I have been brooding on the theology of the reserved sacrament again. Or rather, the lack of theology.
I find myself in the awkward position of having to support and encourage a pattern of worship I’m not sure I understand. Indeed, I’m not sure that the church as a whole has come to an understanding of this — though I hope I’m mistaken. What are we doing when — week after week, as a normal pattern of worship — our main service is Holy Communion from the reserved sacrament?
I have asked this before. So let me be more specific.
1. In Holy Communion from the reserved sacrament, how does a person’s self-offering relate to the offering of the eucharist?
When we celebrate the eucharist, I assume (and teach) that we offer ourselves to be broken and transformed in and through the offering of bread and wine, and the receiving of communion. At a celebration of the eucharist, there is an authentic correspondence between our self offering and the liturgical action. Things really change.
But when the service is from the reserved sacrament, the bread and wine have already been offered and transformed. How does our self-offering fit with that? How is it liturgically expressed? Are we in danger of losing the sense of self-offering in the eucharist if we are not clear about the differences between celebrating the eucharist and receiving pre-consecrated bread and wine?
Or am I just missing something about the theology of the eucharist?
2. What does it mean for the same congregation to receive communion time and again from the same celebration?
This is thankfully not our practice in Dunoon — apart from the few who come on a Thursday to enable the celebration, who then receive again on Sunday (for the once a month service from the Reserved Sacrament). But recently, I learned of a church which very seldom sees a priest through the winter. The last priest there in the autumn consecrates lots and lots of bread and wine. The congregation then take communion from what is reserved each week until a priest comes again.
I do not know what this means.
Dear readers, will you please help make sense of this for me? And will you help us have this conversation more widely in the church? I know that it’s a hard thing to do on a blog, but unless you want to play with Wiki’s, it’s the best forum we have.
Please pass this post on to all of your theologically savvy friends. I welcome responses in the comments or by email.
I am also linking a sermon I preached last year, when I tried to explain the custom of Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament to the congregation in Dunoon. (And do stop to admire the irony of my preaching a sermon that was pastorally necessary, when a year on I still don’t really understand a bit of it.) I am not at ease with the sermon, and there may be things in it you can correct, but it offers some perspective for those new to this (all you city dwellers spoilt with endless priests, for instance.)
I used to think this was a fairly marginal issue — and that Communion from the Reserved Sacrament was rare as a main Sunday service. I now think that it is becoming a normative pattern of worship in many parts of our church, and I’m not sure we know what we’re doing.