31 December 2009

Some Comments on Weekly Communion

"If we celebrate Communion every week, it won't be as special."

Those of us who practice weekly (even daily!) celebrations of the Lord's Supper are often confronted with this argument by our Christian brothers and sisters who are less Sacramentally inclined than ourselves. To be certain, nothing rises the ire of eucharistically-centered folks quite like hearing this statement, so I would like to offer some reflections on why this is such a common agrument against weekly Communion and how we can begin, slowly, to change the view.

First, we need to charitably recognize that every denomination has its own distinctives, which ultimately lead them to focusing on certain elements of the overall Christian experience. Those who come from Catholic, Orthodox, and certain Protestant backgrounds (orthodox Lutheranism and the Restoration Movement among them) tend to value the regular celebration of the Eucharist because they have been catechized in the meaning of both the acts of worship with which we surround the Sacrament and the meaning and significance of the Sacrament itself. They look back to Scripture and see the examples of regularlly celebrating the Supper which permeate the New Testament, and in a desire to remain faithful to that example, they incorporate a Sacramental aspect to worship on a regular basis.  We cannot expect those from other denominations to understand the significance of this when they have not been instructed in it.

Second, we need to consider how Christian congregations practice Communion. In keeing with the ancient principle of 'lex orandi, lex credendi' (the law of prayer is the law of belief), the way we celebrate the Lord's Supper will instruct the people just as much as any catechetical class or pastoral conversation ever will. Celebrations of the Sacrament that feel like 'optional extras', which are carelessly led, or which are somehow separated from corporate worship (i.e., 'if you want Communion after the service, please go to the small chapel and wait there for the pastor') will all lead individual believers to develop a similar mindset concerning the Supper.

Communion is, at times, seen as something that can be dropped or cut back for the sake of time. During the summer, while on vacation, we attended a congregation on what was arguably the hottest day in a decade in the town we were in. They had a wonderful worship bulletin with everything laid out. Just before the service began, the pastor came out and said, "Good morning. As you can tell, it's terribly warm this morning, and because of the threat of thunderstorms, we can't really open the windows. As a result, we will be omitting certain parts of the service today."  We still sang every verse of every hymn. The pastor's sermon was still about 25 minutes long. And yet one reading, the Psalm, the Creed, and most all of the Communion portion of the Liturgy were hacked out on the fly. In the end, after the collection was taken (during a hymn with nine verses), the pastor went to the Altar, uncovered the vessels, said the customary verses and responses before the Eucharistic prayer, and then just read the Words of Institution and began delivering the Sacrament. By cutting out the Preface, Sanctus, Prayer of Consecration, and Lord's Prayer, he saved himself about 3 minutes... perhaps four depending on the musical setting of the Sanctus. The Sacrament was the easy cut, because its celebration wasn't as important as making sure that the sermon was full length and that every verse of every hymn were sung. (In other words, at least in my humble opinion, the pastor was willing to exchange his words for the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ.)

Whenever Communion is celebrated - whever the frequency - it must be a vital, living part of our worship experience. It must be a heartfelt, significant reason for joyfully recalling all that our Lord has done for us. We must instruct people on the blessings of the Supper, and we must be honest about how to prepare for its celebration. We who celebrate on a regular basis must never give the appearance that we are doing something out of a rote apathy, but must show the change that regularlly communing with our Lord works in us. It is only these actions which will ensure that we have any collateral to lay down in the discussion about the benefits of weekly Communion. It is, indeed, a temptation to simply retort "Yea, perhaps we should stop preaching every week while we are at it!", but in the end it is only the transformational quality of weekly Communion and strong, Biblical teaching on the Sacrament that will soften hearts and bring them regularlly to the Holy Table of our Lord.

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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