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  • Father Beau

Welcoming Christ

Trinity XI 2019

The Reverend Beau McLaurin Davis, Sr.

Welcoming Christ (Sursum Corda, Institution, Oblation, Invocation)

“O GOD, who declarest thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

At my parish in Aiken, South Carolina, I heard a nugget of wisdom which explained the High Church position so well. In arguments of Low versus High Church celebrations, there are many well thought out, official positions one way or another. High Church pageantry espouses giving our best to Christ, sacrificing our material wealth to the worship of God, and mimicking the heavenly host in order to elevate the mind of the worshipper to the greatness of heaven itself. Low Church argument is one of simplicity, puritain austerity, penitence, and that any showiness is done for our own personal edification, and not the edification of God. All that is great for theologians; but for the everyday man, Lawrence in Aiken had the best explanation of why we should exude tasteful elegance. “We are inviting Christ to come to us: we should make it nice for him.” I think that is an excellent point. If I invite people over to my house, I break out the nice china, light a few scented candles, put on background music, dress nicer, and use my best behavior. If that is what it means to welcome another person into our home, shouldn’t we give Christ our Savior even better treatment? With that in mind: God himself is about to bestow upon us (as we prayed for in the Collect of the Day) his heavenly treasures; should we welcome it with rejoicing and fineries, or with deary starkness?

Holy Communion is the main purpose of our Sunday Mass. Everything else leading up to this point is preparation for the coming of Christ in the form of his Body and Blood. That is exactly what we believe is happening in the Communion service: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is really present in the elements of Communion. It is not a symbol. It is not there to simply give you the recollection of Christ. Christ said that two physical actions were necessary for salvation: to be baptized with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and to eat of his Flesh and drink his Blood in Holy Communion. Therefore, after we ask for and receive the forgiveness of Christ in our Confession and Absolution, we prepare to welcome and receive him.

The welcoming in of our Savior begins with the Sursum Corda (Latin for “Lift up your hearts”). Priest: “The Lord be with you.” Response: “And with thy Spirit.” Priest: “Lift up your hearts.” Response: “We lift them up unto the Lord.” We need to lift up our hearts, because we just dwelled upon our insufficiencies, but Christ is coming to grant us salvation. This is not a funeral, so it is time to get past our sadness. Priest: “Let us give thanks unto Our Lord God.” Response: “It is meet and right so to do.” At this point, the celebrant proposes to the congregation that we give thanks to Christ for his sacrifice and our salvation by welcoming him into our presence. They in turn approve and permit the service to continue. If no one responded at this point, then the Communion service would stop altogether, because a priest cannot celebrate the Mass on his own. Communion is a communal act, and he cannot commune with himself. He then explains why it is appropriate for us to give thanks to God with the proper preface, which is the sentence explaining the particular miracle which we celebrate that feast day or season (Trinity in Trinitytide, Resurrection in Eastertide, etc.). We then welcome Christ into our presence with the Sanctus, which are the words which the people of Jerusalem cheered as Christ first entered into the city (“Holy, Holy, Holy…”).

Christ finally enters into our presence consecration of his Body and Blood. How do we know this? Christ himself said so. The words of Institution are direct quotes of Scripture which are repeated throughout the New Testament. Firstly, when Christ says that he, “is the door,” or, “is the good shepherd,” he is referring directly to a parable which he or scripture had given previously; but  whenever he says “this IS my Body, this IS my Blood,” there is no qualification or allusion to something else. He also says that  unless we eat his Flesh and drink his Blood we will in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. How do we eat his flesh and drink his blood if Communion isn’t really those things? Secondly, our Greek to English translation usually produces bad theology, and Christ’s commandment to “do this in remembrance of me” is one of the greatest examples. He is not telling us to recall him. You don’t need a snack to do that. The Greek meaning of this is to continually participate in the Christ event. In other words, there is one Communion which we all participate in (i.e. Christ at one time gave his Body and Blood to Saint Peter, Saint John, Beau, Becky, Saint Andrew, Virginia, Saint Jude, etc.).

Even at the time of the writing of what would become the Bible, Christians were already celebrating the service we call Holy Communion or the Mass. Even the earliest examples of Liturgy have the order of the words of Institution (“this is my body/blood”), followed by the words of Oblation. The words of Oblation are the portion following the Institution in which we proclaim that we are doing what we are doing because we intend Christ to be present like he said, and in such we are fulfilling his Commandment to do so. Intent is of the utmost importance in any sacrament, and in these words we make it clear to God and all present that we unequivocally are here to partake in the Body and Blood of Christ really present in Communion.

The Final step in the consecration of the Body and Blood is the Invocation of the Holy Ghost. This is not traditionally a portion of the Roman Catholic Mass or the English 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but has always been part of the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy and Scottish Prayer Books, from which our American Prayer Book originated. Also called the Epiclesis, we ask the Holy Ghost to descend upon the elements to ensure that we will, in fact, feast upon the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eastern Orthodox are so insistent that this is the point at which the bread and wine become the salvific Body and Blood of Christ that they reject all possibility of the Real Presence of Christ without it, and thus doubt the salvation through Masses which exclude it. At what point does the bread and wine of the altar become the Body and Blood of Christ? The Romans believe that the change happens whenever the priest elevates the host and chalice (which is why they hold it up there for a good long time, so you can see it happen). The Eastern Orthodox don’t believe that it happens until the Holy Ghost descends upon it. We Anglicans say that it is somewhere in there, and so we act with reverence the whole time. In what manner does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? The Romans say that it does so through Transubstantiation: the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, with only the appearances (or accidents) of bread and wine still remaining. Historically, Calvinists believed in Receptionism: that the bread and wine remain unchanged, but that the true believer receives the Body and Blood of Christ when he or she partakes in the bread and wine. We officially proclaim that it is a mystery. The manner in which Christ becomes present in the bread and wine at the altar is something which Scripture never defined, and so we cannot dogmatically proclaim any definition for sure. We only know that the bread and wine are changed to something essentially different (that the Real Presence of Christ is guaranteed, and through that we are saved), and so we treat it as such. While bread and wine may fill our bellies and quench our thirst, our souls are justified in the Body and Blood of Christ; and through them, we become one with Him both body and soul.

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