Sunday, November 18, 2012

Worship Woes 3: The Consecration

As I was sitting in church today, during Divine Service, I happened to think upon something during the Consecration which, to me, seems a theological inconsistency.  This stems from two sources, first, is a misrepresentation of Anglican, eucharistic theology in (most) North American contexts, I won't spend too much time on this subject, since it has been explored, in depth, elsewhere on this blog.  The second is a misunderstanding of the American Eucharistic tradition.

What I'm referencing is the practices that accompany the acts of consecration (other aspects of the Communion Service were discussed in Worship Woes 2).  Specifically, I mean to discuss the actions of elevating the elements during the Words of Institution and other accompanying acts.  First, as readers of this blog will know, these actions imply a Eucharistic theology alien to our tradition, that being that the elements are substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ.  Anglican Eucharistic theology acknowledges that the faithful recipient does truly receive Christ's body and blood but the means by which we receive him are not the elements but, rather, by faith (see Article 28 & 29).  The consecration of the elements is a setting apart by the minister for special and holy use (which justifies the oblation in the American tradition, from my perspective) but there is no substantial change in them, i.e. they remain just as much bread and wine before the consecration as after.  The actions that usually accompany the Words of Institution are not Anglican and usually not rubrical either.  A common repertoire is to pick up the elements individually, sometimes make a sign of the cross over them, and then elevate them.  Afterwards, the celebrant either genuflects or bows towards them.  Neither of these actions are products of the Reformation, but, rather, a deformation of the biblical and catholic faith of the English Reformation.  In addition, these actions are not rubrical, by any rite.  The 1928, following the 1662 directives, says for the priest to take the bread and wine "into his hands" after which he is to lay hands upon the bread and the vessels containing wine to be consecrated (additionally breaking the bread at this point, instead of later in the 1979 rite).  The 1979 rite gives permission for the celebrant to either "hold" the bread and wine or "lay hands upon it", neither of which permits an exaggerated elevation (obviously, if a priest is going to "hold" something it will be slightly elevated above the table, but this is the literal definition of "holding" the sense of elevation I am using here is to lift it high, usually above the celebrant's head).  The actions of either genuflecting or bowing upon placing the elements back on the table are likewise troubling.  I can see how someone could manipulate the rubrics to perhaps justify elevation, although it would still be against the literal sense of the rubrics, I don't see how a genuflection or bow can be justified rubrically.  Moreover, all of these actions point away from classically Anglican theology and undermine the deaths of the Reformers.

The second reason why these actions make no sense has more to do with logic than theology, although, it is a theological inconsistency.  This stems from a historical reality in which we, as the American Church of the Anglican Communion, find ourselves.  As readers of this blog will certainly know, the American Church acquired its first bishop through the Non-Juring Scottish Episcopal Church when Samuel Seabury left to acquire consecration as a bishop in England.  The English bishops could not consecrate him, due to the oath of allegiance in the English rite to the King.  He found support from the Scottish bishops, who consecrated him, on the condition that he would do several things, one of which was to introduce the Scottish Communion Office to the American Church.  Now the Scottish Office is remarkably different from the English Office in that it includes an epiclesis, or a calling down of the Holy Ghost upon the elements, to set them apart for holy use.  The epiclesis comes after the Words of Institution in the Scottish and American Offices, meaning that the consecration occurs after the Words of Institution in our rite.  If one were to misunderstand our theology and disregard the rubrics, it would be much more consistent to do so at the epiclesis, not during the Institution Narrative.

The present authors values and respects consistency and begs that if our theology isn't going to be followed nor our Prayer Book observed, that at least the chaos that is American Anglicanism be somewhat internally consistent.

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