Tuesday, October 07, 2008

This is my body...

I've been pondering recently the words of administration used in Communion/Eucharist/Lord's Supper services when the elements are served to the communicants. I'm no sacramentologist or liturgical historian and don't really want to get into debates about real presence, however, a little piece of liturgical history might help give some context for those unfamiliar with such debates.

In his 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the first of its kind in English, Anglican Reformer Archbishop Cranmer instructed that these words be used by the minister "when he delivereth the Bread/Cup to anyone":

The body/blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given/shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.
These words are often read as referring to the identity of the elements so that (in some "physical" sense) the bread is Christ's body and the wine is his blood. However, notice that Cranmer's words are ambiguous. Taking the form of a prayer, they simply petition God for the preservation of the communicant's salvation (notice too the good resurrection theology implied in body and soul) through the broken body and shed blood of Christ. Nothing is said explicitly here about the status of the elements, leaving open a variety of different understandings about the relationship between the bread and wine being consumed and the body and blood which save.

By the 1552 edition of the prayer book, Archbishop Cranmer replaced the words of administration with this formula:
Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. ... Drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.
The feeding upon Christ is now explicitly in thy heart and by faith. Notice again, however, that nothing is said explicitly about the status of the elements.

Part of Cranmer's genius in both formulations is to shift our attention from the status of the elements to the meaning of the act of eating them. This meaning is tied in with Christ's saving work in his death; to speak of shed blood and a broken body make a closer reference to the narrative of Christ's passion than simply mentioning body and blood.

In 1559, after Cranmer's execution, a third English prayer book was approved by Elizabeth I. The words of administration were simply a combination of 1549 and 1552:
The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life; and take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. ... The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life; and drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.
It's quite a mouthful, but it was this form that was picked up and used again in the definitive 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which continued to be the standard until a series of liturgical revisions across the Anglican communion in the twentieth century.

In Scotland, the words of administration were revised a number of time. In 1929, they were pared back to just the 1549 words, then a further revision in 1970 added this instruction: After the Words of Administration the Communicant shall answer Amen. The Words of Administration may be shortened at the discretion of the Priest. And then in 1982 (the current form still in use), a decisive shift occurred:
The Body/Blood of Christ given/shed for you.
Notice not only the capitals, but more importantly, the grammatical shift from petition to exclamation. No longer is a prayer being offered for the preservation of the communicant's salvation through Christ's passion. Instead, a nominal phrase (without a main verb) is substituted, which has the function of directing attention back to the elements themselves. More or less, these words say "Wow!" or "Look!".

However, having been to a number of communion services here in Scotland, I've noticed in both Scottish Episcopalian (Anglican) and Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) gatherings that even the narrative reference to "giving" and "shedding" are dropped, leaving simply the Roman Catholic words, which are short and to the point:
The body/blood of Christ.


Mike W said...

Fascinating stuff Byron! Thankyou. Perhaps they will be shortened even further,'Body' for one communicant and ' Christ' for the next one.

...paul said...

Thanks for this Bryan, very helpful. My personal view is that I find Cranmer's too long and unnecessary. I prefer the more modern usage, with preference given for the slightly longer, "The Body/Blood of Christ given/shed for you" than the more perfunctory, "The body/blood of Christ".

Lara said...

Could the ambiguity in Cranmer's formulation be due to the religious turmoil of the time? Perhaps he's trying to make it acceptable to both sides - the Catholics who believed that the elements literally became the body and blood of Christ, and the Reformers who viewed it as a symbolic act?

Matthew Moffitt said...

Thanks Byron. What words were used in the Scottish prayer books Charles I tried to impose in the 1630's?

Megan said...

Its quite extraordinary how much this topic becomes a vexed issue. Then again, I really understand people's emotional reactions to this topic, because of my own experience. As a Baptist (born and bred too...), I find myself uncomfortable when I have communion in a different tradition - this is not intellectual, just that taking communion since 5 I think I embedded a sense of sacredness to the tradition I grew up with - so much for us Baptists not being about tradition. So, for instance, drinking port instead of grape juice makes me feel like I am not being sufficiently solemn, while going out the front instead of remaining in the pew makes me very self conscious and anxious about mucking it up. Intellectually, I have no problem with these practices, and indeed want to participate in them, but when it comes to it, something in me struggles with it. The repetition of the practice gives it the holy feeling to some degree.

As a minister, I have been bemused at times when this kind of holiness through familiarity strikes - for instance one lady severely objected to me doing the cup before the bread a couple of times - in vain did I point out that in Luke there is cup-bread-cup, and I was wanting to use the words about the first cup in Luke.

Anonymous said...

Matt, concerning the Scottish 1637 one, their Prayer of Consecration is as follows:
--ALmighty God our heavenly Father, which of thy tender mercy didst give thy onely Sonne Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Crosse for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sinnes of the whole world, and did institute, and in his holy gospel command us to continue a perpetuall memory of that his precious death and sacrifice, untill his coming again : Heare us, O mercifull Father, we most humbly beseech thee, and of thy almighty goodnesse vouchsafe so to blesse and sanctifie with thy word and holy Spirit these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine, that they may be unto us the body and bloud of thy most dearly beloved Son : so that we receiving them according to thy Sonne our Saviour Jesus Christs holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of the same his most precious body and bloud : who in the night that he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me. Likewise, after supper he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drinke yee all of this, for this is my bloud of the new testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins : do this as oft as ye shall drink it in remembrance of me.
[ At these words (took bread) the Presbyter that officiates is to take the Paten in his hand.
At these words (took the cup) he is to take the chalice in his hand, and lay his hand upon so much, be it in chalice or flagons, as he intends to consecrate.

Words of administration:
--THE body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.
[ Here the party receiving shall say, Amen. ]

byron smith said...

Mike - Yes, that would certainly save more time. Efficiency, efficiency is the name of the game.

Paul - Can you explain your preference? Which of Cranmer's are too long? All of them, or just the 1559 (which he didn't write)? Do you think it makes any difference that your preferred version lacks a main verb?

Lara - undoubtedly. Cranmer's motives and decisions are an ongoing debate in liturgical studies and English reformation history, with subsequent consequences for various claims to represent the successor to "true historic Anglicanism".

Michael - thanks for that. I felt I'd done enough liturgical history net searching for this week. Interesting how the 1552 words are already dropped there, though they were then still included in 1662. I'm sure someone will have looked into the reasons.

Megan - those were exactly my feelings as an ex-Baptist too! Though now, at times when I have gone shared a-sit-and-pass-it-round communion, I also feel something is missing.

As you point out, repetition is not spiritually empty (this is certainly part of my Baptist heritage on which I think and feel thoroughly Anglicanised). Habit is an important category in the formation of character and endless novelty can be a distraction from spiritual formation. Not that I'm against all novelty, but I am generally against novelty for its own sake. For instance, using the Lukan words of institution can be argued for on its own merit, not simply for the sake doing things differently.

Anonymous said...

--I'm sure someone will have looked into the reasons.--

So it seems...

Steve Hayes said...

For what it's worth, in the Orthodox Church they are:

"The servant of God (name) partakes of the precious and holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting."

byron smith said...

Steve - thanks for sharing that. Can I clarify? Are these the words said to the communicant at the point when the elements are distributed? They are addressed in the third person? Or are the words an announcement for others?