On Not Receiving Holy Communion

There has been a good deal of online discussion about what Christians should do regarding Holy Communion since none of us can meet together in person. Should we have everyone grab some bread and wine from home and we all eat together while connected via Zoom or Google Hangouts? Should we consecrate bread and distribute it to member's homes? Should we invite members to the church parking lot to remain in their cars while receiving communion? Or should the clergy simply celebrate the Eucharist for all to see and share online without being present? What to do?

All of these options (and more) have been and are being done by churches all over the country. In an attempt to come to a decision about what our policy will be at HTAC, I have consulted with the bishop, clergy and vestry about these matters. As of today, I have decided that we will NOT be celebrating Holy Communion until we can all come back to the church again and share it together. Allow me to offer two primary reasons for this.

  1. The first action of the Eucharist is the gathering of the assembly and since we cannot do this during this time, we will wait until we can all gather together again.
  2. Within our Anglican tradition, there is accommodation made within the Prayer Book itself for times such as these when we are not able to participate in Holy Communion together.

In addressing the first point, I would simply like to quote the great Eastern Orthodox priest and author Alexander Schmemann in his wonderful book entitled The Eucharist,

"...all early evidence we possess points to the fact that the gathering of the assembly was always considered the first and basic act of the eucharist. This is also attested to by the ancient liturgical designation of the person who performs the eucharist: the 'presider', whose primary function was to stand at the head of the assembly as the 'president of the brethren'. Thus, the assembly is the first liturgical act of the eucharist, its foundation and beginning." (p.15)

Schmemann highlights what should normally be a rather basic observation, that the Church must actually gather together in order to share sacramentally in the body of Christ. Holy Communion is not so much to be likened to receiving a personal individual spiritual "power pellet" to help you live a holy life, as much as it is the sacrament whereby the Church is revealed to be what it is, the Body of Christ. We are what we eat! Of course the Eucharist strengthens our personal faith and deepens our virtuous efforts to live as we ought, but these blessings are grounded in the more fundamental reality that the Eucharist creates the Church, not simply individual Christians. Listen to Schmemann again,

"Liturgical piety has become thoroughly individualistic, and the most eloquent testimony to this is the contemporary practice of receiving communion, which is completely subordinated to the 'spiritual needs' of the individual believer. No one apprehends it in the spirit of the Eucharistic prayer itself, 'And unite all of us to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit.'" (p.13)

The Eucharist is present amidst the gathered Church. Just as the wheat and grapes are gathered from the earth and brought together into one loaf of bread and one flagon of wine, so we too, are meant to be brought together from our varied and varying places in life to participate in and to be revealed as the Body of Christ.

Regarding the second point, the Book of Common Prayer makes provision for times and seasons when Holy Communion is not able to be observed.

"If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but, by reason of extreme sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat and drink the Bread and Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth." (BCP p.457)

God knows our hearts. God knows our desires. God knows our limitations. He remembers that we come from dust and to dust we shall return. Take confidence Church, though we are unable to gather together and share Holy Communion during this season of physical distancing, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God!

"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?....For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:35, 38-39)




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