(How) can we celebrate Holy Communion as ‘online’ church?

Last weekend there was some anxiety, a few woes, but much elation at the first experience of being ‘online church’. There was most anxiety about technical challenges, but many reported a positive experience—and higher numbers attracted to online participation than usually attended in person. The situation this weekend offers new challenges: with the ‘lockdown’ measures announced last Monday evening, the small groups working together in church buildings, whether pre-recording or broadcasting live, will no longer be able to work in the same way.

But the biggest ministerial-liturgical challenge is what to do about the celebration of Holy Communion together. Churches of a range of traditions decided to live stream the minister conducting a service of Communion in the church building, so that those watching at home could see it happen, and possibly do something to imitate what was going on. There was, in most cases, a small group in the building, so there was a sharing of the bread and wine actually going on; in this sense, it was no different from watching a service of Holy Communion on television.

Some, however, conducted the service alone. Giles Fraser spoke in slightly ecstatic tones:

Even so, I loved it. I can imagine that when we are back to normal — if, indeed, there will be a normal to return to — the idea that the sick and the housebound will be able to join in our Sunday service from home is something we will want to continue. But it still felt odd giving the Eucharist out to nobody but myself. Even odder to invite the e-congregation to say along with me the words of the post-Eucharistic prayer: “we thank you for feeding us with the body and blood …”. Can we get bread and wine and hold it up near the computer screen, someone asked, that way you can consecrate ours at home? That felt like a clear no to me, but I’m not sure Eucharistic theologians had ever considered anything like that. So many questions, so few answers.

During the service, it was to Masterchef that my mind wandered. Why are food programmes so popular when no one at home gets to taste or even smell the food? And is this what church is to become, a kind of simulacrum of itself, a digital re-presentation of live-giving bread that is apparently offered, but cannot be eaten? Yet nourishment there was. People at home appreciated the service, however amateurish it was as a first go. They say around their kitchen tables and on their sofas and they joined with me and each other singing words like “Help of the helpless, O abide with me”. For all the clunkiness of the presentation, it felt so important and bonding to be with my congregation like this.

As it happened, I watched Masterchef last night. It was entertaining—but I did not eat the food! I did not experience the taste and the smell, I did not meet the chefs (except in that very thin and managed way in which we ‘meet’ anyone on the screen), and my body was not nourished. Of course, this is a limited analogy, since the benefits of Communion (within Anglican theology) do not come from ‘pressing with the teeth’ the elements, but in receiving the person and work of Jesus by faith as we share the elements.

The consideration of what might be possible raises two questions: what is the nature of Communion? and what is the nature of virtual communication and virtual presence? Both need some careful reflection.

Within some Christian traditions, most notably the Roman Catholic and Orthodox, the focus in Communion or Eucharist is the action of the priest and the consecration of the elements. I remember quite clearly, having been raised as a Catholic, the sense that the congregation were in some sense spectators of the really important business that was going on in the sanctuary, and reciting:

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for our sake and the sake of all his church.

There is a sense that, within this tradition, the demanding for spatial distance offers no threat to this, in the sense that the important business of the priest offering the Eucharist could indeed continue (as in many places it did last week)—but the real loss now is the closure of the building, whose consecrated space has some analogy to the temple within the Old Testament, the only authorised place where the sacrifices might be offered.

But none of this can apply in Protestant churches like the Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer and the Articles at every point set their face against this kind of understanding of what the Lord’s Supper is about. It is not a ritual offering of sacrifice (hence the only real offering, that of praise in the Gloria) is postponed to the very end of the BCP Communion service, to make it very clear: what matters here is not what we offer to God, but what God offers to us, his whole people, gathered together, to receive both Christ and ‘all the benefits of his Passion’ as we remember him in bread and wine. This emphasis on reception is clear in Article XXVIII:

THE Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, 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.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

Some years ago Colin Buchanan, formerly Bishop of Woolwich and for many decades a member of both the Liturgical Commission and General Synod, wrote a careful study of Eucharistic Consecration (Grove Worship booklet W148, still available as a PDF) in which he explores what consecration effects and what effects consecration. His primary focus is on whether there are, in Anglican theological understanding, special words or actions that ‘effect’ consecration, and what that means, rather than considering issues of social space and context, since this latter question has not usually been the main concern! (See also his other important study What Did Cranmer Think He Was Doing?) But the issues he highlights do have a bearing on our question.

First, he highlights the central place of a ‘receptionist’ theology that was strongly articulated in Cranmer’s 1552 Prayer Book, which was retained (despite other alterations) in 1662.

The elements change their signification but not their essence. In broad terms that makes the consecration of eucharistic elements comparable to the consecration of a building (e.g. for purposes of worship) or the consecration of a man (or woman, come to that) as a bishop. In each case the consecration indicates and initiates a change of use, but not a change of nature. The same is true of the consecration of baptismal waters. Consecration is then a setting apart for a specific (and God-given) purpose, and the elements are ‘trans-signified’ but not transubstantiated…

The bread and wine are still bread and wine. We are still receiving ‘these thy creatures’. The outward sign is intact. But the signification—the inner reality ‘signified’—is the death of Christ and the benefits conveyed to us thereby. We do not have to juggle questions that suggest localization. The elements ‘convey’ the reality to the true recipient… (pp 15–16)

Buchanan goes on to reflect on some of the key biblical texts which have influenced this Protestant understanding of what Communion is all about—Jesus’ meals with his disciples, including the feeding of the five thousand, the gospel accounts of the Last Supper itself, the episode on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24, the discourse on Jesus as bread of life in John 6, and Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s supper in 1 Cor 11. He observes:

These five considerations points strongly to a doctrine of the living Christ binding us to himself (and thus to each other) by the sacrament in which he, present as the giver at the meal as well as present among his people, mediates afresh to us the benefits and claims of his love. These benefits and claims spring from his death which is central to the message he conveyed; he is risen with the power of his redeeming death within him to convey to us; but he does not divide, and we must not divide, between his person and his work. (p 18).

Although Buchanan is here quite narrowly focussing on ‘what effects consecration’, he incidentally draws out a key Protestant theological emphasis: this is about the gathering of the whole people of God physically together, remembering together, and sharing together in a meal. That is not to say that those who are cut off from the physical gathering of God’s people are automatically excluded—but their situation should be seen as a difficult exception, and not one that can be normalised.

This essential communal nature of the event is made clear in this difficult situation in the rubric relating to Communion of the Sick.

But if the sick person be not able to come to the Church, and yet is desirous to receive the Communion in his house; then he must give timely notice to the Curate, signifying also how many there are to communicate with him, (which shall be three, or two at the least,) and having a convenient place in the sick man’s house, with all things necessary so prepared, that the Curate may reverently minister, he shall there celebrate the holy Communion, beginning with the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel here following.

There is a correlation here with the biblical mandate (found in Deut 17) that requires there to be two witnesses for a testimony to be reliable. But the main point here is that the sick person, in receiving Communion, does not receive private from the priest, but is participating in a communal act of the people of God. (There is a provision that, in times of plague when no others can be found, then the priest and sick person alone might communicate—but this is an exception in extremis.)

In his further discussion on what effects consecration, Buchanan notes that Cranmer’s 1552 rite shifted the whole notion of consecration away from a particular moment, and even a particular prayer, to include right reception. Though 1662 included the ‘manual acts’ and appeared to emphasise consecratory words (to be repeated when the elements were exhausted and needed replenishing), this emphasis on reception remained. We can still see this in the epiclesis, the calling down of the Spirit within the Eucharistic Prayer. It takes a range of different forms in the eight authorised prayers in Common Worship:

A: as we eat and drink these holy gifts in the presence of your divine majesty, renew us by your Spirit…

B: grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit, and according to your holy will, these gifts of bread and wine may be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…Send the Holy Spirit on your people..

C: grant that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, we receiving these gifts of your creation, this bread and this wine, according to your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood…

D: Send your Spirit on us now that by these gifts we may feed on Christ with opened eyes and hearts on fire…

E: send your Holy Spirit, that broken bread and wine outpoured may be for us the body and blood of your dear Son

F: by your Holy Spirit let these gifts of your creation be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…

G: Pour out your Holy Spirit as we bring before you these gifts of your creation; may they be for us the body and blood of your dear Son

H: send your Holy Spirit that this bread and this wine may be to us the body and blood of your dear Son

Although some are more explicit and other more implicit, we must read them together assuming that they express the same theology, and we must read that theology as expressing (rather than changing) the theology of the BCP, since that remains the expression of the doctrine of the Church of England, and Common Worship is legally an acceptable alternative to it. The Spirit is invoked on the people, not the elements, and works to affect our reception (‘may be to us‘).

What does all this mean for ‘online church’? That the whole event of celebrating the Lord’s Supper is something that can only be done at the gathering of the whole people of God, since the reception by them of the elements is integral to the meaning of the whole event.

It is worth briefly also considering the nature of virtual reality. Curiously, this was debate some time ago, at the advent of virtual reality and the question of the place of religion in the virtual world Second Life. Professor Paul S. Fiddes, a Baptist minister and Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Oxford, wrote a paper arguing that virtual consecration in a virtual world was possible, and that in some sense if a person’s avatar received the virtually consecrated elements, then the person themselves had in some sense shared in Communion. But Bosco Peters offered a robust critique of his argument:

Baptism, immersion into the Christian community, the body of Christ, and hence into the nature of God the Holy Trinity may have some internet equivalents – for example, being welcomed into a moderated group. But my own current position would be to shy away from, for example, having a virtual baptism of a second life avatar. Nor would I celebrate Eucharist and other sacraments in the virtual world. Sacraments are outward and visible signs – the virtual world is still very much at the inner and invisible level. Similarly, in my opinion, placing unconsecrated bread and wine before a computer or television screen and understanding this to result in consecration tends away from the liturgical understanding of the Eucharist (liturgy = work of the people/ something done by a community) towards a magical understanding of the Eucharist (magic = something done to or for an individual or community)…

Following Fiddes’ approach one would logically hold that God gives grace to a cartoon character like Mickey Mouse with whom an observer (or cartoonist) identifies – and that Mickey Mouse passes this grace on to the observer or cartoonist. Similarly God, according to Fiddes’, would give grace to a character in a computer/video game and that grace is then passed on to the person playing that character…

There is no denying Fiddes’ statement “There is a mysterious and complex interaction between the person and the persona projected (avatar).” This relationship is, in my opinion, akin to identifying with a character in a novel, play, or movie, or with a string puppet one is controlling in a puppet theatre. A baptism, marriage, or celebration of communion in such a novel, movie, or puppet show may deeply move the person identifying with the character. Such a person may very well be graced and transformed by God at such a time. But there is no sense in which the person identifying with the character is thereby baptised, married, or receiving the Eucharist.

Our situation is different from the one being considered here, in that we are talking about remote communication between real people, rather than virtual representations. But his arguments about the importance of real, rather than virtual, contact and the substance of the material world are well made.

What, then, might we do? Anglican theology and liturgy do permit an authorised ministry to preside at a celebration of Holy Communion, provided that is not done as an individual, but as part of a community of believers of at least three. It does allow that to be live streamed or pre-recorded and broadcast. It does also allow that those watching, in their own homes, might eat bread and drink wine (on their own) or share it with others in their household, whilst they witness the service of Holy Communion being broadcast from elsewhere. This does not suggest that, in any ‘magical’ sense, the bread and wine in the individual homes, are in any sense ‘consecrated’ in the terms of authorised liturgical use of that term.

But Protestant Christians have always maintained that ‘where two or three are gathered, [Jesus] is with them’ (Matt 18.20), that when we invite the Spirit to come on us, the Spirit truly comes, and that when we remember Jesus as we eat bread and drink wine, that we are strengthened and encouraged. That is why, until the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth century and then the Sunday Communion Movement in the twentieth, the reception of Communion by the laity has often been relatively infrequent in the Church of England.

If sharing such ‘fellowship meals’ in the home feels like something that falls short of the full sharing of Communion together in a church building, well in many respects it is. A Roman Catholic research paper on ‘virtual Eucharist Mass’ from 2014 makes the following interesting observation:

Ultimately, I suggest that it is doctrinally possible to promote participation in the virtual Mass as a sign of solidarity with marginalized Christians as long as it is in view of making real the fully embodied communal Eucharist.

In other words, ‘virtual Communion’ derives from something in the past (the actual sharing of Communion that we previously experienced) and looks forward to something in the future (the restoration of this practice once the present constraints are relaxed). This should remind us that our usual practices have exactly the same status!

Our rather liturgically rarefied celebrations of Communion actually derive from a real meal that Jesus held with his disciples. I, for one, would love it if we could recover that fully-orbed context of shared community. And they look forward to something much greater—a feast in the kingdom of heaven, where our sharing is not just a morsel, but a fully satisfying feast on God and all his unmediated goodness with all of creation. Whether in our homes, or restored back to our church buildings, we experience a mere foretaste of a much fuller reality.

If you found this article helpful, share it on social media, perhaps using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

136 thoughts on “(How) can we celebrate Holy Communion as ‘online’ church?”

  1. Thank you for this Paul, but I am struggling to see how you make the leap from the emphasis on consecration shifting from a particular moment to right reception and your argument that

    “That the whole event of celebrating the Lord’s Supper is something that can only be done at the gathering of the whole people of God, since the reception by them of the elements is integral to the meaning of the whole event.”

    which would seem to imply that it communion can only be done when the people physically meet together and can recieve to,

    “Anglican theology and liturgy do permit an authorised ministry to preside at a celebration of Holy Communion, provided that is not done as an individual, but as part of a community of believers of at least three. It does allow that to be live streamed or pre-recorded and broadcast. It does also allow that those watching, in their own homes, might eat bread and drink wine (on their own) or share it with others in their household, whilst they witness the service of Holy Communion being broadcast from elsewhere. ”

    A: Because at the moment it can’t be done except as an individual (unless we assume that people tuning in virtually count as being present) and I cannot see where in your arguments the liturgy and practice allow for communion to be live streamed.

    You seem to have given a background to Anglican eucharistic thought and then said “It allows this” without explaining why.

    Could you explain what I’ve missed?

    • I hope I have demonstrated that both the language of the liturgy, the understanding of consecration, the nature of the epiclesis, and Anglican receptionist theology all point to the rite being integrated, and argue against the idea that the essence of the rite is something the priest alone can do alone.

      Communion certainly can be done by any priest who is not living in a household on his or her own—there are relatively few who themselves are in isolation. When such a (small group) service is live streamed, those watching are not participating in communion, they are watching someone else participate. They can have a fellowship meal in their own home at the same time, where they imitate the actions of communion, but according to C of E understanding, that is what they are doing: imitating the actions, not having Communion according to the rites of the C of E.

      And Anglican theology never makes weekly receiving of communion necessary to discipleship or the constitution of the Church. So there is not real Anglican theological problem with people watching others have communion, enjoying a fellowship meal, and anticipating the time when we can meet once more and share Communion together.

      Does that make it clearer?

      • That does make it clearer thank you.

        What if however (due to new guidelines for example) a priest who is livestreaming a communion service is the only person in the building?

          • Ian.
            This is dangerous.

            The state Departments of Health have legislated to close Church buildings to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.

            In times of pandemic, the state has the responsibility to keep its citizens safe. To encourage gatherings together either overt or covert of more than 2 people can spread the COV19 sars 3 virus.

            To try to let old theological arguments about the nature of the eucharist begin to be encouraging disengagement from epidemiological healthy behaviour is the height of irresponsibility.

            Anglicans should use their buildings to house vulnerable people and protect them from the dangers of the street, house medical workers, and sell as many buildings as possible to do the actual work required which is to be a light of change in the community by action to help not words thoughts prayers or Eucharists .

            With the empty buildings and congregations now meeting on -line the church buildings can be sold or repurposed to house people in the reconstruction period.

    • Perhaps more simply, in reply to my question in the heading, ‘Can we celebrate Communion as online church?’ the answer is:

      a. no

      b. and we don’t need to, but

      c. we can do other things which are helpful, and

      d. this sense of anticipation might actually help us to understand what Communion itself is all about.

  2. 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

    • That is a great way of sharing, remembering and Lord and looking forward to his coming again, even if it does not ‘count’ as Communion according to the rites of the Church of England!

      • I have been in services in Anglican churches (or church groups) on a number of times when exactly those words have been used prior to the sharing of bread and wine.

  3. It was inevitable that this issue was going to exercise a large number of Christians in the current situation; in essence it simply raises the age old question of ‘what is The Lord’s Supper?’ I actually think it’s high time the Church of England took a long hard look both at the understanding it is promoting and the exclusionary (and therefore anti missional) effect it has had by making it ‘the great central service’ every Sunday.

    One cannot avoid noticing that the relatively new assumption (including among Evangelicals) that Christian worship must be centred around the Eucharist comes at a time when our own CofE has been in marked numerical decline, a lot of us would say spiritual decline, and is now identified by its pretty obvious trajectory away from faithfulness to a biblical revelation which marks revival and growth.

    And it’s interesting how discussion of the Lord’s Supper dives straight into dense theological notions without first taking careful account of the original Passover in Egypt and God’s detailed injunction about how it should be annually celebrated – and why. It was all about deliverance, identity, covenant – something very different from God’s provision of manna for daily sustenance. Interestingly, it was to be a family affair rather than conducted as a communal Israelite ceremony.

    And surely that’s the context in which our understanding of what Jesus intended at the Last Supper should be grounded? It’s too big a subject to be slotted into the practical problems which Covid-19 now presents; and LLF now absorbs the church to the exclusion of most other things; but at some point this is something that the CofE needs to address – not least if it intends to remain a living Protestant church.

    More immediately it’s the locking up of our church buildings by order of our bishops which concerns me. In its Monday evening lockdown rules, the government specifically said it wanted churches to remain open for solitary prayer. Could not clergy make clear in their parishes that they will open their church doors for a few hours each day and organise a rota of individual volunteers to be present in the building to ensure that safe social distancing is observed? I think there’s a Christian witness about serenity and welcome to be maintained here even if few or no people actually enter the building.

    • Thanks Don. Just to note, your comment ‘LLF now absorbs the church to the exclusion of most other things’ is simply not true. Most of the C of E’s energy and money is going into church planting and discipleship, alongside other maintenance issues. There are loud voices on LLF—but they are just that.

      • Yes, that’s a fair point. I think I was meaning it terms of what is most absorbing the CofE’s internal debate. The real work of course goes on in the parishes – where many congregants (certainly at our church) will be blissfully unaware of LLF.

    • Don. ‘the relatively new assumption (including among Evangelicals) that Christian worship must be centred around the Eucharist’ is not actually new at all. Calvin, among others, insisted that ‘no meeting of the church [is to be ] held without the word, prayer, dispensation of the Supper and alms’. In his wonderful Grove booklet ‘Gospel and Sacrament – reclaiming a holistic evangelical sacrament’ Philip Seddon traces, laments and strongly critiques the way that much contemporary evangelical practice effectively proclaims a non-sacramental gospel in contrast to, for example the C19 evangelicals like Newton and Cowper whose hymns are so richly sacramental in imagery they sound like high catholics today among people who do not know otherwise. Seddon also pointed out that there has never been one understanding of the eucharist among the Reformers, let alone Evangelicals today. Finally, it is also odd to call a meal shared at the word of Christ himself, that proclaims his death and resurrection and at which we hear the words ‘draw near with faith’, ‘take and eat in remembrance that Christ died for you’, exclusionary and anti-missional. But that assumption, among others, was precisely what Seddon was writing to correct.

      • Thanks David.

        Part of my unease about how the meaning of the Lord’s Supper is discussed is the way that it turns on the views and debates between great figures from the past rather than going back to a fresh-pair-of-eyes look at exactly what the Bible does say about it and what it doesn’t say about it. And of course long before you start to unpick John 6 (and assume it refers to the Lord’s Supper) you surely have to start with the context of the Last Supper (as I mentioned) which entails going back to God’s covenant with Abraham, the 430 years of slavery in Egypt, the final plague and Passover night etc.

        I recognise that it’s now extremely hard for all of us to put years of ingrained ideas aside and approach the subject as if we were a newborn Christian who has never previously had contact with the church and never heard of the Eucharist. I wonder, if we could do that, if we might end up with a very different take on what the Lord’s Supper is, how it should be done and when or how often it should be done. I’m by no means trying to downplay its importance for all Christians; it sits at the heart of how we remember the unbelievable sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf.

        My comment about it being ‘exclusionary’ is for two reasons. Firstly it can only be for Christians; the invitation to eat the bread and drink the wine is for Christians only in order to protect people whose identity is not yet in Christ from the dangerous consequences deception – deliberate or unknowing. The non Christian is not in a position to ‘draw near with faith’. I guess it’s the equivalent of God’s ruling about who could observe the original Passover (Exodus 12. 43-49).

        Secondly, the reality for someone attending a Communion service who isn’t a Christian is that they must sit tight while everyone else goes forward and receives the bread and wine – and that’s after standing or sitting through a considerable amount of strange liturgy. Of course some people might be filled with a desire to join with what may appeal as a magical ritual, but there’s danger in giving your heart to the ritual rather than to Jesus himself. I don’t see it as the ideal context for evangelism.

        But I did say in my comment that ‘it’s too big a subject to be slotted into the practical problems which Covid-19’ so why am I going on about it? It’s all your fault as usual, David!

        • Yes sorry Don! Mea culpa. I am hopelessly infectious. The only solution is theological separation – the evangelical tradition has a lot of practice at doing that. But let me assure you I am dictating this 2 metres from my lap top so you should be safe reading this.

          • That made me laugh out loud–thanks!

            However, there is a very well established and long recognised point: the rise of the Sunday Communion movement has indeed made worship less accessible for those on the fringe and dropping in, the actual words notwithstanding. Every aspect of Church of England practice is much more incomprehensible to outsiders than any of us inside are quite ready to acknowledge.

            A simple service of the word is much more flexible and accessible. And our ‘Eucharistic’ liturgies are so divorced and rarefied compared with the meal Jesus shared, and fellowship meals that have from time to time been practiced.

      • “In broad terms that makes the consecration of eucharistic elements comparable to the consecration of a building (e.g. for purposes of worship) or the consecration of a man (or woman, come to that) as a bishop. In each case the consecration indicates and initiates a change of use, but not a change of nature. The same is true of the consecration of baptismal waters.”

        So, in the case of emergency baptism, how and by whose prayers are the baptismal waters consecrated? And, if by the lay person who baptises, then, in an emergency, that’s equally true for the consecration of Eucharistic elements.

        • No “consecration” of the water at all. At an emergency baptism one simply pours water over the head and say X I baptise you in the name of the Father. the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
          I have done it several times..sometimes using a spoon slotted into an incubator.

          • I agree. So why does Anglican liturgy say ” Bless this water, that your servant who is washed in it etc”?
            That sounds like “consecration”.

  4. Interesting piece thank you, as always. I occurs to me that none of this discussion would even begin to make sense to vast Christians down through church history. And nor could the development of doctrinal belief around the sacraments have been influenced by it either. We sly dolt know what Augustine, Luther or Cranmer would make of it. Meanwhile here in my lock down WhatsApp and other social media are constantly reminding me how the possibility and experience of being present to each other has been transformed in a way that never previously imaginable. Nor would I speak of the conversation I have just had face to face with a friend on facetime ‘virtual’. I know that is not the same as ‘receiving’ communion in this discussion, But I do wonder if this discussion is sidelining rather than including a unique feature of our modern world. (but I freely admit I am thinking aloud – and in an empty room at that)

    • Thanks David. I agree that we are reading out of texts things that the writers would not consider—I was especially struck by that in reading Colin Buchanan again. He simply makes no reference to the absence of the congregation, since even a couple of years ago he could not remember it.

      There is reflection to be done on biblical anthropology—but that sees us as psychosomatic unities, and our bodiless as indispensable to human being and identity.

      For me, that means that virtual relationships are always springing from, derivative of, and in their right place point to relationships IRL. I think that means that we do not share communion virtually; we share something that points to the hope of one day meeting face to face, without screens, wires and electrons as intermediaries.

    • In an empty room perhaps (is a Christian ever alone?) but we read your thoughts by the internet.
      Maybe Augustine etc wouldn’t have known what to make of this conversation – but the idea of electromagnetic, radio communication might have bewildered them as well.
      For nobody “speaks” as we understand that (the vibration of sound through the air) by radio; rather, the sounds are converted into an electromagnetic signal, passed through the air and received and decoded at the other end. Yet we accept this as the equivalent of a face to face communication. Courts can receive testimony and now issue judgments this way; contracts are routinely made this way; and there is no reason why a marriage cannot be solemnised this way either. I suspect it is Catholic sacramentalism that lies at the heart of the problem for some Anglicans. But if we can join in the ‘breaking of the Word’ by the internet and TV, I don’t think it’s a great conceptual link to join in the sacramental meal as well. To say nothing of the priesthood of all believers!

  5. I understand that the bishops in Chelmsford Diocese are seeking to prohibit clergy from entering church buildings by themselves to pray or to livestream worship to their congregations. However, people gathering to help in foodbanks are OK.
    What possible rationale could they have for this kind of Stalinism?
    The food stores, Marks & Spencer and other shops are still functioning, with people observing (for the most part) the official social distance. Does Chelmsford Diocese have the right to do this? Is this “advice” from Ecclesiastical Insurance (the same kind of “advice” that prevents English bishops from apologising for failure of oversight in sex abuse cases).

    • Yes, I’ve wondered if bishops have the legal right to order church buildings to be locked at their own whim. So far as I understand it they’re not acting on either the law of the land or government edict at present.

    • As the ABC made clear in a recent briefing we now know that the virus stays live on surfaces for up to 72 hours. It is not just social distancing, it is anything touched in the building – door handles, backs of pews, dropped tissues, candle racks, prayer rails …. it is simply too dangerous. Keeping food stores open is essential. Open churches simply add to risk. We can pray at home. Having heard hospital chaplains describe how deadly this virus is I think this is only responsible. The bishops are seeking to offer firm guidelines (not helped by muddled government pronouncements). This is responsible and actually supportive of local ministers and their communities.

      • Thanks David. Strangely enough I was the only one at our church over 3 weeks ago voicing concern that it was irresponsible to continue to take communion, if only because it presented an unnecessary additional risk of virus spread – no one else seemed concerned! So I’m fully on board with the seriousness of the situation and the absolute need to cut down the risk of contagion to an absolute minimum. (I now wear disposable vinyl gloves when going into the food shop)

        Regarding touching surfaces, you are absolutely right. But entry for solitary prayer means exactly and only that. Mooching around the church is not what it’s about! It should be possible to provide a hand washing facility in church porches (the handle of the church exit door being the first and last surface touched), and there would need to be someone present at all times to ensure strict attention was paid to hygiene in addition to social distancing. Perhaps wearing disposable gloves (provided in the porch) could be a requirement for entry. If that could not be guaranteed, then I’d reluctantly have to agree that there’s unnecessary risk involved.

        • I agree. Prohibiting a clergyman from entering his own church on his own to send out a livestream broadcast is no more dangerous than the PM’s daily briefing or the BBC news – in fact, much less so. This may well turn out to be panic and overreach.

  6. Hi Paul, thanks for this really helpful in an unhelpful clerical world, for me personally i shall not celebrate communion again until the comunity of God in this place come togethrr once more. For me, at least, the communion is about whst God does for us in community. We celebrate community/communion with God and with one another.

  7. This discussion takes me back nearly 40 years to an essay submitted to Colin Buchanan when he was Liturgy Tutor (and Principal) at St John’s, Nottingham on “Space, Time and the Eucharist”. It was an attempt to bring into dialogue Colin’s teaching that is referenced above, though prior to the summary in Eucharistic Consecration, with the Reformed Eucharistic theology of Tom Torrance. Amongst much else Torrance argued for a movement away from a static container view of space to a dynamic relational model. Obviously he was writing before the days of the Internet and not in a specific CofE context but the Patristic and Reformation material that he marshalls in support of his position provides a stimulus to consider Ian’s questions from a somewhat wider perspective. In all probability I may well end up agreeing with Ian’s short summary of his answers, but after a more detailed and ecumenical consideration of issues of localization and presence. Torrance’s basic texts are “Space, Time and Incarnation” 1969 and “Space, Time and Resurrection” 1976 and his classic essay “The Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Eucharist” in “Theology in Reconciliation” 1975.

  8. Too much splitting of hairs. If God is with us, outward demonstration of “communion” should not be an issue. Be steadfast in body, mind, soul and spirit.

      • But the issue is not really whether ‘people on this blog site’ would agree. It is whether this really sits within Anglican theology and doctrine..and I am afraid the answer is a rather big ‘No’. That an Anglican bishop could say this highlights the times we are living in.

        • Ian. This was wide ranging letter about Eucharistic practice, theory and discipline in extreme times. You disagreed with everything he said? All of it?

          • I think it could easily be Anglican, because Anglican finds its foundations in several places at once.

            It was Charles Simeon (good evangelical) who helped Anglicans think about extreme positions.
            In 1825, Simeon wrote to a friend that when he avoided the factiousness of theological controversy, he was not advocating a compromise between two extreme positions. No, he fully intended to occupy both positions at once. “I can say in words what these thirty years I have proclaimed in deeds, that the truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme, but in both extremes.”

  9. I wonder what folk make of the testimony of the extraordinary Christian confessor Richard Wurmbrand, a Baptist pastor imprisoned and tortured by the communists in Romania for 14years. In one talk he said that what he & other prisoners missed most was communion. But they had no bread or wine. And on occasion, based on the truth that God created everything out of nothing, they would have a eucharist with nothing. They employed their imagination, their faith, and Wurmbrand claimed that by God’s grace, nothing became something, the real thing, the thing itself. And it was a grace that sustained them. Was this charades or sacrament?

    • Hi Simon. In his novel, ‘A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’, based on his experience in Russian labour camps, Alexsandr Solzenitzen describes sitting at a meal time opposite an old man. They were eating a revolting greasy soup with rotting bits floating in it. The man sat bolt upright and with great dignity slowly raised his spoon up to his lips and ate. This was deeply subversive act. The Orthodox receive communion with a spoon. There in hell, that man was making the meal a eucharist. He was receiving Christ, by faith. It makes me wonder why Wurmbrand, a Baptist, opted for imagination rather than actual food at this point?

      • I don’t know – perhaps because that Baptist knew as all Anglicans do that we feed on Christ by faith in our hearts with thanksgiving? And didn’t that Anglican layman Terry Waite say that in prison in Beirut, he had communion with a crumb of bread and some water? Was he a faithful Anglican when he did that?
        I do wonder how a lot of old, high church Anglican congregations are going to weather this storm. The archbishops have banned their priests from entering their churches – something only Stalin and Mao ever did – and since their idea worship is so Eucharistic-centric and they may not be computer-savvy, maybe these churches will not open again. Not to mention a fall in income with churches closed. Not a happy outcome.

        • I had forgotten the story of Terry Waite. The sacraments are based on a theology of creation and expressed through (and ‘under’) them – in bread and wine. If, for this time, we have special bread, special words, special clothes or special people (and I know not all express it this way) – it is a way of anticipating the day when all food, clothing, people and words will be consecrated in the great celebration of the kingdom. The thought of folk like Waite or others, in dire situations, participating in that with simply what is to hand seems very good theology to me and I find it very moving.
          btw I am following some anglo-catholic discussion threads. They are very computer savvy, theologically creative, are offering worship in the community via zoom and are networking in mission and support with wonderful creativity. Impressive.
          But please – Stalin and Mao tried to abolish religion and were mass murderers. Are you seriously comparing our Archbishop with them on the basis of utterly sensible health guidelines issued in emergency in the context of a deadly pandemic?

          • Well, David, if that’s how it was for Terry Waite in his awful isolation, why not for others? At the back of it lies that Catholic belief that still haunts Anglican minds: ‘It’s not a eucharist unless a priest does it.’ But I’m not sure about your claim that “the sacraments are based on a theology of creation and expressed through (and under) them”, although that idea (that ‘sacramentality of nature’) is common enough in modern Catholicism (with its apogee in Teilhard de Chardin). The sacraments of baptism and the eucharist are signs not of nature but of the Gospel, about the sacrifice of Christ and incorporation into him by faith. I rather doubt that the New Testament sees them as proleptic signs of the redemption of material creation – I think the resurrected body of Christ is the actual sign of that, hence the sheer importance of the bodily resurrection of the Lord (that’s how I read 1 Cor 15 and Romans 8).
            I’m glad to hear (and not surprised) there are savvy anglo-catholics out there – just as the best Roman Catholic communicator (in my opinion) is Bishop Robert Barron in his ‘Word of Fire’ youtube channel. But I was thinking of a lot of rural and village congregations where the attendance is scarcely in double figures. I hope I am proved wrong. And no, I wasn’t comparing Welby with Stalin and Mao, just observing one of the ironies of our day. I honestly cannot see how a minister livestreaming by himself from his church (which is otherwise locked) is more “dangerous” than the PM’s press conference – or the BBC news which always has guests in the studio. Or the schools that continue to operate with small numbers of children and teachers. I was looking for a sense of proportion, but one doesn’t always see that in Anglican bishops: Carey’s and others’ insouciance, for example, about sexual abuse then massive over-compensation (as in the way the Dean of Jersey was sharefully treated, or the way George Bell has been maligned).

          • Thank for engaging Brian. The link with creation is, I believe, utterly central to the understanding of the sacraments. I referred earlier to Philip Seddon’s fine Grove book. The loss of a rooting in a biblical doctrine of creation among evangelicals today is one of his main concerns. He puts it like this: ‘From Israel we learn that creation is fundamental. Genesis 1 is the starting point. [So] the idea of sacrament is totally biblical. Originally used for a soldier’s oath the word soon came to mean ‘a visible form of an invisible grace’ (cf Augustine). Creation can communicate the blessing of God; creation can both be and embody blessing. The home of sacraments is creation, where the created is consecrated through prayer to become what early evangelicals called a ‘means’ for communicating and receiving the grace of God.’ (p16) .
            I am relieved you are not likening the ABC to Stalin – though I think you are very open to being misunderstood.

      • David – great story – I must re-read that in these days

        I too wondered myself why Wurmbrand went for imagination over actual food – in the same talk (I think) he does speak about the food they ate being in short supply and mainly rotting cabbage – so food of some sort was available. And in the same piece he also mentions how the communist guards sought to defile and blaspheme the eucharist by mocking it in the most vile manner and making priests consecrate vile things. So maybe this imagined feast was beyond attempts to defile?

        What I find intriguing is that he was a Baptist of clear Reformed tradition which leans, I believe, more to Lord’s supper as memorial, symbol and ordinance rather than the developed sacramental understanding which seems to be reflected in Wurmbrand’s use of the invisible elements as a refuge and very present means of grace.

  10. Anglican Unscripted 587 on youtube begins by discussing this column.
    The letter from Martin Warner of Chichester to clergy there allows them into their churches to celebrate the eucharist by themselves.
    That looks like an open violation of Anglican church law on the eucharist. How does he have the authority to do this?

    • One answer to your question – though perhaps a bit cheeky – is that the Church of England is not Stalinist. It is a broad and hospitable church. It tends not to police doctrine. And if there are times it is woolly there are also times when evangelicals benefit just as much as a-catholics in finding their particular convictions indulged.
      But you might have noted that Bishop Martin is allowing priest-alone eucharists as an ‘exceptional dispensation … during the course of the present restrictions.’ That parks it next to things like emergency baptism doesn’t it? But he also offers a very careful outline of the theological rationale that underpins this. Much of which evangelicals would or could agree with.

      • “It tends not to police doctrine.” Just as well for some bishops, eh? 🙂 Well, didn’t Don Cupitt continue as an Oxbridge chaplain, many years after proclaiming his atheism? Then there is the “same-sex married” chaplain at Lady Margaret Hall Oxford, but he’s resigned from the C of E, I understand, so a non-Anglican no longer in holy orders can be the chaplain there. Fortunately, Anglican college chaplaincies don’t have much to do with the Church of England, or so it seems. Except when bishops try to control them, of course.
        I do note that Bishop Warner is disagreeing with the Archbishops by allowing clergy to enter churches on their own, so he clearly doesn’t think he’s endangering the lives of other people who will not in any case enter the building. But he is certainly breaking the church law on the eucharist by reviving a piece of medieval Catholicism that the Reformers railed against. I understand the concept of an ’emergency baptism’ (even though the C of E explicitly says the rite has no bearing on the salvation of a dying child), but I don’t know what an ’emergency eucharist’ could be.
        Incidentally, that onetime seminarian-turned-bank robber-then mass-murderer Joseph Stalin was not averse to a bit of expressive sacramentalism himself. When he was told that a holy icon of the Theotokos had once protected Moscow when it was paraded around the city walls, he had the painting flown around the city. Miraculously, the Wehrmacht went no further, but neither did Stalin’s bout of religiosity.

        • Brian. Shall we put the heresy trials on hold for the time being? I noticed Tesco’s were out of firelighters this morning anyway. Meanwhile I was genuinely enjoying a thoughtful and creative discussion on Eucharistic theology and practice here.

          • You were looking for firelighters? You’re not secretly lighting candles in church, are you? 🙂 I promise not to tell if you are. Most people I know think the Interdict Forbidding Prayer in English Churches (the first since the Interdict of Innocent III on 23 March 1208 in the reign of King John) is absurd over-reach.
            The only heresy trial I know of at present in the Anglican Communion (covid-19 permitting) is the trial of Bishop Love of Albany, NY, for the heresy of refusing to authorise ‘same-sex marriage’ in his diocese. No doubt this scoundrel will be deposed.
            But as for working of the Holy Spirit among us, communicating the presence of Christ, let me ask;
            – If a preacher preaches the Scriptures faithfully via radio or the internet, have you, the listener, received the Word of God?
            – If a minister ‘blesses’ you via radio or internet, have you, the listener, been ‘blessed’?
            If so, what doctrine of the Holy Spirit are you working with?
            Do you see where this argument goes – sacramentally – in a church which truly believes it is a koinonia in Christ, a participation in the Spirit?
            Or is only the ekklesia tou Christou when it is physically gathered – as some were teaching in Sydney a few years ago?

          • Actually, Brian, I think that in some sense the ekklesia is only the ekklesia when it is physically gathered, at least at the local level, for three reasons.

            First, the etymology of ekklesia, either in the OT or in Greek culture, is about a physical gathering of people, hence its translation in earlier English versions as ‘the congregation [of Israel]’. I think Wycliff, Coverdale et al also wanted to use ‘congregation’ in Matt 18, but bishops judged that not sufficiently institutional.

            Second, this is really part of biblical anthropology. We are not spirits trapped in bodies, so that our ‘real’ selves are comprised of a bundle of interests and understandings inconveniently trapped in bodily form. We are bodily people, and our bodiliness is essential to who we are.

            Thirdly, and arising from that, remote communication raises its own problems, and if we haven’t spotted them we are in trouble. Do I receive a blessing if I touch my TV screen when Joel Osteen preaches? If not why not? Does it matter is there is a time delay? If so, how long? Do I miss out on the blessing if it is pre-recorded? Why?

            When you disembody fellowship, it is not long before you end up with magic.

  11. I was fortunate as part of my theological studies to participate in a doctoral seminar at the Gregorian in Rome led by Prof Jared Wicks SJ, a Luther scholar. Just 6 of us including a US Lutheran pastor on “The Eucharist in Reformation Controversy and Ecumenical Convergence”.
    Given the importance of the eucharist in ministerial life I think our theological training could well include a course along these lines. My feeling ( from doing POT etc ) in the past is that the demise of the Church, Ministry and Sacraments part of GOE had led to an unfortunate lacuna in many clergy’s understanding of things..and church history too for that matter.

  12. Having been more or less housebound and without church for over 15 years now these are issues we’ve really had to think about. With the best will in the world the wise general advice of wanting things done properly, (and for sensible reasons, we’re not being rebellious but pragmatic) just no longer applies to us in lots of areas of our lives. Should we just give in and never participate in a proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes act ever again ?

    I found it helpful remembering a lovely Agape meal in a French church where having deposited our various food items on the buffet we sat at long tables with the obligatory baskets of baguette and bottles of Côte de Rhone rouge at regular intervals. Standard French daily fare (even on the teachers’ table at school dinner in the school I worked in!). We began by the pastor taking a piece of baguette, reciting the scripture, we prayed to give thanks and he broke it and passed it round. Ditto the wine. It was so completely natural and normal, a very honouring act of worship to Jesus and made the 1 Corinthians advice utterly relatable.

    Since being housebound we’ve found it helpful to sometimes stop at the point of saying grace and just recognise that we’re still part of the body of Christ even though we are un-gathered, and we at least use at least the bread to focus on Jesus. If I understand I Corinthians properly it is talking about when the church is together, but the underlying essential principals which need to be respected are a) no thoughtless exclusion of others, b) eating unworthily and c) the not discerning, therefore bringing judgement.

    Given those provisos maybe we could say

    “It’s best practice to be able to consecrate the elements but if we really can’t the simple fact of remembering the body of Christ every time we eat toast or mop up gravy isn’t irreverent but faith nourishing and could even be one interpretation of ‘when ever you eat…’ ”
    “It’s best practice to have a recognised church leader to preside, but if we really can’t, rather than go without, better to use a recording of one or use the Bible passages ourselves so long as we’re remembering.”
    “It’s best practice to be at least 2 but if you really really can’t some remembering and honouring Jesus is better than none and the symbols are useful guidelines to fix our thoughts and our hearts and inviting the spirit to work is still valid.”

    PS I no longer get offered to be sent notification of replies etc so have to go back and check manually. Is that something standard or would it be possible to have that function restored? Thank you.

  13. I was struck by the irony here.
    When there were real priests, the example of the Passover is a family celebration and does not require a priest to consecrate anything.
    In the New Testament, there are no priests in the sense of the Old Testament. And the Eucharist seems to require a ‘priest’ to consecrate the elements.

    What if Anglican tradition, wonderful as it is, is not the right or the only way to think about the meal?

    I know there is a need for due order in public worship, but I have also known times when I had to say words of consecration. It was illegal. We were in Turkey. It was non-Anglican. But it was real. If I partake of the Eucharist in a United church or some other open assembly somewhere, this too is non-Anglican. And I have never countenanced the closed assemblies, RC or brethren. A closed table is anathema to me. I am wrong I am sure, but it is not for failure to believe or be known in the presence of Mystery, and it is not for failure to read with care and with lament. I am not trained in liturgy, though I know it well and have used and participated in it for more decades than I care to count, and I have even read a few books on it. I would happily question and argue about the language or history of a piece of Scripture and the power implied in theology derived from it, but about liturgy, I want only competence, beauty, and effectiveness. The last I should have put first, that our shared reality, even when at a distance, is real.

    • I am sure you are right, Bob. Nobody has answered my questions above about the actions of the Holy Spirit: if the Word of God reaches us in blessing across the electromagnetic radiation waves, how can this not also apply to sacramental communion? If we are gathered electronically though not physically, is this not a koinonia of / in the Holy Spirit? Or does the Church only exist when it is physically assembled? That was a serious question but no one addressed it,
      I suspect the real answer is that while the Church of England theoretically disavows the medieval Catholic belief that it is by physically taking bread and a cup of wine into his hands and pronouncing the words “Hoc enim est meum corpus” the duly ordained priest transubstantiates the elements, in practice it still affirms this doctrine by its laws. Yet if a “layman” like Terry Waite on his own under arrest may do this – with water! – how much more the Church of England now under national house arrest?
      A dynamic understanding of the operation of the Holy Spirit is lacking in the discussion.

      • Brian. Exploring the dynamic operation of the spirit is exactly what I have been enjoying doing in the discussion. I am puzzled you feel it has been absent. And since, all my life, I have prayed for and blessed people, at often great distance and known it to be a gift I have no difficulty with the thought that the Spirit works through and across what is otherwise separated. Of course part of this debate is what is appropriate, allowable and helpful in wholly exceptional situations and what, some would argue, should be normal, unregulated practice at any time among the people of God.

        And Ian – like Liz – the option to tick and save my details here seems to be switched off.

        • Thanks for the feedback on saving details. I will chase with my tech guy.

          I agree entirely with you about the Spirit enabling us to ‘bless’ at a distance. But I think I would want to factor in two quite different issues.

          One is that there appears to be particular efficacy when we include the tactile, which is why I think the ‘laying on of hands’ has been so important both in Scripture and in quite distinct traditions in the church.

          The second is that the blessing of a person is quite distinct from what the C of E, along with other churches, have thought about ‘consecration’ in relation to Communion. It is arguable that the C of E doesn’t really believe in ‘consecration’ at all, in that modern services don’t actually specify ‘manual acts’, and there is no real ‘moment’ of consecration, in contrast to RC practice and theology.

          The invocation of the Spirit (such as it is) is I think clearly on ‘people’, and this reconnects with the biblical narratives. When Jesus took bread ‘and blessed’ in the various gospel accounts, in Jewish religious, cultural and theological context, it is clear that he is blessing = thanking God. I think some modern translations obscure that.

        • David, the loss of details, it turns out, is at your end not mine!

          It is effected by the cookies that this site puts on your computer. Your cookie might have time expired, or you might have some software that is prevented cookies being stored.

          So you need to look at your settings. The database at this end still has your details which is why you don’t have to pass a test or wait for moderation, which would happen if I had forgotten you.

          • Ian. Cookies everywhere and I am fasting today! How the devil works eh? (I wasn’t going to mention this but you dragged it out of me). Will look at the cookies tomorrow. Nice I haven’t been forgotten though. Thanks.

        • Thank you for engaging, David. I certainly don’t believe in anarchy or in stubborn individualism. I respect order and don’t believe the Spirit should be invoked as a cover for ‘fleshly’ motives. And I entirely agree that the sacraments – and equally preaching and teaching – must be under the oversight of the leadership. But if I held to Catholic doctrine about the eucharist (the bloodless re-enactment and repetition of Calvary by a sacrificing priesthood in continuity with the priesthood of Aaron), then perhaps I really should become a Catholic. (I think that is the logic that Gavin Ashenden followed.) I know the ‘manual acts’ theory held and maybe still holds sway over a lot of minds influenced by Gregory Dix, along with the idea of the ‘celebrant’ acting ‘in persona Christi’. But I’ve never seen this in the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in the Anglican formularies, and I don’t see it in the New Testament either. In the end I suppose I take a charismatic view of the Sovereign Spirit’s activity, which may be similar in some ways (not all) to the Orthodox view: respecting order where it is biblical and always remembering the privileges and awesome responsibilities of the priesthood of all believers.

      • Iaan Paul yr comments about the beliefs of the C of E as revealed by the BCP and the 39 Articles are v. misleading.
        Cap XI of Saepius Officio composed by the Arcgbishops in 1897:
        “Further we do truly teach the doctrine of Eucharistic Sacrifice and do not believe it to be a “nude commemoration of the Sacrifice of the Cross..but we think it sufficient in the Liturgy we use and when now consecrating the gifts offered that they may become to us the body and blood of OLJC.. we continue a perpetual memory of the precious death of Christ..first we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving then next we pleade and represent before the Father the sacrifice of the Cross and by it we confidently entreat remission of sins and all other benefits of the Lords Passion.. and lastly we offer the sacrifice of ourselves to the Creator of all things whioch we have already signified by the Oblations of his creatures. This whole action in which the people has necessarily to take its part with the Priest, we are accutomerd to call the Eucharistic Sacrifice ….”

        • Fr Bridgewood – why do you think Ian’s comments are misleading?

          Your cite a new to me Victorian Archbishops’ letter in 1897
          ‘we are accustomed to call the Eucharistic sacrifice’ – who’s we? not me

          Eucharist, Communion, Memorial, Lord’s Supper, but Sacrifice? No sir.

          Article XXXI – The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.

        • I’m glad it’s not a “nude commemoration” – too redolent of a certain ex-bishop of unhappy memory!
          But as for “representing before the Father the sacrifice of the Cross”, I suppose this is another example of studied Anglican ambiguity. 1897 wasn’t yet the high water mark of Anglo-Catholic ascendancy but the (holy) water was certainly rising and would do so for another 30 years (witness how Anglican cathedral worship changed in that time). To ‘represent’ can mean ‘to display’ or to ‘present, i.e., offer again’, which is indeed the Tridentine doctrine of the Mass: the bloodless re-offering of Calvary. Put this way, I imagine there would have been a fair bit of dissent, even in 1897. I know of Anglo-Catholics today (a diminished tribe, to be sure) who think of the Anglican eucharist in exactly those terms. Anglican Eucharistic prayers that use expressions like ‘we bring before you this bread and this cup’ also import the OT idea of ‘presenting’ (Heb. QRB) a sacrifice. This isn’t historic Anglicanism but I suppose it accords with a kind of ‘patristic’ Anglicanism that seeks to leapfrog the Reformation.

        • Bruce thanks for drawing my attention to this. It is very interesting in a number of regards:

          a. First, as others have pointed out, this statement was never accorded official status in the C of E.

          b. Second, the Archbishops do actually distinguish the sense of ‘offering’ from RC understanding. The comments you have cited defend the idea of offering but it is clearly distinguished from what Roman eucharistic theology believes is being offered. http://anglicanhistory.org/orders/saepius.pdf

          c. As the Wiki article points out, their successors took little note of what they said https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostolicae_curae#Saepius_officio

          ‘Another Anglican view was that of Randall Davidson, Temple’s eventual successor as Archbishop of Canterbury. He stressed “the strength and depth of the Protestantism of England” and regarded other differences with Rome as much more important than its views on Anglican orders.[13] This view seems to have been widely held at the time, judging from the reaction of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster: he was somewhat surprised that the Pope’s decision was so well received in England.’

          d. The Pope then responded by utterly rejecting the argument of the piece as unconvincing.

          e. The language of offering was a clear point of debate in the revision of the Communion Service in Common Worship. Anglo-Catholics wanted to include ‘these gifts that we offer to you’ in Prayer G, but that was rejected as not expressing Anglican theology, and the texts, slightly awkwardly, reads ‘these gifts that we bring before you’.

          • Isn’t that modern Anglican liturgical ambiguity? ‘these gifts which we bring before you’ in Hebrew would be something like “ha-minhoth ha-zoth asher hiqrabnu liphn’ka” which is the language of presenting a sacrifice in the OT.

          • Yes, possibly in Hebrew. But the Common Worship is in English. And it means that the word ‘offering’ finds no place in the prayer in relation to the elements.

          • Quite disturbed by the anti-catholic sentiments being displayed here. What’s that all about?
            Anglo Catholicism has been alive in the C of E for a very long time.

          • I am not sure what you see as ‘anti-catholic’. What we are exploring is that Anglican and RC understandings and practice are different.

            Yes, Anglo-Catholicism is alive and well. I personally have much to learn from my AC friends, and appreciate their perspective.

            But the reality is that many of them have to use a Roman rite to conduct worship in the way they wish, and that is outwith the liturgy of the C of E. I think there is something problematic with any tradition within the C of E which cannot, with a clear conscience, use its liturgy.

          • It’s fairly clear how anti catholic sentiment is being expressed here. There is no need to spell that out. David Runcorn helpfully unpacks that a bit further down the page.

            Not all Anglo Catholics resort to using the Roman Rite. Many will use Eucharistic prayers from other Anglican Churches. So whilst General Synod might have agonised over the phrase ‘offer’ and substituted ‘we bring before you’ it has been acknowledged for a couple of hundred years that members of the C of E and the wider Anglican fellowship of churches take considerable latitude in their understanding of this Eucharistic offering/bringing – whatever you want to call it.

            Once again it’s worth remembering what Charles Simeon said: truth is not to be found is compromise or some middle way, but in both extremes. The extreme protestant and the extreme catholic views within the C of E both bear truth.

          • No-one has said Catholics are terrible—just that Anglicans are not Catholics. I am not sure what the problem with that is.

            ‘it has been acknowledged for a couple of hundred years that members of the C of E and the wider Anglican fellowship of churches take considerable latitude in their understanding of this Eucharistic offering/bringing – whatever you want to call it’

            Indeed. But that latitude does not actually represent the doctrine of the C of E, which is to be found in the Articles and Formularies, (according to canon law), and C of E liturgy has confirmed that by not including these variations.

            How do we live in a church where considerable groups (in numerous directions) disregard the doctrine of the Church they are in, and clergy think nothing of breaking their vows week in, week out by using liturgy from other churches? It doesn’t seem very healthy to me.

          • Ian. Well when it comes to sitting light to liturgical rules I know if I worship in an evangelical church I likely will not hear much official liturgy. So yes – ‘in numerous directions’. (And often not much scripture either – but that is another beef of mine). So whose for casting the first one? For what it is worth I do think that has been a detectable undertow about things catholic here and if a visitor to the thread says they hear it I think it needs listening to.

          • Part of the problem in this part of the thread Ian is that you flit too easily between what the C of E believes and extrapolate that on to what Anglicans believe. And then row back and talk about just the C of E again.

            The Articles represent a snapshot in time at a very turbulent period in our religious history. They are, in many places, an expression of an extreme Protestant position and there is no way in which that expression could be so affirmed 400 years later. They are part of our history – but in many ways a part we should not take great pride in. Likewise the BCP is used by a small proportion of worshippers.

            Both the Articles and the BCP are perhaps better seen as staging posts rather than signposts.

          • David, yes indeed, I completely agree with you, and will always challenge evangelicals about not using Anglican liturgy. And I think charismatics in the C of E probably bear significant responsibility for the neglect of the Bible we currently find in the Church.

            This piece isn’t about spirituality or theology in general, but about ‘what is actually permissible in the C of E’. I think a major challenge to C of E boundaries is the idea of ‘priests’ ‘offering’ ‘the mass’ on their own and broadcasting that. So it is no wonder that this is the main concern in the discussion.

            Andrew, I am afraid you are completely in error here. The doctrine of the Church is defined in liturgy and law as being found in the Articles and BCP. That is what all clergy publicly swear to affirm.

            We are in England. Thus ‘Anglican’ here means ‘C of E’. And in England, the only Anglican option is C of E. When I say ‘Anglican’ I never mean ‘Anglican Communion worldwide’ because I live in England. I am not switching between one and the other as if they were different things.

          • “The doctrine of the Church is defined in liturgy and law as being found in the Articles and BCP”…

            I see. So Common Worship is an illegal document?
            I think you need to look again at what happened in 1928.

            We give general assent to the articles as ‘historic formularies’. Nowhere do we swear an oath that they represent what the C of E believes now. Nowhere.

            In terms of what is permissible for Priests to do – I think the Ordinary for the Diocese decides don’t they? Hence +Chichester’s directions.

          • Andrew, Common Worship is legal, because it is held not to contradict the theology of the BCP, which remains defining.

            1928 was not authorised, because in the end it was decided that it contradicted the theology of the BCP.

  14. I recall attending an orthodox Eucharist in a local parish on Patmos. The priest carried a loaf of bread around the congregation as part of the consecration. At the end of the service, when we exited, we were handed a wedge of this to take away. We had the sweet bread with our lunchtime picnic. This Sunday my wife made hot cross buns as our Eucharist. We have since distributed several to nearby friends and family. A similar takeaway or delivery of a prayerfully made sweet and spicy bread. Very reminiscent of the imagery of the Song of Songs. And how were these loaves consecrated? How fast can you say the mass if it is just in the heart? In an instant.

    • According to Wikipedia, the antidoron is “ordinary leavened bread which is blessed but not consecrated and distributed in Eastern Orthodox Churches and Eastern Catholic Churches that use the Byzantine Rite.” Thus non-communicants can participate too.

      • Thanks. Nice to know the official name and the consequence for non-communicants. It was a lovely experience, (and excellent bread).

        Yet I wonder at the distinction between blessed and consecrated. Made Holy as God is Holy. (Very few people participated in the Eucharist itself in the service).

        Jesus blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples. This doesn’t speak directly of holiness in this context either in the Gospels or in Paul (1 Cor 11:23-34).

        This pandemic raises the question of who blesses and who breaks and who gives? If we are going to do church differently, we must beware of power relationships. “It shall not be so among you”. Is it a secondary blessing if a layperson blesses someone or something? Bless is equivalent to thanks and yet more. In the Hebrew, we say over the bread, baruch atta Adonai Elohenu melek ha-olam, motsie lahem ba-arets. I.e. Everybody blesses. And they bless God, the Lord (The Name), the monarch of the universe. How much more should we bless each other, singular and plural and the elements.

        I know there was some discussion and perhaps practise of lay presidency in Australia. Why not? We have lay preachers. (Maybe we should have more, but as one preacher once said to me, there are so many cats in bags out there in the congregation, we dare not let them out!)

        Again, potentially terrifying issues of power imbalance everywhere.

        • ‘Jesus blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples’. Actually he didn’t. He said the Berakah, which is a blessing of God for the gift of bread.

          In the gospel accounts, it is God who is blessed, not things.

          • NRSV Matthew 26
            The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
            26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
            Are you saying this translation is just plain wrong Ian?

          • I’m no Greek scholar, but the NRSV could be wrong. The RSV which I use daily, more directly follows the order of the Greek: ‘Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it’ – where the blessing is not necessarily directed to the bread, but could be directed to God. Several other more literal translations like NASB, NET follow the Greek more tightly and allow for a reading of the blessing to God for the bread and not on the bread.

            In Luke’s parallel account, Jesus doesnt bless the bread at all (not eulegeo) but gives thanks (eucharisto) – presumably God being the focus not the elements.

            Ian’s suggestion that the Berakah is in view and the blessing is of God seems very reasonable – and begs questions about our theology and liturgy of consecration. As someone once commented “Jesus blessed God and they ate the bread – now we bless the bread and eat God”

            That said, Paul does call the the cup, a cup of blessing and yet doesnt speak of the bread as blessed/blessing; whilst Jesus at the last supper having blessed God or the bread….doesnt repeat this and bless the cup?

            decisions decisions

          • Thanks Simon. I’m no Greek scholar either but in Mark it looks like the Greek has ‘having taken bread, having spoken a blessing….’
            and in Matthew a more literal translation might be:
            ‘having taken Jesus bread and having blessed (it?) broke (it?) ….’

            What did the early Church do?

            The Didache suggests that in the communal meal there were prayers over the bread and over the wine. (Source: The Lord’s supper in the early church : Alikin 2010)

            So I think Ian is extrapolating – but so am I…..
            But there has a been a long tradition of ‘take, blessed, broke, gave….’

            I’d like to find out Joachim Jeremias says in his seminal book but I don’t have it to hand.

          • I don’t think there is any doubt in terms of the exegesis of the Greek, not least because the different gospels, in the feeding of the 5,000 and at the last supper, interchangeably use ‘eulogeo’ (‘blessed’) and ‘eucharisteo’ (‘thanked’), so there is no real grammatical doubt that the object of this action is God.

            And in Jewish context, again, when you take bread you say the blessing:

            Baruch atah A-donay, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam Hamotzi lechem min haaretz.

            Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.

            (The equivalent blessing of God for wine:

            Baruch atah A-donay, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam Hamotzi lechem min haaretz.

            Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.)

            Common Worship has sought to emulate this language of ‘blessed are you’ in many of its prayers. But it works as a clumsy literalism, since in our context we would naturally say ‘We praise you…’

          • Andrew, the Greek of Matt 26.26 is:

            Ἐσθιόντων δὲ αὐτῶν λαβὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἄρτον καὶ εὐλογήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ δοὺς τοῖς μαθηταῖς

            It simply says ‘them eating, Jesus taking bread and having blessed broke and gave to his disciples’. The TNIV rightly translates εὐλογήσας ‘When he had given thanks’. In no text is there a direct object for ‘blessing/giving thanks’ and the bread is *certainly* not the object of this action.

            Luke 22.19, translating to make it accessible to a non-Jewish audience, says καὶ λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς, using eucharisteo in place of eulogeo.

            There shouldn’t really be any surprises here…?

          • So you are saying that the NRSV and RSV and making wrong assumptions?

            RSV: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

            NRSV: While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

            Whilst there are no surprises, neither would it be a surprise that Jesus had gone beyond the Jewish practice (which is I think what Jeremias maintains) . This new action in the passover meal was meant to signify something different – a new age – and so the blessing of bread is understood to be different to the Berakah.

          • Yes, I am. Modern translations vary, in that some (TNIV, NET) paraphrase as ‘after he had given thanks’ whilst some, under the weight of interpretative tradition and later theology, say ‘he blessed it’. But there is simply no direct object here, and the parallels in Luke substituting eucharisteo mean the bread cannot be the object–unless you are going to argue that Luke is describing something different, which seems impossible given the parallel action.

            Dick France, in his NICNT commentary on this verse, refers back his discussion of the feeding of the 5,000 on p 562 n 18.

            ‘In view of the traditional form of blessing use over both food and wine at Jewish meals, the sense [of the blessing of God’s name] seems the more likely sense here, and the preceding mention of ‘looking up to heaven’ supports this. To understand such a blessing as ‘consecrating’ the food itself is probably to import too much Christian eucharistic theology into a pious Jewish convention…In other feeding narratives and eucharistic accounts the verb used is eucharisteo, which cannot have the bread as its object.’

        • Until they lift the quarantine, I have no access to any reference works, either my own or at the library. From memory: Bob Moore, in one of his books about mediaeval heresy, refers to some theologians who held that the eucharist was like baptism in that, as long as the correct words were used (and correct intention existed), it could be administered by a layman. As far as the organised church, of course, they lost the argument. But I’m having a senior moment & can’t remember who they were.

  15. The Eucharistic Prayers A, B, C, E and G in Common Worship all contain something along the lines of “We bring before you this bread and this cup.” This isn’t traditional Anglican language. What does it mean ” to bring before God”? Why has this thought been introduced? I maintain that this is the smuggling in of OT sacrificial language where the worshipper literally brought the sacrificial victim to the priest. Similarly there is deliberate ambiguity in the line ” we offer you this our sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving” which the Anglo-Catholic takes to mean the transubstantiated elements being “offered” to God. The BCP doesn’t think of Holy Communion as an offering to God of a sacrifice but a reception of God’s gifts.
    I also note that Bishop Martin Warner has rejected the Archbishops’ attempt to ban clergy from praying on their own in their churches – which nobody else here seems to have noted – as well as unilaterally breaking Anglican church law on communion. Can bishops do this?
    I also note that the ban on Church funerals does not apply to crematoriums. What is the medical justification for this?

    • I have long pondered the whole issue of the ‘offertory’ – since Colin Buchanan lectured me at college on this. It is possible to be so concerned to stress that we contribute nothing to our salvation that you wonder how there is anything at all appears on the communion table. But we bring bread and wine – ‘that earth has produced and human hands prepared’. It doesn’t produce itself. It doesn’t bring itself. No, I don’t think this is reintroducing OT sacrifice – though this can be a source of confusion or error. But unless we bring these to the table there be nothing there. Something from this fallen creation and our fallen creaturely existence is brought, consecrated and shared at the table. So if we want to avoid the word ‘offertory’ for what are doing here what word might we use instead?

    • “This isn’t traditional Anglican language. ”

      If it;s in a C of E authorised service then it clearly IS traditional Anglican language. It’s part of our tradition.

      Why the anti-catholic stance here?

      • Andrew. I think part of what can make this discussion difficult is the Catholic/Protestant fault line that runs through our churches and therefore our debates. What we do and don’t do – and the language we do or don’t use – is constantly shaped by the need to avoid looking or sounding like ‘them’ (because they are wrong). All sides do it. It is so liberating (and no less rigorous) to find places where these theological discussions can happen with biblical and historical insight but without the historical baggage and its prejudices.

  16. I protest the use of the word sacrifice in any sense associated with what we do or our offering –
    they should not be part of the Lord’s Supper which is the pre-eminent gift and we here more than anywhere else in our lives, come as needy, hungry beggars invited to the banquet.

    I was reading Tom Torrance this morning on the Eucharist – he wrote how ‘the Unconditional love of God is very difficult for us to cope with’ – and bread and wine show us that ‘salvation is by grace alone.’ He says we are all subtle Pelagians wanting to contribute something.

    I would prefer no mention of our sacrifice or our offering – this table, these elements are all grace, all gift, and we come only by grace, to receive everything of grace.

    • Hi Simon – I totally agree with you in stressing that everything is grace . But can you see my point? As soon as the bread and the wine are required and present, God is accepting and using something we have brought and prepared? The Pelagian error lies in attaching a significance to the fact we bring these at all. But you can only really exclude the language of offering by having nothing on the table at all – or a table in the first place. At one stage in my ministry I worked with a con evo vicar who was so anxious about this point he gave every impression he would have preferred to get a bread roll out of his pocket at the last possible moment – anything to avoid suggesting that anyone was actually making any kind of contribution to the meal. And isn’t grace found in God’s acceptance of, and blessing of, bread and wine – which we received as a means of grace as we take and eat? Earlier in this discussion the idea that the sacraments had anything to do with creation at all was rejected. Well that is one way of solving this problem. But one that I explained I found unbiblical.

  17. David, yes, I do see your point
    and I wasnt firing across the bow
    I think we simply need to be very careful about terminology – and exactly where they are placed in the eucharist
    Im just not sure the language of us offering bread/wine to be blessed is necessary or relevant –
    it is obvious we did – I dont think it needs underlining – and I am conscious Jesus didnt say “bring, offer, take, eat” 🙂

    • Simon. I totally agree about terminology. But I think we can be so anxious in stressing all this that our unworthiness becomes the central message rather than the amazing grace of God. At a certain point this debate is simply a distraction from the gospel revealed in the sacrament. Which of course undermines the very concerns that drive it here. I think that by astonishing, utterly undeserved grace, God takes what we bring and reveals himself though it the breaking of the bread. But we do bring it. It is what he takes and blesses. But having done that the table is surely a place of self forgetting rather than self awareness/self-condemning? At the last supper the work of bringing and preparing had already happened – at his request. So I am not persuaded by your last point. Thanks for engaging.

      • But David – surely it is the language of us bringing offerings and sacrifices that is as you say ‘a distraction from the gospel revealed in the sacrament’ – which is all gift and to which we contribute nothing.

  18. Simon. To be clear I do not use the word sacrifice in this context. I am talking about offering.
    But my point, again, is we do bring something don’t we? We have a table and the reason it is not empty is that we have brought something to it. I don’t want to over stress it – but I don’t want to ignore it either. It tells me something about Jesus who still, as a friend of sinners, who and eats with us – at our table, with our food. And God graciously receives what we bring. It is utterly unworthy, unable of itself to make any difference let alone save – but by God’s grace …. . Now why on earth would we mistake what we bring for what Christ makes it and feeds us with? At the communion it has always been a holy moment for when the table is laid, and, quite improbably, it is what we bring that, by God’s blessing, becomes this amazing meal of salvation and transformation. I am inclined to go to the feeding of 5000 stories where they bring what little they have – hopelessly inadequate, no mistaking what they offer with what it becomes in Jesus’s hands. But Jesus took and blessed what they brought.

      • Hardly so
        The emblems symbolise Jesus – not what we bring to be multiplied
        The only thing we brought to Calvary was our sin

        • That is correct, at least as far as the BCP is concerned, which is the standard of Anglican doctrine. In the BCP, it is AFTER communicating (“receiving these they creatures of bread and wine …. may be partakers”) that we “offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee”. The deliberate echo of Romans 12 shows that this is the right context for using (biblical) language of sacrifice and offering: in the regular consecration of our selves to God, in response to what Christ has done for us. I do not think we “offer” bread and wine to the Lord any more (or less) than we “offer” water to the Holy Spirit in baptism, or paper to God to inscribe the Bible; or food and money to help the poor. All it means is that we are material girls (and boys) and we’re living in a material world.

          I don’t dispute that other interpretations of the eucharist exist (Tridentine Catholics do actually think it is the bloodless re-enactment of Calvary under the species of bread and wine through the miracle of transubstantiation effected by the prayer of epiklesis, while modern liberal catholics think that all of material nature is “sacramental” and therefore a vehicle for the divine, so we ‘bring it before God” to be transformed somehow); but the BCP doctrine is that the bread and wine are effectual signs conveying particular, spiritual realities, namely the body and blood of Christ given for us. If you believe, as catholics do, that the Christian ministry is the continuation or the replacement of the Aaronide priesthood by a better priesthood, then you will be disposed to see sacrificial, offertory meaning in the Lord’s Supper. But I don’t see in the NT that understanding of the ministry (which doubtless was held in the early patristic period when the Church was squaring itself off against the then much larger Synagogue in the dispute over which was the rightful heir of Moses); nor is that how the BCP understands the covenant-signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

          • Thanks for that helpful summary of both BCP and the different Catholic positions.

            I do like it when a post has a reference to Madonna (the real one, not the mother of Jesus) juxtaposed with a reference to Tridentine eucharistic theology….

          • Now, now, Ian! The Mother of our Lord is the REAL Madonna (but I’m glad somebody got my reference) and I would be very glad if she really did (and does still) look like Raphael’s painting. This evangelical loves and honours the Mother of Christ because she who was dear to him should be dear to us – and any mere male who thinks about motherhood is soon aware it is a profound and beautiful mystery. And although I don’t want to sacramentalise nature, I am sure that David and I would agree with Hopkins that ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God’ and reflects His glory. We are certainly getting the chance to think about that in the extended compulsory Sabbath much of the world is now experiencing.

        • Simon … More than symbols for me. And the emblems themselves? – bread and wine. I have really valued this discussion but I have got as far as I can here – from one for whom sin and grace are as real and central as they are for you.

          • David – I know they are

            I suspect i’m more weighed down by sin, and more needy of deliverance and dont want anything that might be the slightest hurdle to my hasty reception of grace. Like a man who’s walked through a fiery desert parched with a dry cracked tongue and kidneys turning to sand, coming to an oasis, I’m not interested in the palm trees, just the pool.

            pax brother

  19. Wasn’t planning to say more here but have just come across guidelines the Bishops of London have produced. I think they contribute very helpfully to this discussion and its concerns.
    They note that ‘Some parish churches may wish temporarily to suspend the celebration of Holy Communion until they are able to meet together in person again.’ They quote one incumbent “We will take this opportunity to fast from the Sacrament while we feast on the Word.”
    But they allow a priest to celebrate communion alone within some important guidelines.
    ‘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.’ They recommend prayers to be circulated ahead to strengthen this participation. Interestingly they do not suggest ‘have a piece of bread at home’ for the moment of communion.
    This is their way of working with Cramner’s theology of the eucharist during a time of plague, in an era modern communication. This is the issue we have been exploring here – the difference between physical presence and presence enabled by communication technology. You can find the whole piece on the London website. I wonder what folk make of this as a way forward?

    • I think it is completely incoherent!

      This is option 2; options 1 and 3 are offered with some supporting theological and Anglican rationale, but this isn’t.

      It effectively makes Communion something the priest does, which lay people sit and watch passively. I think it goes against quite explicit teaching in the BCP and Articles, and is terrible.

      What is worse is that no diocesan bishops appear to have talked to each other on this. Quite bizarre!

      • Further evidence then that the Articles and BCP are staging posts rather than signposts. They are historic formularies which are in the title deeds but we have built many extensions on them since.

        Each diocese has different circumstances and London is quite different to say Derby or Hereford. So wouldn’t you expect different approaches? In my experience as a Bishop’s Chaplain, Bishops liked to have a distinctive approach – albeit around common themes. The C of E has always been that way, which is why there was such surprise and suspicion around the formation of the Archbishops’ Council when it was first invented.

        Like David, as a former incumbent in London I think the advice is very helpful.

      • “It effectively makes Communion something the priest does, which lay people sit and watch passively”

        Have you never been to an 8am BCP service? You can’t get anything more priest centred with lay people watching passively than that.

      • Ian. I completely disagree with you. And it is working hard precisely at the sense of communal participation. It is your response I find bizarre!

  20. This dates me but i wonder who else has read the relevant section on Holy Communion in Growing into Union (Buchanan/Mascall/Packer/Leonard.? Pp58- and the appendix 4 on Eucharistic Sacrifice by E.L.Mascall and Michael Green.

  21. Hi Ian, thank you for the thought and hard work you put into this. I was interested in The Communion of the Sick and its rubrics. Further down there is another rubric: “In the time of the plague, sweat, or such other like contagious times of sickness or diseases, when none of the Parish or neighbours can be gotten to communicate with the sick in their houses, for fear of the infection, upon special request of the diseased, the Minister may only communicate with him.” That doesn’t undermine your argument about ‘virtual’ eucharists, but I thought it was interesting that there is a specific pastoral accomodation for dropping the ‘two or three gathered’.

    • Thanks James. Yes, I noted that—but what I think it does it demonstrate how exceptional such situations are. The coronavirus is not a plague, however, and even in these circumstances the BCP does not contemplate a ‘priest’ ‘celebrating’ communion. Indeed, the BCP terminology is of ‘administration’, which includes a communal dynamic as inherent in the rite.

  22. I spoke with a Bishop on this today (I am an Anglican Priest)
    For me communion is as important now, in a home, and across a shared community of virtual worshippers.
    It is a time for sharing bread and a common cup in the home, knowing that we are forgiven, healed and made whole as individuals and as a family. The multi sensory nature of this family act and togetherness, of doing this, where tensions may be high, is important if not vital.
    We risk alienation, of not listening and not serving peoples needs if we do not see Communion elevated in this way. The barriers to do this seem to be …
    1 – Consecration is limited to the bread and wine in the immediate vicinity. Surely this means we are assuming a limitation in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus healed from afar … (Luke 7:7) and ironically we use words from Luke 7:7 in our communion service.
    2 – It breaks convention and tradition. Our role is to find new tradition to go along with the old. Are we going to continue with the outdated and immoral concept that priests stand between God and people?
    There are other reasons I know but I haven’t the time to list all of them
    These are my initial thoughts.
    Ian … I would be interested to know the foundation to the words in your blog …
    “Anglican theology and liturgy do permit an authorised ministry to preside at a celebration of Holy Communion, provided that is not done as an individual, but as part of a community of believers of at least three. It does allow that to be live streamed or pre-recorded and broadcast. It does also allow that those watching, in their own homes, might eat bread and drink wine (on their own) or share it with others in their household, whilst they witness the service of Holy Communion being broadcast from elsewhere. ”
    … so I can continue my conversation with my Bishop.
    Many Thanks for you thoughts and research

  23. I write as a lay person whose only theological training was in the lead up to confirmation. On Easter Sunday morning I will not be able to take communion. We all know why. I will read some appropriate scripture and then tuck into a fine breakfast of devilled kidneys, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast and coffee. For the whole of Lent I have gone teetotal and vegetarian as I have for the last 30+ years. I will not feel guilty about missing communion and I am pretty sure God won’t give a toss either. A debate about virtual communion is only taking place because the Church tries to lay a guilt trip on people. Please all see the bigger picture. There is a pandemic that is taking precious life. Follow the government guidelines and stay safe. The Church will only survive if you do.

    • Thanks for that robust and pragmatic reflection! The issue is a pressing one, though, for people within the theological tradition(s) where sharing Communion is a central part of their devotional life. It also is a lens for a whole range of issue around our understanding of what constitutes the church and its ordained ministry.

      • But when you boil it down, communion is a man made construct and what is made by man can be changed by man. I know it strikes at the root of what most churches have taught not to have communion, but perhaps our priests etc can take the pressure off of those disturbed by its absence by being more progressive in their support and explanation.

  24. Ian, I don’t dissent from the essential thrust of your article at all, but would just make one point, about what we offer in the Eucharist. You say that the only offering in the 1662 BCP service is the offering of praise in the Gloria In Excelsis at the end; but if you look at the first of the two post-communion prayers (the one beginning “O Lord and heavenly Father”), you’ll find the following:

    “….we…. entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving….” – and this is said before the Gloria. Later in the same prayer, you’ll find “.. although we be unworthy…. to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this, our bounden duty and service…..”.

    • Thanks Steve. This was raised online. There has been much ink spilt over this, and whether the ‘sacrifice of praise’ that is offered refers to the self-same prayer, whether it looks forward to the Gloria, or whether it looks back to what has done. Given that the 1662 service retains Cranmer’s distinctive 1552 shape, in postponing all praise till after the sharing of the Lord’s Supper, I think the ‘catholic’ preference for the third option, making the ‘eucharist’ an offering, is not sustainable.

  25. While the Reformers had a deep grasp of the Glory of God in the face of Christ and the Feast of all Feasts, I don’t know that , while the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, many today live out reality of knowing and enjoying, tasting and seeing him now.
    It would be difficult to read John Owen’s, Communion with God and The Glory of Christ and Richard Sibbes and conclude that they did not know and enjoy God better than many of us today.

  26. I’m sorry I haven’t read all the comments, so don’t know if this has been raised, but I’m interested to know if you think there’s a difference between consecrating bread and wine through a medium like Zoom and being absolved or receiving a blessing through AV media?

    • That’s a good question—but it isn’t such a sharp issue, in that for Protestants absolution is not a sacrament, where Communion is, and in fact the ‘priest’ does not ‘absolve’ in the way an RC priest does, but merely pronounced the forgiveness that God offers.

      • But as Protestants, also communion isn’t transubstantiation. Surely God can do what God does with the bread and wine across live and interactive social media (eg Zoom)? Or surely we can allow people to have bread and wine in front of them to symbolise communion, which in itself is a symbol and sign?

  27. Hi Ian, that was tiring but interesting discussion, and you were probably relieved it appeared to fizzle out (here at least) some 12 days ago. Thank you.

    For me the sudden appearance of Spiritual Communion (SC) as a fait accompli was the biggest issue. Before the restrictions my last HC was when I accompanied my father to his Baptist church (that meets in a school hall) encouraging back to church following my mother being gravely ill, then dying the week before. In that service the minister explained what HC was all about (from a Baptist perspective!). Now that my father has learnt how to use Facebook he can continue to join in with the occasional HC with his church fellowship. Yet, as a licensed lay minister watching via Facebook or YouTube, I can’t, but feel as though I’m spectating.

    Perhaps part of the issue with SC is lack of familiarity with it and I wonder whether elements of it should/could be included in our regular HC (when we are back to normality) to remind those present that there are many who are sick or housebound, or something to that effect. Otherwise, I would be content with the Memorialist approach at home with my family and the anglican approach when we are all together.

    • Thanks James. I confess that, having been raised in a charismatic evangelical Anglican context, I am a bit surprised that ‘Spiritual Communion’ has become such thing. I was taught that this was otherwise known as ‘being a disciple and knowing God’s presence by his Spirit’!

  28. Interesting post! As a Baptist minister with Zwinglian tendencies, I feel my position is much easier than for all you Anglicans – although it seems that when I celebrate communion with my church, it’s not actually communion at all from an Anglican point of view… 🙁

    My conviction, as I prepare to record another communion celebration (entirely on my own) for this coming Sunday, is that when we are together in the Spirit, even if separated in body, Jesus is there with us; and if we do this in memory of him, then it is communion, even if we all have different drinks and break different types of bread. Yes, being together in one place would be better, but as that’s not currently possible, I don’t think the spiritual bond between Jesus and his followers depends on whether we’re in the same building or not.

    And as I often point out, as we celebrate communion in our church, we are part of a world-wide family of believers doing the same, in various places and various ways; I firmly believe that unity is just as important as that between the 40-odd people that are normally physically present in our particular building!

  29. Thank you for writing this. I am no great theologian, but I live with this every day. I wonder if we just strip God, in Christ of every conceivable opportunity for miracle. I love images in scripture that give us contexts for philosophising the Eucharist; the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus breaking bread after the journey on the Road to Emmaus, and in the OT, stories of Manna in the wilderness etc. (Still need some thought on Jesus refusing to turn stones into bread in his wilderness story). It seems that despite all these simple narrative devices, the Church has spent its time navel gazing, and constructing this very tidy mechanism of Eucharistic theology that makes perfect sense in our stone built medieval construct of churchianity, but has no place in our new world of social distancing. Now like Peter, James and John in the middle of the storm, we are finding the traditional sails and tiller don’t work, and we run around in a mad theological panic, not hearing anything that undermines the fact that the Eucharist is just not our miracle to define. Jesus woke and calmed the chaos in his way and his way alone. I think we need to put away our theological lego, and let God do what he wishes with the simple pictures of bread and wine that he has given us. The place for finding a new Eucharist is on our knees.

  30. Hello Ian
    I really enjoyed your article and am quoting from it in a document I am working on here in Cape Town, South Africa (Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa). I downloaded Buchanan’s booklet and wanted to point out two typos in your quote from his page 18. Where you have “strong” it should be “spring”; and “he is rise” when it is “he is risen.”
    A very helpful read, thank you!

  31. I have come to this discussion very late; but I have found it very interesting! My comment is that the abandonment of the New Testaments Lord’s Supper as a shared MEAL brings with it all sorts of sacerdotal nonsense!


Leave a comment