Thinking allowed

Thanksgiving for the institution of Holy Communion

Today is appoin­ted in the cal­en­dar as a day of thanks­giv­ing for the insti­tu­tion of Holy Com­mu­nion. Appen­ded to that descrip­tion are the Lat­in words by which the Thursday after Trin­ity Sunday is more com­monly known among those who actu­ally cel­eb­rate it — Cor­pus Christi, the Body of Christ.

The fest­iv­al day has been over­laid with all sorts of rite and cere­mo­ni­al that emphas­ise a par­tic­u­lar aspect of some beliefs, namely that the ele­ments of bread and wine, after the priestly pray­er of con­sec­ra­tion really are the body and blood of Christ, and there­fore are to be adored in the same way that we might adore Christ or a rel­ic of Christ. For Anglic­ans this kind of beha­viour has to con­tend with Art­icle 28 which con­tains these words

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

The his­tory of this day is that it com­mem­or­ates the Last Sup­per. Maun­dy Thursday also com­mem­or­ates the Sup­per, but com­ing in Holy Week and begin­ning the great Three Days of the paschal feast, there are oth­er things that rightly take pri­or­ity. So with the three paschal days com­plete, and the fifty days of East­er­tide com­plete, and the old week (or octave) of Pente­cost com­plete, this is the first Thursday avail­able for the com­mem­or­a­tion. Pente­cost no longer has an octave of its own, being regarded as the last day of East­er­tide rather than primar­ily a feast in its own right, but the Thursday after Trin­ity Sunday is too well-estab­lished to move the com­mem­or­a­tion a week earlier.

After the Reform­a­tion the feast ceased to be cel­eb­rated in the Church of Eng­land. Not until New­man wrote Tract 90 of the Oxford Movement’s Tracts for the Times was a ser­i­ous argu­ment made against the inter­pret­a­tion of Art­icle 28. New­man argued that the Art­icle did not for­bid the reser­va­tion of the Sac­ra­ment, it just said that it was not cre­ated by ‘Christ’s ordin­ance’. This argu­ment led many Anglo-Cath­ol­ic par­ishes to restore Reser­va­tion of the Sac­ra­ment, and to intro­duce Cor­pus Christi pro­ces­sions and adoration.

So what, as Anglic­ans, should we cel­eb­rate this day? 

The clue is in the title giv­en the day in Com­mon Wor­ship: a day of thanks­giv­ing for the insti­tu­tion of Holy Com­mu­nion. We give thanks for the exist­ence of Holy Com­mu­nion. In his book Din­ing in the King­dom of God (Arch­diocese of Chica­go, 1994), Roman Cath­ol­ic priest Eugene LaVerdiere argues that rather than focus­ing on the Last Sup­per as the insti­tu­tion of the euchar­ist, we would do bet­ter to remem­ber that the ori­gins of the euchar­ist lie in a long and com­plex series of events that has the Last Sup­per … as their cli­max. LaVerdiere recog­nises that we may not con­sider all the meals in the gos­pel to neces­sar­ily be cel­eb­ra­tions of the euchar­ist, but ‘they all have some­thing to say about the eucharist’.

Sadly, the euchar­ist, and our under­stand­ing of it, can be a very divis­ive thing. One does not have to look very far to find some who find it largely unne­ces­sary (or at least, that it is unne­ces­sary to cel­eb­rate it very often), and on the oth­er hand some who think that a priest say­ing par­tic­u­lar words over bread and wine is the essence of the Church. No doubt I para­phrase each pos­i­tion a little unfairly — if so I apo­lo­gise. But my point is that even if this is an unfair rep­res­ent­a­tion of what each believes, it is how the oth­er per­ceives them.

How do we escape from this? The view expressed in this blog is that the euchar­ist is indeed fun­da­ment­al to our life as Chris­ti­ans; that where the euchar­ist is, there the Church is; that the fre­quent cel­eb­ra­tion of the euchar­ist is giv­en us as a means of growth and nur­ture. But it is also our view that this does not neces­sar­ily mean the euchar­ist as we have come to know it; how it exists today as a ritu­al­ized, ves­ti­gi­al meal, almost sep­ar­ated from real food and drink, in danger of sep­ar­a­tion from a real under­stand­ing of the pres­ence of the liv­ing Christ. Our devo­tion to the euchar­ist com­pels us to con­sider a third way, in which we look for a real bible-based sac­ra­ment­al­ity, com­bin­ing it with a tra­di­tion­al focus on its cent­ral­ity (envis­aged of course by that Arch­bish­op whom Anglo-Cath­ol­ics love to hate, Thomas Cran­mer), and bring­ing to bear our God-giv­en reas­on to try and recon­cile these views. 

And as we have said before, our euchar­ist­ic joy com­pels us to go out unto the world and share that joy by help­ing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the oppressed.

That said, I shall, with slightly grit­ted teeth, be swinging a thur­ible later today in a Cor­pus Christi pro­ces­sion, com­plete with rose petals, can­opy et al. Hmmm.

1 comment

  • Hi Simon.…Has any one got any book ref­er­ences on the re insti­tu­tion of Cor­pus Christi by the Oxford Move­ment after Tract 90.…with ref­er­ences to what was actu­ally done litur­gic­ally… Many thanks Carolynn

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