A communion service I’d use for a prayer breakfast

Many years ago a friend and colleague invited me to join him in an ecumenical prayer breakfast with communion. I alluded to it in a 2012 article when I described the communion ware they used.

The prayer breakfast looks like one of those observances that was once more centrist and mainline but has become identified with conservatives today. Or maybe it’s that I’m in too secular an urban center. Or that I don’t like waking up early enough to have a prayer breakfast before work. Or that I’m not in the military or the Chamber of Commerce. Take your pick.

But I enjoyed that one years ago: there was an earnest, retro quality to it and the piety was sincere. I got to visit with new people. It was more of a men’s space than you normally find in devotional life, and I doubt that was accidental. (Butching up devotion has a long and mixed history.) The format can be adapted to many constituencies though, and some I’ve found online are all-women. Let your imagination roam. Church picnics or camps? It might be good for mission church starts that first meet in restaurant party rooms, even.

Surveying the prayer breakfast landscape, I don’t see communion offered as much as I would have thought, but then again eucharistic fellowship is that bridge too far, when simple prayer and singing doesn’t aggravate ecclesiastic sensibilities. Catholics might have one following a mass.

But when I found this from W. E. Orchard’s 1921 The Order of Divine Service for Public Worship I knew I had a winner because it solved the “problem” of distributing the emblems (a commonly-used term among Universalists of yore for the  bread and wine; I love it and will keep it) though you might think it creates new problems for the consecration.

The service is interesting for its simplicity, not the least because Orchard later “crossed the Tiber” and became a Roman Catholic priest. But perhaps he meant, in his developing view of the sacraments, the simplest that was appropriate and effective. Certainly the bare recitation of the Institution from St. Paul would be simpler, and you see that in the “lower” Reformed Churches, ours included, but it’s also wanting in form and piety. I do.

I’d love some feedback and (even better) links to any prayer breakfasts you’ve attended or conducted.

A SIMPLE OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

This Order provides for the simplest possible Observance of the Lord’s Supper, giving the words of Scripture to be read by the President, indicating (in brackets) the appropriate actions, and suggesting (in italics) the subjects for silent prayer and private devotion.

The President shall commence by saying.
The disciples did as Jesus appointed them; and they made ready the Passover.

(Here the elements maybe distributed, and those who are to partake may prepare themselves by prayer.)
Now when even was come, he was sitting at meat with the twelve disciples ; and as they were eating, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began to say unto him every one, Is it I, Lord?

Self-examination and Confession.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread,

(Here the President may take the bread into his hands.)
and blessed.

Here the Holy Spirit should be silently invoked.
and brake it ;

(Here the President may break the bread.)
and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you.

Adoration.
This do in remembrance of me.
(Here all partake of the bread.)

After the same manner also, he took a cup,
(Here the President may take the cup into his hands.)
and gave thanks,

Thanksgiving.
and gave to them saying, Drink ye all of it ; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many unto remission of sins.

Adoration.
This do as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
(Here all partake of the cup.)

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.

Prayer pleading the sacrifice of Christ and making offering
of self to God.

(The offerings for the Poor may now be collected, the President
saying: Brethren, ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.)

THE HIGH PRIESTLY PRAYER

Jesus, lifting up his eyes unto heaven, said, Father, I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine and I am glorified in them.

Remembrance of the saints and the departed.
Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word;

Remembrance of the living.
That they may all be one ; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee:

Prayer for the unity of the Church.
That the world may believe that thou didst send me.

Prayer for the conversion of the world and the coming
of the Kingdom.

(Here the President may announce a Hymn, saying. And when they had sung a hymn they went out.)

[HYMN]

BENEDICTION

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Working up a communion set

A couple of blog posts ago I described communion cups used centuries ago and British Unitarian churches. Some were decidedly not of a typical chalice shape. I think the tumbler (beaker) shape deserves consideration.

Flexibility has benefits. A Christian minister might have to bring his or her own communion wear. But the affordable pieces are often shabby and a good stuff is extraordinary really expensive. The unreasonable choices a minister might make have led me to an unexpected suggestion.

  1. Communion ware should be affordable (though not necessarily cheap) and easy to maintain.
  2. Congruent in form with established practice.

I think I have something: a Japanese titanium tumbler. This one is from Horie.

You’ll excuse that it’s marketed for beer. It’s attractive, easy to keep clean, doesn’t have a metallic smell and is not commonly seen in the United States, so easy to distinguish for sacred service. It weighs next to nothing and is terribly strong; you don’t get both (or sometimes either) with pewter, which was formerly my favorite material for communion ware. It’s not tiny — a problem with “chapel sized” communion chalices — and you could even go a size down.

Downsides: they’re hard to get, and there’s no plate or basin to go with it. A rectangular wooden tray, perhaps of laminated wood, might do the trick.

I considered this question with individual cups several years ago.

What shape the communion cup?

Talk of the Annual Meeting of the (British) Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and noticing the communion service there this morning, put me in mind of an quaint old book.

Covered, handled chalice from Norwich, Octagon Chapel

The 1897 Vestiges of Protestant Dissent is something of register of British and Irish Unitarian, Free Christian, Non-Subscribing and kindred churches, with — and this is the part that amazes me — a listing of their communion plate. Much was then-new electroplate, but other pieces were quite old and noteworthy, so much so that several engravings were executed.

What fascinates me is the use of porringers, posset-cups, “loving cups”, mugs and tumblers (beakers), and not just the accustomed chalice: that inverted bell on a stem, sometimes a knop, and foot we all know and associate with the Eucharist. Posset-cup communion cup, Chichester

Many long-time readers know I have an interest in found communion ware, and lament the division of the communion ware market into the unaffordable and the tawdry. Which will bring me to what I think is an ideal communion cup for our days, and particularly for Unitarian and Universalist ministers — and indeed at least one in Vestiges — who have to bring their own. For next time.

"Maundy"?

I’ve casually mentioned my plans this week to several people and almost every time I’ve been asked what I mean by Maundy Thursday.

  1. It’s today.
  2. It is the anniversary of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
  3. And so it is the anniversary of the giving of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament or ordinance. It’s also known as the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Mass, or the Liturgy. The alternate term Great Thanksgiving deserves use, too.
  4. Some churches — I’m thinking of the Unitarians and Universalists here — who might not have the Lord’s Supper at any other time might have it on Maundy Thursday.
  5. It was especially beloved by Universalists, who would welcome members at the service.
  6. Some churches wash feet at the service.
  7. The term maundy comes from the Latin mandamus, “commandment” from Jesus’ new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

Secular goods for church: Back Oblaten?

This one might be more for my Independent Catholic/Independent Sacramental readers than Unitarian Universalists (or Quakers).

2014-05-18 17.38.31

I found these Back Oblaten — baking wafers — at a specialty store over the weekend. They’re used to keep cookies from sticking to a pan. A Christmas favorite is lebkutchen — a kind of light gingerbread — cookies with glaze or chocolate on one side and a wafer on the other.

A wafer like, perhaps exactly like that used in the Mass.

So a mental calculation. A hundred — I think — large (70 mm) hosts for $2.50, and easy to get. Say for low masses? A good deal.

Use them, friends, or no?

It is like a dear home meal…

It is like a dear home-meal, a family supper, where the Elder and the younger brothers meet around their Father’s table. It is like a farewell meal just before a dear one goes away from home on a perilous journey. The breaking of bread together, the cup of wine together, the beautiful words of remembrance that will stay in their hearts all their lives that will stay in the heart of the world forever.

Wonderful words follow. The promise[of] “many mansions”, the new commandment of love, the new name of friend, the gift of his own peace, the prayer for the “little children’s” safe keeping. Under the sorrow of parting is the joy of returning; with his going away the spirit of truth will come. “It is better tor you that I go.”

The uplifted face seems to smile back into God’s face the voice is tremulous with joy as it whispers, “I go to my Father.”

Maria L. Drew , The Sunday School Helper (1896)

An open table is — or was — the law

Pivoting from the Unitarians, and looking forward to Maundy Thursday. I’ll go into the Universalist laws of fellowship (and how they changed) later, but suffice it to say now that state conventions, parishes and ministers were subject to them or risk losing their standing. For a few decades, at least, one of these laws concerned who could be admitted to the Lord’s table, or Communion.

From the 1946 Laws of Fellowship

In every church the Communion of the Lord’s Supper shall be statedly observed at such times as the laws thereof prescribe; and at every such service all persons present, whether members or not, who may feel it to be a duty or privilege to do so, shall be invited to participate.

This formulation goes back at least as far as 1891. It also appears in the 1951 version, but disappears in the next (1953) version when, with other specific rules related to Christianity,  it was removed. (As for the reference to church laws, even today  Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington requires it on “Thursday of Holy Week and at such other times as the Pastor and Diaconate may determine. At every such service all present shall be invited to partake.”)

The reading of the law matches what is printed as an invitation to communion in the “red hymnal” Hymns of the Spirit service for communion, even though it was a joint Unitarian-Universalist production:

A Communion Service will be held in this Church at (stating the time). It is a service of commemoration, consecration and fellowship, open to all who desire to take part in it.

Interestingly, no such preface exists for the Communion service before the last solely Universalist hymnal, Hymns of the Church.

Reading list update, January 12

I’ve finished two more books — not on my list — since I last checked in. Relatively shorter and less difficult than what (I think) appeals to me, so I read them without discouragement!

  1. William L. Barclay. The Lord’s Supper. (2001, of 1965 ed.)
    Brief review of the history and meaning of the sacrament, useful (if gently dated) for ecumenically-minded mainline Protestant churches.
  2. Anya von Bremzen. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. (2013)
    Fascinating family memoir usung food to unpack 20th and 21st century Soviet and Russian history.

If you don't have millions to buy a Bay Psalm Book

This week one of the eleven surviving copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in English North America, sold at auction.

The owner was Old South Church, Boston, and the sale reminded me of all the old Unitarian communion plate that was sold to keep the staff paid, the furnace stoked or the roof on.

Though I respect our history, I respect the institutions more. And there’s something sad when a communion cup or psalter becomes so valuable as an artifact that it loses its intended use; it’s like the Velveteen Rabbit in reverse. As treasure, the silver and the printed pages become less real. They were real because they were instruments of praise and thanksgiving. Better then, I think that they can be sold, conserved and placed on display, as indeed the new Psalm Book’s owner, David Rubenstein, intends to do. (He owns two of the eleven.)

Better still to keep the Great Thanksgiving at table, and our praises in song. And if you want to pray from the Bay Psalm Book… well, then thank God: you can read it online, in this 1903 facsimile reprint.

Bowen's parting thought on the Lord's Supper

Last month I read Unitarian biblical scholar Clayton R. Bowen’s “The Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper” “a lecture given at the Meadville Summer Institute on June 29, 1914.”

… Jesus be remembered, that the unswerving faith, the boundless hope, the sure hope, the boundless love, that made him our supreme Master and our supreme Servant, may somehow be kindled in us also, through this simple act that we do in remembrance of him.

I wonder if he wrote it in a self-consciously liturgical way. In any case, I’m going to hold on to it for possible later use.