Come to the table...
o those of you who have much faith and those of you who are seeking more.
o those of you who have been to this feast often and those who have not been in a long time.
o those of you who have tried to follow Jesus but believe you have failed.
It is the feast of Jesus and he invites us all to meet him here.
The Iona Community
“Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace”
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 857).
In the Episcopal Church we take part in certain regular acts of worship. These are called sacraments or reenactments of Christ’s ministries on earth. The two primary sacraments are Baptism and Holy Communion.
We believe that God is actively present in the world and in us. In the sacraments we realize his presence and his favor towards us. Through the sacraments, which are freely given to us by God, our sins are forgiven, our minds are enlightened, our hearts stirred and our wills strengthened.
These sacraments are contained in the worship services found in the Book of Common Prayer, a book used for worship and as a guide for Christian life. A complete outline of the Episcopal faith can be found on pages 845-862 of the Book of Common Prayer. Your questions are encouraged and always welcome.
What we are doing about communion during covid-19--and why
During the early months of COVID and online worship we offered only Morning Prayer or The Service of the Word without communion. We read of other denominations offering creative ways of sharing communion such as "drive-in" communion where congregations are served in their cars in a parking lot while listening to the service on cell phones to sitting at home in front of computer screens with bits of bread or crackers and a beverage while clergy broadcast the consecration. This has been an active topic on the internet, including among Episcopalians, and there are many points of view that are both practical and theological.
Our former bishop's preference was that we not do any of these but, rather, fast from communion until we would be able to gather in person once again, and take the opportunity to dive more deeply into our Daily Office Tradition; and explore spiritual communion. Bp. Lee and others assisted the Presiding Bishop in crafting a statement to the church about our theology of worship. It says, in part:
Sacraments are actions that give new meaning to things. The current questions about the way we worship in a time of radical physical distancing invites the question of what we are prepared for a given sacramental encounter to mean. Sacraments are communal actions that depend on "stuff": bread and wine, water and oil. They depend on gathering and giving thanks, on proclaiming and receiving the stories of salvation, on bathing in water, on eating and drinking together. These are physical and social realities that are not duplicatable in the virtual world. Gazing at a celebration of the Eucharist is one thing; participating in a physical gathering and sharing the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist is another. And, God, of course, can be present in both experiences....
Practices such as "drive-by communion" present public health concerns and further distort the essential link between a communal celebration and the culmination of that celebration in the reception of the Eucharistic Bread and Wine. This is not to say that the presence of the Dying and Rising Christ cannot be received by any of these means. It is to say that from a human perspective, the full meaning of the Eucharist is not obviously signified by them. Our theology is generous in its assurance of Christ's presence in all our times of need....
My own liturgics professor, The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, delves into sacramental theology and practice to show how the meaning of communion can be distorted when the full celebration is not present. In the Middle Ages, the people in the Western church rarely received the elements, instead watching the clergy celebrate, focusing on a moment of Consecration (ocular communion) as signaled by the ringing of the Sanctus bells. In the late 20th century, with the publication of our present BCP, there was "a sea change in eucharistic piety" when weekly eucharist became our central Sunday worship. Consequently, receiving communion has become more important. There is a danger now in focusing unduly on the reception rather than the full celebration. This is especially true when these creative variations are employed.
According to Meyers, "Sharing one bread and one cup is integral to communion, as the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians. A webcast or Facebook livestream or Zoom meeting can help us feel connected to our community, but it does not allow us to share one bread or one cup. In the celebration of the eucharist, we experience the real presence of Christ, not only in the bread and wine that are blessed and shared but also in the Word proclaimed and broken open in homily, in the community gathered as the body of Christ, in song and prayer."
Thus, "Social distancing makes us keenly aware of real absence and our yearning for the real presence of Christ, an experience we share with Christians through the ages. To respond when we cannot celebrate eucharist, Christian tradition offers us the practice of spiritual communion." And she cites this prayer from the The Prayer Book for the Armed Services:
In union, O Lord, with your faithful people at every altar of your Church, where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated, I desire to offer to you praise and thanksgiving. I remember your death, Lord Christ; I proclaim your resurrection; I await your coming in glory. Since I cannot receive you today in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood, I beseech you to come spiritually into my heart. Cleanse and strengthen me with your grace, Lord Jesus, and let me never be separated from you. May I live in you, and you in me, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.
Dr. Meyers full letter is available at CDSP
At Grace, for the first few months of the pandemic, we offered only the Daily Office or The Liturgy of the Word. Then, when we were able to return to the church with restrictions and limited congregations, we wished to celebrate communion. We began to consider, then, how to pastorally care for those who did not feel safe returning to the church and would be attending online. At that time, we developed a plan for providing consecrated wafers that would allow those congregants to participate along with those of us physically present in the church. When we were then required to return to fully online services, we decided to devise a means to provide the consecrated wafers to everyone who would participate online. We made it clear that the intent was not individual, private communion but for those joining the community on line. We retain the prayer for spiritual communion for those who may join us online who have not received the communion "kit." It is different and strange. Yet it is a community where we rejoice to see each other's faces and hear familiar voices.
When the congregations was able to return to the church, we offered communion with the wafer only. That practice continues at this time.
Q: What is Holy Baptism?
Baptism is the means by which we become members of the community of believers, defined in the New Testament as the Body of Christ. Just as Jesus was baptized with water by John the Baptist, we include people in the community of faith by baptizing them with water. Following a series of questions, responses and prayers, the priest pours water on the candidate. The sign of the cross may be made on the candidate’s forehead with blessed oil. In the Episcopal Church a person is baptized only once.
Q: What is Holy Communion?
It is a reenactment of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross. Any baptized person is welcome to share in this meal of bread and wine.
Other Sacramental Acts
Q: What are the other sacraments?
Besides Baptism and the Eucharist (Holy Communion), the church recognizes other spiritual markers in our journey of faith. These include:
Confirmation (the adult affirmation of our baptismal vows), pp. 413-419, Book of Common Prayer
Reconciliation of a Penitent (private confession), pp. 447-452, Book of Common Prayer
Matrimony (Christian marriage), pp. 422-438, Book of Common Prayer
Orders (ordination to deacon, priest, or bishop), pp. 510-555, Book of Common Prayer
Unction (anointing with oil those who are sick or dying) pp. 453-467, Book of Common Prayer
These help us to be a sacramental people, seeing God always at work around us.