moment of consecration – in the past, the 1662 Book of Common Payer restricted this understanding to the priest’s use of the dominical words.

BREAD AND WINE

The bread used must be “the best and the purest bread.” In some cases, Communion hosts are used, with one large host for the celebrant; my own preference is for one, large, tasty bap; sadly, in all too many parishes, the bread is often cheap sliced pan, pressed down and already cut into small cubes, so that the breaking or fraction is reduced a token gesture. Care must be taken too with the choice of wine, and one bishop delights in using champagne in his cathedrals on Easter Day!

Generally speaking, everyone present comes forward to receive Holy Communion, usually kneeling at the altar rails, although in cathedrals with large congregations communion may be administered in front of the rails, with people coming forward in single file and receiving standing up. The presiding priest administers the bread of Communion from a paten, and may be assisted by one or two colleagues or lay people administering a chalice.

Everyone is expected to have examined their consciences beforehand. In the past, children waited until Confirmation, around the age 12-14, to receive Communion. Children are invited to come forward to the rails to receive a blessing, but I am among the increasing number of priests who offer Communion to children who have been baptised. Christians of other traditions who are baptised and in good standing in their churches are generally welcomed, but their consciences are respected.

Because of this tradition of Eucharistic hospitality, Anglicans find it difficult to understand the practices of other traditions and we often feel excluded. This is particularly difficult, because of family relationships, in the Roman Catholic Church, and it is of little comfort, to point to similar practices in other traditions, including the Orthodox Churches, and in many evangelical traditions such as the Baptists and the Brethren.

COMMUNAL CELEBRATION

In the Church of Ireland, there can be no celebration of the Holy Communion unless at least one communicant is present. In other words, there are no private masses. But participation in the Eucharist is never taken for granted, and there is an air of reverence and stillness as people approach. It is a tradition that finds expression in the well-loved words of the Prayer of Humble Access:

“We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord, whose nature is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. Amen.”

(The Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford lectures in Liturgy and Anglicanism in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and is a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

The altar at All Saints’, Grangegorman (Patrick Comerford)

This paper was first published in January/February 2016 in ‘Reality’ Volume 81, No 1, pp 14-17 (Dublin: Redemptorist Communications), editor: Brendan McConvery CSsR.

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