Showing items filed under “G: The Font, the Table, the Pulpit”

Real Presence - But How and Whose?

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Real presence- but how and whose? 

“This is my body…’  So Jesus said at the last supper, and so we must take seriously how it is really so. This has been at the center of the Church’s debate about the Eucharist, since the Middle Ages. Sometimes a worked up philosophical theory was offered (with transubstantiation in Aquinas’ theology, for example). Sometimes it seemed enough to assert it and leave the ‘how’ an open question (so the famous poem by Queen Elizabeth I ‘Christ was the word that spake it…’)  Sometimes the mode is the Spirit and the location is the soul of the believer (as with Calvin and Reformed traditions).  But the great tradition one way or another sought to affirm a ‘real presence’ of Christ. 

We can extend this not only to the bread and wine, but to the other sacraments, and to the Scriptures too. Augustine referred to the sacraments as the ‘visible Word,’ and recently theologian Hans Boersma of Nashotah has written a book called ‘Scripture as Real Presence.’  They make sense of one another, and this helps to hold the two halves of our Eucharistic service together. 

Furthermore they both offer Christ’s ‘real presence.’  But how do we mean this? First of all, it is personal presence. Jesus is here, though mysteriously, in his risen and ascended reality. “Personally’ means He has His agency, His freedom, His relation to us. We see this in the Resurrection story, where he addresses the disciples, sends them, etc.  Real presence, in other words, is not some spiritual power we could somehow manipulate or count as ours.  On the other hand, and also as shown in the resurrection stories, this real presence is not disembodied, or in contrast to the physical.  The same Word who spoke the world also speaks the Eucharistic presence into being.  He engages His created order here too, but as its Lord.  Sacraments are not magic, then, nor are they merely disembodied ideas. 

The Church is the Lord’s dwelling place, and how he indwells it, really present to it, is seen most intensely in the sacraments. 

Pick three Eucharistic hymns, sing them, and relate them to this reflection.

The Structure of the Liturgy

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When we think of the Eucharist, we think first of the meals in the Bible’s story: Passover, the sacrifice of the Temple, Jesus’ sitting down with sinners, the feeding of the 5,000, the last supper, where he called the bread and wine His own body and blood.  Our meal is to be understood in this lineage of meaning. 

But we may especially think of the story of the road to Emmaus, itself a resurrection appearance (Luke 24:13ff.) There first the personal presence of Jesus Himself is linked to the first meals of the Christians, and in a way that is directly parallel to the manner in which we worship today.  He comes alongside the walks with them. They both perceive Him and don’t, since they are heavy with their own grief and preoccupation. But first He explains how these things had to come to pass, and so how His death fulfilled what was spoken in Scripture.  This is what the liturgy of the Word, the reading of Scripture and its explication in preaching continues to do.  And then we retell the story of His death for our salvation as we bless the bread and wine.  Their (our) eyes are opened.  We recognize and are fed by his personal presence specifically in this meal. This corresponds to the Liturgy at the altar, the Great Thanksgiving, also called ‘the offering’ (of praise and thanksgiving as we pray over the elements, called the ‘anaphora’ in Greek). The two parts of the Emmaus event are still found in the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday.

There are various prayers used at the Altar, found in our BCP. Cranmer emphasizes that these may be changed from time to time so that they remain comprehensible to us the hearers. (For a similar reason he insists on the use of the language of the people).  But it is worth noting that a famous scholar of the Eucharist named Gregory Dix several generations ago insightfully identified for ‘actions’ in the Eucharist. As at the last supper Jesus ‘took bread, and after blessing it, broke it, and gave it to them…’ (Mark 14:22), so the liturgy has a ‘shape,’ in which the elements are presented, the prayer is said by priest and people, the bread is broken (‘fraction’ in Latin), and given out. Doing these same things is how we ‘remember,’ as Jesus commanded us, not only in our minds, but with our hearts, souls, wills, as His people.

Loving, serious, and joyful attention to the liturgy then must always be attended by a lively sense that it subserves our recognition of the risen Lord’s personal presence in the sacrament as a whole. 

Read Cranmer on the liturgy in BCP, pg. 866-7.


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