Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 12 June 2017

Discover & explore - The Lord's Supper

Discover & explore services at St Stephen Walbrook features music and liturgy with the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields. These services explore their themes through a thoughtful mix of music, prayers, readings and reflections:
  • “A perfect service of peace in our busy lives.”
  • “Spiritual food in the middle of the day.”
  • “Beautifully and intelligently done.”
The current series of these services of musical discovery is exploring Reformation 500 themes and continued today with the theme of 'The Lord's Supper'. The service featured the Choral Scholars singing: Ave Verum Corpus – Byrd; Agnus Dei from Cantus Missae, Op. 109 – Rheinberger; O salutaris hostia – Rossini; and Author of life divine – Wesley.
All Discover & explore services begin at 1.10pm:
  • Mon 19 Jun - The Cross alone 
  • Mon 26 Jun - Forgiveness is free 
  • Mon 3 Jul - Life of repentance
In today's service I shared the following reflection:
St Stephen Walbrook was built as a Reformation church. One of the indicators that that is so, are the relative sizes and positions of the communion table and the pulpit. The size of the pulpit indicates the importance placed on the hearing of God’s Word, while the small size of the communion tables reflects the concern of the Reformers that communion was celebrated in a way that made clear that no sacrifice was being made. For this reason the Canons of the Church of England state that communion should be celebrated from a table not an altar. This was part of Reformation debates as to what happened at communion and what was being celebrated.

The Reformation position of the Church of England was made clear in the Book of Common Prayer which states that ‘no Adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.’

These issues and debates then became central to changes made to the building here at St Stephen Walbrook in the 1970s and 80s with the introduction of the Henry Moore altar and the circular reordering of the space under the dome. The Ecclesiastical Court cases regarding the Moore altar centred on the Canon which states that communion must be celebrated at a table not an altar, and revolved around the extent to which the Moore altar resembled either a sacrificial altar or a communion table. Eventually, it was agreed that the Moore altar could be defined as a communion table and agreement was given for its permanent installation.

The size and position of Moore’s altar does however change the original dynamic between in the building between the Lord’s Table and the pulpit (which was reflective of the Reformer’s theology) in favour of a more contemporary theology; that of the Parish Communion movement which successfully made Holy Communion the principal act of worship in Parish churches, instead of Morning or Evening Prayer. By carving a round altar table with forms cut into the circular sides Moore suggested that the centre of the church reflected the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac as a prefiguring of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and the place for the offering of the Eucharist at the heart of Christian worship. This place is now designed for people to gather as a community around the altar where God in the Eucharist can be found at the centre.

The debates initiated by the Reformers therefore continue into our current understandings and practices regarding the celebration of the Eucharist and the gathering of God’s people in worship. At one end of these debates is the understanding that Communion is a remembering of Christ’s sacrifice while, at the other, is the understanding that it is a repeating of Christ's sacrifice.

These, however, are not the only ways of understanding how Jesus is present in the Lord’s Supper and what is accomplished when it is celebrated. To my mind, it takes an artist to understand how the sacraments operate and, for me, that artist is the Roman Catholic painter and poet David Jones. A sacrament is, as St Augustine stated, 'an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.’

For David Jones, a key word in this regard is ‘anamnesis’, which means to re-present under an existing reality under a different mode. It is, therefore, to do with the re-calling, re-presentation and re-membering of an original act or object in a form that is different from but connected to the original act or object that is being re-called. So, remembering the Lord’s Supper is not simply recalling it to mind; instead we re-member it by re-enacting and re-presenting the original act. The original act is a once-for-all act but it can be re-created and re-presented in our Eucharistic celebrations. We use a different form to bring a past act into the present in a way that means we encounter, receive and respond to that original act afresh. We are, therefore, doing more than simply recalling that act in our minds but, at the same, are not repeating the act in its original form in the present.

David Jones developed an understanding of art based on anamnesis which viewed all art as sacramental because the signs made by artists are the thing signified under the forms of their particular art. The artwork is the original object or action that has been re-presented but in a different form meaning that it is both ‘the thing’ and a ‘different thing’ at one and the same time. In the same way, at the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine are both simply bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ at one and the same time.

In the Introduction to his long poem entitled ‘The Anathemata’, Jones wrote that ‘words like “remembrance” or “memorial” hav[e] for us a connotation of something absent which is only mentally recollected. But in the scriptures of both the Old and New Testament, anamnesis and its cognate verb have a sense of re-calling before God an event in the past so that it becomes here and now operative by its effect.’

This poem begins and ends with the celebration of the Mass in London during wartime. In between, Jones explores the elements which form this particular celebration of the Mass - the very particular political and civilizational conditions of Rome which led to the Sacrifice of the Cross combined with a resultant fusion of Jewish, Greco-Roman, Germanic and Celtic cultures. His survey of these elements eventually leads him back to the celebration of the Mass in wartime London meaning that, as Kathleen Staudt notes, the ending of The Anathemata ‘insists that there is something constant in the gestures of offering that Christ, priest, and poet have made and make “at all times,” regardless of the products of that gesture’ (Incarnation Reconsidered: The Poem as Sacramental Act in The Anathemata of David Jones, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Spring, 1985), 81-82).

On this basis, the bread and wine of The Lord’s Supper is at once a “thing” in itself, part of the world of flesh and form, and a “representation” -- a “showing again” of the original act under another form. Just as in the incarnation Christ brings the human and divine together in his body, so in The Lord’s Supper, the material and the eternal are brought together in the act of making a sign and in the re-membering, re-calling, re-enacting and re-presentation of that sign we receive the original reality of that sign but in a different form. In this way the outward and visible sign of the Eucharist works an inward and invisible grace in us. Jesus comes to us in the form of bread and wine and all who receive the Sacrament receive his body and blood.


Wise and gracious God, you spread a table before us; nourish your people with the word of life and the bread of heaven. With the bread that we bring, we shall remember Jesus. With the wine that we bring, we shall remember Jesus. Bread for his body, wine for his blood, gifts from God to his table we bring. We shall remember Jesus. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: through your goodness we have bread to set before you, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will be for us the bread of life. Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: through your goodness we have wine to set before you, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will be for us the cup of salvation. As the grain once scattered in the fields and the grapes once dispersed on the hillside are reunited on the Lord’s Table in bread and wine, so, Lord, may your whole Church soon be gathered together from the corners of the earth into your kingdom. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We thank You, Lord God, that You refresh us with this precious gift of The Lord’s Supper. We ask for Your mercy, that You would use this meal to nurture in us strong faith toward You and genuine love among us all. Almighty and Ever-loving God, we thank You that You feed us at Your Table with this spiritual food and assure us of Your goodness toward us. We thank You that we are members of the Body of Your Son. Assist us with Your grace, so that we may continue in this holy fellowship, and live more fully to Your glory. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Blessing

Blessed be God, by whose grace creation is renewed, by whose love heaven is opened, by whose mercy we offer our sacrifice of praise; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


Gioachino Rossini: O salutaris hostia.

No comments: