November 12, 2018

Rowan Williams on the Eucharist (3)

Rowan Williams celebrates the Eucharist.

Rowan Williams on the Eucharist (3)

Today we continue our series of reflections on Rowan Williams’s book, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, continuing with the third big theme of the practice of being Christian — the sacrament celebrating how God welcomes us to his table: the Eucharist.

We conclude this theme today with an extended quote from Williams:

In many of our churches it was once thought that receiving Holy Communion was something you should only do when you felt you had made ‘proper’ preparation. There was a time in the nineteenth-century Roman Catholic Church when weekly communion was something your confessor might allow you to undertake if he thought you were doing well. And there is still, in many parts of the Christian world, a kind of assumption that Holy Communion is something for ‘the holy’. All that I have said so far should remind us that Holy Communion is no kind of reward: it is, like everything about Jesus Christ, a free gift. We take Holy Communion not because we are doing well, but because we are doing badly. Not because we have arrived, but because we are travelling. Not because we are right, but because we are confused and wrong. Not because we are divine, but because we are human. Not because we are full, but because we are hungry.

And so that element of self-awareness and repentance is completely bound up with the nature of what we are doing in the Holy Eucharist: the celebration and the sorrow, the Easter and the cross are always there together. And as we come together as Christians, we come not to celebrate ourselves and how well we are doing, but to celebrate the eternal Gift that is always there, and to give the thanks that are drawn out of us by that Gift. (p. 54)

Comments

  1. We take Holy Communion not because we are doing well, but because we are doing badly. Not because we have arrived, but because we are travelling. Not because we are right, but because we are confused and wrong. Not because we are divine, but because we are human. Not because we are full, but because we are hungry.

    This is why I take the Eucharist every chance I get. Even though I am Catholic the notion of distinguishing between sins before I go Is frankly repugnant. I go to take the free gift from Christ for all the reasons above..

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I think I drifted into the same view as you.

      The idea that Communion is only for the Worthy probably came from St Paul in 1 Cor 11. Let’s see…

      27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep

      • Perhaps Paul is referring, at least in part, to the Corinthians unworthy behavior at communion.

      • That’s the line Catholics use for closed communion and their only one. It’s up to the individual to determine if they are eating in an unworthy manner not the church’s. Paul never describes nor scripture what is an unworthy manner. Talk about using one verse to determine your theology !!!

        • Christiane says:

          links?

          • This is all Biblically based. The Bible says that those who partake of Holy Communion unworthily are guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord (I Corinthians 11:27; read verses 17-34 for the whole context). This is why the Church forbids those in a state of mortal sin to receive. It is not so much a punishment as an act of protection, since Saint Paul says that those who communicate unworthily eat and drink judgment to themselves (vs 29), and he even insinuates that this could in some cases cause illness or death (vs 30)!
            From a talk by Pope Benedict in Rome . The context of the verse was Saint Paul talking about Corinthians who got drunk before the meal and those who would not share their food with those who had none. That was the unworthy manner. You have to read the whole chapter to get the sense of what was happening. To just take a couple of verses to use for closed communion does not make sense. People who are even in mortal sin need the Eucharist more than ever because of Christ’s grace and mercy moved by faith.

  2. Christiane says:

    I remember the Latin prayers of my youth which, in Latin, still translated without a problem, this:

    ‘Domine, non sum dignus . . . ‘

    I think it was always in the Anglican and in the Roman Catholic Church, a feature of Eucharistic liturgy that these words bespoke a great trust in Jesus Christ as the Healer of our wounded souls:
    “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”

    And that trust mirrors the ancient words of a centurion who sought Our Lord’s healing for his servant, as is recorded in the Holy Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, these:

    ” a centurion came to Him, imploring Him,
    6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.”
    7 Jesus *said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
    8 But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my
    servant will be healed.”

    I’ve always hoped that evangelical ministers used the words of sacred Scripture in their celebration of ‘the breaking of the bread’, and I’ve wondered if the evangelical people had a sense of participating in that celebration in response.

    I’ve wondered if all Christian people know that ‘the lamb’ of the Hebrew Passover feast was consumed in its entirety to be strength for the journey out of bondage; hence it was fitting that St. John the Baptist pointed to Our Lord and said: ‘ Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world. ”

    I think many Christian people are not fully ‘awakened’ to the mystery of the Eucharist. How could we be?

    I’ve wondered if the degree of our humility before the Lord helps us to trust more fully in this Christian mystery of Christ as ‘the Lamb of God’? I have a photograph of my son with Down Syndrome who is receiving communion from a priest . . . . . my son is smiling.

    ‘Domine, non sum dignus . . . ‘

  3. –> “We take Holy Communion not because we are doing well, but because we are doing badly. Not because we have arrived, but because we are travelling. Not because we are right, but because we are confused and wrong. Not because we are divine, but because we are human. Not because we are full, but because we are hungry.”

    A friend of mine never took communion. Told me she never felt worthy enough. I could never convince her that that was precisely why she needed to do it. Makes me sad even to this day.

    • Christiane says:

      Hello Rick Ro.
      it sounds like your friend suffered from something the nuns used to call ‘scrupulosity’ . . . the antidote was to realize that the grace of God is not so easily dislodged from our beings as we assume it might be, such is the power of His mercy towards us.

      I think, as you were made sad by your friend’s problem, God’s providence likely recognized it and made provision for her in His mercy. It is sad, for her sake, to have suffered this without being able to trust enough to God’s mercy to overcome her worries.
      No doubt, she suffered much; and that is profoundly sad.

  4. Dana Ames says:

    There’s scrupulosity in the East, too; some people in the Russian tradition take the Eucharist so infrequently that they are congratulated by those around them when they do so! Others receive it simply as a matter of course, without much thought. I think the most helpful way lies in between.

    Nobody is worthy to receive the body and blood of Christ within themselves, but he is the one who wishes to give himself in this way, and in doing so he has made us worthy. So that’s not the question.

    For us, the Eucharist is important, and receiving anything important requires preparation. Our preparation involves the sacrament of Confession at least once a month; it’s SO not about “how well we are doing”, but rather about being honest with God, having the “element of self-awareness and repentance” that Williams says is necessary. We also commemorate the day Jesus was betrayed (Wednesday) and the day he died (Friday) most weeks by abstaining from animal-derived foods and fasting as we are able (taking health needs etc. into consideration). There is a set of prayers we say at home, either the night before or the morning of receiving, and also a set of prayers we say in thanksgiving for having received; many parishes offer the latter at the end of the Liturgy for all present, but if you don’t stick around for this, you pray the prayers at home. Again, this preparation isn’t about whether we’re worthy; it’s about coming to the Sacrament in humility, for love of Christ and his love for us – and as we partake together, with love for one another.

    Interestingly, about the same time in both the east and west, priests were encouraging people to receive the Eucharist more frequently. In the west, the proponent of this was Pope Pius X, and in the east it was St John of Kronstadt, in the early years of the 20th century.

    Dana