By the Rev Canon William Odom
The Church Bookroom (Published Prior to 1923)
Part III - I am a Churchman because I Believe the Church's Teaching on the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to be in Accord with Holy Scripture.
In the Catechism the nature and benefits of the Lord’s Supper are set out in language clear and Scriptural. There we are taught that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was ordained for the “continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and of the benefits which we receive thereby.” The Homily concerning the Sacrament bids us “take heed, lest of the memory it be made a sacrifice.” “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. 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” (Art. XXVIII.).
Consider carefully the Articles relating to the Lord’s Supper; also the Communion Service, noting specially the Exhortations, the prayer of Consecration, and the words of Administration, all of which emphasize the truth that the Lord’s Supper is a Memorial Feast—the commemoration of a sacrifice. “This do in remembrance of Me” (St. Luke xxii. 19). First and foremost it is a memorial. But it is more than a simple commemoration. By faith “we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drink His blood; then we dwell in Christ and Christ in us. We are one with Christ, and Christ with us.”
“Believe, and thou hast eaten,” exclaimed St. Augustine. “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.” Our feast is a Communion—a Communion with our Lord and Master, also with our fellow-disciples.
Form a high estimate—a spiritual estimate—of the Lord’s Supper, and expect from it great things. It is a divinely-appointed Feast at which Christ is really present to strengthen and bless His faithful servants. Therein we receive the “pledges of His love.” “Regard the outward signs (the bread and wine) reverently, but not superstitiously; use them as means, not ends; symbols, not idols. Feed on Him (not only on them); in thine heart (not with thy mouth); by faith (not by sight); with thanksgiving” (Dean Vaughan). “As your body feeds on the bread and wine, so let your heart feed on Christ the True Bread.” “As the food is spiritual, so must also be the eating” (Swete).
“We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountain-head,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.”
The Lord’s Supper is a Memorial of the one perfect sacrifice for sin offered on Calvary—an Emblem of the Saviour’s love—a Proclamation of the benefits of Christ’s death—a Communion which disciples have with their Lord and with one another—a Seal of Covenant blessing—a Eucharist, or offering of praise and thanksgiving—a Pledge that Christ will come again—and a convincing evidence of the truth of Christianity. As reverently and joyfully we kneel at the Lord’s Table, be this the meditation of our hearts: “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
Respecting Holy Communion, a deep cleavage separates the Church of England from the Church of Rome. This is seen by a comparison of the authorized teaching of the two Churches:
ROMAN CATHOLIC.—“I profess that in the Mass there is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that, in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, there is truly, really, and substantially the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that there is made a conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood, which change the Catholic Church calls Transubstantiation” (Creed of Pope Pius IV.).
“The Holy Eucharist is not only a Sacrament, in which we receive our Divine Lord for the food and nourishment of our souls, and in which He is really present to be adored upon the altar; it is also a Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, in which, at the time of consecration, the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and in which He is offered up for us to His eternal Father” (Catholic Almanack, 1923).
CHURCH OF ENGLAND.—The Consecration Prayer in the Communion Service reads: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of Thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross 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 sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in His holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that His precious death, until His coming again.”
And again in the Articles: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but it 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” (Art. XXVIII.).
So Hooker writes: “The real presence of Christ’s most blessed Body and Blood is not to be sought for in the Sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the Sacrament. And with this the very order of our Saviour’s words agreeth—first, ‘Take and eat,’ then ‘This is My Body which was broken for you’: first ‘Drink ye all of this’; then followeth, ‘This is My Blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’ I see not which way it should be gathered by the words of Christ, when and where the bread is His body or the cup His blood, but only in the very heart and soul of him which receiveth them “(Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V., chap. lxvii. 6).
The practice of non-communicating attendance, regarded by many as equivalent to “High Mass,” is opposed to the letter, spirit, and intention of the Communion Service. It has been very strongly condemned by John Keble and the learned High Church Liturgist, W. E. Scudamore; also by many of our Bishops. Apart from reception there can be neither commemoration nor communion. The voice of the Church is clear: “Our loving Saviour hath ordained and established the remembrance of His great mercy expressed in His Passion in the institution of His heavenly Supper, where everyone of us must be guests, and not gazers; eaters, and not lookers. . . . So, then, we must be ourselves partakers of this Table, and not beholders of others” (Second Book of Homilies, No. XV. See also the Second Exhortation in the Communion Office).
In the Lord’s Supper no propitiatory sacrifice is offered or re-presented for sin. The Communion Table is not an altar on which sacrifice is made; but, in the language of our Church, it is “the Lord’s Table,” “the Holy Table,” at which we celebrate the feast. Nowhere in the New Testament is the word “altar” used with reference to the Lord’s Supper. Concerning Hebrews xiii. 10, “We have an altar” (by some applied to the Lord’s Table), Bishop Westcott says “there is no room for such an application.” Bishop Lightfoot writes: “An actual altar is plainly not intended. This is shown by the context both before and after, which points to the Cross of Christ spiritually regarded.”
In the Roman Church, as we have seen, the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, designated “the Mass,” has the significance not only of a Sacrament, but also of a propitiatory sacrifice offered by the priest for the living and the dead. It must never be forgotten that at the Reformation our reformers gave to England the Communion in place of the Mass. Unhappily, efforts are being made to restore the Mass in our parish churches and to revive the use of the word Mass—a word which, says the late Bishop Stubbs (Oxford), “signifies that form of celebration which is proper to the Roman unreformed Church of the West.” (See also Article XXXI.)
In what sense is Holy Communion a sacrifice? “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more.” By some the theory is held, more or less akin to the doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass, that “every time that a priest on earth makes the oblation, Christ in Heaven offers Himself to His Father, the propitiatory sacrifice being thus constantly re-enacted in Heaven.” But, as a scholarly High Churchman, Canon Meyrick, says, there is no indication of any such theory as this in Holy Scripture. The same writer says: “The Holy Communion is a Remembrance, a Sacrifice, a means of Feeding, a means of Incorporation, a Pledge. . . . It is a Sacrifice, inasmuch as it is an offering made to God as an act of religious worship—a spiritual sacrifice, as being a sacrifice of prayer and praise for the benefits received by the sacrifice of the death of Christ; a material sacrifice, in so far as bread and wine are regarded as gifts of homage to God in acknowledgment of His creative and sustaining power; a commemorative sacrifice, inasmuch as it commemorates the great sacrifice of the Cross, the words ‘commemorative sacrifice’ meaning, in this acceptation, a commemoration of the sacrifice. But it is not a sacrifice of Christ to His Father whereby God is propitiated and man’s sins expiated” (Doctrine of the Holy Communion).
In the words of Bishop Westcott: “The modern conception of Christ pleading in heaven His Passion, offering His blood on behalf of men, has no foundation in the Epistle. His glorified humanity is the eternal pledge of the absolute efficacy of His accomplished work. He pleads, as older writers truly expressed the thought, by His presence on His Father’s throne” (Epistle to the Hebrews).
In the Middle Ages, as the Sarum Pontifical shows, the priest on his ordination had the paten with oblation and the chalice with wine put into his hands with the words, “Receive power to offer sacrifice to God and to celebrate Mass both for the living and the dead.” No such commission is given to the clergy of the Church of England at ordination.
The late Archbishop Maclagan, in a letter to his clergy (1897) on the validity of Anglican Orders, said that the Roman Catholic authorities demanded from the Archbishops an affirmative answer to the following question respecting the Anglican priesthood: “Do they claim the power to produce the actual living Christ Jesus by transubstantiation upon the altar?” This, said Cardinal Vaughan, was “the absolute essential—the sine qua non of all true ordination.” Of course, no such power could be claimed, and so the validity of Orders of the English Church were by the Pope’s Bull of 1896 pronounced to be absolutely null and void.
The hour of Holy Communion, morning, noon, or evening, matters little so long as heart and life be right. Our Lord instituted the Supper in the evening. “It must be admitted that no exception whatever can be taken against evening Communion, either from the Holy Scriptures, or from the Book of Common Prayer, or from the Constitution and Canons of the Church of England. Let each communicate in the manner which he finds most profitable, without for a moment presuming to censure those who prefer a different manner” (Dean Goulburn).
>> Part IV. - I am a Churchman becasue I prefer a Liturgical form of Service.