Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Vast Contrast in Anglican Piety (and Doctrine?)

On Preparing to receive Holy Communion--a discussion starter

Two words may be applied to “The Holy Eucharist” as one encounters it in most Episcopal and Anglican churches (not to mention Roman Catholic and Lutheran) in 2008. They are “celebration” and “community.” Celebration is not used in the strict sense of “engaging in a religious ceremony” but rather in the sense of “participating in a time of religious festivity of honoring and praising God.” Community emphasizes that what occurs is for all, that each and everyone has a part in it, small or great, and that for anyone not to partake wholly (i.e., in the “Peace” and the “Sacrament”) is a failure of community.

One of effect of this is that there cannot be more than a minimal emphasis and place given in modern Services to the inward preparation by each and every person, who intends to receive the sacramental body and blood of the once crucified and now exalted Lord Jesus. In fact, the general view common today is that hearty involvement in the communal “celebration” and in the “passing of the peace” is itself appropriate preparation for the signs and symbols of the community Eucharist.

The actual texts of the modern Liturgies used do little to change the contemporary approach to preparation. In fact, one may say that they have made a major contribution to bringing things to where they are right now in modern use of liturgy. The confession of sin in the Service is minimal and is often treated as optional, except perhaps during Lent.

I must leave my reader to look at the various forms of “The Holy Eucharist” produced by The Episcopal Church in its Rite 2 selection of 1979, and in the various authorized rites in several booklets since then—services used widely in The Anglican Communion Network and AMIA. The same applies to the official Prayer Book of the Anglican Church of Nigeria and in its CANA expression in the U.S.A.

Here I want to recall the basic preparation for Holy Communion not only recommended but required by The Book of Common Prayer (1662), a Book still in use in many countries.

Preparation: Reformed Catholic style

One part of “The Order for Holy Communion” in The BCP (1662 & later editions of it), which is very rarely if ever read aloud even by “traditionalists,” is the section containing “The Exhortations.” This is found between the Prayer for the Church and the Call to the Confession of Sin (but the section is relegated to an Appendix in the American BCP of 1928). The rubrics (rules) of The BCP 1662 require that one of the Exhortations be read whenever Holy Communion is to follow either that day or the next Sunday. The BCP 1928 requires that an Exhortation be read only on three specific Sundays (Advent 1, Lent 1, and Trinity).

From the content of these Exhortations (which originate in the first edition of The BCP in 1549) we get a very clear statement of what is involved in preparation for the right receiving of the Holy Sacrament at the Lord’s Table for the Anglican Way or Reformed Catholicism. Here is an analysis of the content of the first Exhortation which is read the week before the Administration:

1) Notice of when the next Celebration of Holy Communion will occur.
2) The Duty of the Baptized in joining in the Holy Communion.
3) The Blessedness of worthy, and the danger of unworthy, reception of H.C.
4) Actual Preparation for H.C.
(a) Self-examination
(b) Repentance and Confession to God
(c) Reparation of injuries done to neighbors.
(d) Forgiveness of other for injuries.
5) Warning against unworthy reception by the example of Judas at last Supper
6) Recommendation to those who cannot quiet their own conscience to open their spiritual grief to a godly Minister, receive Absolution by the Word of God, along with spiritual counsel.

The Second is largely based on 1 Corinthians 10-11 and is to be used only where the people are negligent to receive the Holy Communion. This is not a problem in the West today!

The Third is to be used at the time of the Celebration itself. It is both an instruction, and a call for preparation to receive the Sacrament. It may be analyzed as follows:

1) The Duty of self-examination.
2) The Benefit of worthy, and the danger of unworthy, reception.
3) Exhortation to self-judgment, repentance and faith.
4) The solemn duty of Thanksgiving to God for the redemption of the world by the passion and death of Jesus.
5) The Institution and Purpose of Holy Communion.
6) Doxology.

(Note that this Exhortation in contemporary English is part of the Service of H.C. in An Anglican Prayer Book (2008) –available from )

What is abundantly clear from these Exhortations, and the content of the whole Service, is (a) the very high estimate of this Service as a glorious means of Grace, and (b) the very basic need and requirement of those who will truly and worthily receive to come to the Lord’s Table to do so in a suitably penitent, humble, and faithful manner. Here reception without right preparation is viewed as spiritually and morally dangerous.


The celebration offered by The BCP 1662 is a celebrating of the nature, character, attributes and redeeming work of the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit. Here the confession of sin is an essential part of the praise of God, for it celebrates his justice and his mercy. The essential movement is vertical--first from heaven down and then in response from the assembly on earth up – and always through the Son and with the Spirit, first from and then to the Father almighty. And to engage in this upward movement to feast at the heavenly Banquet with and on Christ, spiritual preparation is required.

Regrettably such celebration is all too rare.

The celebration offered by many modern liturgies and congregations is that of a communal sharing, with a celebrating of this fellowship and the God of grace who makes it possible. Here the confession of sin is usually passed over quickly in order to get to the real celebration which consists of the communal singing of hymns and spiritual songs. The reality and presence of the Holy Trinity is not denied and neither is the Atonement of Jesus at Calvary, but they are not prominent for they are lost behind the communal activity. Preparation for receiving Holy Communion is rarely mentioned for it is apparently presumed that all are welcome whatever their state of heart .

Regrettably such celebration is all too common. March 8 2008

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