Saturday, 12 July 2008

What It Is Really All About.

As regards the Anglican Church I can not comprehend how a church can tolerate from its members such a divergent range of beliefs in the meaning of the Eucharist. There are those within the Anglican Church who believe essentially in Catholic teaching regarding the Eucharist and there are whole congregations who believe it is merely a symbolic meal. The question I always ask of those Anglicans who say, " We believe the same thing as you", is " What do you do with what remains unconsumed after the communion service?" In some churches everything will be consumed by the ministers, in others it is disposed of in various ways of more or less reverence. A good friend, whose mother was involved very much in the local church, says that the bread and wine left over were put on the side and her mother would feed the bread to the birds in the churchyard. I imaging it would for instance be a rare thing in most Anglican churches to have the altar linens soaked in water and that water poured away via the sacrarium, before laundering, as happens at my Catholic Church. I really think that this is at the root of their current problems and that the desire to "ordain" women and now to "consecrate" them bishops comes essentially from this confusion regarding the meaning and place of the Eucharist in the life of the church. If you believe that God himself is truly and fully present body, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist and that this is the soul and summit of christian life then this changes the prospective enormously. If you believe this, then concerns about whether the church has the authority to decide to ordain women and whether a women can be validly ordained becomes vital. If a women stands at the altar and says the words of consecration, but has not the power of a priest to confect the Eucharist, then it is not just an empty service or a mistake but it is blasphemous idolatry. The congregation are offering to a piece of bread the worship which is the highest thing here on earth and that which we are bound by His nature to give to God and to Him alone. (I do not wish to get into a debate over the validity or otherwise of Anglican orders but rather to tease out some of the issues the debate actually raises.)

However if you believe that the Eucharist is a symbol, a commemoration, a fellowship meal, over which the priest or minister presides then these concerns are not so paramount. In that case the minister is leading the community, directing the worship, but if the meaning of the Eucharist is primarily in the community of believers itself, then matters of validity of orders are not quite such a burning issue.

Then of course if you believe that the Eucharist or Mass is the redeeming sacrifice of Calvary, the single greatest event in human history, represented by the priest to God, well then it's a very important matter indeed.

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