Friday, November 19, 2010

Words When Serving Communion

What do you say to the recipient when you serve communion?  When you offer the bread?  The cup?

Many liturgies include specific instructions for what the minister should say, such as:
The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you,
preserve your soul and body unto everlasting life. Take and eat this
in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed upon Him in
your heart, by faith with thanksgiving.
The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you,
preserve your soul and body unto everlasting life. Drink this in
remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful.
That's good language, and good theology...but pretty wordy.  And what about all of us that don't have the luxury or option of using a "proper" liturgy?  Does a simple, "The Body of Christ (broken for you); the Blood of Christ (shed for you)" suffice?  Or "The Bread of Life; the cup of salvation"?  Anything's better than a silent, stoic communion server, I suppose, but I believe words matter, especially when they're being employed within sacramental worship.

What other options have you explored?  Why do you prefer one over another?


Dave Belcher said...

I think the 1979 Book of Common Prayer's rubrics are helpful here. One of two options are given there:

1. "The body of Christ, the bread of heaven / The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation," or:
2. "The body (blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life."

The appropriate response from the communicant to these words should be "Amen" and are appropriate before the communicant receives. See Augustine on this matter...

Good question, Brannon!

Todd Stepp said...

I have tended to say, "The body of Christ given for you," and "The blood of Christ shed for you." (Though, honestly, someone else is usually taking care of the cup, but that is my suggestion to them.)


Rich Schmidt said...

I hold both the bread and the cup, so I don't have much time to talk while they're taking their piece of bread and dipping it into the juice. So I most often say, "The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you, ______," filling the blank with their name, if I know it.

Back when I used to have someone helping me, so that one of us was holding bread and the other the cup, we would say, "The body of Christ, broken for you." "His blood, shed for you."

Dave Belcher said...

Rich, may I make the suggestion -- on the basis of the work of liturgical theologian Patrick Malloy -- that it might be more helpful that names not be added to the address, for the simple reason that there will be some who are inevitably not addressed by name (as you already somewhat admit), and thus addressing some by name and not others could be seen to introduce a kind of exclusivity into the reception of the sacrament, which is precisely, I'm sure, what you're seeking to avoid by opening a personal-relational space of hospitality and inclusion by addressing persons by name. This is not at all to say that you should not name them so as not to intrude on a person's intensely private encounter with the Lord in the sacrament, only that the personal-relational aspect be introduced without names -- perhaps by a steady gaze into the communicant's eyes. Again, these are the suggestions of Episcopal liturgical theologian Patrick Malloy who I find to be incredibly helpful. Peace

Brannon Hancock said...

Follow-up on Dave's comment (which is a fair point): I was at a communion service at Christ Church in Nashville (big pentecostal church) for a worship conference once, and the congregation was instructed, as they approached the servers, to state their name so that the servers could address everyone by name. It seemed awkward and hokey at first, but it actually turned out to be very powerful. The communion servers there (all lay people) were VERY well trained to exude inclusion and compassion as they served each individual by name. It made it very personal while retaining the communal dynamic. It inspired me to try to implement some training for our communion servers (typically the pastoral staff in our case) and move us toward, at the very least (as Dave suggests), the eye contact and some address...again: anything other than silent and stoic!

Incidentally, Dan Scott, the pastor at Christ Church, holds holy orders as an Anglican Priest. (He's primarily responsible for getting my dad - a Nazarene pastor - praying the daily office each morning; they're in a ministers group together.)

Pastor Jon said...

Here's a follow-up question:

How do you teach and instill an "appropriate response" in your congregation?

I would strongly prefer that they say, "Amen," or "Thanks be to God." Instead, I often get "thank you," or (worse): "thank you, pastor."

I hesitate to offer instruction, because I don't want to appear to be scolding... I brought it up in Sunday School once as a time of discussion, but I don't think it had much effect... and certainly didn't do anything for the whole church.


Dave Belcher said...

Pastor Jon,

I think there are two places in particular within the church's life where such opportunities present themselves: in catechesis/membership class, and from the pulpit. Granted, there are still difficulties at work here -- for instance, perhaps a lot of folks who don't really know what kind of response to give, if any, are already members, and the pulpit is not always the best place for "teaching moments" unless it is explicitly tied to the readings, especially the gospel reading. However, you can at least begin to make an effort to instruct new members as to *why* a response is indeed appropriate (about which I'll say more in a bit), and why a *certain* response is appropriate (and even why certain responses are perhaps not) without coming across as "scolding"; and where there is space within the Scripture text to do so, mention can simply be made as to why we respond, "Amen" when we receive the elements -- rather than being instructive, such as: "which is why it is appropriate for you to respond___" which can often come off condescending.

I think just introducing in these places (and yes, in Sunday School or Discipleship class as well) a reminder that we all pray these particular prayers or "celebrate" these elements of ritual/liturgy *together* and that the pastor's petitions are thus met with an "Amen" from the congregation -- in the sense of, "Yes, yes," ("truly, truly"!) or "It is so" -- can go a long way.

As far as *how* to make the delivery...I'd recommend using Augustine's sermon on the eucharist to the newly baptized (it's Sermon 229A), where he says to them: "This is the body of Christ, about which the apostle says, while addressing the Church, But you are the body of Christ and his members(1 Cor 12:27). What you receive is what you yourselves are, thanks to the grace by which you have been redeemed; you add your signature to this, when you answer Amen. What you see here is the sacrament of unity," (Sermon 229A.1). The whole sermon -- not even three pages long -- is quite appropriate. I hope that helps somewhat. Peace.

Brannon Hancock said...

Jon & Dave: thanks for this addendum to the discussion. Not much to add - I think Dave's right on: membership/discipleship classes are ideal places for this sort of catechesis - but did want to say, this IS certainly a problem probably in every context that is struggling to raise the bar on eucharistic practice.

We had a wonderful communion service this past Sunday - our assistant DS preached (we're in pastoral transition and he's our interim) on why it's "eucharist" ("thanksgiving") for Thanksgiving Sunday. Pastoral staff and spouses (one w/ bread, one with cup) served at the front by intinction.

Now, I'm stuck at the piano during communion more often than I get to serve, so this was a revelation to me - those who responded at all usually said "thank you" although a few did say "thank you, JESUS" which impressed me and I thought was much better. Very few if any "amen"s, and the majority didn't say anything.