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On the back of exploring what’s on Episcopal priests‘ minds, I am crossing the Atlantic, returning to the UK, to explore what Anglican priests are thinking about.

I will continue both series.

The Revd Marcus Walker, serving in the Diocese of London, deplores the bewilderment and criticism surrounding the recent group photograph of Mike Pence and his coronavirus team in prayer.

Note that they are not praying in public, as detractors have said. Press photographers happened to be present for the meeting.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has such a prayer, which can be said during the Litany. Highly useful during the coronavirus scare:

In the time of any common plague or sicknes.

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wildernes for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and also in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembring thy mercy didst save the rest: have pitie upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sicknes and mortality, that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angell to cease from punishing: so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sicknes, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Marcus Walker later located his ‘jumbo book of State Prayers’ and noted the following shift in emphasis in them from the 18th to the 19th centuries:

Turning to the opprobrium heaped upon the American vice president and his team, this is what Mr Walker and his readers tweeted:

Nor do I.

The Revd Giles Fraser, formerly a Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and current Rector at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington, told the readers of his online magazine Unherd how he has changed the Communion service during the coronavirus outbreak (emphases mine):

I have a cough. I have had it for weeks. A deep hacking affair that brings up nasty thick greenish goo. It’s not the virus — I haven’t got a high temperature or any other symptoms. But it is dramatic enough to clear the seats next to me on the tube.

In church on Sunday, too, I could feel the anxiety radiate out from my coughing away behind the altar into a twitchy congregation. We have suspended sharing the peace for the time being. Instead of shaking hands or kissing, we wave at each other. So, too, we have decided to take communion in one kind only — that is, we share the bread but not the common cup of wine. And in this context, the symbolic handwashing the priest performs before the Eucharist is no longer simply a ritual act. It feels like a necessity. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

As one of my posts explained last week, the Cup can be suspended during health emergencies under a) the Doctrine of Concomitance and b) the 1547 Sacrament Act.

The Doctrine of Concomitance says that Christ’s substance in the Eucharist cannot be divided. The bread and the wine are both the entire real presence of Christ.

Giles Fraser and one of his readers helpfully tweeted about both:

Someone responded — possibly an agnostic — taking to task Christians who are panicking over the coronavirus. He has a point:

It amazes me how those who pontificate so much about life thereafter being so wonderful succumb to panic at the thought of death. Just a pause for thought. The Lord’s supposed to be our protector but only if it means it protects us from death. Come on religious people! Get a grip.

I don’t understand it, either.

On that note, and from a Catholic perspective, Dr CC Pecknold, a professor who also writes for First Things, tweeted about the plague in Venice between 1630 and 1631:

Exactly. However, that is what stubborn secularists, such as those criticising Mike Pence and his coronavirus team, refuse to understand. Christians pray for guidance and relief during troubled times.

There was more to the conversation. Someone was disappointed that the Peace had been suspended in his diocese:

How true.

In closing, after the plague had left Venice, the citizens of that city built a magnificent church in thanksgiving:

Would this happen now were, heaven forfend, the coronavirus to become an epidemic? No. Not at all.

More’s the pity.

In Italy, churches are closing their doors for the next few weeks:

This church in Rome is open but has taken additional precautions:

Meanwhile, let’s continue to pray that we may be guided in the correct practical direction during this pandemic and ask the Lord for it to harm as few people as possible.

I do think these health disasters are ‘come to Jesus moments’. Is anyone out there listening, including some notional Christians? Or are we all going to panic?

I was not planning on featuring two of these posts back to back, however, much of the world is in a panic over the coronavirus.

In some cases, it’s warranted:

Agree on Namaste. No touching, just bowing to someone with your hands pressed together upwards, as if in prayer. I might even start doing the Peace again at church if it caught on.

There were others who liked the shoe-touch, though:

Yet, that can be problematic, depending on where one’s feet have trodden.

On a lighter note, I have to admit that, I, too, thought of the Knack’s 1970s hit, My Sharona in this context at the weekend:

On a serious note, though, in some countries, e.g. the United States, people have to be prepared to pay big bucks to get tested for coronavirus:

In churches around the world, the subject of how one takes Holy Communion during the coronavirus outbreak is a hot one.

That is equally true in the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

The Anglo-Catholic priest, FrKeithV, featured before in my Episcopal priests series, thinks the hysteria is over the top:

Agree.

Back in the summer of 2009, when there was a global swine flu outbreak, I wrote three posts about Anglicans and Holy Communion.

My first, from July that year, quoted a Telegraph article saying that the Church of England was reviving the 1547 Sacrament Act for the crisis, which says that providing the Cup can be suspended in times of necessity.

My second, written in August 2009, discussed my personal experience with intinction as our vicar at the time practised it. He wanted us to take the intincted host from his fingers and place it in our mouths. I asked him afterwards whether we could dispense with intinction and just receive the host. He said that we absolutely had to have the Cup. My post explains that the Church of England frowns on intinction full stop because it does not prevent bacterial transmission.

My third post on the swine flu scare that year appeared in September 2009. I quoted various Anglican priests giving their views on intinction. Most were against it. Some dispensed with the Cup. Others continued the Cup, encouraging congregants to sip from it in the usual way. That post also mentioned advice from health experts in the Midlands who said that it didn’t matter whether people drank from the Cup, because they were just as likely to get the flu from people sitting around them in church.

Then the swine flu panic died down.

Now, nearly 11 years later, we have a coronavirus panic.

Returning to FrKeithV, he thinks that intinction is ‘theologically questionable’:

An interesting exchange followed:

A Lutheran responded:

The Revd Kara N. Slade, Canon Theologian at Princeton Theological Seminary, explained why the Cup can be temporarily suspended — the Doctrine of Concomitance:

The point about Martin Luther is also good.

I wish I had known all of that when I debated unsuccessfully with my then-vicar 11 years ago. In an unrelated outcome, he retired shortly after that and moved away.

A Pentecostalist from Northern Ireland tweeted about an Episcopal priest’s scientific views on taking Communion during the coronavirus panic:

The Revd David Sibley, an Anglo-Catholic, is the rector of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walla Walla, Washington. He recently posted a letter to his congregation, ‘From the Rector: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Common Cup’.

I would strongly advise anyone worried about taking Holy Communion to bookmark it. He includes footnotes.

Excerpts follow, emphases in purple mine.

Invariably, the first question asked of the church in moments like this is:
What about the common cup at the Eucharist?

The simple answer is this – peer reviewed studies and Centers for Disease Control guidance since the 1980s have consistently shown that “no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup” and “the risk for infectious disease transmission by a common communion cup is very low, and appropriate safeguards–that is, wiping the interior and exterior rim between communicants, use of care to rotate the cloth during use, and use of a clean cloth for each service – would further diminish this risk.” American Journal of Infection Control (Vol. 26, No. 5, 1998). 

We do all these things at St. Paul’s! Our Eucharistic Ministers are trained to wipe the rim of the chalice between each communicant, to rotate the purificator (the cloth), and the Altar Guild ensures a clean cloth is used for each liturgy.

He then explains why intinction is not a good idea:

Is it more sanitary to intinct the host into the cup than drink from it?

In short – absolutely not! As any experienced Eucharistic Minister or clergy person will tell you, it is a common occurrence when people intinct the host for their fingers to touch either the consecrated wine or the side of the chalice. This is in fact less sanitary then drinking in the first place – we can make sure our Eucharistic Ministers and clergy wash their hands, but we can’t do the same for the whole of the congregation!

For those still concerned about how to take Communion at this time, he provides three options. Note that the third refers to the aforementioned Doctrine of Concomitance:

As your priest, I can recommend three options to you:

    1. When in doubt, drink from the common cup it is the most sanitary way for you to receive the consecrated wine at the Eucharist. Christians have been doing so for centuries, and still manage to die at the same rate and pace as the general population!
       
    2. If you don’t want to drink from the cup, don’t intinct for yourself. Instead, leave the host on your hand, and allow the Eucharistic Minister to intinct it for you, and place the host on your tongue. This ensures that only people with washed hands are handling the hosts, and it eliminates the unsanitary conditions that are caused by intinction.
       
    3. Finally, if you don’t want to receive the cup at all, it’s ok not to. The church believes that all of the grace of the sacrament of the Eucharist is conferred wholly in each element – both consecrated bread and wine. To receive only the host is not to have a “half blessing” or to receive “half communion.” Instead, receiving in one kind is to fully partake in the Eucharistic feast.

Finally, let your consideration for others carry the way you would through any other sickness: if you have a fever, stay home; if you have a cold, don’t shake hands at the peace; and always, always, always wash your hands with soap and water for 15 seconds or longer.

Good man.

He holds a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Chemistry. He was ordained in 2011. That means he has finished leftover Communion wine quite a lot. This is what he says:

I’ve consumed what’s left in the chalice after Holy Communion, quite literally drinking behind thousands of people over my ordained vocation. And I promise – I get sick at the same rate the rest of us do!

Brilliant observation.

Let us not panic over coronavirus and Communion. If we truly believe that the priest is the conduit in transforming bread and wine into a Holy Mystery and the Real Presence, then, the thought of contamination should not occur to us.

In closing, what follows was my experience at Sunday morning Communion service on March 1. Our priest made no mention of coronavirus. I did notice, however, that there was a dispenser of sanitiser gel on the side altar table. He cleaned his hands with that before proceeding with the prayer of consecration.

As this was a 1662 service, there was no Peace ritual.

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