Dear Creator Family -
In the next several weeks, we will take a brief look at the Holy Eucharist and begin an ongoing study to help us understand the blessing of Christ’s Body and Blood.
The Holy Eucharist is the principal act of Christian worship and the central act of all Sunday services and feast days (para). This instruction, found on page 13 of the Book of Common Prayer, greets each person as they begin their journey into liturgical celebration. The primacy of the Holy Eucharist, coupled with Holy Baptism, is the liturgical center of our faith and it is through faith that we are elevated in Christ.
In 1571, after 35 years of prayer, discussion, and revision, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion were adopted as the defining statements of doctrines and practices for all branches of the Church of England, otherwise known as the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is one. The 39 Articles contain statements of our faith and doctrine to guide us as we seek God in faith and understanding.
The Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is described in Article 28 (XXVIII) of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion found on page 873 in the Book of Common Prayer. Article 28 states:
The supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
While the language is archaic, Article 28 frames the Eucharist in the biblical image of Christ’s sacrifice and our reception of that sacrifice. From here, things get complicated, but not confused.
The Episcopal Church maintains that the Eucharist is the means by which Christ becomes present to the Christian community gathered in his name. It is the central act of gathered worship, renewing the Body of Christ as the Church, through the reception of the Body of Christ as the Blessed Sacrament, his spiritual body and blood. To help us understand this Anglican Eucharistic Theology universally affirms the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. R. C. Sproul, in his article, "The Battle for the Table," states that “the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the doctrine that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, not merely symbolically or metaphorically, nor literalistically, but sacramentally.” Sproul is affirming the larger and more intimate understanding of the Eucharist that is necessary for Anglicans if we are to appreciate the intention of Christ as we kneel side-by-side to receive his Body and Blood.
I say “necessary” because the church understands and affirms that the faithful reception of the Holy Eucharist is a sign of the individual’s depth of devotion to living in and through Christ. Since the Holy Communion is one of the two Dominical Sacraments (sacraments instituted by Christ) participation in it is participation in Christ’s intended life for us.
Next week, I break down the theology of reception to help us understand and grow as we approach the Altar.
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†