Friday, August 18, 2006

The Blessed Sacrament

I think I have written before about my dislike of wine, indeed all alcohol, which means that the only time I have alcohol is at Holy Communion. And then its just a sip. That is quite enough for me!

But then came Sunday past, when I was preaching in the Cathedral. The service was Morning Prayer with Holy Communion added at the end for those who wished to participate. Now, normally there are a lot of people who stay, but for some reason on Sunday past there weren't so many.

As always at an 11.30am Communion, there were four chalices on the Table, and the wine was consecrated. And then came the end of the service, the congregation dispersed and we went to clear the Table. Normally the Churchwardens would have the Table cleared and the wine consumed, but... not that day. An awful feeling came over me as I realised there were two chalices to be finished and two of us - Trevor the Curate, and me. Aaaaaagh!

Somehow, eventually I got the chalice finished (reverently consumed, of course) and got the rest of the clearing up done, signed the preacher's book, got changed out of my robes, and chatted to Trevor.

I'm not sure I was in a fit state for driving though (I didn't have any breakfast...), but got to Dromara ok, and as soon as I walked in, Lynsey knew straight away that I had wine on me! Boys oh...

Now, I know my Presbyterian friends will point out to terribleness of 1. using alcoholic wine, and 2. having to drink whatever has been set out, and to some extent I do agree... So why must we drink the remainder and not put it down the sink?

Surely it could be the pathway to alcoholism in the clergy, if they have to drink so much wine... or indeed, it might become a temptation for them to add a bit more wine than would be used so that they must drink it - in a respectable context and not in a shameful binge drinking way.

And this isn't a recent issue... I remember one retired clergyman telling me about when he was a young curate and had consecrated too much wine one night and finished it on his own, leading him to stagger off up the road back to the curatage. now what sort of a witness is that to outsiders, if the minister is staggering home... or worse, would be in no fit state to drive?

What if a minister (or churchwarden for that matter) caused an accident on the way home and was breathalised? Would he be let off because it was his job? Would the church provide legal assistance for him?

So, any thoughts on the Lord's Supper?


  1. I guess you can look at the 'high' practice of putting the bread (in wafer form) back into a box as a 'reserved' sacrament; which is an odd practice as for one Jesus (I assume) didn't use small round pieces of cardboard, or whatever that stuff's made of.
    Wine, being alcoholic, doesn't suffer from mould, or generally going 'off' like proper bread, or any other form of drink (Ribena, anyone?) might, normal juices would separate or go funny. So wine could be poured back into the big jugs.
    Alternatively, you can fairly quickly consecrate more wine if needed!!

  2. But Dave, there's a problem with wine too... cos in those big jugs that you speak of (Adrian might supply the proper title for them), when you put in some wine, and have other wine already in them, it produces a potent mix which tastes rotten!

    And let's not go down the Reserved Sacrament route! (Altough having observed some people's behaviour in Dublin, our congregation would get a shock if them boyos did the same in Dromore as the elements are left on the table til after the service is concluded - no consumption and ablutions at the time of Communion...

  3. surely when the scriptures tell us that an Elder should "not be taken to much Wine" you are really making an excuse to drink lots, willingly or not!!! so consecrated or not you would not be fulfilling the qualifications of the position you are in or seeking to be in??? and in direct confrontation with Gods word. so you face a choice you can consume the "consecrated" wine or you can decline and obey Gods word and fulfill what you are called to be??? surely God would not wish his Servent to be drunk on wine for any reason and i can't imagine that just because you said the magic words over the wine, that it is an excuse for drunkeness of whatever degree!

  4. The presbyterians have spoken!! Ribena all the way!

  5. LOTS to say on this won't be surprised to hear!! Firstly, if it's a very big JUG it's a flagon, and if it's not so big it's a cruet.

    The reason for consuming the wine is in fact quite protestant: to ensure that there's no possibility of it being kept (or reserved) and subsequently venerated as the literal body (in the case of bread) and blood (wine) of Jesus. In other words, while the consumption of the elements is taken so seriously by those slightly higher up the candle, like me, its origin is in fact in a strong reformed tradition.

    As far as leaving it until after the service, or until after the communion and during the last hymn: in my experience (including within CITC) it's usually to allow for the proper observation of the Great Silence (even though it's not technically part of HC1 in our Prayer Book tradition), and not to have an unseemly clacking and clattering of silverware while people are prayerful after having received the Blessed Sacrament.

    As far as using alcohol: it has some practicalities attached to it - with a common cup (surely more appropriate given the unity at the core of commUNION, he says with a degree of bias ;-p)it's more hygenic to use a fairly strong alcoholic drink. Also, it doesn't go mouldy. It shouldn't be mixed with newer or older stuff (nor should a wine glass be topped up, it should be refilled when it's empty!).

    Finally, as far as the cleric getting drunk on wine - there's no excuse. I do know some churches that use non-alcoholic wine, from a common cup. It's noticeably different in taste, though, not like the ribena or grape juice common in presbyterian/baptist/elim churches I've taken communion in. I've also heard of clerics with drink problems for whom this is an issue. I'd take the line here that I take when I consume alcohol on any other occasion: moderation. I've never been drunk on wine (or anything else intoxicating!), and the demand is that it should be reverently consumed - NOT consumed by a reverend (or one in training). Here in 'Ards we have a couple of people (from the choir and the team that work alongside the churchwardens) who we can call on if there's too much wine for the team of clerics and readers to consume. No one should have to drink more than is safe. Drunk driving as a result of communion intoxication is wrong. It's not better, it's not worse, than drunk driving for any other reason. It is irrefutably wrong. And it is a bad witness. BUT, I don't believe there's ever an excuse for it.

    And if there's absolutely no option, surely a reserved sacrament (for a short time) is better than pouring it down the sink or down someone's gullet.

  6. That last comment was me, btw.