Wednesday Word: Holy Communion
Holy Communion is central to who we are as a church. It hasn't always been that way, as many parishioners probably recall Holy Communion only being celebrated once a month, or even only once a quarter. But since 1976 with the arrival of the Proposed Book of Common Prayer, and certainly since 1979 when the proposed book became THE Book of Common Prayer for this church, Holy Communion has been central to our worship. As is stated in the BCP, “The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day and other major Feasts . . . [is] the regular service[s] appointed for public worship in this Church.” (p. 13)
Holy Eucharist, and thereby Holy Communion, is meant to be celebrated in community. While the Episcopal church has no clear guidelines as to how many people must be present, it is clear that there must be more than one, and is why a priest doesn't celebrate Eucharist by him/herself in a side chapel. This is all well and good and obvious, but we are now in different times where some of the old assumptions about how we worship are, if not being tossed out, most definitely being critiqued and creatively adjusted.
Ever since COVID took hold and began shutting down church gatherings, there have been a myriad of theological and liturgical discussions in various circles about how Eucharist should be celebrated, if it should be celebrated, alternatives to it being celebrated, and even down to arguing whether or not bread and wine at home could be consecrated by the priest over the airwaves/internet feeds. It's a long, deep, and convoluted discussion.
As you are well aware, since the shutdown of in-person worship, I have opted to preside at Morning Prayer services that are (to the best of our abilities) live streamed via our Facebook page. My reasoning for this is because we cannot gather as a community to participate in Holy Communion. We are unable to share in the physical Body and Blood of Christ that will spiritually nourish us. For a more detailed explanation, I suggest you read my sermon on this very topic (Sermon Easter 6A).
That said, it has been brought to my attention that there are several (I don't know the exact numbers since until recently I had only heard from three) people who would prefer a service of Holy Eucharist, even if they can't physically participate. Generally speaking we don't make liturgical changes because someone thinks it's a good idea. But that doesn't mean that I don't, or won't, listen to input from people about our worship.
So while I don't agree with the practice of Spiritual Communion in our current situation, I do recognize that some people find it meaningful and beneficial. In our current context of COVID closures and physical separation, in our current context of finding new and creative ways to keep our parish connected to each other and with God, it would be foolish of me to ignore those who have a strong desire to witness the celebration of Holy Eucharist, even if they can't physically participate. After all, I did take a vow to “nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.” I can't do that if, in this context, I ignore the spiritual needs of parishioners in an effort to maintain what I see as my own personal theological correctness.
So, beginning this Sunday, June 7, I will offer Holy Eucharist on the first Sunday of the month for the time being. This will have elements that are familiar to you, but it will also have some elements that, due to our separation, will necessarily be different. And then, sometime next week, feel free to send me an e-mail letting me know what you think and how you received this Spiritual Communion.