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Posts Tagged "Eucharist":

‘A crust of bread’ by Chris Fewings

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606 (now in Milan)


I left you a crust of bread for lunch on Friday.
You might not feel hungry when someone has just died.
Celebrate on Sunday, when the daffodils are out.
I’ve pressed olives for you, trodden out grapes.


A Kingdom of Priests: Chris Fewings


One possible reason for the high temperature of debates over who may or may not become an Anglican priest or bishop is an over-reliance in our church culture on these callings in their current form. I’d like to take a look at the rôles of the parish priest in the Church of England which I guess will have some relevance to other Anglican churches. I’ll be considering particularly the Eucharist.


I’m writing as a not-very-faithful Anglican with ‘Catholic’ leanings, a rich heritage from a closed-loop non-conformist evangelical childhood, three years in a denomination with no paid ministers and no overall congregational leader, and four years spent worshiping with Roman Catholics in Honduras. I’ve also learned a lot by ‘visiting’ Orthodoxy, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. I’m not well informed on current debates on new models of leadership in the Church of England.


Typically, in my experience from the pews, the vicar performs several roles in the parish, including

  • parish manager and enabler
  • main preacher
  • celebrant of the Eucharist
  • counsellor


I suggest that focusing all these roles in one person may be unhelpful. In the twentieth century, lay leaders were given more prominence in local churches. We have Lay Readers who are trained to preach, lay people administering communion, lay people leading intercessions and of course reading lessons. Many dioceses, I suspect, have their own initiatives, for example training lay people to visit the sick. However, from my perspective, it’s always clear who wears the trousers. These leaders effectively receive their authority from the vicar or diocese, not from the congregation.


Some will protest that all authority in the church comes from the Spirit, but to my mind it’s disingenuous to refuse to examine the human power relationships. It may be that the majority of congregations prefer visible authority to be focused in one person. We can abdicate some of our own responsibility. We can idolise the incumbent, or grumble about them. We can project a parental role onto them – a provider perhaps, or someone to reassure or us, or to be stern and set limits.


I’m grateful to Stephen Day for clarifying for me an etymological confusion in the word priest on his blog. It derives from the Greek presbyteros, meaning elder (and of course, the words presbyter and elder are used by some churches for their officiants). But it’s also been used to translate hieros, a priest of the kind who performs sacrifices at the altar, as in early Judaism. In the New Testament, hieros is used of Jesus (for example in the Letter to the Hebrews), and by Peter to describe all followers of Jesus as ‘a royal priesthood’ (hierateuma).


If there’s a priest at the Eucharist, it’s not the celebrant. The Eucharist is a commemoration, perhaps an acting out, of Jesus self-offering, ‘priest and victim’. Jesus is present in his body, and his body is the church, the ‘holy people’ – those who have set themselves aside (at least for this hour!) to pay attention to his presence and participate in his self-offering.


So every celebration of the Eucharist is a concelebration, with one member of the body of Christ representing all of us. The celebrant is a focus for the whole congregation, just as the presence of Christ in a bit of bread is a focus for the presence of Christ in every little bit of his creation. This focused light can either blind us or help us see. At its best, focusing on one story enacted in one place opens our mind to the miracle everywhere, just as focusing on your breath in meditation may open the heart to the quietness at the centre of noise.


I don’t think there’s anything new or heretical in this ‘demoting’ of the priest to floor level. Yet almost everything in our church practice and organisation projects a different image. Can anyone in the church say the Eucharistic prayer? No. It’s not enough to be ‘in Christ’. You need years of training. You wear vestments which mark you out from everyone else. You may stand in an elevated position in the church, surrounded by other robed beings, who wait on you and do as you say.


It may be that every Anglican priest fully understands that they are simply the vehicle of a celebration of the Eucharist by the whole congregation, but what would lead anyone attending a communion service to think so? I don’t recall it ever being explained to me in a sermon.


For a few years as an adolescent, I was a member of a church with no fixed verbal liturgy except the words of institution, no minister or paid workers, no order of service except the inevitability that at some point one of the elders would stand up and improvise an introduction to the breaking of bread and sharing of wine. In practice much of the spontaneity was predictable, and I would now find their narrow interpretation of the Bible stifling. Women were silent!


When I discovered the riches of the Anglican liturgy (in its Series 3/ASB incarnation) I didn’t look back. But I often dream of a fusion of that simple egalitarian approach and the high art of a liturgy which celebrates the incarnation by connecting all our senses in the living tradition of the Eucharist we have inherited from at least the time of Constantine.

I suggest that each local church should have several members who are trained and ordained as celebrants of the Eucharist, to take the focus off an individual onto our becoming one body in the sharing of ‘body and blood’. I suggest that others are trained to preach, and that extreme caution should be exercised before allowing a gifted individual to take on both roles and risk being seen as having a divine right to lead. I suggest that the parish enabler, who co-ordinates and encourages the preachers, celebrants, musicians and others, should have no other leading role.



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The illustration, via Wikimedia under CCL, is ‘Christ with the Host’ by Paolo de San Leocadio, 1445-1552.

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