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Anglican eucharistic theology is diverse in practice, reflecting the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism particularly well in this area while being subject to its long-established rubrics, texts related to the sacrament, of the ecclesiastical province, principally being the Eucharistic Prayer or "Great Thanksgiving".
Most broad church, low church and evangelical Anglicans adhere to the 28th Article of the 39 articles, finalised in 1571 and in accordance with almost all the Reformed churches, which is that for those who in faith receive the form or sign of the body and blood (bread and wine), receive also the spiritual body and blood of Christ, while as the 29th Article clarifies, for those who receive the form or sign without faith, or for those who are wicked, Christ is not present spiritually, and they consume only the physical signs of this holy presence, which further adds to their wickedness.
Others hold beliefs identical with, or similar to, the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. It was first promulgated by Scholastic theologians in the Middle Ages and understands the Eucharist to be a re-presentation of Christ's atoning sacrifice whereby the bread and wine can transubstantiate into his physical and spiritual Body and Blood. In believing this, such Anglicans tend toward the High church or Anglo-Catholic spectrum of the faith and some of these adopt reservation and adoration of the sacrament, denounced in the Reformation as superstitious by all church reformists.
The Thirty-nine Articles and the Homilies rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation; however at the forty-first meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States of America[n 1] on January 6, 1994, the bishops assembled affirmed "that Christ in the eucharist makes himself present sacramentally and truly when under the species of bread and wine these earthy realities are changed into the reality of his body and blood. In English the terms substance, substantial, and substantially have such physical and material overtones that we, adhering to The Final Report, have substituted the word truly for the word substantially..." The bishops concluded "that the eucharist as sacrifice is not an issue that divides our two Churches."
A third strand of Anglicans implicitly or explicitly adopt the eucharistic theology of consubstantiation, associated with the Lollards and, later, with Martin Luther.. Luther's analogy of Christ's presence was that of the intensified heat of a horseshoe thrust into a fire until it is glowing. In the same way, Christ is considered present in the bread and the wine to those who permit their soul to be radiated at the time of the sacrament with the Holy Spirit.
With the Eucharist, as with other aspects of theology, Anglicans are largely directed by the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi which means "the law of prayer is the law of belief. In other words, sacramental theology as it pertains to the Eucharist is sufficiently and fully articulated by the Book of Common Prayer of a given jurisdiction. As defined by the 16th century Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, the sacraments are said to be "visible signs of invisible grace" similarly the Catechism of the 1662 version states that a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof." It thus has the effect of conveying sanctification in the individual participating in the sacrament. According to this, in the Eucharist the outward and visible sign is "Bread and Wine" and the "thing signified", the "Body and Blood of Christ", which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper".
Sacraments have both form and matter. Form is the verbal and physical liturgical action, while the matter refers to material objects used (bread and wine). In an Anglican Eucharist the form is contained in the rite and its rubrics, as articulated in the authorised prayer books of the ecclesiastical province. Central to the rite is the Eucharistic Prayer or "Great Thanksgiving".
For the vast majority of Anglicans, the Eucharist (also called "Holy Communion", "Mass" or the "Lord's Supper"), is the central act of gathered worship: the appointed means by which Christ can become present to his church. For the majority of Anglicans this event constitutes the renewal of the Body of Christ as the Church through the reception of the Body of Christ as the Blessed Sacrament, his spiritual body and blood. In this sacrament, Christ is both encountered and incorporated ( they partake of Him). As such, the eucharistic action looks backward as a memorial of Christ's sacrifice, forward as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and to the present as an incarnation of Christ in the lives of the community and of individual believers.
Because of the various theological movements which have influenced Anglicanism throughout history, there is no one sacramental theory accepted by all Anglicans. Early Anglican theologians, such as Cranmer and Hooker held to a sacramental theology similar to French Reformer John Calvin. The 19th century Oxford Movement, and its reverence of medieval English Christianity brought a renewed interest in various practices and doctrines which had been ousted by the Reformation, including the doctrine of transubstantiation. Today, Anglicans hold to a variety of sacramental theologies, representing the full spectrum of theories held by all Christian traditions.
Article XXVIII[n 2] of the Thirty-Nine Articles declares that "Transubstantiation ... cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions." Nevertheless, some Anglo-Catholics adhere to a belief in transubstantiation and, in this respect, they subscribe more closely to the eucharistic theology of Roman Catholicism than with that of mainstream Anglicanism.
Representatives of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches declared that they had "substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist" in the Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine developed by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, as well as the commission's Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement.
On January 6, 1994, the ARC/USA bishops affirmed "that Christ in the eucharist makes himself present sacramentally and truly when under the species of bread and wine these earthy realities are changed into the reality of his body and blood," while stating "In English the terms substance, substantial, and substantially have such physical and material overtones that we, adhering to The Final Report, have substituted the word truly for the word substantially..." The bishops concluded "that the eucharist as sacrifice is not an issue that divides our two Churches." This amounts to an acceptance of the doctrine, with an expression of a reservation about the use of the name of the doctrine in English because the word is misunderstood by English speakers.
Low-church Anglicans reject belief in transubstantiation, and accordingly, usually any belief in the reservation and adoration of the sacrament. Reservation was eliminated in practice by the rubric at the end of the 1662 Communion service which ordered the reverent consumption of any consecrated bread and wine immediately after the blessing, and adoration by the "Declaration on kneeling" Instead, they hold to a "spiritual presence" view of the Eucharist similar to the views held by Reformed Protestant denominations[n 3]. Low-church parishes and ministers tend to celebrate the Eucharist less frequently (e.g., monthly) and prefer the terms "Holy Communion" or "Lord's Supper".
This view has historical precedent. During the seminal years of the English Reformation, Thomas Cranmer was in correspondence with many continental Reformers, several of whom came to England at his request to aid in reforms there. These included Martin Bucer, Paul Fagius, Peter Martyr, Bernardino Ochino and Jan Łaski. The views of these men were in line with the Reformed doctrine of the sacrament.
Cranmer wrote on the Eucharist in his treatise On the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Lord's Supper that Christians truly receive Christ's "self-same" Body and Blood at Communion—but in "an heavenly and spiritual manner".
This is in agreement with the continental Reformed view found in Chapter XXI of the Second Helvetic Confession:
There is also a spiritual eating of Christ's body; not such that we think that thereby the food itself is to be changed into spirit, but whereby the body and blood of the Lord, while remaining in their own essence and property, are spiritually communicated to us, certainly not in a corporeal but in a spiritual way, by the Holy Spirit, who applies and bestows upon us these things which have been prepared for us by the sacrifice of the Lord's body and blood for us, namely, the remission of sins, deliverance, and eternal life; so that Christ lives in us and we live in him, and he causes us to receive him by true faith to this end that he may become for us such spiritual food and drink, that is, our life.
But he who comes to this sacred Table of the Lord without faith, communicates only in the sacrament and does not receive the substance of the sacrament whence comes life and salvation; and such men unworthily eat of the Lord's Table. Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, and eats and drinks judgment upon himself (I Cor. 11:26-29). For when they do not approach with true faith, they dishonor the death of Christ, and therefore eat and drink condemnation to themselves.
Likewise, Articles XXVIII and XXIX:
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
The wicked and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine saith) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing.Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England
The Catechism of the Church of England also expresses this view:
Question - What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?
Answer - I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.
Question - How many parts are there in a Sacrament?
Answer - Two: the outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual grace.
Question - Why was the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper ordained?
Answer - For the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and of the benefits which we receive thereby.
Question - What is the outward part or sign of the Lord's Supper?
Answer - Bread and Wine, which the Lord hath commanded to be received.
Question - What is the inward part, or thing signified?
Answer - The Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper.
This emphasis on the faith of the receiver instead of the elements, common to both the Continental Reformed Churches and the Church of England, has also been called receptionism. However, Christ's presence in the sacrament is objective and is in no way dependent on the attitude of the recipient who perceives it by faith.
The word "consubstantiation" is sometimes used to denote the Lutheran view of the Eucharist, though improperly as Luther and the Lutheran Confession deny this teaching. "Sacramental union" is also used. It is sometimes confusing to differentiate the Lutheran view from the Reformed view on this sacrament since the term "sacramental union" is also used in some Reformed confessions. Nevertheless, some[who?] in the Anglican Communion propose that the historical view of the Church of England is more in line with Lutheran teaching on the Eucharist than Reformed teaching. Due to geography and the borrowed thoughts of both reformed churches, it is hard to classify the English Reformation as a Lutheran or Reformed movement. It is a uniquely English movement, influenced by, but separate from Continental movements.
A maxim in Anglicanism concerning Christ's presence is that "it may not be about a change of substance, but it is about a substantial change." If substantial denotes spiritual only to the recipients then this is the Lutheran view. However if substantial denotes a spiritual property of the sacraments themselves this is the Reformed view, since, after consecration, the elements are only fit for holy use and may no longer be used as common bread and wine.
This view is expressed in the allied but metaphysically different doctrines of consubstantiation and sacramental union. Both views hold that Christ is present in the eucharistic elements spiritually. Such spiritual presence may or may not be believed to be in bodily form, depending on the particular doctrinal position. It may in fact be a mystical, yet still physical, Body of Christ, as some Anglicans[who?] hold, or a superphysical reality "superimposed" in, with, and under the bread and wine. Although this is similar to consubstantiation, it is different as it has a decidedly mystical emphasis.
Many contemporary Anglicans[who?] would concur with the views of the 19th century Anglo-Catholic divine Edward Bouverie Pusey (a leader of the Oxford Movement), who argued strongly for the idea of sacramental union. In this doctrine, the bread and wine do not disappear at the consecration, but that the Body and Blood become present without diminishing them. How the nature of the Body and Blood is to be defined remains to be addressed, however.
An imprecisely defined view common among 16th and 17th-century Anglican theologians is known as receptionism, a term not found before 1867. According to this view, although in the Eucharist the bread and wine remain unchanged, the faithful communicant receives together with them the body and blood of Christ.
As mentioned above, the liturgy for Eucharist is important in Anglican Eucharistic theology because of the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi. The liturgy is defined in the authorised prayer books of the various national churches and ecclesiastical provinces of the Communion. Their communion rites follow one or other of two main sources, either the First English Prayer Book of 1549 or the Second of 1552 which with minor modifications became the 1662 BCP which is still today the liturgical legal reference-point for the Church of England. The author of both rites was Thomas Cranmer who maintained that there was no theological difference between the two, but was forced to make its Protestantism more obvious when traditionalists claimed that they could still find the doctrine of the Mass in the earlier version.
Some or all of the following elements may be altered, transposed, or absent depending on the rite used by the province or national church. In modern liturgies whichever source (1549 or 1552) they follow for the Sacrament, the Liturgy of the Word has, with variations, a fairly standard pattern:
The theology of these rites has been considerably modified in the last 200 years, with the re-introduction of oblationary language as pertaining to an objective, material sacrifice offered to God in union with Christ. The Prayer Books of 1552, 1559, 1604 and 1662 placed sacrificial language in a post-communion prayer in order to detach it from the context of the Eucharistic prayer. A prime example of these modifications can be found in the American Book of Common Prayer introduced by the first American Episcopal Bishop Samuel Seabury and adopted by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1789. He insisted on the adoption of a full Eucharistic prayer of the non-Juror Scottish Episcopal Church Rite to replace the truncated version of the earlier English rites beginning in 1552. The adopted prayer included the words, "with these thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee," which were inserted after the words from the 1549 Rite "...we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make before thy Divine Majesty, and before the words "the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make..." BCP (cf. these changes in the article on Samuel Seabury). The epiclesis was also restored. The insertion of these ten words in effect undid Cranmer's receptionist theology that the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving was restricted to words and sentiments in prayer. These brought the theology close to the Roman and Orthodox teaching that the Eucharist is an objective sacrifice. The celebrants of the Rite, the entire congregation, clergy and laity, henceforth, not only receive the gifts of God in communion, they offer them to God in praise and thanksgiving in union with Christ, Offering and Offered.
The rubrics of a given prayer book outline the parameters of acceptable practice with regard to ritual, vestments, ornaments and method and means of distribution of the sacrament. The communal piety of a given parish or diocese will determine the expression of these rubrics and the implicit eucharist theology.
Until the latter part of the 19th century, the so-called "Ornaments Rubric" of the 1662 Prayer Book was interpreted to inhibit much of the ceremonial contemporary Anglicans take for granted. Priests were directed to stand at the north side or north end of the altar and candles on the altar were considered forbidden, as was the wearing of a chasuble or maniple. The Ritualist controversies of the late 19th century solidified the ascendancy of the Catholic Revival in the United Kingdom and many other parts of the Anglican Communion, introducing a much greater diversity of practice.
In Low Church parishes ceremonial is generally kept at a minimum, according to the rubrics of historical Anglican prayer books. The service is more often called Holy Communion than the Eucharist. The priest is typically attired simply in a cassock, surplice and a black scarf (called a tippet). This is a priest's "choir habit", but may also be worn as eucharistic vestments as was commonly done in earlier years. Manual action is kept to the standards of the rubrics found in the Book of Common Prayer (often confined to placing one's hands on the elements during the words of institution). The altar is usually referred to as the "Lord's table", the "holy table", or simply the "table". Candles are either absent or two in number. The material on the table may be limited to the chalice and paten, a cloth covering and, in some instances, the prayer book. The celebration of Holy Communion may be weekly or monthly. This frequency is in keeping with the Anglican practice that predominated prior to the 20th century. After the service, and following historical rubrics, the unconsumed bread and wine are reverently eaten by the priest and other ministers. If there is more than the clergy can finish, lay persons are called to help eat the remaining elements. In accordance with the Articles of Religion, the remaining bread and wine are not reserved in a tabernacle or aumbry.
In most Broad Church parishes there is slightly more elaboration. Attending the Eucharist at a Broad Church parish nowadays is likely to be similar in many respects to a contemporary Roman Catholic Mass. Priests will generally be vested in an alb and stole and also, in many instances, a chasuble. They may make use of a lavabo in preparation for the celebration and the chalice and paten may be initially concealed by a burse and ornamental veil. Candles will almost always be present on the altar. Broad Church Anglicans typically celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, or at least most Sundays. The rite may also be celebrated once or twice at other times during the week. The sacrament is often reserved in an aumbry or consumed. Broad Church Anglicans may not reverence the sacrament, as such, but will frequently bow when passing the altar.
Anglo-Catholic worship involves further elaboration. The priest will often be joined by a deacon and subdeacon (the deacon being ordained in Holy Orders and the subdeacon a lay person) dressed in the historic Eucharistic vestments specific to their office (chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle, respectively). They will sometimes wear maniples and ornamented amices. In many churches the altar will be fixed against the "east wall" and the sacred ministers will celebrate Mass facing the tabernacle (often surmounted by a crucifix) above the altar, i.e., the sacred ministers and the congregation will all be facing the same direction. Apart from the tabernacle (containing the reserved sacrament) the altar is often adorned with six candles. Incense and sanctus bells are often used during the liturgy and the Eucharist itself is often supplemented by a number of prayers from earlier liturgies prayed by the priest, sacred ministers, and servers and sometimes the people as well.
Anglo-Catholic eucharistic theology places an emphasis on frequent communion, ideally daily. The unconsumed elements are typically reserved in a tabernacle, either attached to a fixed altar or placed behind or to one side of a free-standing altar. When the sacrament is present, Anglo-Catholics will often genuflect when passing in front of it. When absent they will bow to the altar. Often an aumbry is dignified in the same way. Many Anglo-Catholics practice eucharistic adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, either informally or through a corporate liturgical rite.
While the matter is always bread and wine, there is some variation. The bread may be in the form of individual wafers or an actual loaf from which pieces are torn off and distributed. Wine is typically red, but may be white (to avoid staining of the linens). In some instances, fortified wine, such as sherry or port wine, is used. In still others, the option of juice is offered, usually in consideration of recipients who may be alcoholic (although it is considered acceptable and valid to receive the sacrament in only in one kind, i.e., the bread, pace the rubrics of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer).
The manner of administration varies. Many Anglican parishes retain the use of an altar rail, separating the area around the altar from the rest of the church. This practice is meant to convey the sanctity associated with the altar. In such churches, those who wish to receive communion will come forward and kneel at the altar rail, sometimes making the sign of the cross and cupping their hands (right over left) to receive the bread, then crossing themselves again to receive the chalice. Anglo-Catholics are often careful not to chew the bread (hence the overwhelming use of wafers in these parishes) or touch the chalice. Some prefer to have the bread placed directly on their tongue. In other parishes recipients stand before the administrators to receive Communion, while in still others participants may pass the sacrament from one to the next, often standing in a circle around the altar. The practice of using individual cups and handing out individual wafers or pieces of bread to be consumed simultaneously by the whole congregation is extremely uncommon in Anglicanism, but not unheard of.
Anglican practice is that those who administer the sacrament[n 4] must be licensed by the diocesan bishop. Traditionally, priests and deacons were the only ones authorised to administer; however, many provinces now permit the licensing of lay administrators. In some localities, a lay person is restricted to distributing the wine, while the clergy administer the bread.
The question of who may receive communion likewise varies. In historic Anglican practice, the altar was "fenced" from those whose manner of living was considered to be unrepentantly sinful. As parishes grew and the private lives of individuals became less accessible to public knowledge, this practice receded — although priests will, on occasion, refuse to admit to the altar those whom they know to be actively engaged in notoriously sinful behaviour, such as criminal activity. Most Anglican provinces keep an "open table", meaning that all baptised Christians are welcome to receive communion. In many others, access to the sacrament is reserved for those who have been both baptised and confirmed, either in the Anglican or another tradition. Those who are ineligible or do not wish to receive are frequently encouraged to come forward and cross their arms to form a sign of the cross to indicate that they wish to receive a blessing.
Historically, reservation has been expressly forbidden in the Anglican tradition: in Article XXVIII of the Articles of Religion, it reads:
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
A rubric following the Order of Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer instructs that any remaining bread and wine should be consumed as soon as the service concludes:
And if any of the Bread and Wine remain unconsecrated, the Curate shall have it to his own use: but if any remain of that which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the Church, but the Priest, and such other of the Communicants as he shall then call unto him, shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same.
In American Prayer Books (until 1979), the rubric read thus:
And if any of the consecrated Bread and Wine remain after the Communion, it shall not be carried out of the Church; but the Minister and other Communicants shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same.
Today, only a minority of Anglican dioceses do not authorize their individual churches to reserve the sacrament between services. In these churches, reverent consumption or disposal is often practised. When disposed, the elements may be finely broken/poured over the earth or placed down a "piscina" in the sacristy, a sink with a pipe that leads underground to a pit or into the earth. What is done with the remaining elements is often reflective of churchmanship.
Where reservation is permissible parishes will place the sacrament (along with holy oils) in an aumbry - a cupboard inserted in the wall of the chancel. As mentioned above, Anglo-Catholic parishes believing in transubstantiation of properly blessed sacraments make use of a tabernacle or hanging pyx, with which is associated various acts of reverence and adoration.