What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 3

This is a continuation of part 1 and part 2.

Before looking in detail at what the Bishop of Chelmsford wrote about Communion, I want to examine a document drawn to my attention by “BillyD”, commenting at the Thinking Anglicans thread about this matter: an Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine issued in 1971 by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Quoting from this Statement, BillyD claims that

The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have “reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist.”

But does this mean that the Roman Catholic Church has abandoned the doctrine of transubstantiation, or that the Anglican Communion has abandoned its rejection of this doctrine? I don’t think so. For one thing, this ARCIC agreed statement was never officially accepted as the doctrine of the Church of England, which is still formally based on the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. Also, this document manages very carefully to avoid specifying any one agreed view of the Communion, instead allowing for the partial truth of each of them. Thus there appears to be a statement of transubstantiation:

Communion with Christ in the eucharist presupposes his true presence, effectually signified by the bread and wine which, in this mystery, become his body and blood.

This statement was sufficiently controversial that it had to be explained in the later (1979) Elucidation document. However, this Elucidation seems to be self-contradictory:

Becoming does not here imply material change. … Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question: ‘What is that?’, the believer answers: ‘It is bread.’ After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question he answers: ‘It is truly the body of Christ, the Bread of Life.’

Well, does the material of the bread remain bread, or does it change into something different? The issue seems to have been fudged.

On the other hand, in the 1971 document there is a section upholding memorialism, in a subtly changed form:

The notion of memorial as understood in the passover celebration at the time of Christ—i.e. the making effective in the present of an event in the past—has opened the way to a clearer understanding of the relationship between Christ’s sacrifice and the eucharist. The eucharistic memorial is no mere calling to mind of a past event or of its significance, but the church’s effectual proclamation of God’s mighty acts. Christ instituted the eucharist as a memorial (anamnesis) of the totality of God’s reconciling action in him.

And there is a clear statement of real spiritual presence, with the body and blood of Christ being received only by faith:

The sacramental body and blood of the Savior are present as an offering to the believer awaiting his welcome. When this offering is met by faith, a lifegiving encounter results. … Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given. But they are really present and given in order that, receiving them, believers may be united in communion with Christ the Lord.

So what has been billed as “substantial agreement” is in reality a recognition that each of the views is part of the truth about the Communion, but that no one view is complete and perfect. Well, this reminds me of what I have written about the Atonement, that each of the models of it offers part of the truth, but no one of them is a complete description of a reality beyond human comprehension. I am happy to apply the same principle to models of the Communion.

But I am not sure if it is possible to avoid giving a clear answer to a simple question like this one: if some consecrated bread and wine by accident find their way out of the church building and are eaten by an unbelieving beggar who doesn’t know where they came from, is the beggar in any sense receiving the body and blood of Christ? Roman Catholics would certainly answer “yes”, because for them the elements have objectively become the body and blood, and I think most Anglicans today would do as well. But my answer would be “no”, and that was clearly the answer of the author of Article 29 of the Thirty-Nine, based on no less an authority than Augustine of Hippo:

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ …

So I can’t agree that this ARCIC document provides an acceptable “substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist”. Nor can I give priority to this supposedly agreed view over the understanding set out in the historic formularies of the Church of England. The ARCIC view may be one Anglican view of the Communion, but it is by no means the only one that needs to be recognised as genuinely Anglican.

I hadn’t intended to write quite so much on this issue, but it has become long enough for its own part of this series. So I will leave the discussion for now and continue in part 4part 5: summary and conclusions.

0 thoughts on “What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 3

  1. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 2

  2. I hae not read the full body of material to emanate from ARCIC, but from what I have seen, I have never seen it as providing much basis on which I would be able to “agree”. Pronouncements on invoation of saints and the resepct given to Mary Mother of Jesus are other examples. I see ARCIC as place to forum to talk and listen, but not much more. So what you set out so well above does not surprise me at all.

    And I fully agree with your take on the unsuspecting beggar. BCP provides for any left over consecrated elements to be reverently consumed afterwards, presumably to avoid offending the feelings of any bretheren, and to avoid a temptation to worship the elements. This is done immediately after distriution in my own Parish. In a previous one, by agreement of the vicar, the duty sidespersons and deputy Warden gathered in the vestry after the service to do this. So hopefully this situation should not arise.

  3. Thanks, Colin. My vicar also consumes leftovers afterwards. In fact the BCP says it should be done after the Blessing, not before. Once I arrived in the church as he was doing this after a midweek communion. He regretted how much there was that he had to eat and drink. I offered to help him. He told me that wasn’t allowed, as canonically only those present at the service could consume the leftovers. I suppose that is a holdover from the Catholic teaching, I think, that communicants have to be present at the prayer of consecration and can’t slip in afterwards.

    I note also the following in BCP: “If the consecrated Bread or Wine be all spent …” And at the end of the rubric is written explicitly that “the consecrated Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances … and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here”. So even after consecration the elements are bread and wine, and consubstantiation is also denied, in the BCP as well as the Thirty-Nine Articles.

  4. if some consecrated bread and wine by accident find their way out of the church building and are eaten by an unbelieving beggar who doesn’t know where they came from, is the beggar in any sense receiving the body and blood of Christ?

    Assuming “yes” and if the beggar receives it in an unworthy manner? Then would one be receiving it to his detriment or to his blessing, or neither?

  5. Kevin, I realise that one matter I haven’t dealt with is the teaching in Article 29 that unbelievers who eat and drink the consecrated elements do so “to their condemnation”. This corresponds to the biblical teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. It is of course easily explained if the elements have objectively become the body and the blood, but this teaching is rejected in the Thirty-Nine Articles. But it does make sense, including of the teaching in 1 Corinthians, if the point is that a lack of reverence to God and a profaning of bread and wine that are holy (even if not actually transformed) bring condemnation. On that basis I suppose the beggar who unknowingly eats the consecrated elements receives neither blessing nor condemnation.

    But I do wonder if the Old Testament concept of certain objects being holy is relevant here. This would certainly make sense within a more Catholic theology than mine. On this basis sanctified objects, such as the Bread of the Presence in the temple and even the temple furnishings, have some kind of objective holiness such that even those who touch them unknowingly can be condemned (cf Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:7), or blessed (cf the foreigner Obed-Edom in 2 Samuel 6:11). The communion elements could be objectively sanctified in this way without in any way objectively becoming the body and blood of Christ. This could have been Cranmer’s view, as it makes sense of the Book of Common Prayer rules on how leftovers are to be treated, without suggesting transubstantiation. My own response to rules of this kind would be that the Old Testament rules on holiness have been transcended in Christ in that as Christians we are all holy, sanctified priests (1 Peter 2:9), and so the consecrated elements have no further special status.

  6. Peter, possibility of Old Testament objects remaining holy is a good point. I like the scripture you pointed out. It may be relevant to this. And taking into consideration what Cranmer said:

    And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

    If there is no involvement of faith, should there be any kind of objective holiness, it might not affect that person without faith (believer or non-believer).

  7. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 5: summary and conclusions

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