Dear People of God,
I’m writing first of all to let everybody know that after consulting with the Wardens, Father Chris, and Deacon Reese, we plan to continue offering a 10:30 am service on Sundays via Facebook Live during the month of May. Regardless of the extent to which the stay-at-home order may be relaxed later this month, we will continue as we are doing now and re-evaluate as we get closer to June. You don’t need a Facebook account to join us, so please go to https://www.facebook.com/stlukesbr Sundays at 10:30 am for the service.
I also wanted to reiterate some things I said in last Sunday’s sermon.
The Acts of the Apostles reading appointed for the 4th Sunday of Easter this year noted that members of the early Church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:32). Like the early Christians, we have promised in the Baptismal Covenant to continue in those very same practices. They are central to our identity in Christ and to what it means to fulfill the mission of the Church.
But we’ve got a bit of a problem. Since we are unable to gather in person for worship, how do we continue in the breaking of the bread - in the sharing of the Eucharist - when we cannot physically consume consecrated bread and wine?
This is where a practice that has deep roots in the catholic tradition can help. It’s called “spiritual communion.”**
The idea behind “spiritual communion” is that we can receive the benefits of Holy Eucharist - we can receive the gift of grace God wants to give us in consecrated bread and wine - without actually physically receiving that bread and wine.
Although the term “spiritual communion” does not appear in the Prayer Book tradition, beginning with the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 up to our current 1979 Prayer Book, we see the practice reflected in the ministry to the sick. So, for example, this is what we read on page 457 in the 1979 Prayer Book:
“If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but, by reason of extreme sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat and drink the Bread and Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth.”
I note that in addition to the language of “extreme sickness,” the 1549 Prayer Book also uses the language of “just impediment.” I think we can safely say that the need to slow the spread of a deadly virus through social and physical distancing, as well as a governor’s stay-at-home order and our bishop’s pastoral directive to refrain from even sharing reserved sacrament, all count as “just impediments.”
Our catechism teaches that sacraments like the Eucharist are “sure and certain means” for receiving God’s grace (BCP, p. 857). But our catechism also teaches God is not limited to those means (cf. BCP, p. 861). When just impediments stand in our way, God can and does still give us the gift of grace.
So even though we continue living through a time in which we cannot eat the bread and drink the wine of the Eucharist, our Anglican tradition reassures us that if we repent of our sins, and if we give God thanks for what he has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and if we sincerely intend to unites ourselves to Jesus in his selfless act of humble obedience to the Father’s will, then even though we cannot partake of the Eucharist with our mouths, God still gives us what we need the most: himself, his divine life.
Here’s a short prayer we can use to express our intention to be in communion with Christ when we cannot receive the sacrament:
Lord Jesus, I believe you are present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things and I long to receive you. Since I cannot at this time receive you sacramentally, come spiritually into my heart. I embrace you and unite myself wholly to you. Never let me be separated from you. Amen.
What a wonderful testimony to the love and mercy of God, that he does not punish us for being unable to receive the Eucharist by withholding grace from us. On the contrary, God honors our intention to be in communion with him through his Son Jesus. And so we can be confident that even though we must fast from actually eating and drinking the Eucharist at this time, from the fullness of Jesus Christ we continue to receive grace upon grace (cf. John 1:16).
Thanks be to God!
6th Rector of St. Luke’s
** I’m drawing on thoughts shared by the Rev. Dr. Matthew S. C. Olver, Assistant Professor of Liturgics and Pastoral Theology at Nashotah House, in the YouTube video “What is Spiritual Communion?”, https://youtu.be/9uBiqbTY7oA, accessed on April 30, 2020.