Friday, November 01, 2013

Holy Communion

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread (I Corinthians 10:16,17).

From what is often assumed, we would think that the Lord’s words of Institution begin with, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” But, in fact those words begin with “Take eat,” and “Drink this all of you.” Understood, in light of the very word “Communion” as used by St. Paul, this is the strongest meaning we can find of what we call Real Presence. His later words, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (I Corinthians 11:27),” underscore this point, inasmuch as they concern the actual eating and drinking of the sacramental elements.
One of the criticisms leveled at Anglicans by our critics in the Roman Communion, is that we emphasize receiving the sacrament to a point where we have been charged with a doctrine they call “Receptionism.” This charge is leveled at us by those for whom the sacramental presence of Christ seemingly must be understood before one can worthily receive, and that a change takes place at some specific point in the service. It is believed that this change transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and that from then on they are no longer bread and wine in any sense (this does not square exactly with the words of the Apostle quoted above, who still uses the word “bread” about the eating). They become, instead, objects to be worshiped and adored.  
On the other hand, a criticism leveled at us by several Protestants is that our practices are, what they call, “Too Catholic.” Some Anglicans do indeed engage in sacramental devotions in the presence of the Reserved Sacrament. But, for some of the critics it is too much that we have priesthood and an altar at all. It is my contention that Anglicans have no business using either the phrase “Too Catholic” or “Too Protestant,” and certainly not regarding the Blessed Sacrament. Aside from a betrayal of our Via Media position, use of such terms fails to take into account that Luther’s Real Presence was no less literal and absolute than Transubstantiation (and we certainly see Luther as a Protestant). It was different, but just as focused on the change occurring at some specific point.
At the risk of being charged with “Receptionism,” I will remind our readers that for Richard Hooker, and other early Anglican fathers, exactly when and how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ is immaterial. Whenever and however this takes place, whether at the Words of Institution or some other point, what matters is that they become for us the body and blood of Christ. Until they are received they have not been used for the purpose of their institution. It is further believed that without faith on the part of the receiver, indeed, “Hearty repentance and true faith,” receiving the sacrament is of no benefit, and indeed just the opposite: detrimental. So much of this is basic Anglicanism, and apparent in Articles and homilies, that it is not a matter to be disputed.

Communion, fellowship and partaking
The word “Communion,” as used twice by St. Paul concerning the body and blood of Christ (respectively), is a very significant word. The same word is translated in the New Testament as “Fellowship (e.g. I John 1:3).” The same word is used in II Peter 1:4 for partake, saying that we are destined to become “Partakers of the divine nature” if we remain in the grace of God. That Greek word, translated so variously, is koinōnia.
The implications take us beyond the very private manner in which we regard this sacrament. It is our communion and fellowship with Christ, and it is our partaking of Him. It is obvious that whenever the English reformers and Anglican writers used any of those three words (communion, fellowship and partake) they were conscious of the Greek word koinōnia.
The Scriptural meaning remains no matter how we perceive of the words. There is an obvious connection between our individual reception of the sacrament and membership in the Body of Christ. And in some mysterious way that very reception, accompanied by faith, is communion and fellowship with Christ and a partaking of Christ. Furthermore, it is not strictly a private matter between any one of us and God, in which our relationships in the Church are of no importance. It is Apostolic fellowship (I John 1:3) and fellowship with one another, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”
Is it any wonder, then, why St. Paul opens his rebuke and warning to the Corinthian Christians with a reminder of the betrayal of our Lord by Judas Iscariot? “The Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread…(I Corinthians 11:23)” The Apostle was not writing liturgy, but an authoritative warning and correction to those who mistreated and neglected their brothers and sisters in Christ while presuming to receive the sacrament.
The mystery of the Body of Christ the Church, and His body in the bread we eat, are inseparable. For the health of the Church, the Body of Christ, and for the good of our souls, we need to understand the Real Presence in terms of koinōniaand all that it means, both with God and with one another.



Unknown said...

Thank you for an excellent article Father. I do have a question.

It is my understanding that some Protestants taught that those who received without faith were only ingesting bread and wine, but this does not seem to square with St. Paul's words about eating and drinking damnation to themselves (1 Cor. 11:29).

I have always assumed that even the those without faith are still consuming the body and blood of the Lord, which is why they are in danger for receiving it under such circumstances.

I think this is your position as well, and is this the Anglican position?

Thank you,


Fr. Robert Hart said...

The Exhortations in the Book of Common Prayer show that St. Paul's warning has always been taken seriously. Based on the sixth chapter of St. John, it is logical to conclude that those who eat and drink the body and blood of Christ without faith (which has to mean also without repentance from sin) do not partake of Christ Himself. Understanding that in terms of fellowship with the Lord and His Church, and of receiving grace, is the only option left open. It does not mean that they have eaten mere bread and drunk mere wine. It means that it does them no good to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. St. Paul teaches us about the great danger in doing so.

Unknown said...

Father Hart,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I do appreciate it.