Category Archives: Sacraments

Eucharistic Spirituality: The Body of Christ

This contains the (current) contents of what will likely be the last substantive chapter in the book. Again—all of that (order, contents, etc.) could change once the editors take a look at it, but that’s how I’m seeing it. I’m trying to stay on that fine line of being informative without getting too technical. I’ve noticed that I pull in a fair amount of Bible here; as a New Testament guy it’s an occupational hazard but hopefully should help you see what I’m driving at.


The Body of Christ

In order to wrap up our look at the Eucharist, and to connect some of the dots throughout the book, I want to focus on one particular term and what it means for us: the Body of Christ. Two little words in Greek (soma Christou), three in English, this term has several interrelated meanings that will lead us deeper into our consideration of the Eucharist, into the sacraments as a whole, and into the identity of the Church. In essence, it’ll take us full circle, and we’ll end by consider from a new perspective some of the topics with which we began.

The Physical Body of Christ

This is the absolute starting place; any proper discussion of the meaning of the term “Body of Christ” has to start here—with the physical blood, guts, bones, and bile of Jesus. His was a historical body that lived, occupied space, sweated, smelled bad, and performed all of the physical functions that a body does. The letter of 1 John affirms this body by taking the physical encounter with it as its literal opening point:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

And here we hit on our first key point concerning this body. The Johannine perspective, found both in this letter and in the Gospel of John, emphasize that this body is simultaneously the Word (of God, of Life) and is a real body. The most paradoxical aspect of John’s hymn-like start to his Gospel becomes the great antiphon of Christmas encircling it, encapsulating it, and proclaiming it:  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Here we assert the perennial teaching of the Church: that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine. In his body, that born from his mother Mary, he was both completely human and completely God. Now—we all know that 100%+100% doesn’t add up to 100%! Countless explanations have attempted to fix the equation ranging from “all human pretending to be God (0%+100%)” to “a human body but a divine soul (50%+50%)” to “all God pretending to be human (100%+0%)”; at each explanation, the Church has looked, sniffed it a few times, and said, “No—this isn’t it.” The best answer that we’ve come up with is a mystical union. The Word of God united to physical flesh is both God incarnate and a true human being.

This is the body that got weary from walking up and down the hills of Galilee; this is the body that got exhausted after nights spent in prayer rather than sleep; this is the body that took bread, blessed it, and broke it saying, “This is my Body, given for you.” This is the body that was nailed to the cross and died and rose again.

The Resurrected Body of Christ

We affirm that it was the physical Body of Christ that died and was raised. And yet, the resurrected Body did things that normal living bodies do not. On the other hand, it also did things that only normal living bodies can do (so far as we know…). John goes to great pains in his gospel to affirm that there is a direct and fundamental continuity between the physical Body of Christ and the resurrected Body of Christ; as proof of his identity, the Risen Jesus shows his disciples his hands and his side (John 20:20). The story of Thomas serves to hammer this point home: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25) Of course, when Jesus comes to the disciples again, he invites Thomas to do just that: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). The wounds that Jesus received in his physical Body remain in his resurrected Body.

Furthermore, Jesus uses this resurrected Body in very physical ways. He breathes on the disciples (John 20:22). He cooks fish for them, and breakfasts with the clear implication that he ate some of it as well (John 21:9-14). And this isn’t just a John thing either; Luke spends some time with this as well. Jesus walked and talked with the men on the road to Emmaus. He took, blessed, and broke bread with them (Luke 24:13-35). He specifically invites the apostles to touch him, including his hands and feet, and asks for some broiled fish to eat in their presence (Luke 24:41-3).

On the other hand, both John and Luke record the resurrected Body doing things beyond the ability of physical bodies—entering locked rooms (John 20:19), appearing suddenly among them in a manner that seemed like that of a ghost (Luke 24:36-7), and ascending into heaven (Acts 1:9). Furthermore, disciples who knew him well—including Mary Magdalene—had a hard time recognizing him by sight in both Luke and John.

So, as Luke and John tell it, the resurrected Body is fully continuous with the physical Body but is beyond it in some quite important ways.

The Pneumatic Body of Christ

With the ascension of the resurrected Body, and its enthronement—literal, metaphorical, symbolic—at the right hand of God, we pass into various post-physical modes of the Body of Christ. The lines between some of these are admittedly fuzzy but are worth mentioning nevertheless because some of them shade into one another to a greater or lesser degree and some are distinct from one another to a greater or lesser degree. We’ll see that in this first one I’m identifying, the pneumatic Body.

From the Greek word pneuma (“spirit”), this is the Body that is mediated to believers by the Holy Spirit. I find this mode in Matthew in particular when Jesus promises, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). This seems to be the mode of presence that Paul invokes at the start of 1 Corinthians 5 when he tells the Corinthians that he is present with them spiritually “When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:4b).

Just as there is a special continuity between the physical and resurrected Bodies, this mode of the Body of Christ has a certain continuity with the next two as well.

The Mystical Body of Christ

The mystical Body of Christ is best captured in a single verb: “abide.” This is the mode of mutual indwelling where Christ dwells in us and we in him. Scripture speaks of it in a variety of ways:

[Jesus said:] I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:1-8)

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:13-16)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:19-20)

Perhaps most telling is this last selection which is one of my favorite passages in the Pauline letters:

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:2-3)

Particularly significant here is the means by which our death of which Paul speaks has occurred: “…you were buried with him in baptism…” (Col 2:12)

When we are baptized, we are baptized into the Body of Christ and become partakers of the divine life of God. Specifically, this is the Body of Christ that we are being baptized into. And, being baptized into Christ we are also linked into all those who share that baptism. This is the Communion of the Saints spoken of in the Creeds. We share a common life in Christ through our connection in him.

The Social Body of Christ

The social Body of Christ is the visible institution of the Church. There is a lot of overlap between the mystical Body of Christ and the social Body of Christ; perhaps in a perfect world they would be identical, but in this present age that is not to be. The distinction between them is that the social Body is a human society, reinforced with human rules and administered by human beings. While we truly believe that it is of divine origin and receives divine guidance through the Spirit, the Anglican churches acknowledge the fallibility of such institutions.

We cannot be Christians properly by ourselves. Our binding into the Body of Christ obligates us to gather with one another into the visible institution of the Church. Both the Scriptures and the witness of the Early Church legislate particular forms of church life that include bishops, priests, and deacons alongside the main body of the faithful. As an “episcopal” church—that is, one whose name includes the Greek word for “bishop”—we believe that these structures are important and necessary channels for the maintenance and proclamation of the faith.

Furthermore, the Church has been granted means of grace as sure and certain channels of the grace of God. Chief among these are the sacraments and various sacramental rites. Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing, Marriage, Ordination, these rites and others like them have reference to the life of the Church and connect individuals, families, and communities deeper into the life of the Church, the social Body, and—hopefully—deeper into the mystical Body as well.

This social Body is one of Paul’s favorite uses for this multivalent term. In several of his epistles he makes reference to this metaphor, particularly to speak of the nature of the Church and its essential interdependence:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.  (1 Cor 12:12-31)

That’s long, but definitely worth citing in full. The reason is because here we see Paul talking about differentiation within the Body; not everybody has the same job—nor do they need to! Not everyone fulfills the same role, but all roles are important even if some of them are more visible than others. The fact of differentiation and the hierarchy or potential for hierarchical ranking within it emphasizes its social character as it grapples with the ways that the Church both is and is not (or should not be) like any other human social grouping.

But, continuing with the theme of differentiation within the body and with the different roles in it causes us to return to one of the fundamental places where we began. When we started speaking about the purpose of Christian spirituality, we began with Paul’s use of the Body metaphor in Ephesians, and this is the particular sense in which he was using the term:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. . . . The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Eph 4:4-8, 11-16)

Paul goes to great lengths to emphasize the unity of the Body, but—in addition—makes clear that being the Body is not enough. The Body of Christ is not yet fully matured. It is in the process of becoming filled out and strong, but is not at that point yet. The Body of Christ—this social Body—does not yet fully possess the Mind of Christ. Only when the Body grows into full unity will it most fully be what it is.

The Eschatological Body of Christ

“Eschatological” is a fancy word that simply pertains to “final things.” Theologians use it when referring to the ideal future state all of God’s plans have come to fruition, and humanity and are creation are finally and ultimately reconciled with God and one another. One way of grasping the great eschatological vision appears in Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming messianic rule which we recall at Christmas:

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  (Isa 11:6-9)

Isaiah speaks of entire ecosystems being fundamentally realigned in order to communicate the radical nature of this idyllic state and to contrast God’s perfect image of reality with our current situation. This is a new Eden. Everything is as it was in the Garden, full harmony between Creator and creation.

Humans are included in this vision too, and a later author aligned with Isaiah’s vision uses similar imagery, combining it with undertones of the sacrificial meals in his description:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.  (Isa 25:6-9)

We’ll return to this image a little later—I’m sure you’ve noticed that it has some interesting interpretive angles on the topic at hand—but the key point I want to make right now is that this is a comprehensive gathering of all people.

So—what does this have to do with Christ?

Well, in the Stoic philosophy of the time the term Logos (“word”) was used to speak of the logic or pattern underlying the universe. It’s likely that when John’s Prologue speaks of Jesus as “the Word,” it is tapping into this sense of a cosmic pattern. Paul certainly has this notion in mind in Colossians:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  (Col 1:15-18)

Imagining the fullness of time, all creation is reconciled back to Christ the Logos within the eschatological Body. All creation is conformed, in joy and perfect freedom, to the pattern intended for it by its Shaper.  Romans alludes to this when it speaks of creation’s groaning in anticipation of God’s birthing of the new age:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:19-23)

This, then, is the eschatological Body—looking forward in hope to the point when Christ is all in all. This mode of Christ’s presence exists for us now as a future state. It is something that our present activities can point towards, but cannot be full realized until the consummation of all things.

The Sacramental Body of Christ

Finally, we arrive at one of the most common—and most argued over—uses of the term. When the consecrated Eucharistic bread is distributed from the altar, the priest never just gives it silently. The prayer book gives three phrases to choose from:

  • “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life,”
  • “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” or the expansive form found in Rite One,
  • “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.”

Whichever version your priest happens to go with, one thing is left abundantly clear: the Church makes the claim that the piece of bread being put into your hand at that moment is in some important way the Body of Christ.

How, exactly, do we mean this? Well—that’s part of the genius of the Anglican system… Our formularies and liturgies are quite careful not say exactly how we mean it, which permits a variety of acceptable interpretations and neatly side-steps one of the greatest and most pressing religious differences in the Western Church from the time of the Reformation to the present: the mode and means of how Christ is present in the Eucharist.

One end of this understanding is a theology that the final line above appears to recommend, a memorialist position. This theology suggests that the phrase “Body of Christ” is a metaphor and that the consecrated bread reminds us to remember Christ’s death on our behalf and to nourish ourselves and our faith through this fundamentally mental act. The other end of this understanding is a theology that seems most perfectly at home in the second line. This takes the identification of the bread with the Body of Christ literally and believes that Jesus is—somehow—truly and fully present in the bread. Different Anglicans have understood the mode of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist in a variety of ways with some advocating a memorialist position, some speaking of a purely spiritual presence, others speaking of a real presence, and still others explaining by means of minor nuances how their view differs from transubstantiation—a theory of Real Presence explained by means of Aristotelian metaphysics—which was officially forbidden under the English “39 Articles.”

I’m not going to try and persuade you one way or another—as I said, the prayer book permits quite a range. What I must insist upon, however, is that the every one of our Eucharistic prayers includes the words of Jesus at the Last Supper when he tells his disciples, “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you” requiring every theory of Eucharistic presence to be grounded in Christ’s own words. There is a unavoidable continuity between the physical Body, the resurrected Body, and the sacramental Body. Likewise, all of the prayers forge a direct verbal connection between the bread of the rite and the Body of Christ:

  • Prayer I: “we, receiving [these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine] according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most Blessed Body and Blood” (p. 335)
  • Prayer II: “bless and sanctify these gifts of bread and wine, that they may be unto us the Body and Blood of thy dearly-beloved Son Jesus Christ” (p. 342)
  • Prayer A: “Sanctify [these gifts] by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him” (p. 363)
  • Prayer B: “send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant” (p. 369)
  • Prayer C: “Sanctify [these gifts] by your Holy Spirit to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord” (p. 371)
  • Prayer D: “sanctifying [these gifts] and showing them to be holy gifts for your holy people, the bread of life and the cup of salvation, the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ” (p. 375)

It is difficult to interpret all these in a purely metaphorical sense; the language seems to recommend something more substantial. Too, the practice of reserving the Sacrament—keeping leftover consecrated bread within a special box in the chancel or on the altar—within many Episcopal churches in recent years follows the logic of Real Presence. After all, if the bread is only a reminder or a metaphor, there’s no reason to put it in a special box…

No matter how we understand it or what the mechanics are, our prayers emphasize that the consecrated bread is the Body of Christ—this is the faith of the Church.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one clarifying point… The Church has always taught that the fullness of both the Body and Blood of Christ subsist in each of the elements. That is, the “Body of Christ” is not restricted to the bread or the “Blood of Christ” to the wine; to receive one of the elements is to receive the fullness of Christ’s Eucharistic presence. Those who cannot drink wine or cannot eat gluten are not thereby excluded from it.)

Real Presences

The classic argument over the Eucharist is about the Real Presence of Christ within it. I can’t help but think this is the wrong way of asking the question. It’s not: is there a Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Rather, I’d ask: how many modes of Real Presence are we experiencing simultaneously within the Eucharist? Or—to phrase the same question another way—how many dimensions of the Body of Christ are operative within a given rite?

I’d argue that, quite frequently, several of these dimensions are active in most anything that we do. As we’re walking down the street, going to work, cooking dinner, we are functioning as members of the Body of Christ. We are participants—however passively at the moment—of the mystical Body of Christ through the basic fact of Baptism. When we pause with our families to say grace over dinner, we add a further dimension of the pneumatic Body as we unite in the Spirit through the act of prayer. When we pray the Daily Office, we connect to the social Body as well as the mystical Body and the pneumatic Body as we express prayer as a habit of the Church, whether gathered together or dispersed.

But it is in the Eucharist that we have the greatest possible confluence of the multiple senses of the Body. As members of the mystical Body of Christ, we have been invited to participate within the interior life of the Trinity and to experience the self-offering of the Son to the Father through the Spirit. We physically gather with the social Body to raise our collective voices in praise and thanksgiving. Our spirits mingle in the pneumatic Body as we share in the one Spirit that leads us. We receive into ourselves the sacramental Body—however we choose to understand Christ’s presence within the elements. And, together, as people gathered from all nations around the meal with God we foreshadow the eschatological Body when Christ will be all in all and the reconciliation of Creator and creation will be complete.

It’s too easy to get stuck in binaries. For a long time, the argument focused around the exact nature of the bread and wine: was he really there or wasn’t he? In more recent years, the focus has changed to a fixation on the worshipping assembly as the Body of Christ to the relative exclusion of other meanings. Instead of proposing a narrow set of mutually exclusive binaries, it seems to me that we engage in the spirit of the Eucharist most fully when we experience it as a solemn and holy game of hide-and-seek where we keep our eyes out, ever attentive, ever watchful, to locate the presence of Christ within it in a way that we had not expected or suspected before.

Furthermore, I’d suggest that our liturgies ourselves point us to this perspective. Within them we find, deliberately interwoven, intentional ambiguities, double-meanings, and turns of phrase designed to call to mind the many simultaneous modes of Christ’s presence. One of the reasons why I love hearing the Rite I liturgies is due to the way these Eucharistic prayers subtly reinforce the aspect of the mystical Body while making explicit reference to the sacramental Body. It begins most overtly in the Oblation of Prayer I when we ask that “we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him” (p. 336). The theme appears again in the Prayer of Humble Access where we ask: “Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us” (p. 337). It appears once more in the post-communion prayer—but not alone. Perhaps in recognition that an over-emphasis on this aspect can lead to an unhealthy individualist attitude of “just Jesus and me,” the post-communion prayer deftly ties this aspect to three others. Here’s a section of the prayer:

…we most heartily thank thee for that [A] thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; [B] and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical Body of thy Son, [C] the blessed company of all faithful people; [D] and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom. (BCP, p. 339)

Starting with [A] the prayer begins by invoking the sacramental Body that we have just received. Then in [B], the mystical Body is brought in. However, this is immediately qualified and diverted from an individualistic focus in [C] with a nod towards the coexistence of the mystical and social Bodies. Finally, this chain concludes in [D] with a move towards the eschatological Body.

The other Eucharistic prayers are equally as rich in meaning. If we get in our heads an expectation that there is only one place where the Body can be and one form in which it can be found and one mode through which we can experience it, we close off a host of potential meanings and insights concerning the nature of God and God’s interaction with his creatures.

The Eucharist as a Gift to the Church

As we move into and through the Christian life, there is an order—a progression—through which we pass. Not all do it the same way, of course, but history and experience have shown that there is a regular channel that the Church has identified as the ordinary path of the means of grace. In this channel, some experiences and states of the Body of Christ are more foundational than others; there is a logical order. If one mode of the Body of Christ should be selected to hold the primary place amongst the rest in our experience as Christians, it should be the mystical. The mystical Body is the means by which we as individuals are plugged into the life of God, are welcomed into the interior dialogue of the Trinity and, in that connection, are united to our fellow brother and sister believers without regard to time and space, becoming heirs of the hope of the ultimate victory of love and life in the final consummation. Our entry into the mystical Body serves as the great gateway into the full experience of life in God. The writings of the New Testament emphasize the rite of Baptism because it is the means revealed for achieving this connection. Matthew’s grand ending pushes this point home as it encompasses the mystical, social, pneumatic, and eschatological Bodies in the words of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

Baptism stands as our point of entry into the mystical and the social Bodies of Christ. The other sacramental rites proceed from and assume the mystical Body as a foundation for everything else.

The Eucharist did not appear one day, out of the blue, in the middle of a Galilean sidewalk. Rather, it is a rite that was bequeathed to the Church. It was given to the mystical Body as a deliberate act of the social Body. The sacramental Body of Christ is given context as an act of the social Body on behalf of the mystical Body as a sign of and for the eschatological Body.

As the Church, we don’t own the Eucharist—it’s not ours. And yet, we are called to be stewards of it, meaning that we should faithfully celebrate it under the conditions in which it was given to us. It is an act of the Church that provides grace for the Church as the Body of Christ to be transformed more completely into the Mind of Christ. Outside of the Church, and outside of the company of the baptized, it loses a host of meanings because the multiplicity of Bodies participating within the rite are not present in the same way.

There are voices within the Church that urge the communion of the unbaptized as a sign of hospitality. It’s hard to be against hospitality! And, indeed—we never should be. However, there is more present and at work in the Eucharist than simply that. The mystical Body is the foundational Christian reality that sheds light upon everything else that we do together. To be intentionally welcoming, our hospitality should focus upon welcoming the curious and the seekers into the mystical Body of Christ. They should be given the opportunity to perceive the context of the Eucharist for themselves—to see it as a culmination of Real Presences that bind us deeper into the life of God into which we were planted in Baptism.

St. Augustine, the 4th century Bishop of Hippo, offered an invitation to the Eucharist in one of his sermons that neatly captures the mechanics at work here. In speaking with reference to the Eucharist elements, he exhorts his listeners: “Be what you see; receive what you are!” He invites them, as the gathered Church, to receive the Eucharistic elements, then to enact the victory of life and love! He invites them to receive the sacrament, then to be the Church, to be the consecrated—set apart—Body of Blood of Christ in and for the world. This is the Eucharist’s true home; this is where it makes sense.

On the Spirituality of the Eucharist

I stick this up with a certain amount of trepidation. There is so much that can, should, and needs to be said about the Eucharist—trying to figure out how to boil that down meaningfully into three fairly brief chapters that serve as an introduction to people not schooled in theology is a daunting task! That having been said, here’s the first section of my thoughts on the Eucharist for my work on the spirituality of the prayer book:


Spirituality of the Eucharist

There are a lot of different ways that we can talk about the Eucharist and many different angles that we can approach it from. Books, long books, multi-volume books, have been written on the Eucharist and on its spirituality. In a few short introductory chapters we can do no more than to lightly scratch the surface. I’m not going to try to be comprehensive in any sort of way, rather, I want to give you some perspectives, some lenses, through which to view the Eucharist in hopes that they can enrich your vision of what we do in this celebration and what it means for our Christian life together. I want to begin with  big metaphorical step back and gives us the broadest possible big-picture view before we head back in, take a look at our prayer book Eucharist and interact with what we find there.

Starting with sacrifice

We are modern 21st century people; we can’t be anything other than this. We know our world and, for us, Eucharist is a church ceremony that happens on Sundays. I want to start by taking us out of our environment and putting us in a completely different headspace. The reason why I want to do this is because a new perspective will help us get a different angle on something that we’ve seen done over and over again. Here’s where I want to approach it from: the Eucharist, as religious practice, is deeply rooted in the sacrificial customs of Mediterranean antiquity.

So, the place to start is the ancient Mediterranean mindset; we need to have a sense of what those people were thinking, in order to have a better sense of where Jesus and the early church were coming from. One particular element I want to highlight up front is this: when we think about sacrifice, and animal sacrifice in particular, we tend to focus on one particular aspect of it – the death of the animal. But when we do that, we miss so many other factors that are going on around it. We fixate on the moment and the concept of death, and we fail to see the other things that surround it.

To get in this alternate headspace, I would like us to start out in Homer’s Iliad. One of the great epics of world literature, the Iliad is a long poem originally composed and handed down orally that was written down in Greek probably at some point in the eighth century BC. It tells the story of the great siege of Troy, a Greek city on the coast of modern-day Turkey, and the struggle of other Greeks – Achaeans – against the Trojans. As a result, the Iliad it gives us a glance into Greek society at a time when it was more closely aligned with its ancient neighbors in the Middle East then it would be in its later Golden age.

The Iliad opens in the middle of a problem: there’s a plague occurring in the Greek camp. This plague is no accident; just before the scene opens, the Greeks have raided some towns and the leader of the army, Agamemnon, has taken captive a girl named Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo. Her father, Chryses, tries to ransom her back but Agamemnon isn’t interested. So, Chryses asks Apollo to send a plague upon the Greeks – and he does. In response, the Greek captains have a big meeting, Achilles, the central hero of the poem, makes Agamemnon give the girl back, and Agamemnon takes the girl of Achilles, thus setting up the poem’s key conflict. However, Odysseus goes on a mission to return the girl Chryseis to her father and takes along a hecatomb (100 cattle) as recompense. Once they get there, a sacrifice happens. That’s where we’ll pick up:

[A] When prayers were said and grains of barley strewn,

they held the bullocks for the knife, and flayed them,

cutting out joints and wrapping these in fat,

two layers, folded, with raw strips of flesh,

for the old man to burn on cloven faggots,

wetting it all with wine. [B] Around him stood

young men with five tined forks in hand, and when

the vitals had been tasted, joints consumed,

they sliced the chines and quarters for the spits,

roasted them evenly and drew them off.

[C] Their meal now prepared and all work done,

they feasted to their hearts’ content and made

desire for meat and drink recede again,

then young men filled their winebowls to the brim,

ladling drops for the god in every cup.

[D] Propitiatory songs rose clear and strong

until day’s end to praise the god, Apollo,

as One Who Keeps the Plague Afar; and listening

the god took joy. After the sun went down

and darkness came, at last Odysseus’ men

lay down to rest under the stern hawsers.

(Iliad, I.526-46)

I have added in some letters to help us keep track of the action. One of the ways to analyze what is happening in this scene is to break it down into four pieces: [A] marks the deaths of the animals; [B] is when the meat gets cooked; [C] describes the meat being eaten together; and [D] is where the god is praised.

I want to emphasize some points here. First, yes, a lot of animals are dying here. But notice how little emphasis is given to that fact. The animals die, but that does not seem to be the central point of this operation. Second, if there is a central point, it would be about the party and not the preparation. The emphasis is placed on the meal. Third, we should not miss the act of social reconciliation that is occurring. The men of Odysseus are not random guests who stopped in; they are pirates who sacked this town a short time before. The last time these men saw each other, they were likely trying to kill each other! The fact that the priest and his young men sat and ate with Odysseus and his men must not be overlooked. Fourth, there is an act of divine reconciliation going on as well. Apollo looks upon both the act (the restoration of the girl) and the sacrifice with favor, and is present with them – listening – in this event.

One of the things that church people love to argue about is the basic nature of the Eucharist: is it a sacrifice or is it a meal? The way we answer this question has broad implications. For example, it determines whether that thing in the front of the church is an altar or a table.

Well – what would Homer say?

Let me suggest three main takeaways from this description of a Homeric sacrifice. First, there is the fact of the hecatomb: that’s a lot of cow! Consider all of the economic effort that goes into raising 100 head of cattle. This is quite a lot of property, this is quite a lot of wealth, that is being dedicated to the god. It is given to the god, and the giving is motivated by the god, and the secondary result of the gift is that it is also shared with the community. Second, meal and sacrifice are intimately related. We cannot escape the way that these are inextricably bound to one another. It is not an either/or; it is definitely a both/and. The meal cannot happen without the deaths, and the deaths enable the meal. Now – did the Greeks ever have sacrifices where the meat was not eaten, when it was burnt entirely? The answer is yes, but typically that occurred when they were making sacrifices to the dark chthonic gods of the underworld – the gods they had no interest in eating with! And that leads to the third point… Third, the meal is bidirectional: the humans are communing with one another and communing with the god to whom the sacrifice is being offered. Again, it’s a both/and.

Now, I’m not suggesting that there is a direct line between Homeric sacrifice and the Christian Eucharist. Too much time and too many changes separate the two. However, there are broadly continuous themes here that we will also find when we look in the Old Testament record, and that are still found in the world of late antiquity which birthed the Church. If we take a look at the type of sacrificial events that show up in the Old Testament, we find three major categories. The first are the whole burnt offerings. As we discussed when talking about the Daily Office, you see this most in those alimentary offerings, when the point was to “feed” God in the temple. The second are the sin and guilt offerings. With these sacrifices, some of the meat was burned, the other portion was given to the priests to eat; you didn’t get to party if you are paying for a sin… The third are the thanks offerings and free will offerings. These were the occasions of rejoicing in God’s presence, or thanking God for his benefits. These sacrifices were shared with the priests and the community. This is the kind of meal most closely related to what we see in the Homeric vision.

Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 10 reveals just how prevalent these understandings remained in the life of the early church. In this chapter, Paul wrestles with the issue of whether Christians are allowed to eat meat sacrificed to idols. The question that he is dealing with here is whether eating such meat is itself an act of communing with the god to whom it was sacrificed. On one hand, he wants to deny that the old gods have any power over the faithful; on the other hand, he understands how powerful the associations remain and does not want weaker Christians to be harmed by what they see more mature Christians doing. What makes this issue even more complicated is that most of the meat sold in a Greek market of his day would have come from a temple sacrifice!

So, how does this peek into the past help us understand what we do today? Well, it gives us a bit of perspective when we say that the Eucharist is a “sacrificial meal of reconciliation.” No part of this phrase need stand in opposition to any other part of it. Sacrifice, meal, and reconciliation appropriately belong together. To argue otherwise seems to stand in contradiction with the milieu from which this rite is coming.

Eucharist as sacrifice

Alright—in what sense is the Eucharist a sacrifice? In a strictly literal sense, nothing dies. Your priest doesn’t get up on Sunday morning and kill something in front of you (murdering the sermon doesn’t count…). And yet, the Christian tradition emphasizes that the Eucharist is a sacrifice. Chronologically speaking, Paul’s letters represent the earliest Christian writings that we have – and it is his words that we use at the fraction: Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast. 1 Corinthians 10 (which we mentioned above) and the following chapter (after an aside at the start of 11 regarding women’s hair) speak of pagan sacrifices and the Eucharist as fundamentally analogous and competing rites:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1 Cor 10:16-21)

Rhetorically, Paul is insisting upon the continuity between pagan sacrifice, Jewish sacrifice, and the Eucharist: the same intrinsic mechanism occurs – the act of sacrifice and the subsequent sharing in the meal is a sharing in and with the spiritual being with whom the sacrifice is performed, whether divine or demonic.

Now, exactly how the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and what we mean by that, has been a major point of argument between Protestants and non-Protestants (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox alike) ever since there were Protestants. I have no interest in refighting these fights nor do I think we need to in order to get at what we are aiming for. To really get at the heart of the prayer book spirituality of the Eucharist, it is sufficient to agree on this central point: we are participating in Christ’s own self-offering at his own invitation.

We don’t believe that anyone is re-sacrificing Jesus. Indeed, the book of Hebrews goes to some lengths to note that one of the ways in which the self-sacrifice of Jesus is greater than that of the temple sacrifices is because they must be redone year after year; the act of Jesus was done once and accomplished for all time. Rather, our repeated actions are joined to his single great action.

And that’s where our attention focuses—the great action. In the Eucharist, the events of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion are superimposed upon one another through Christ’s own words and promise. Our Eucharistic prayers in both Rite One and Two do this:

All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst [A] give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; [B] who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; [C] and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again. (BCP, p. 334)

So—here the prayer begins by specifically talking about the passion and death of Christ on the cross at [A]. Then, at [B], it moves into language that both identifies this action as an act of sacrifice, but also goes to great lengths (clearly with Hebrews 7-10 in mind!)  to establish several things: that this death was fundamentally a self-offering—not forced, that this one offering was sufficient for all times, and that this act in itself accomplished the everything that needed to happen to reconcile God and humanity. Having established these points, the prayer comes back to the Eucharist itself and identifies it as a regular reminder of that sacrifice (using the word again to make sure we don’t miss it…) for the Church.

Or, to say the same thing with some slightly different emphases, we also pray this:

Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, [A] you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, [B] to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.

[C] He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world. (BCP, p 362)

Here we see the same fundamental pattern. In [A] Jesus is sent to us. The mention of his death is balanced by mention of his life—a reminder of the redemptive action of the Incarnation—but it is clearly in focus here. Then [B] identifies the goal of both his life and death: reconciliation between God and humanity. While this prayer doesn’t use the same sort of legal language to proscribe the terms of the reconciliation as the Rite One prayer above, this section functions in the same way as the [B] part of the previous prayer, assuring us that the reconciliation promised was effected by the totality of Christ’s life and death. Continuing, [C] specifically moves to the cross and picks up a few remaining points. Again, it specifically uses the word sacrifice and, in direct reference to it, emphasizes that this cruciform death was a self-offering. It was not an accident nor was it compelled: it was a decision, freely given.

Sacrifice here is functioning as a central vehicle of reconciliation. In Antiquity, who you ate with carried great significance, particularly social significance. To eat with someone said something public about who you were and what sort of company you kept. Remember, one of the chief charges against Jesus was that he ate with tax collectors and sinners, the wrong kind of people. Just as in the Homeric sacrifice we saw former enemies sitting down together around a meal, the Eucharist likewise gathers together a broken humanity in an act of reconciliation. People are brought together over food.

But the bidirectional aspect we noted in the Homeric sacrifice is present here as well; this is also where we recognize that the Eucharist doesn’t just focus on the Last Supper and the Passion—it also connects us with those odd meals on the foggy lakeshore and the journey to Emmaus where the disciples break bread with the Risen Christ. This memorial of his passion is also a remembrance of his resurrection and of his resurrected communion with his disciples. And that brings home one of the key points about a sacrificial meal. It wasn’t just about sharing a meal at the temple with your family and the other people you brought with you to help celebrate, and it wasn’t just about sharing with the priests; you were all sharing a meal together with the god as well. Our Eucharistic meal isn’t just a remembrance of a dead Jesus, it’s eaten in the presence of the Risen Christ. Both of these factors play an important part in what’s going on in the Eucharist.

Recognizing and growing deeper into the spirituality of the Eucharist is bound up with our ability to grasp the sacramental paradox: in the Eucharist, the Body of Christ is eating with Christ and is eating Christ in order to participate within Christ’s work of the reconciliation of all creation.

Eucharist and Oblation

There’s one more point that I want to loop back to as we consider the relationship between the Homeric sacrifice and the Christian Eucharist. That’s the notion of the hecatomb. As we said before, the hecatomb was a sacrifice of 100 cattle. It represented a huge amount of wealth dedicated to the god. It was precious and costly.

Where is that element in our rite?

We offer bread and wine. That’s not terribly expensive—particularly given the sort of wine we normally get!

One of the historical characteristics of Anglican Eucharistic prayers is what’s sometimes referred to as the self-oblation; here are four examples from our current prayer book:

  • Rite I, Prayer I: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee…”
  • Rite I, Prayer II: “And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, whereby we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies.”
  • Rite II, Prayer B: “Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
  • Rite II, Prayer D: “Grant that all who share this bread and cup may become one body and one spirit, a living sacrifice in Christ, to the praise of your Name.”

You see—if we take the language of our prayers seriously, we are offering something costly at the altar.

We’re not just offering Jesus—we’re offering ourselves as well.

CWOB News: Ecumenical Edition

Communion without Baptism is in the news again, but not from the Episcopal Church this time. Rather, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, an ecumenical partner (and the church in which I was raised), is in the midst of its Churchwide Assembly—analogous to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention.

I haven’t followed Lutheran church politics  for years and so I’m a little sketchy on the exact polity details here—I’m going to describe things as best I can from the outside with the hope that those who actually do know what they’re talking about will correct me when I err…

Unlike our system, they vote on “memorials” rather than “resolutions.” Like our resolutions, they are often bubbled up from local groupings (synods rather than dioceses). One of the memorials on tap this meeting comes from the Northern Illinois Synod. I’ll now cite from the Memorials Committee Report [pdf] of the pre-Assembly materials:

Category D1: Communion Practices

1. Northern Illinois Synod (5B) [2012 Memorial]
WHEREAS, The Use of the Means of Grace (1997), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) guiding document on the “Practice of Word and Sacrament,” clearly states that “The Holy Communion is given to the baptized” (Principle 37, pp. 41–42); and
WHEREAS, since the publication of that document the ELCA has entered into full-communion partnerships with church bodies that do not share that same understanding; and
WHEREAS, the implementing resolutions of our full-communion agreements encourage us to extend sacramental hospitality to one another’s members; and
WHEREAS, some congregations of the ELCA currently have Communion policy statements which would effectively bar members of church bodies with which we are in full communion from participation in the Sacrament; and
WHEREAS, some ELCA congregations welcome everyone present to partake of the Eucharist without stipulating the need for Baptism; and
WHEREAS, clarification concerning Lutheran Sacramental theology and practice would be helpful in the life of this church at this time; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Northern Illinois Synod memorialize the 2013 Churchwide Assembly to institute a process necessary to review and possibly revise the ELCA’s guiding documents concerning admission to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.


The current guiding recommendations for the practice of Holy Communion are found in The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament which was adopted by the 1997 Churchwide Assembly.
Principle 37 of that document states,

The Holy Communion is given to the baptized


Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized.

Application 37G.

When an unbaptized person comes to the table seeking Christ’s presence and is inadvertently communed, neither that person nor the ministers of Communion need be ashamed. Rather, Christ’s gift of love and mercy to all is praised. That person is invited to learn the faith of the Church, be baptized, and thereafter faithfully receive Holy Communion.

In regards to the ELCA’s ecumenical relationships, the document also says this in Application A of Principle 49…

In the exercise of this [Eucharistic] hospitality, it is wise for our congregations to be sensitive to the Eucharistic practices of the churches from which visitors may come. (UMG, p. 52)

This guiding principle remains the recommended practice of this church. However, there is diversity in practice regarding who is welcome to the table among the worshiping communities of this church. Below are two examples of welcome statements in worship folders:

“We believe and teach the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and we invite all who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to commune with us.”

“At meal-tables around the world, strangers become friends, and friends become family. In Holy Communion, we are invited to the Table of the Lord. No conditions, no coercion, just words of welcome and promise: “this is my body, given for you.” We are glad to have you worship with us! All visitors are welcome to share in the Lord’s Supper.

These statements represent the varying practice of Eucharistic hospitality in this church. It is important to recognize the desire to welcome people to the Lord’s Supper. This has been attributed as a response to the growing number of unbaptized people present at worship. The current religious context in which the church finds itself is increasingly
diverse, and local worshiping communities are met with numerous challenges to the practice of mission and ministry.

At the same time, this church recognizes that the celebration of Holy Communion occurs in the assembly of the baptized people of God. The importance of the clear connections between baptism and communion also needs to be recognized.

Staff in the churchwide worship team receive a number of inquiries on whether Holy Communion should be presented to only the baptized. Some are in favor of this, some are not in favor, and a good number simply ask, “What should we do?”

In the fall of 2012, the worship team gathered the professors of worship from the ELCA seminaries for a conversation about this issue. A similar conversation took place at a meeting of the Lutheran Caucus at the North American Academy of Liturgy in January 2013. In both of these conversations it was clear that more needs to be said than what exists in current ELCA documents. Regardless of the decision, it remains evident that this church would do well to have more resources on the relationship between Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

Ultimately, decisions about communion practices are local decisions, and there is a need for a resource or resources to help congregations faithfully discern their communion practices.

Recommendation for Assembly Action

To receive with gratitude the memorial of the Northern Illinois Synod requesting a process to review the ELCA’s guiding documents on communion practices;

To invite members, congregations, synods and the churchwide organization into conversation and study regarding the Use of the Means of Grace;

To request the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, in consultation with the Office of the Presiding Bishop and the Conference of Bishops, to establish a process to review current documents concerning administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and

To request the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit to bring a report and possible recommendations to the April 2014 meeting of the ELCA Church Council.

So—this looks very much like the situation that the Episcopal Church was in at the last General Convention. We had Resolution C029 coming from the Diocese of North Carolina recommending a study but without the implied request for change that this memorial seems to bear. I covered this back at Convention-time; the result for us was that the wording of the resolution was substantially changed, the study was nixed and the canons were left unchanged.

However, based on Twitter chatter and the Assembly News, it would seem that this resolution passed, giving the green light for the requested study:

The 952 voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a proposal designed to invite the 4-million-member church, its nearly 10,000 congregations, 65 synods and churchwide organization into conversation and study regarding the Use of the Means of Grace – a statement on the practice of Word and Sacrament. The assembly called on the Congregational and Synodical Mission Unit of ELCA churchwide ministries, in consultation with the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop and the Conference of Bishops, to establish a process to review current documents concerning administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The assembly also requested that the unit provide a report and possible recommendations to the ELCA Church Council in April 2014.

What the Lutherans do is worth keeping a close eye on. We have a very close ecumenical relationship with them—the closest thing there is to merger without it actually being a merger. Ecumenical relationships are mentioned as one of the spurs for this proposed change, yet what will such a move do to our ecumenical relationship? What should it do?

Baptismal Litany of the Saints?

I have a question for the Episcopalians in the crowd… I have a sense that a Litany of the Saints is often used at baptisms in the Episcopal Church. Certainly we use it at our current parish, M’s parish uses it, and several of the churches we’ve been at before now use it. Is this just me and the kind of parishes that I look for or is this a genuine perception?

I should clarify, too: in the parishes I’m familiar with, the Litany is sung either as an addition to or after the Prayers for the Candidates on p. 305 as the baptismal party is going from the front of the church to the font. Checking the rubrics, it seems to fall under 10th note in the Additional directions that states: “If the movement to the font is a formal procession, a suitable psalm, such as Psalm 42, or a hymn or anthem may be sung” (BCP, 312).

What’s your experience? Does your parish use a baptismal Litany of the Saints? Do other parishes in your experience? How common is this?

General Convention Update

Though in the midst of quite a lot of general busy-ness (yes, I owe several people emails–forgive me!) I wanted to at least say a few words on the current progress of General Convention and some resolutions that are near and dear to my heart…

Communion Without Baptism

There were two resolutions up that dealt with CWOB. One from Eastern Oregon, C040 [PDF], wanted to get rid altogether of the canon requiring Baptism before Eucharist; the other from North Carolina, C029 [PDF], wanted a “study” of the issue (costing $30,000…). To my surprise, these were both assigned not to the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee but to the Evangelism Committee. In all fairness, there was quite a lot assigned to PBLCM and I know that folks of the Ecumenism Committee had asked to review these but this is where they ended up. As I read it, if either of the resolutions had a chance of passing in any of the three committees, passage was more likely to occur in Evangelism: Ecumenism would have shot it down right quick and I suspect something similar would have happened in PBLCM. Despite my fears, the Evangelism folks made some good preliminary moves.

According to my sources, the Eastern Oregon resolution was a complete non-starter. The original text was scrapped and new text was drafted for it reiterating Baptism as the ancient and normative path to Eucharist but recognizing that in some places there is an exercise of pastoral sensitivity with the non-baptized. However, titles can’t change on resolutions meaning that this new resolution—whatever its text might have said—would still have been titled “Open Table” which would undoubtedly lead to confusion on the floor. Thus, they addressed the NC resolution. The committee apparently didn’t feel that with all the budget and structural woes that $30K for a study of CWOB was worthwhile. So, keeping the title, they scrapped some or all of the original text of C029 and imported the new paragraph they had written before.

This is really good news. In the most favorable setting for its passage, the resolution calling for abolition of the canon preventing CWOB was scrapped. The new text affirms Baptism as the ancient and normative practice of the Church prior to Eucharist. I wholeheartedly agree! What concerns me is how the language around pastoral practice will get shaped.

Nobody wants to see a communion rail lock-down; that’s just silly. What needs to be avoided, though, is any sense that Baptism is somehow optional. If we invite any and all to the Eucharist then we have precisely made Baptism optional. That’s not a pastoral practice, that’s deliberately turning our backs on the theology of the Prayer Book and the consistent witness of the Church up until the late 20th century.

What I would love to see in any discussion of pastoral discretion with regard to CWOB is the word “individual.”

The message that the resolution would send, then, is to say that pastoral discretion may be warranted in specific individual and unusual circumstances. A general call to any and all is not pastoral—nor is it evangelism; rather, it salves the consciences of those who want to see themselves as inclusive, but who don’t want to do the work of setting healthy boundaries and inviting all comers within those boundaries through the proper protocols (i.e., Baptism with water in the name of the Triune God).

If the word “individual” is omitted, then I’m concerned that such a resolution mentioning pastoral responses may be seen as permission to flout the canon without regard for our theological and sacramental integrity.

Holy Women, Holy Men

Bishop Martins made an attempt to get HWHM stricken from trial use at all in the next triennium. It failed, but what is currently up for a vote is definitely the next best thing!

The revised version of A051 [PDF] sends HWHM back to the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music for further revision. In particular, it calls for clearer adherence to the 2006 guidelines. Now, personally, I think that adherence to 2006 is not enough; I’d like to see the 2006 guidelines merged with the 1994 guidelines as I said a while back.

Coincidentally, I’ve been reading a fascinating book by Robert Campany: Making Transcendents: Ascetics and Social Memory in Early Medieval China. One of my good friends from high school with whom I studied Japanese is a professor of Asian Religion now. He recommended this work to me knowing my interests in martial arts, qi gong, and cross-cultural asceticism. Campany looks less at particular ascetical practices and more at the discourse of, about, and around early medieval Chinese transcendents (aka “Taoist immortals”). His methodological chapters, in particular, pointed back to Peter Brown’s seminal work on “the holy man” in Christian Late Antiquity and to other scholars working on social memory and sanctity. Naturally, I couldn’t help reading this with a third of my brain focusing on the text at hand, a third of it considering how Sulpicius Severus uses both similar and different language about Martin of Tours in not just the Life but the additional epistles, and a third thinking about our current use/construction/modification of social memory and sanctity in HWHM… It makes me wonder how rigorously the whole enterprise has been approached from this angle.

In any case, the reformed version of A051 no longer presents HWHM for its first reading at the 2015 General Convention and sends it back for more work.

Forward Movement Prayer Site

Not really a resolution but something that has been sucking up a lot of my time is a new initiative unveiled at General Convention. Forward Movement is re-launching their web presence and one part of it is the new Daily Prayer site. This web app not only offers their signature Forward Day by Day devotional reading but also the Daily Offices from the ’79 Prayer Book! If any of this sounds a bit familiar—it should; the back-end code is a simplified form of the St Bede’s Breviary.

Scott Gunn approached me shortly after being named Executive Director of Forward Movement and asked if I’d be willing to collaborate on this and I happily agreed. I said I’d do the back-end work if I didn’t have to do the front-end/interface and recommended for that one of my favorite co-conspirators who shall remain nameless unless they choose to reveal themself… :-)

A mobile app is also in preparation but I can’t say exactly when that’ll launch; I’ll let you know when it becomes available, though!

Sacraments and the Catechism at the Cafe

I said a bit ago:

I think it’s time for a back-to-basics primer on what the prayer book teaches on the Eucharist to provide a real starting point for any discussions going forward.

Well, it’s up today at the Episcopal Cafe

I’m shooting for a basic perspective on the sacraments that a broad majority of Episcopalians can get behind. Yes, there will be outliers even from that, but I think it’s a start to get us on the same page—in the BCP.

Sacramental History and CWOB

This is a piece I wrote for a collection now in the final stages of editing. It’s targeted for the adult formation in your typical parish (hence the phonetic spellings of some items…)



The sacraments, particularly Baptism and Eucharist, have been an important part of the Anglican tradition from even before the time that Anglicans became a distinct body within the global Church. Looking across the centuries of Christian sacramental practice, we see quite a lot of change based on different beliefs that appeared in different times and different places. The sacramental rites and who had access to them shift as the understandings of those rites shifted.  However, we find through all of these practices a significant common thread: the sacraments can never be viewed in isolation; they are intimately connected with one another to form a broader pattern of Christian discipleship.

The Early Church

The evidence of the first few centuries is notoriously spotty; the church grew in obscurity from its humble beginnings and once it began to flourish, it became the target of suspicion and then suppression from the Roman authorities. As a result, we get only bits and pieces from the first three Christian centuries.

Our first real glimpse of the sacramental teaching of the Early Church after the writing of the New Testament is a short little book called the Didache (pronounced “Did-a-kay”). Difficult to date, most scholars believe that it was written sometime at the end of the first century or the very beginning of the second. It is the first surviving Christian writing to make a statement on the direct relationship between Baptism and the Eucharist (but is hardly the last). It states: “But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized in the Lord’s Name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, ‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs’” (Did. 9.5). It’s only fair to locate this statement within the larger context of the whole treatise. The Didache was written as a baptismal instruction manual. It begins with a section describing “The Way of Life and of Death” that lays out the ethical conduct required to live as a disciple of Christ. It begins by describing the demands of discipleship. Then it describes the Baptismal rite, then the Eucharistic rite, and it’s after the description of the Eucharist where we find the admonishment that only the baptized should receive the Eucharist. In this initial foundational document, Baptism is the introduction into a life of discipleship—the Eucharist is the food that sustains it.

Justin Martyr, an apologist who died for his faith, wrote a defense of that faith around the year 150. In it, he too linked the same themes that we see in the earlier Didache: “…And we call this food ‘thanksgiving [eucharist]’; and no one may partake of it unless he is convinced of the truth of our teaching, and has been cleansed with the washing for forgiveness of sins and regeneration, and lives as Christ handed down” (First Apology 66.1). For Justin Martyr, the Eucharist is the food of discipleship that is preceded not solely by Baptism but by faith, by Baptism, and by a life marked by discipleship.

As we move farther into the second century we can take a broader view because our evidence allows us to gain insight into more aspects of Christian life.  Hippolytus of Rome wrote a set of liturgical instructions around the year 215 that laid out the ideal process for Christian initiation and living. Those who wished to become part of the faith were examined to see if they lived acceptable lives. People with certain jobs were automatically denied. Some of these are not surprising: pimps, prostitutes, sorcerers, magic amulet-makers, priests of pagan cults. Others might be more surprising: soldiers, actors, painters, and civil officials. Essentially, anyone who either was connected to the practices of idolatry or those who held the power of life and death—including condemning others to death—had to renounce their profession or be turned away. Those acceptable were enrolled as catechumens (pronounced “kat-a-kyu-mens”) and were instructed in faith for up to three years before they were selected for Baptism. The criteria Hippolytus gives us is significant: “When those to be baptized have been selected, their life is to be examined: Have they lived uprightly during their catechumenate? Have they respected widows, visited the sick, practiced all the good works?” Baptism was not dependent upon knowing a certain amount (that was a given based on the period of instruction beforehand) but on whether the catechumens were living lives of tangible discipleship.

After selection for Baptism, Lent became a special time of intensive pre-Baptismal preparation where formerly hidden parts of the Christian teaching were revealed; the catechumens were formally given the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer along with exorcisms. Hippolytus then describes Baptism at the Easter vigil with the bishop presiding. The candidates are baptized and anointed. Then we get our first record of the rite of Confirmation: the bishop seals the newly-baptized with oil and lays hands on them. After this rite, they receive their first Eucharist. Again we see the basic pattern of discipleship inextricably bound with the reception of the sacraments.

The vision that we get from Hippolytus—Baptism at the Easter Vigil followed immediately by Confirmation and by Eucharist—becomes the standard pattern that we will see through the third and fourth centuries. Indeed, the fourth century is the age of the great catechetical lectures; several of the Church Fathers such as Cyril of Jerusalem and Ambrose of Milan wrote and gave lectures preparing the catechumens for the life of discipleship as well as post-Baptismal lectures that explained the meanings of the rites that they had experienced. In order to reserve their experience of the Christian sacraments for the time in which they could participate in them fully, however, the Eucharistic liturgies of the fourth centuries have a specific point during the prayers and before the Eucharist where all of the catechumens were dismissed.

The Medieval Era

With the fall of Roman authority in the West, the move of Christian Rome to the Greek-speaking East in Constantinople, and the large-scale migrations in tribal Europe, the social and religious patterns of the fourth century experienced tremendous disruption in the West between the late fourth and sixth centuries. By the end of this time, Baptism was typically administered to infants. Because of the infant mortality rate and the spread of a biologically-grounded understanding of original sin, Christian parents felt a need to have their children baptized as soon as possible lest they die outside of the Church. The chrism of Confirmation still required a bishop, however. In some places, Baptisms were held at the Easter Vigil when possible and the infants were communed even if the bishop was not available—for those who lived near urban centers and cathedrals, Confirmations would follow the week after. For those who lived in more rural areas, Confirmation would occur the next time the bishop was in the area…in theory. In practice, though, Confirmation was put off not just months but often years; Baptism and Confirmation began to take on separate lives of their own.

By the medieval period, Confirmation seems to have been a sacrament often honored in the breach. In the thirteenth century there were a number of rulings by local English Synods that sought to compel  Confirmation. One council insisted that children be confirmed within their first year or else their parents were forbidden to even enter the church building. Another mandated that Confirmation had to occur before the age of seven. Yet another insisted that Confirmation happen before three; if this did not happen, the parents were required to fast on bread and water until the time that the Confirmation occurred!

Furthermore, reception of the Eucharist became less and less common. Due to fears of profanation of the sacrament, most laity received the Eucharistic bread infrequently. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, Pope Innocent III decreed that all Christians had to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, at Easter, and that sacramental Confession had to precede it. In relation to this Eucharistic ordinance and in frustration at the dearth of Confirmations, the Council of Lambeth meeting in 1281 under Archbishop Peckham decreed that only those who had received Confirmation would be allowed to receive the Eucharist.

At Baptism, the parents and sponsors promised to teach the fundamentals of discipleship—the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer. In turn, the priests were required to teach these to the people in the vernacular. Although the infants could not understand, the Creed and Lord’s Prayer were still handed over to them during Lent, and often early medieval sermons during Lent and the Easter season explained them to the people.

While the practice of the sacraments in the medieval West differed from that of the fourth century of the Church Fathers, the fundamental pattern was the same: Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, then Communion. With the virtual universal adoption of Christianity in the West, the connections between the sacramental rites and the life of discipleship became less obvious. The presence and practice of Confession between a vital link between the Great Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and Christian discipleship. Drawing its power from Baptism, requiring thoughtful reflection about intentional habits of life, and receiving advice for Christian living from the confessor-priest, the demands of discipleship were placed in direct relationship with Eucharistic reception.

The Prayer Book Tradition

In the very first Anglican prayer book, the English Book of Common Prayer of 1549, there are two services of Baptism, a public and a private, one following the other with the second to be reserved for cases of “great cause and necessity.” Both services (the public especially) would not be so foreign to Hippolytus as it contains the same basic principles: renunciation of the devil, affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed, threefold wetting (either by dipping or sprinkling rather than full immersion), then an exhortation to fulsome Christian living. The purpose was the same as we see from the initial prayer which ends as follows:

“We beseech thee (for thy infinite mercies) that thou wilt mercifully look upon these children, and sanctify them with thy Holy Ghost; that by this wholesome laver of regeneration, whatsoever sin is in them may be washed clean away; that they, being delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ’s church, and so saved from perishing: and being fervent in spirit, steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, rooted in charity, may ever serve thee; and finally attain to everlasting life, with all thy holy and chosen people.”

The children are baptized into a community—the ark of Christ’s church—and sanctified with the Holy Spirit, binding them to the rest of the holy and chosen people likewise baptized. Furthermore, they are baptized for discipleship—service of God characterized by the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.

There are two main differences between this service and that of Hippolytus. The first is that it was set to occur after the New Testament reading and before the canticle at either Morning or Evening Prayer; it was not set within the context of a Eucharistic service, and the newly-baptized were not communed. Second, it was intended for infants while Hippolytus envisioned adults. The gap between the two is filled by the role of the Godparents who take the children’s promises on themselves and then receive a final exhortation that connects the core catechesis, the necessity of discipleship, and the role of the community. After the minister reminds them of their duty to instruct the children in the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, he ends the service thus:

“And that these children may be virtuously brought up to lead a godly and Christian life; remembering always that Baptism doth represent unto us our profession; which is, to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him; that as he died, and rose again for us, so should we (which are baptized) die from sin and rise again unto righteousness; continually mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living.”

This is the end of Baptism—a life of virtue in the example of Christ. This is why we are baptized, this is why we must learn the core instructions of the faith. It’s not (solely) for the sake of knowledge but for action, for faithful daily living.

Following Baptism is the service for Confirmation; there’s a section right after the title “Confirmation” that says a few words about its purpose. For Confirmation to occur—as was stated at Baptism—children had to be able to repeat “in their mother tongue” the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments along with the contents of the catechism that followed that offer brief explanations of these three items. This section then offers three reasons for Confirmation, the first reason picking up the same themes from the Baptismal service itself and directly connecting Baptism with Confirmation by means of discipleship:

“First, because that when children come to the years of discretion, and have learned what their Godfathers and Godmothers promised for them in Baptism, they may then themselves with their own mouth, and with their own consent, openly before the Church, ratify and confess the same; and also promise, that by the grace of God they will evermore endeavour themselves faithfully to observe and keep such things as they by their own mouth and confession have assented unto.”

Learning the words is not enough; they must also promise to observe and practice the demands of discipleship encapsulated in the Creed, Commandments, and Lord’s Prayer. The final note after the Confirmation rite states briefly: “And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed.”

Speaking to admission to holy Communion, these same themes of discipleship appear there in the exhortation which precedes the invitation to Eucharist. The exhortation breaks into four main sections. The first reminds the hearers of Paul’s command that those coming to the table examine themselves before hand, knowing that those worthily receiving receive a great benefit, but harm comes to the unworthy. The second focuses specifically upon the hearers’ pattern of life: if they are in patterns of habitual sin, they must repent of them before coming. The third recalls to mind the salvific acts of God on the congregation’s behalf while the fourth exhorts their thanks for the gift of the sacrament and its reception. After the prayer of consecration, right before the reception of the sacrament, the principal themes of this exhortation are condensed into the call for confession:

“Ye who do earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God meekly kneeling.”

This exhortation—however brief—makes clear that the combination of Baptism and Confirmation is not all that is required: active discipleship is the stated requirement. The confession and absolution that follow should not be seen simply as a cleansing of sin—they are also a naming of acts that describe what the congregation has failed to do with an eye towards mending their ways and returning to full discipleship.

The prayer book tradition begins, then, with a continuation of the classical Western pattern: Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, then Eucharist. While the confession in the prayer book rite is a general one, private confession is recommended in the exhortation but is not required.

The American 1928 Book of Common Prayer follows substantially in the tradition laid down almost 400 years before. Baptism is still about inclusion into the Church, the Body of Christ; Confirmation is still required for admission to the Eucharist; Confession still occurs before reception (although it has shifted to before the consecration). The exhortations are still present although moved out of main body of the rite.

Here and Now

The American 1979 Book of Common Prayer represents a major revision from the mainstream of the Anglican Tradition. With the influence of the ecumenical Liturgical Renewal Movement, Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant Churches alike aligned their liturgical practices back towards the pattern represented by the fourth century rites. Following suit, our current prayer book melds fourth century traditions with historic Anglican ones. The rethinking of our rites that accompanied these efforts included some substantial modifications of our sacramental theology.

Our current prayer book makes clear that Baptism—not Confirmation—is full initiation into the Church (BCP, p. 298); Confirmation is no longer required in order to receive the Eucharist. The demands of discipleship are laid out in the form of the Baptismal Covenant. Those being baptized or their sponsors commit to belief in the Apostles’ Creed but also commit to five specific patterns of behavior: continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship particularly through the breaking of bread and the prayers, repentance and returning to God after sin, proclaiming the Good News of Christ by word and deed, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of all (BCP, p. 304-5). These patterns of life sketch the boundaries of discipleship.

The Confirmation rite removes the questions and answers that had characterized it from the beginning of the Anglican tradition. Instead, the heart of the service is a recapitulation of the Baptismal Covenant (BCP, p. 416-7).Confirmation is a reaffirmation and a mature claiming of the patterns of discipleship taken on in Baptism.

A general confession still precedes reception of the Eucharist. The version in Rite I differs only in wording and spelling from the1928 and 1549 forms. The version in Rite II has been rewritten so that the demands of discipleship are sketched in the confession itself rather than in the exhortation preceding it. Rather than focusing on specific acts, the confession sketches categories by which we either maintain or fall short of perfect discipleship: “in thought, word, and deed” and also “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone” (BCP, p. 360).  Recalling both the two tables of the Ten Commandments and Christ’s own Summary of the Law we acknowledge discipleship’s requirements when we say that “We have not loved [God] with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” (ibid.). Our contrition and request for mercy that follows is itself a fulfillment of the Baptismal Covenant’s second promise to repent and return to the Lord. The concluding lines express our hope for the result of God’s grace: that we can fulfill discipleship’s demands through a proper reorientation towards God.

One final element clarifies and sharpens the Eucharistic theology of our present prayer book. Where formerly there was one post-communion prayer, now there are two. Despite this change, the structure of both prayers is the same: they begin with a recognition that those who have received are “living members” of the Body of Christ, and move to a request to be sent out to fulfill the works of discipleship. (BCP, pp. 365, 366). Those who belong to the visible Body of Christ receive the sacramental Body of Christ and, as the empowered Body of Christ, are authorized to perform the works of Christ.


Across the ages Christian communities have not embodied the sacraments in identical ways. However, there are some fundamental patterns that are constant.

  1. The traditions and the liturgies of the Church have never treated the sacraments as distinct and isolated rites.
  2. The central common thread connecting the primary sacraments of the Church is discipleship.
  3. The sacraments and the grace that they communicate are not simply a generic sign of God’s favor but is precisely grace for a cruciform life of discipleship .
  4. Baptism is the act of initiation into the communal and visible Body of Christ which is the Church, the community of disciples.
  5. Eucharist is food for the Church where in the midst of the communal Body of Christ bread and wine become the sacramental Body (and Blood) of Christ given to feed the life of discipleship.
  6. The sacraments are always communal actions: Baptism is Baptism into the full community of faith; Confirmation is Confirmation into a local community of faith; Confession is an alignment back to the norms of the community; Eucharist is the communal celebration of its identity and integration into Christ.

Most discussions about Communion without Baptism only consider it from the perspective of an individual attending one liturgy. This is an inadequate perspective that fails to properly treat either the communal nature of the sacraments or their intimate connection with discipleship. Rather than discussing “Communion Without Baptism” the Church would be far better served by a discussion around the “Sacramental Path to Discipleship.” Is how we greet strangers important? Absolutely. Is hospitality a Christian virtue? Absolutely. But our most hospitable act towards strangers is to introduce them to the sacramental path to discipleship that will bring them into a community that embraces God’s promise of resurrection life most fully.

We as a Church have received the sacraments for a purpose. They bind us deeper into the life of grace into which God invites us. But without committing to embracing that resurrection life offered—and sharing it with those we meet—we mistake the nature, purpose, and aim of these sacramental gifts.

Back to Work

I’ve been writing a number of things in a number of places recently. I’ve done some pieces for the Living Church, some of which are out, some of which are still in their pipeline. I was invited to write another piece for the Washington Post which may be on their site today or tomorrow. I’ve also been writing some bits for Forward Movement about which more will be said at the right time. And, I’ve been trying to write stuff here.

The upshot is that I haven’t put out anything at the Episcopal Cafe in quite a while, and that’s not a good thing. The Daily Episcopalian has been running some unusual stuff recently from some new voices—or at least people who haven’t written pieces before—particularly around Communion Without Baptism. We had one from our self-proclaimed liturgically-conservative non-theist, one from the site’s village atheist, then one that I can only kindly characterize as theologically confused.

I think that one of the major difficulties that we’re having around the whole CWOB issue is that there are so many Episcopalians out there who simply have an insufficient understanding of basic Eucharistic theology. Case in point—today’s article. In my comment on it, I pull out what I see as the single biggest mistake our church is making when it thinks and talks about the Eucharist and, by extension, CWOB:

What really bothers me here, though, is this: “Because, you see, I think God has cherished and adored all these persons since before they were born. Has been in relationship with them, all along. And is longing to be closer to them, speaking to them through our worship, even if they only once step through our doors.

I absolutely believe this; she’s spot on.

However—what does this have to do with the Eucharist? The author never makes the connection but seems to assume that there is a clear and easy one to be made.

The Eucharist is the food of the covenant community who confess Jesus as Lord. We enter the covenant community by making our own covenant with Christ in the midst of the community: it’s Baptism. The Eucharist assists us in keeping our Baptismal Covenant and helps us to continue to grow into a life of discipleship through it’s nourishment.

This basic Eucharistic theology is found nowhere here. Instead, there seems to be a simple assumption that the Eucharist means that God loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you and that if anyone can’t have the Eucharist at any time it’s the church’s way of saying that God doesn’t love them. That’s not what is going on at all.

Granted—some people may perceive it like that, but this perception does not constitute the church’s theology. We do need to do a better job about teaching the basics of Eucharistic theology—so that both our visitors and our members can grasp what it is that the church both intends and does.

I think it’s time for a back-to-basics primer on what the prayer book teaches on the Eucharist to provide a real starting point for any discussions going forward.

Brief Thought on Confirmation

I’ve been thinking about Baptism and about bishops for two entirely different purposes. What’s common between them, however, is that both touch on the subject of Confirmation.

Confirmation has become something of an issue recently in the Episcopal Church. The more recent material on Baptism comes down hard on the prayer-book understanding of Baptism as “full initiation…into Christ’s Body the Church” and I would agree (BCP, 298). But then, these folks tell me that Confirmation no longer has an important place—or perhaps not any place at all—in Christian initiation. The phrase most commonly used is that it is a “rite in search of a theology.” After all, if Baptism is full initiation, what is there left for Confirmation to do?

I don’t buy it.

Principally, I think we’re coming at the question from the wrong direction. The bishop is the focus of unity and the sacramental center of the diocese. The bishop’s blessing is literally present in Baptism through the Chrism that, if used, must be blessed by the bishop (BCP, 298). Confirmation, though, is the rite that reifies the sacramental relationship between the bishop and the laity of the diocese. We are baptized into Christ’s Body the Church—the invisible Church—but we are Confirmed into our diocese and the obligations of local incarnate church life. It’s our connection into the basic administrative and sacramental unit of the Church’s life—the visible Church.

More on CWOB

To the amazement of both the far left and the far right in the Episcopal world, there is a growing vocal movement in the Episcopal Church explaining why Communion Without Baptism is a bad idea.

I’ve contended for some time that the push for it is driven by identity politics not sacramental theology; that is, proponents want to see themselves and their institution as inclusive and their opponents as exclusive. As a result, the rhetoric of the movement whenever possible seeks to link CWOB with both the ordination of women and queer folk and suggests that it’s a package deal.

The other day, Fr. Robert Hendrickson wrote a great piece that thoroughly demolishes the shoddy logic behind this linkage. If you haven’t read it, you should. M and I met Fr. Robert through the Society of Catholic Priests and we always enjoy our conversations with him whether deep, profound, or fun.

I’m aware that there are many who view a shift to CWOB at General Convention as a fore-gone conclusion.

I think they’re wrong.

There is a core of catholic minded, credally grounded laity and clergy who feel strongly about this matter and who are making our voices heard. Expect to hear more in the coming months.