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Jesus facepalm

face-palm award

I have blogged a bit about the wide variety of liturgical options provided in our church. And I have blogged about the way that people find even this wide flexibility too restrictive.

But, even knowing all this, even I am sometimes rendered speechless by the “creativity” of the innovations that people come up with! Hence, I have decided to inaugurate an award for heterodox (literally means “different worship”) practices.


A priest, new to a community, describes this particular community’s practice and I have the priest’s permission to describe what is a public experience:

In the Eucharistic Prayer (Great Thanksgiving) the priest is proclaiming the story of the Last Supper, “on the night before he died, your Son Jesus Christ, took bread; when he had given you thanks, he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said:”

Suddenly the priest finds the whole congregation joining in with Jesus’ words of distribution:

Take, eat, this is my body
which is given for you;
do this to remember me.

The priest regains composure and begins: “After supper he took the cup; when he had given you thanks, he gave it to them and said:”

And once again the congregation interrupts the proclamation of the story:

Drink this, all of you,
for this is my blood of the new covenant
which is shed for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins;
do this as often as you drink it,
to remember me.

There’s no point in changing to another Eucharistic Prayer – they all have words such as this. And the congregation always joins in.

The practice was taught to the congregation by a vicar over a decade ago and is seen as expressing the “priesthood of all believers”. It takes the Roman Catholic teaching that Jesus’ words of distribution said by the priest actually consecrate the bread and wine and (here’s the genius part of it!) it has these words recited by the non-ordained!

Two vicars, two bishops, and several priests-in-charge, have been unable to hinder the heterodoxy. It is a worthy recipient of the inaugural liturgical face-palm award: in one brilliant stroke it confuses the meaning of priesthood of all believers, sacrilegiously mocks the Western/Roman Catholic model of consecration, emphasises one part of the Eucharistic Prayer at the expense of the rest (putting the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble), and makes a pastoral nightmare for anyone trying to bring orthodoxy back to this community.

A lot of different titles for the award sprang to mind: Westboro; Phelps; currently I have decided on the “Camping Award”. A life-size statue of face-palm Jesus (pictured) will be delivered to the parish. At every Eucharist they will be required to sprinkle the statue with holy water, cense it, and chant the Miserere to Anglican chant. A 13½ inches (34 cm) replica (affectionately termed a “Harold”) is being delivered to the priest (sorry “minister”) who taught this nonsense. He will be required each week to light a candle before it and say three Lord’s Prayers, three times the biblical parts of the Hail Mary, and three Glory be to the Fathers for the intention of the Primate of New Zealand.

Update: discussion about this post has spread elsewhere beyond this thread. Some cannot see the issue at all, partly because their context is so different. For these the following imagined parallel scenario may help:

A congregation is taught by their vicar to wear clerical shirts and collars to services and taught this is their right and expressing their “priesthood of all believers”. People think it is lovely that the children who like to play priest at home can now do it at church too – especially that the girls can! not noticing that this confuses our baptismal priesthood with the presbyterate, and clericalises lay ministry, equating it with church-facing presbyteral leadership.

Like my original post above, I would similarly give this community the face-palm award. Others. maybe, would not 😉

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35 thoughts on “face-palm award”

  1. Wow! I find it interesting that it’s taken hold so deeply and tenaciously. Makes me wonder about the popular piety/theology at work here. It has a flavor of Mormonism.

  2. Brother David

    Perhaps you do not want to see the sung communion at the Cathedral of Hope (formerly Metropolitan Community Church, now United Church of Christ) in Dallas, TX, the worlds largest congregation with a ministry to the GLBT community.

    I was there last Sunday when they celebrated US Memorial Day with the first visit of an active duty US military chaplain as the guest preacher to the congregation, the Revd Colonel Jeffry A. Dull, USAF. He also happens to be a UCC clergyperson. This was an historic visit as the US military and nation further prepare for the final eradication of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the opportunity for sexual minorities to serve openly in the US armed forces without fear of expulsion.

    The music for the day was a bit on the sappy, patriotic side. This is probably the highest form of liturgical practice that you will find in a UCC congregation. They use vestments. They process the Gospel in certain seasons. The form of the liturgy is simplified, but familiar in shape. They also applaud a lot in their services.

    For the Advent and Christmas seasons the church has two huge beautifully decorated trees on each side of the chancel area. And a huge advent wreath that is suspended from the ceiling in the center of the worship space about 5 or 6 meters over the congregation. It is lowered by a motor and pulleys to the center aisle when it is time to light a candle during the liturgy. Usually at Pentecost there is a vessel in front of the altar that is ignited by remote control during the introductory liturgy which then burns throughout the remainder of the service.

    This is but one of 2 or 3 sung communion prayers that this congregation uses. Communion is served as both species by intinction, either intinced by the Eucharistic minister or by the communicant. During communion the congregation sings praise hymns and choruses.

    They record the 9:00 am service, I was at the 11:00 am service. They use the same order of worship at both.


  3. Bosco, I’m laughing (at your “award” suggestions) and weeping (at this disobedient sacrilege) along with you. It reminds me of the half-joke my homiletics professor impressed upon us: “Preach the same sermon ten times and they won’t remember a word. But teach them one bad hymn and they’ll have it for life.” A silent canon would put a stop to this nonsense pretty quickly, no? 🙂

    Could you direct us to some good/recent scholarship on consecration, particularly to critiques of the “Western” position that saw the “words of institution” as specifically consecratory? I am mindful of Fr. (currently Mr.) Hunwicke’s skeptical view of the more recent orthodoxy: “The assumption is that regarding a dozen words as consecratory is mechanistic if not superstitious; seeing 938 words as consecratory is enlightened and unproblematic.”

    Are our Lord’s wrists adorned with epimanikia (Eastern Orthodox liturgical cuffs) in that statue?

    1. Yes, Jesse; interestingly, in NZ Anglicanism (unlike, as I understand it, TEC?) you can sing what you like! I love the solution of the silent canon! I remember in CofE in the 80s encountering a parish that had translated the Latin Tridentine Rite into Elizabethan English & used this with a silent canon! Let me pause on recommending a contemporary book – I’ve just purchased a couple (the books are at work; I’m at home) and may review them on this site.

  4. Brother David

    Brian, I too would like to understand how you feel the scenario shared by Bosco has a flavor of Mormonism. My master’s thesis/project was a huge study of the LDS church.

  5. Brother David

    Brian, you have quite over simplified much of what is involved in that link. With a working understanding to priesthood ordination in the LDS church, one quickly realizes that it is not to be confused with the concept of the priesthood of all believers.

    The Aaronic Priesthood usually starts with 12 year old boys and possibly new LDS converts in mission situations. There are three offices; deacon, teacher and priest, to which they are ordained by someone already holding that office by the laying on of hands. Yes, the priests have the authority for blessing the sacrament of the Lords Supper.

    However, the local missionaries have advanced to the Melchizedek Priesthood and are ordained to the office of elder. Additionally they have been set apart by a General Authority of the LDS Church through the laying on of hands as special ministers of the Gospel for the term of their full time mission.

    The Melchizedek Priest also has three orders; Elder, Seventy and High Priest. But whereas the Aaronic Priesthood is viewed as a vertical priesthood of increasing responsibility, the Melchizedek Priesthood is viewed as horizontal, three equal orders with different responsibilities.

    The LDS do hold to the view that men ordained to further orders do retain the keys to administering the responsibilities of their previous ordinations, uless excommunicated, once a deacon, always a deacon. So as occasion dictates, you will see Melchizedek Priesthood holders administering the offices of the Aaronic Priesthood.

  6. I suppose the church members in question think they’re concelebrating.

    While I have nothing quite this extreme to report, there is an ELCA synod in which the bishop’s crozier is made from a broomstick. As I understand, it was given to one particular bishop as a joke, many years ago. He kept in a closet or something, and after he left office it was headed to the junkyard, until his successor found and adopted it. It has been passed down the chain since then. I’ve seen the thing, and it’s as dignified as you would expect. I believe there’s some writing on the shaft, in magic marker.

  7. My point is that this practice is a distortion of Christian Catholicity, with the baptized convocating the words of consecration.

    I’d say that many other phrases/clauses/sentences in the eucharistic prayer might be appropriately convocated by the congregation, except the words of consecration. That is a step too far into the order of the presbyter, i.e., acting as if all are prebyters.

    1. I can make sense of what you are saying, Brian. But I differ from you in that I do not think we need to hold to Jesus’ words of distribution being what you call “the words of consecration”. In my understanding God consecrates in response to our prayer led by the presbyter or bishop. I find the search for particular words of consecration mistaken – it is asking the wrong question IMO. The whole prayer is “the words of consecration”.

      1. Dear Fr. Bosco,

        I wonder if, without clear demarcations, e.g., sacred space, sacred time, liturgical landmarks & signposts, where certain things, from certain origins, happen, e.g., liturgy of the word, the psalm, the gospel, liturgy of the eucharist, words of distribution, fraction rite, and clearly defined roles, president, deacon, congregation, who say and do certain things at certain times and in response to certain things, etc., a community might lose, or deeply alter some of its ability to perceive and reflect, generally and in particular, on incarnation, on sacrament, on the sacred (word & action), on grace, etc., that the “work” of liturgy offers.

        In short, liturgy and theology are inextricably intertwined, change in one yields change in the other.

        1. I think you are onto something, Brian. I also think, as some of the discussion on this thread has highlighted, that doing things primarily in contradistinction to another position can do damage to one’s own position rather than enhance it.

  8. Brother David

    A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life. I think ritual is terribly important.
    Joseph Campbell interview with Michael Tom

    With as many different forms of Christian worship which I have encountered in my 47 years, and knowing how you have worshiped with many folks around the word, I am a bit surprised by your reaction to this particular parish’s participation in the Eucharistic prayer Father. I certainly do not see this as any form of them assisting the president of the service in consecrating the elements of the meal through the Priesthood of All Believers, but instead I very much see them communally participating in the memory of what occurred originally, they are all reciting the words of institution together, they are remembering what occurred on that night, out loud, together.

    Which in most common form Eucharistic prayers is almost immediately followed by the anamnesis, where the presider gathers together the entire memory in one sentence, remembering the life, death, burial, resurrection and promised return of the Savior.

    Forgive me, but in the congregation’s participation I am not seeing them usurping the priest or committing un gran pecado.

    1. Why, David, would you have the congregation recite Jesus’ words of distribution (which you call the “words of institution”) more particularly than another part (eg. why not the whole Last Supper story)?

      I would posit that your sophisticated reasoning would mean nothing to this particular community and they are not the sort of community that would welcome your insights. That you do not see them as caricaturing RC/Western consecrating does not alter that is how they have been taught to (mis)understand this themselves.

      When you say, “in most common form Eucharistic prayers is almost immediately followed by the anamnesis, where the presider gathers together the entire memory in one sentence…” I would be interested in your reaction to one of the NZ Anglican Eucharistic Prayers (NZPB p487) where it is not the presider but the congregation that recites the anamnesis.

      You are correct, I have been privileged to have been welcomed to a great diversity of spiritual events and communities that have followed their own disciplines and conventions. My gratitude at being welcomed as a guest to those does not negate IMO my right to critique aberrations within my own tradition.


      1. Brother David

        I would be interested in your reaction to one of the NZ Anglican Eucharistic Prayers (NZPB p487) where it is not the presider but the congregation that recites the anamnesis.

        That seems to be a bit longer version of the same location in our prayerbook; Rite II, Prayers A, B and C. And prayer D has congregational participation throughout.

        I am open to a wide range of Eucharistic prayers as long as they are a familiar shape and involve an invocation of the Spirit at some point.

        I remember a United Methodist prayer that was real spacey and Roberto and I called it the “stars and planets prayer.” And when the elder would begin that one in the chapel at seminary we would glance at one another and share a grin.

  9. I was celebrating the Eucharist at a parish whose rector had recently retired. To my surprise the entire congregation joined with me in reciting the second half of Eucharistic Prayer I in Rite I. Some weeks later I returned for another Rite I liturgy and they did it again. I was then not so astonished when I heard that, on an occasion of the prior rector’s laryngitis, a lay member of the parish read the Eucharistic prayer even though another priest (in good standing) was present in the congregation.

    1. Is there consensus that an orthodox anaphora has a certain minimum structure of certain content, of say, something like a call-and-response dialogue, such as the sursum corda (after which conclusion, the president generally taking it from here on to the communion rite), with a preface (perhaps a spacey one), a sanctus and benedictus, a narrative or words of institution/consecration/distribution, an anamnesis, an epiclesis, and a Trinitarian doxology? That more could be added/elaborated, but that in the West, and most of the East, that there is an agreed upon basic minimum?

      1. I think you are mostly correct, Brian,… with the exception always breaking out of our nice, neat systems. The very denomination which teaches that Jesus’ words of distribution/institution consecrate has as one of its rites “Addai and Mari”, a Eucharistic Prayer without those very words! And the Vatican, obviously, teaches that this Eucharistic Prayer without a “consecration” consecrates! Blessings.

  10. Cool! Bosco, thanks for reminding me that the Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church are not identical (one would think that, with some exposure to the Maronite Rite, I would keep this more in mind). I had no clue what you were talking about, so checked to see if Wikipedia had an article on it – it does; a prayer used in the Syro-Malabar and Chaldean Catholic Churches, and which is the subject of controversy precisely because it doesn’t include the literal words of consecration. Although Wikipedia cites the Vatican as stating that they are there “in a dispersed euchological way, that is, integrated in successive prayers of thanksgiving, praise and intercession”.

    I always used to wonder, as a boy, *when* exactly the consecration happened – I don’t remember being taught that it was with the phrases “This is my body” and “this is my blood”. That’s the conclusion I ultimately came to before realizing that was also the official Church teaching. I don’t think it’s a bad question to ask, though; and I think it is important (at least, it’s been important *to me*) to be able to have that specific an answer.

    1. Thanks, Matt. Speaking of Jesus’ words of distribution as “the literal words of consecration” already brings a perspective to reading the Eucharistic Prayer. Following this line of question leads to: between which letters does the consecration take place? And what is the point of the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer – why not just stop after the letter that consecrates (cf. 1662)? Blessings.

      1. Good questions 🙂 How about this – it takes place in the moment at which those specific words “this is my body … this is the cup of my blood” (I’m taking this from the Catholic “Eucharistic Prayer II”) are uttered. What is the point of the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer? Darn good question. It’s certainly, as the name implies, a prayer of thanksgiving, and a prayer of petition too: “We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you. May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.” Those are important parts of the prayer which (as you affirm) should indeed be emphasized just as much as the words of Jesus.

        1. Matt, your answer sidesteps the instant-change at a moment-of-consecration question, unless you are suggesting that it happens directly after the “y” of “body” and the “d” of “blood”, so that, eg., “this is my bo” does nothing. Also, what about a Eucharistic Prayer which does not have those words but is accepted as valid, what is the moment there? My point: highlighting that the search for a moment of consecration is asking the wrong question. Blessings.

          1. “To receive that call, Stephen, said the priest, is the greatest honour that the Almighty God can bestow upon a man. No king or emperor on this earth has the power of the priest of God. NO angel or archangel in heaven, no saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself has the power of a priest of God: the power of the keys, the power to bind and to loose from sin, the power of exorcism, the power to cast out from the creatures of God the evil spirits that have power over them, the power, the authority, to make the great God of Heaven come down upon the altar and take the form of the bread and wine. What an awful power, Stephen”

            ~James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

            I do think such paradigms as eucharistic presence as event/separate entity do smack of hocus pocus, magical thinking, and religion as systemic control.

            I think that Tad Guzie, SJ, did some nice theology in the 70s in Jesus and the Eucharist. He wrote wrote that chairs are not present to one, nor even are people on a mass transit bus present to one another. Perfect strangers however can be fully present to one another, if they relate within their humanity. Presence exists and manifests within and among vital relationships based on respect and compassion.

            The real presence of Jesus in the eucharist, the recognition of Christ in the breaking of bread, is living relational process in caritas, not event, not thing.

          2. It is interesting that you use the words “hocus pocus”, Brian – that’s a mocking of the Latin “words of consecration”, so quite relevant in this thread 🙂

          3. As a matter of fact that’s in essence what I am suggesting. I’m not sure I would say that this is “asking the wrong question” – that implies the existence of a “right question” and I’m not sure what that would be. I’d say simply that it’s not a tremendously important question; but I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with an answer such as I gave. Given that we have bread before the prayer begins and body once it ends, there must be a “first moment” when the entity is no longer bread but body – that’s a simple consequence of the linearity of time – and given such a “first instant”, I’m not sure what hinders an instantaneous consecration consequent on the utterance of a specific word.

            As I said though I think it’s ultimately not the most important thing one could talk about regarding the prayer.

  11. And Brian, your comment on the relationship between liturgy and theology definitely struck a chord with me. This is part of why I think (e.g.) that it’s not possible to have a well-developed, coherent spirituality without some form of religion, nor a religion without some form of liturgy. Humans, it seems, need structure in order to express their understanding – whether that’s the structure of mathematical formalism used to express mathematics and science (and even to provide insights into some forms of philosophy) or the rituals constituting a given religious liturgy. Without structure, I don’t think we have a profound understanding of our beliefs – and of course without understanding, the structure is empty and void of purpose.

    1. Thanks, Jim. As an aside, Jim, I’ve written about that elsewhere: NZ keeps no statistics of such things, but guestimates are that only 7% of our clergy receive seminary training and formation. And the quality of our seminary training has been seriously challenged by our General Synod.

      1. So could I just convert, walk up to the bishop and say “Hi there, my name is Matt. Listen, I noticed one of your churches is in need of a vicar and I’d like to apply for the position”?

  12. Matthew Griffin

    Let me first agree with you, Bosco, both that attempting to pinpoint the moment of consecration rather misses the point and that the Eucharistic prayer is a unity, and hence is the entire consecratory act. Your comment exchange with Matt was giving me flashbacks to close readings of Aquinas, and the exhaustive reasoning in 3a.78 about what effect the words have, how they do so, and even a discussion of “when”…

  13. I’d be happy that they were so involved in the Eucharist. There’s nothing tragic or face-palmy about this at all. They are really making it the prayer of the community!

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