We Are the Communion We Seek
Acts of the Apostles 2:42 tells us the following about the disciples, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This pattern of behaviors began immediately after Jesus’ ascension, and it developed into a service we call today
The Holy Eucharist/Mass/Lord’s Supper/Service of Communion.
Since the early days, the Church has gathered on Sundays to enter into the full presence of God in worship. This worship follows a simple structure that gathers us from “the world” into a sacred space, helps us enter into God’s presence through word and sacrament, and then sends us back into the world to do “the work God has given us to do.”
Word and Sacrament are two of the four components of early Christian worship. The other two were fellowship and the prayers. The earliest services always included an agape meal in addition to the teaching, sacrament, and prayers. At some point the agape meal was divorced from the service, and either moved to a later time, or eliminated all together. Today, this agape meal has become “Coffee Hour” or the occasional potluck supper. Overtime, the sacrament portion of the liturgy started ascending in importance, as the eucharistic theology of the Church continued to develop. The question for the fathers and doctors of the church was, “How is Christ present in the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist?” The prevalent answer was that the bread and wine become substantively the body and blood of Jesus at the moment of consecration.
This eucharistic theology was challenged by The Reformation, which understood Christ’s presence in the Eucharist in a variety of ways (We will study these in detail at a later time.) Anglicanism understood Real Presence in spiritual terms. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ spiritually and we receive them by faith. Beyond our unique understanding of the Eucharist, Anglicanism also sought to restore the “Teaching of the Word” to the place of importance it once had when the early disciples gathered to listen to the Apostle’s teaching. As a result, the service of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer became the primary Sunday Service of the Church. The service of Holy Communion was only celebrated three to four times a year and on very special occasions. This remained the practice of the church for almost 500 years.
It was only in the 1970’s that the Holy Eucharist became the principal service of our Church. This was the result of intense liturgical renewal sparked by the Second Vatican Council. Since then, Holy Communion has started rising in ascendancy, to the point that many Anglicans have abandoned Morning Prayer, and many feel that without Holy Communion any Sunday worship is incomplete and insufficient. Likewise, many Anglicans feel uncomfortable with sermons that last more than 10 or 15 minutes, don’t have a regular practice of Holy Scripture reading, and can’t locate specific Bible books within the Jewish Scripture (Old Testament) or the New Testament.
Some of you may be asking, “Why the history lesson, Padre?” Well, I am glad you asked. Some of our churches, including us, have celebrated the Holy Eucharist using Facebook Live. As a result, the Diocese has received a number of requests about receiving communion by mail, cyber-consecration, drive through communion, and other. For many in the Diocese, without the reception of Holy Communion the Sunday service is incomplete and insufficient. This has convinced our bishops that more teaching on liturgical theology must take place within our Diocese before Facebook Live Holy Eucharists take place. Our Bishops want us to emphasize the fact that Morning Prayer and the Liturgy of the Word are sufficient principal services for Sunday. You do not need to receive the consecrated elements to be “In Communion.” In fact, another meaning of communion is the gathering together as a body of believers to feast on the Word, which is Christ and Holy Scripture. This is the reason why we have chosen to continue with the Liturgy of the Word until we are back together again.
It is proper and healthy to long for the reception of the body and blood of Jesus. Hold on to this longing, knowing that this absence and loss will make the reception more meaningful when we are finally together in our beautiful church. Until then, please know that “The Word” is sufficient for us now and that each of us forms the communion we love.