web analytics

Lay presidency

I see, from time to time, discussions about “lay presidency” of the Eucharist. In favour of this, regularly the eucharistic rite is dismembered and the discussion quickly degenerates to, “why can a lay person do this bit and not that bit?” This functionalism and legalism is often emotionally undergirded with an anti-catholic attitude {Sydney Anglicans are forbidden from such “popish” practices as wearing a chasuble (as St Paul did), adding water to the wine (as Jesus would have),… if they could get rid of the connection between priesthood and eucharist they would have removed most of the catholic hardware on which Anglicanism runs}.

Any reflection on eucharistic presidency can begin with the concept and practice of presidency generally. A teacher presides over a classroom, a judge presides over a courtroom. This does not mean the teacher does everything – quite the opposite. Good educational theory will have the teacher enabling, facilitating the learning of all in the room. The teacher involves individuals and the whole class in the learning process. Similarly, the judge does not do everything in the courtroom, others have specific tasks and the judge oversees and coordinates the smooth running of all that happens in the room.

The priest oversees all that happens in the Eucharist. The priest doesn’t do everything – quite the opposite. Others have specific tasks and the priest coordinates the smooth running of all that happens at the Eucharist, enabling, facilitating the worship of all present. There are certain things that the presider needs to do in order to be clearly and appropriately presiding.

In New Zealand Anglicanism certain things have happened that have obscured the place of the priest at the Eucharist.

In the revision of the BCP that began in 1964, the commission designed the Liturgy of the Word in such a way that it could stand alone in the form of an Office, replacing, for example, Matins or Evensong. This meant that this could be led by a lay person. The commission wrote:

For occasions when it is not desired or possible to celebrate the Holy Communion, the first part of the Liturgy to the end of the Intercession provides an order of worship complete in itself. This service does not require the presence of a priest. (Introduction to 1966 Liturgy)

Furthermore, during theological study at St John’s College in Auckland, ordinands “practised” liturgical leadership by leading parts of the Eucharist that did not require ordination. In so dividing up the leadership of a service this gave a poor model of good liturgical leadership and presidency . Rather than reflecting on appropriate presiding models, these ordinands, once ordained, cloned their St John’s experience in their parish. What could arguably have had a certain appropriateness in a seminary context, was now replicated in a context in which it was not.

Poor liturgical study, training, and formation combined with rubrical fundamentalism with a Prayer Book that continued the 1964 distinctions between “first” and “second” part of the Eucharist and its leadership, and little reflection on the nature of presidency generally, as well as (appropriate) reaction against the tradition in which “the priest did it all” increased the trend to having a lay person “lead the first part” and a priest “lead the second part”. This development naturally leads to the question: why can a lay person not “lead the second part?”

In rural, multi-centre parishes (often in the past the first experience of a priest being a vicar after curacy) the priest was moving from centre to centre on Sunday morning, and might not arrive at the start of the service. A lay person would then start the service off.

“Locally Shared Ministry/Total Ministry” has severed the link between pastoring, preaching, and presiding for priesthood, dividing up the tasks that need to be held together to prevent a priest’s presiding from appearing like magic. In many ways, that last part of the sentence should be in the forefront of many people’s reflection. What is left in many communities who would articulate a “low” view of ordained priesthood is in fact a rubrical fundamentalism that gives the appearance of the priest being a sort of magician who is brought out to do those bits of a service a lay person cannot lead: the absolution, the consecration, the blessing. What is lost in this is both an appropriate understanding of lay ministry which has been clericalised, as well as an appropriate understanding of priesthood which has been reduced to a magician.

Those who advocate for “lay presidency of the Eucharist” do so by stating that these presiders will be authorised to preside by the bishop. One presumes that such authorisation would be done prayerfully – in which case we have such authorisation by the bishop already. For two millennia it has been called “ordination”.

This can be regarded as the third post in a series. The first discussed being ordained directly to the order to which God calls you. The second discussed persons in one order acting out the ministry of persons in another order.

Similar Posts:

45 thoughts on “Lay presidency”

  1. Hi. I do see your point about separating out the eucharist from the rest of the service and splitting the service. What a shame. I don’t have a problem with leaving the eucharist to the priests. At our parish (Episcopal–in the US), lay people take little communion kits to invalids that the priest has blessed, so people who can’t make it to service can still partake. And if I can’t take communion/get to church, spiritual communion is always available as a layperson.

    I find that the people ringing bells, and the breaking of the bread overhead by the priest, and the words of the liturgy, lead up to the highlight of the service in the form of the Eucharist. I wouldn’t like the role divvied up. We do have lay people who assist the priest in offering the cup as we don’t currently have a deacon in our small parish… but I wouldn’t want to have lay-led eucharists, in whole or in part.

    1. I don’t think the “post the host” connects with this thread, Su – but it’s a valid “aside”. I would start by looking at the way it (rightly in many ways) challenges our Christian communities about the way we relate to the housebound, young families, and the unchurched, for example.

  2. Lay-presidency is an accepted fact in the church I grew up in. In fact it would not be unheard of (perhaps encouraged) for high-school seniors to preside at summer church camps as a means of farewell. It was easier in this setting of course because our Eucharistic liturgy has basically undergone a “chain-saw massacre” – being reduced to the words of Christ only “This is my body; this is my blood.”

    Looking back (and advocating now within my denomination against lay-presidency) I can see numerous problems. The ecumenical roadblocks, the weak/shallow liturgy itself, and the poor discerning of the various functions of the body of Christ (everyone should NOT do everything). In the example above it robs the meaning of Christ’s Eucharist for other goals.

    Thanks again for raising another important topic, which has helped me to understand it just a bit better.

  3. Thanks Joel for your points. The reduction “to the words of Christ only “This is my body; this is my blood.”” that you write of deserves a whole other exploration. These are not Christ’s words of “consecration”, they were his words of “administration” (of distribution). We bless the bread and wine by giving thanks as Christ did (= “eucharist”). This reductionism increases the magical understanding of eucharist. It is not surprising that “hocus pocus” derives from the Latin for the words you highlight.

  4. I have been following you for awhile. This is one of the most interesting pieces on this I have read. I am so impressed with your historical knowledge and obvious litergical insight.

    I know you are Catholic but not if you are “Roman” or “independent” catholic.

    All my prayers are with you,

    Don Noyes-More Ph.D.
    Editor in Chief
    Downtown LA Life Magazine International


    1. Thanks Don. I’m quite pleased that the denomination in which I serve is not immediately obvious as I hope that what is provided on this site is useful for a wide spectrum of the Christian community, and that in any case people can draw from here what is useful and discard what is not in their own context. You can read about me in about.

  5. Rev. Bosco, you bring out some particularly good points in this article which reminds me why I make a point of reading your blog regularly. I recently heard the regrets of a deacon that he was asked to ‘take on’ a congregation but had to distribute pre-consecrated elements.

    Why should it be the case that an ordained person to whom the service of a congregation is already entrusted be judged inappropriate for presidency? If those in higher office insist on giving the duties of a priest to a deacon, why not also the permission to preside?

    I was heartened to see your anti-magician argument, as often the drive for greater lay involvement is driven by a reaction to the priest already being seen as a magician. The Boy Bishop of the Sarum Rite is quite possible a reaction to this same direction of thinking – and certainly enthroning a boy as Bishop would have had some impact on fighting the concept of Bishop as Powerful Magician with a Whole Extra Book of Spells and a Big Wand. (I imagine enthroning a boy Pope for a period each year would reduce even the level of papal deification)

    There are many other points I should mention to develop an argument, but I will arrive quickly at my own judgement of the issue for the sake of brevity.

    First, it befits the Church to declare that there is nothing *invalid* about lay presidency – that to receive from a lay person is not a sin, nor is for a lay person to preside in itself a sin. The Church should be entirely up front and honest about the lack of magic powers in its clergy and the lack of a scriptural requirement for only ordained persons to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

    Second, the Church should explain that the reason that only priests are allowed to preside is purely administrative. It is a check and balance; a check against corruption and trivialisation of the Eucharist, and a balance to ensure the centrality of a properly read and trained theologian within the congregation.

    There is nothing wrong with something being done and enforced for an administrative purpose, nor is there anything wrong with the Church forbidding an action because it is judged to be undesirable. What is wrong is to portray an administrative action as a sacred action, to declare that an ordained priest has a power to preside beyond permission. Whenever the Church acts in a way that suggests otherwise I believe it is needlessly perpetuating the ‘priest as magician’ concept.

    Perhaps controversially, I would like to see some instances of lay presidency allowed. Quite what they are does not matter, but they should be somewhat limited. It could be allowing lay presidency during mission trips overseas where no English-speaking ordained priest is available – something that would not apply to ordinary domestic services. The purpose would be a demonstration through action that ordained presidency is an administrative decision, by making an administrative decision to permit lay presidency on occasion.

    I draw here from the Baptism, which perhaps due to lower levels of Roman Mysticism around it, is more properly defined as something to be administered by ordained clergy, but validly administered by any Christian person. Recall, for example, the authorisation to midwives in the case of an infant who may not live to see a priest, and the canons governing consequent administrative actions to follow any person being baptised by a lay person outside of a Church.

    Administratively, it is desirable for Baptism to be administered by ordained clergy, but in terms of sacramental efficacy it makes no difference; and thus it is in ecclesiastical obedience that it is obtained of ordained clergy rather than because such are actually needed. If such a healthy opinion could be generated around the Lord’s Supper then I suspect these call for lay presidency in well staffed parishes would go away.

    The final part of my opinion on this matter is that there needs to be far more priests. When a single elderly priest is left with four parishes (comprising five churches), and whole parishes sometimes go a week without having the priest present on a Sunday morning, there is a real and serious problem. It is natural for increasingly priest-less congregations to ask why the lay reader who is already leading the service (failing which there would be no service) is unable to read some words over bread and wine and allow them to receive communion. I am certain that with a priest per parish these calls would subside, as well as there being time for the much-forgotten pastoral, catechising and evangelical roles of a parish priest.

  6. Thank you for explaing what lay presidency means so clearly. The discussion has helped me understand as well. I find many things I do as an anglican are just our particular way of keeping order and not chaos, without stifling the spirit.

  7. Thanks for posting this. My own church (Lutheran, US) is quietly but firmly divided on this subject, largely on geographic lines. In my own area, lay presidency is discouraged. And of course, some people wonder why.

    The way I talk about this, when teaching worship courses to postulant deacons, is to begin with the eucharistic assembly as a microcosm of the Church — not self-sufficient, but symbolically complete. And in such a setting, everybody has a proper role — or rather, vocation.

    When somebody can’t be there to perform his (or her) role, there is a natural tendency for others to jump into the breach, and do things to which they are not in fact called. (Among Lutherans, there is usually some pious mumbling about the general priesthood to accompany this.) But wouldn’t it be better, I suggest to these eager-to-preside students, if our worship were to reflect the fact that, lacking a priest, our community is not in fact whole? To feel the absence, and show it with our actions and inactions?

    In other words, I propose that a “priestless Eucharist” is a sort of play-acting, which deceives the worshipers although it cannot deceive God. It doesn’t deceive them about Christ or his presence, necessarily, but it does deceive them about who they are themselves, hiding the fact that they are in the moment sheep without a shepherd.

    I encourage the deacons — who, incidentally, are not “ordained” in our practice, but rather “set apart for a ministry of Word and service” — to become familiar with both Matins and our peculiar “Service of the Word,” which is not an ante-communion but a non-Eucharistic liturgy which, in its most recent revision, can quite readily be led by a layperson.

    1. Thanks for these reflections. Part of the problem, Michael, is language. What you refer to as “the general priesthood” is hiereus (ἱερεύς), while the ordained priesthood we are referring to as having the vocation to preside at the Eucharist is presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος). You also bring out another very important point. The Eucharist is central for me – but we appear to have tended towards the far end of a pendulum swing, where some cannot imagine a service without communion.

  8. Just so. I wasn’t going to mention that linguistic confusion, but it has been a thorn in my flesh for many years.

    And of course the Eucharist is central to the Sunday assembly. But, at least in my own neck of the woods, the re-discovery of that centrality was so difficult that a generation of the clergy, followed by several generations of the laity, have inadvertently created an idol: the reception of the Body and Blood at all costs, no matter when, where or by whom they were consecrated. It is all well-intended, but it has served to undermine both our teaching about the nature of the Church (a weakness for Lutherans in any case) and about the ordained ministry.

  9. As an American Episcopalian, I have often wondered why those Down Under who want “lay presidency” for “pastoral reasons,” don’t maintain a Reserved Sacrament in those churches which are unable to afford a full-time priest. One would think that additional parish deacons, together with the Reserved Sacrament, would be a more Anglican way to meet any reasonable needs.

    It is impossible to say exactly when the Blessed Sacrament began to be reserved in the American Church. It can be said, however, that it began decades before the birth of Anglo Catholicism and the traditions that it engendered. Those pre-Tractarian parishes which did Reservation generally followed Scottish custom: the setting aside of a portion of the Precious Blood of the Holy Sacrament in a large glass receptacle, generally silver mounted and locked. This was always placed in an ambry or small closet, locked, in the wall of the sacristy. It was available to the sick or dying (e.g. the Rev. Dr. Moore’s last ministrations to Alexander Hamilton, who had been fatally wounded in a dual in 1804).

    Kurt Hill, Brooklyn, NY

  10. Howard Pilgrim

    Interesting discussion, Bosco, given my participation in the Christchurch debate on lay presidency two decades ago ( I argued then for an enhanced diaconate being better than a reduced priesthood).

    However, just hslp me now with one little thing – Paul wore a chasuble did he? Post the pics and I will believe. Failing that, what other evidence did I miss?

    1. Under our current not-per-saltum ordering, priesthood is “an enhanced diaconate”, Howard. I am very wary of such concepts in any case – are ordained persons “enhanced” laity? I see the four orders as being equal and different – no one is “enhanced” or “reduced”. Diaconate is an order primarily “world facing”, priesthood is an order primarily “church facing” – having a deacon preside at the Eucharist just adds to the confusion, rather than clarifying or renewing any ordering of ministry.

      Ah – you biblical scholars have me again! You don’t regard 2 Timothy as Pauline! As for pictures, I struggle to find one of Paul without a chasuble 😉

  11. Ah, Howard, a chasubleless priest after my own heart 🙂

    I would be interested to hear a sound argument against ’emergency’ lay presidency. I like Michael Church’s point that a community without a regular priest feels that loss by not having eucharist together. Presumably their intercessions for a new priest then have greater urgency. But Vincent Murphy’s analogy re emergency baptism has some merit: if the regular priest fell ill at too short a notice to organise another of the bishop’s college of priests to stand in for the ill priest, what theological reason exists for not proceeding with the anticipated eucharist presided over by an appropriate lay leader?

    1. I struggle to see the parallel with “emergency baptism”, Peter. I can certainly visualise when a baptism would be an “emergency” – but can see no “emergency” in what you describe. Administering baptism is not limited to any particular order – in fact even an atheist or non-believer can administer baptism. I would even be interested in your giving even a single example of a priest falling “ill at too short a notice” for a planned baptism within a Sunday service and a lay-person administering baptism in stead. I suggest that the bishop may very well appropriately classify such a situation as “not an emergency”. Further, who decides who “an appropriate lay leader” is? The ill priest? The bishop? I am delighted you would regard one Sunday without communion an “emergency” – most of us, I suggest, who have such a high view of the Eucharist believe in a “spiritual communion” when unable to receive the sacrament – God still provides the grace we yearn for.

  12. Leaving aside the issue of authorship, as your point would hold if his disciples believed he wore a chasuble – Would that be his φαιλόνης then? (2 Tim 4:13 – generally translated “cloak”).

    More to the point, how had he presided at prison Eucharists without it?

    1. Are you suggesting that a chasuble is required for a Eucharist to be valid, Howard? I have never seen that case made previously. NZ Anglican formularies of course required the chasuble at the Eucharist until I think 1966, but that was an issue of legitimacy rather than validity – an important distinction in liturgics. And in any case Paul wasn’t bound by NZ’s formularies.

  13. Hi Bosco
    I am looking for a sound theology for priestly presidency at the eucharist. I have no problem with it being the tradition (of Anglican Orthodox and Roman churches), it being the application of order to the life of the church, and so forth. One route towards thinking about that sound theology is to think about what would happen in an emergency, noting that in an emergency baptism may be administered by a non-ordered person (though it is new to me that an atheist can do it!). It matters little whether there is an exact parallel between emergency baptism and emergency eucharist. (In any case I used the word ‘analogy’ not ‘parallel’).

    With sufficient thought one could think of a reasonable example of emergency eucharist: here is another possibility, it is the Ozzie outback, the flying priest visits but once a year for eucharist, but on this occasion he falls ill after arrival but just before the planned time, when all and sundry from the stations around have gathered, and in his illness he is in a deep coma, so even some words from the bedside are impossible. What is the theological reason why an appropriate layperson could not preside at that eucharist? (Alternatively, what is the theological reason why that congregation should not have eucharist on that occasion for want of a priest?).

    The appropriate layperson could be someone otherwise sworn to uphold the canons and constitution of the church … the vicar’s warden … a licensed lay preacher …

    (I am not in anyway trying to argue for lay presidency as some general aspect of church life; but often feel a bit stumped about the theology of priestly presidency, so my enquiry is sincere!)

    1. I am not convinced, Peter, by your suggestion that “One route towards thinking about that sound theology is to think about what would happen in an emergency” – it is certainly a theological methodology I have never encountered before, and wonder which other theologians use this theological method?

      I would work from quite the opposite direction: the tradition that exceptions make for very bad rules. The once-a-year flying Ozzie outback comatose priest does not, in my opinion, constitute an “emergency” in any way either parallel or analogous to “emergency baptism”.

      I suggest that, as our ordinal has it “Our authority is in Scripture and in the Church’s continuing practice through the ages.” Episcopal/presbyteral eucharistic presidency evolved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in an analogous or parallel manner to the canon of scripture evolving under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Theology might reflect on this, and examine what happens if one abandons it, but you appear to me to be seeking to reason to it without any reference to Christian revelation within scripture or tradition. I might just as well ask you to derive your belief in the Trinity (with filioque). Better might be to look at what happens to Christian traditions that have abandoned episcopal/presbyteral eucharistic presidency – their incessant fragmentation should be sufficient warning that your pressing your once-a-year flying Ozzie outback comatose priest analysis to some sort of “logical” conclusion will not lead to positive results. In the case of your once-a-year flying Ozzie outback comatose priest situation, I suggest the solution be that your “appropriate layperson, someone otherwise sworn to uphold the canons and constitution of the church … the vicar’s warden … a licensed lay preacher” be ordained a priest. Then this community will have Eucharist weekly, and not annually.

  14. Hi Bosco
    I am in agreement with you that the general solution to a lack of people ordered to preside at communion (i.e. priests) should lead people being so ordered (i.e. ordained priests) – these priests, incidentally, being ordained to preach as part of their presidency!

    I also agree when you say, “Episcopal/presbyteral eucharistic presidency evolved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in an analogous or parallel manner to the canon of scripture evolving under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

    But that, in itself, does not constitute a ‘theology of priestly presidency’. Perhaps there is no theology, simply an authoritative tradition?

    1. Peter, you are going to have to clarify what you mean, then, by a ‘theology of priestly presidency’. I would have thought that the reflections and comments in the three posts that make up this series were pointing towards and providing at least a skeleton for such a theology, not merely “no theology, simply an authoritative tradition”. Including the concept that the Christian community, the body of Christ, is made up of a variety of gifts and ministries which are not just interchangeable. Such a theology might also reflect on sacraments not being a community’s creation, nor “possessed” by a community, but a divine gift. You can see I’m struggling here because I cannot really see what it is you are searching for now – I certainly cannot work out what a “theology” would look like that follows the methodology of “One route towards thinking about that sound theology is to think about what would happen in an emergency”. So please clarify what you mean by a ‘theology of priestly presidency’ and what that might and might not look like.

  15. Hi Bosco

    A theology of priestly presidency would include a theological explanation of why presidency is associated with presbyteral ministry (rather than, say, diaconal ministry) … noting that no association is made in Scripture … as well as why it is unable in certain circumstances, emergency or otherwise, to be taken up by other members of the body of Christ. There are a varieties of gifts and ministries which are not just interchangeable, but there are ministries which simply have to be done … the dirty hall can be cleaned by someone who does not have the gift of cleaning and who does not have a calling to be cleaner.

    Nevertheless in your last comment the beginnings of that theology are emerging!

    Incidentally, that theology would also need to explain why the priestly president of a eucharistic service can preside over the service, including different people taking up various parts (preacher, intercessor, reader), but not a different person taking up the role of leading the eucharistic prayer.

  16. This is indeed an interesting discussion, one in which I am getting an insight into some Down Under arguments for lay presidency. Can’t say that I agree with them, though.

    Ultimately, of course, the order of laity is the bedrock order of the Christian Church. If (heaven forbid!) all the ordained Christian clergy in the world were to suddenly disappear, Christians would no doubt meet, discuss the matter, and select from their ranks people to be consecrated bishops, who in turn, would ordain deacons and priests. World with out end, Amen.

    However, no one has addressed my point about the Reserved Sacrament. Surely, more parish-based deacons could administer Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament? In Low Church parishes, the Blessed Sacrament could be kept in the sacristy, as it was in pre-Tractarian times, rather than being stored in more public tabernacles.

    Kurt Hill
    In warm and sunny Brooklyn, NY

  17. I can see some merit in the concept that “one route towards thinking about that sound theology is to think about what would happen in an emergency” because it can distinguish what is desirable and valid from what is merely valid. It changes the question from “do we think it a good idea?” to “is there something that specifically prohibits this action?”.

    Likewise, there is much merit in the observation that taking the results of the “emergency case” and applying them to the general case is not usually a good idea. Such thinking may clarify matters but need not affect the desirability of any given decision.

    There are then perhaps two important questions when it comes to lay presidency; the first being “is there anything immutable that prohibits it (such that it would be a sin for it to take place)?” and the second being “how important and desirable is it that lay presidency continue to be prohibited?”.

    It is unrealistic to train and ordain lay persons in every Church where there is not a priest in regular attendance, if only due to the costs involved of putting them through seminary. Perhaps we might return to the early reformation distinction between those ordained priests licensed to administer the sacraments and those who are also licensed to preach? Such a lower level of licensing (whilst retaining the same level of ordination) would allow ordination of persons without having to subjecting them to the long period of theological study and examination required of preachers (I recall canon requires a BD at a minimum, unless that has been changed). The Book of Homilies or prepared sermons from the Bishop could be read instead, just as they were in times past.

  18. It is good to see commenters in dialogue with each other respectfully here developing more than a mere two-way conversation. Thank you. Let me add, then, a few points into these conversations.

    Peter, I think it is unfair to say that only “in [my] last comment the beginnings of that theology [of priestly presiding] are emerging”. This series began with an understanding of priesthood as “priests gather and lead the Christian community gathering (breathing in)” while “deacons lead the Christian community dispersed in service in the world (breathing out).” I have been repeating that priests are church-facing and deacons are world-facing.

    Your analogy that “the dirty hall can be cleaned by someone who does not have the gift of cleaning and who does not have a calling to be cleaner” appears to me to be along the lines of a foot doing what a hand is called to do (1 Cor 12:15). A foot can often do what a hand can do better – but they are, as you suggest, interchangeable. “Lay eucharistic presidency” is more along the lines of an ear trying to do what an eye can do (1 Cor 12:16). There are some things an ear can replace an eye for – but not to tell us colour.

    Kurt, I’m sorry no one has responded to your Reserved Sacrament point. All I might add is that in our NZ Prayer Book there are two different rites provided for using the Reserved Sacrament, one of them specifically for using the Reserved Sacrament with a congregation.

    Unfortunately, Vincent, your description is far different from our context here. It is not in any way regarded as unrealistic to train and ordain persons in every church where there is not a priest in regular attendance here. The majority of priests in the Anglican Church in NZ are being trained locally. A large number have been ordained with minimal training in both rural and urban parishes. I set up this website to provide some resourcing after discovering that something like only 1 in five (we keep no national statistics) were going to our national seminary which at that stage had become little more than a boarding hostel for a secular university. That pendulum, thankfully, is beginning to swing again.

  19. Hi Bosco Kurt and Vincent
    Thank you for considered responses!
    Just one comment – probably the last for this thread from me: yes, at the beginning a very fine, and agreeable theology of priesthood was being articulated. But I distinguish between a theology of priesthood and a theological explanation of the necessity of priestly presidency during the eucharistic prayer. I think the former is simpler to develop in a cogent manner than the latter, partly because Scripture does have something to say about priesthood/presbyteral ministry while being silent in answer to the question ‘who presided at early Christian eucharists’.

    And, to be clear again: I am not a proponent of lay presidency in general.

    1. I started this post, Peter, suggesting that this discussion degenerates to chopping the Eucharistic rite into bits and asking, “why can a lay person do this bit and not that bit?” and here we are. I also suggested that in any context (Eucharist, classroom, courtroom) there are certain things that the presider needs to do in order to be clearly and appropriately presiding. That the Bible does not go into detail about this may surprise you, but does not me. If an apostle or his delegate, or other church leader were presiding at an early worship service I think there would be no question but that the presider lead the central prayer at the heart of that worship service. I am, hence, not sure what presiding looks like in your understanding. I don’t know why your question focuses on the Eucharistic Prayer? Is there an underlying magical approach as I have pointed out? Why is your question not, for example: why does the presiding priest lead the peace? Why does the presiding priest pray the prayer at the Preparation of the Gifts? Why does the presiding priest break the bread? Why does the presiding priest give the invitation to communion? Why does the presiding priest lead the prayer after communion?

  20. The considered comments here are really valuable and interesting. I get the impression, perhaps wrongly, that Bosco is advocating ordained presidency over the Eucharist based on a theology of presidency rather than a theology of the ordinate.

    The question then becomes whether a licensed lay reader or deacon who leads a service in the absence of a priest is presiding over the service. If he is not, then who is presiding? If presidency over the service is the criteria for presidency over the Lord’s Supper, then why would it be wrong to say that the licensed lay reader or deacon, whilst not ordained priest, is acting in the office of priest by episcopal authority?

  21. Hi Bosco
    The very last word here from me (and related, I think, to Vincent’s comment), while appreciating your questions back to me, I am still unclear theologically (but not as to the tradition) why the priest presiding over the service needs to preside at the eucharistic table? If presiding over the service as a whole, signified, e.g. by greeting people, by being seated in the sanctuary, and at conclusion by blessing people, why be the one at the table when not required at the pulpit, or lectern (for readings or intercessions)?

    I appreciate your clarity and certainty when you say, “If an apostle or his delegate, or other church leader were presiding at an early worship service I think there would be no question but that the presider lead the central prayer at the heart of that worship service.” But I cannot share that clarity and certainty. How do we know, for instance, that analogous to Passover, a young person was not given the task of reading or saying what was said?

    Anyway, that is perhaps enough for now, from me. I shall keep thinking about these things! You might see a post one day on Anglican Down Under or Preaching and Worship … but only after the long-promised Christa post!!

    1. I am trying hard to see what in this thread we haven’t covered about what you are asking, Peter, and I may have to re-read the three posts and their comments to see which part we haven’t covered and return with a better answer, or even a further post. Possibly another reader can help in dialogue with you on the wavelength I am not quite catching. I am not sure, for example, why you would have blessing the people at the conclusion of the Eucharist as an essential element of priestly presiding, but seem to struggle with the presider leading the central prayer of the worship service? This seems to me to return to a magical understanding of priesthood that I have intimated I keep perceiving underneath your questions. A priestly blessing at the Eucharist is a relatively late development, increasing when people stopped receiving communion at the Eucharist. Contemporary liturgical renewal, including my Celebrating Eucharist seek to restore and renew the earlier insights – if you have been fed by God, where is the place now of a human’s blessing?

      The Eucharist is primarily a prayerful act of worship, not a Bible study, etc. which have their own valid place. The presider at this prayerful act of worship appropriately leads the central prayer – the Eucharistic Prayer. Possibly you are not understanding all of us praying the Eucharistic Prayer with the leadership of the presider and understanding it as a prayer said by the presider without our participation in it. Nothing could be further from my understanding.

      Thirdly, I have no idea where you are sourcing “a young person was given the task of reading or saying what was said” at the Passover Haggadah/Seder. I am sure that any basic introduction to Judaism would put you right on that. The leader at the Seder certainly can be seen to have a place analogous to the presider at the Eucharist, and the presbyter/episcopal leader at the Eucharist stands in continuity with that tradition. Once again, you will not have found this in the Bible, but that only highlights again the limitations of your searching there for information that was totally taken for granted by the biblical writers and has been passed down through both Jewish and Christian traditions and developments.

  22. Hi Bosco
    I got the young person at the Passover bit wrong (thanks Wikipedia!), though young people do have a verbal role at the Passover, and (as I understand it) it is possible for all participants in the meal to take a turn in reading the required words.

    Let me try to restate what I am saying: I clearly hear and understand the argument for there being a single presider at the eucharistic service. But I am pressing for a theological rather than a pragmatic/traditional explanation of why, when the presider presiding over the service may preside over another person reading, praying, or preaching, could not also preside over another person praying the eucharistic prayer (albeit leading the participants present in that prayer). Thus when you say, “I also suggested that in any context (Eucharist, classroom, courtroom) there are certain things that the presider needs to do in order to be clearly and appropriately presiding”, I am trying to ask why is the leading of the eucharistic prayer itself one of those things?

    My point that the presider might welcome at the beginning, be present in the sanctuary and bless at the end, is not that these are the minimal elements of presidency per se (so, agreed, that blessing at the end is a late development etc), but that if the issue is “certain things that the presider needs to do in order to be clearly and appropriately presiding” then it could be these things which enable the priest to be clearly and appropriately seen to be presiding, rather than other things.

    Pressing this question does not lead us to lay presidency per se, but could lead to reconsideration of (say) the priest being ordered as the one who, within the symbolic system surrounding the eucharist, represents Christ. Perhaps, in the end, that is one plank on which a theological explanation rests of priestly presidency requiring the priest to lead the eucharistic prayer.
    With warm regards
    PS I know, I said I wouldn’t post again 🙂

    1. I have not yet thought about a rule about how often a person may post a comment, Peter, so post away 🙂

      As I am continuing to try and understand your issue, I think you are moving away from the thread’s point and are accepting that a presbyter or bishop presides at the Eucharist, your issue is now why does the presider lead the Eucharistic Prayer? And you appear to not accept my point that the Eucharist is a prayerful worship service and so it is appropriate for the presider to lead the prayer central to this act of worship – the Eucharistic Prayer.

      I, hence, do not know if it will help you when I point out that there will be thousands of Eucharists celebrated today without the “Prayers of the People” you mention, and without a sermon. Their presence or absence has not been seen to be central to the Eucharist and so cannot be part of “certain things that the presider needs to do in order to be clearly and appropriately presiding” as you suggest.

      I am also wary of your using the words “present in the sanctuary” as an indication of presiding. I am talking about principles which apply at an outdoor Eucharist at a youth-camp, a relaxed Eucharist in a living room, as much as one in a great cathedral. Being “present in the sanctuary” after greeting everyone (which is all that is left in your list) would be no more presiding than a teacher saying “good morning class” and doing no more after that but sit in the corner for the rest of the lesson would be presiding over that classroom’s learning.

      Finally, it is you who have raised the concept of the priest as in persona Christi, not I. I am not sure where you seek to go with that, but I would underscore that the priest representing the community has at least as strong an understanding as your priest representing Christ.

  23. Hi Bosco
    On the one hand I think a particular problem (for me, at least) is your continued use of the word ‘appropriate’. My question is focused on why it is necessary theologically for the priest to lead the eucharistic prayer, rather than ‘appropriate’ for the priest to lead it.

    On the other hand I agree that an understanding that the eucharistic prayer is central to the service – it does not always appear to be the case 🙂 – underlines the appropriateness of the presider being the one who leads this prayer.

    I also agree that as much as the priest is in persona Christi the present also represents the community!

    1. In part I think, Peter, it is very hard for me to image what your point is pressing towards – what exactly would satisfy you? What would that look like?

      I am extremely conscious that as we discuss the Eucharist we are humans stumbling and mumbling within the great revelation at the heart of reality. We are here on very holy ground. The holiest ground. Our metaphors and signposts inadequately point towards the great mysteries of creation, incarnation, redemption, and theosis that we hope we grow more deeply into every time we celebrate the Eucharist. If, for you, that is enhanced and enriched by, when you preside (which for you appears here to be greet people and sit in the sanctuary), the ability to allow others to take the bread and wine, lead the giving of thanks, breaking the bread, and sharing the bread and the wine, then we will just have to agree to disagree. I myself cannot understand presiding other than leading those central actions of the Eucharist.

      I think I tend towards using “appropriate” rather than “necessary” because I am far less interested in a legalistic approach, and far far more interested in encouraging and enabling worship that is efficacious in the lives of those who worship, and beyond that out into the world. A parallel might be from my recent post on baptism. Your approach would be, “how little water is it necessary to use to make baptism valid?” That just is not my approach. My approach is far more along the lines of: how can we use water lavishly so that the full impact of baptism is there efficaciously in our community. Your continual pressing of, “yes, but how little water is actually necessary?” may be of interest in a magical understanding of the sacraments, or amongst canon lawyers, or with those who press for rubrical fundamentalism, or with the anti-symbolic approach I mentioned in the original post, but none of these approaches resonate in my life. So yes – it makes sense to me that you perceive in this thread my word of choice is “appropriate” more than “necessary”.

  24. Hmm. I think we may not be understanding each other. ” If, for you, that is enhanced and enriched by, when you preside (which for you appears here to be greet people and sit in the sanctuary), the ability to allow others to take the bread and wine, lead the giving of thanks, breaking the bread, and sharing the bread and the wine, then we will just have to agree to disagree.” That is not what I am saying!

    Perhaps I could put it another way. I am one with you on wanting to lead a rich eucharistic life touching on the great mysteries of life, created and redeemed, including leading the eucharistic prayer. Sometimes people ask me the question, ‘but why priests only leading that part of the service?’ What theological explanation can be given that person? You and I are agreed on the authoritative tradition behind it, we are agreed on the appropriateness of it, and here, in your post above, we can agree on the fact of the richness and profoundness of priestly presidency at the eucharist. But, personally, I still think that in this thread we have not gone very far in elucidating what I am calling a theological explanation!

    1. I have several times asked you, Peter, to clarify what such “a theological explanation” might look like that would satisfy you. Taking your own example of making a parallel with emergency baptism and the fact that this can be presided over by an atheist, what is what you are “calling a theological explanation” of that. It is your idea of what you are “calling a theological explanation” that you are failing to explain or define.

      If you are satisfied that you have a “theological explanation” of why a priest or bishop presides at the Eucharist (and it appears that you do as you have ceased pressing about that and are now examining individual parts of the Eucharist as the start of my post suggests happens) then I cannot understand why within this “theological explanation” that satisfies you you do not find the explanation of leading the Eucharistic Prayer. Presiding is leading. It is not inactively sitting in the sanctuary. There may be lots of people sitting in the sanctuary, they are neither leading nor presiding. The central action of the Eucharist, the central part of the Eucharist, the heart of the Eucharist is: taking bread and wine, giving thanks, breaking bread, sharing bread and wine. Presiding means leading those actions. Whatever “theological explanation” satisfies you that a priest or bishop presides ought to be the “theological explanation” that the priest or bishop leads those parts.

  25. Hi Bosco
    Thank you, at last I have what is (what I call) a theological explanation of priestly presiding including the eucharistic prayer: “Presiding means leading those actions.”

    I also (rereading your first post) acknowledge that although central and necessary to the priest being presider, leading the central action of the eucharist is not best done by the priest popping up to do so in a service otherwise led by various others (ditto priest at absolution and blessing).

    Thus the priest as presider needs also to have other roles, loosely summed up, perhaps, ‘providing continuity in leadership through the service but not to the exclusion of diaconal and lay involvement’.

    I am helped by your patient responses. Thank you!

  26. Just a thought: our church liturgy combines the Jewish priestly/temple tradition with the breaking of the bread, but was the early idea one of keeping them separate, with Eucharist a daily, at-home activity not requiring a priest??

    Acts 2:46… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.

    1. That is a really interesting question, Mark, which would probably require much more research. Is your Acts 2 quote describing the Eucharist? And if so, is the “They broke bread in their homes” a description of something they did “Every day” – or would the Eucharist have been weekly? And in the breaking of the bread/Eucharist would there have been someone naturally taking that leadership that evolved into ordained priesthood as we now know it (under the guidance of the Spirit – or, if one holds a different position, as an aberration from the original Biblical model?) Also, I tend to think of our current Eucharistic service as combining synagogue service and home meal, your pointing to the temple tradition I suspect is an often-neglected part of the tradition also.

  27. Hello,

    The Schola Cantorum Sancti Pauli are organising the first regular Choral Evensong in Athens, Greece, and may be out of a Chaplain for the month of June.

    I have been wondering whether it is possible for a layperson to lead Evening Prayer, and if so, what other possible requirements there may be.

    1. Thanks, Iason.

      In principle, there is no reason why a lay person cannot lead Evening Prayer. In fact, the historic expectation would be that lay people are praying (hence leading) Morning and Evening Prayer in their home (or other places) daily. The loss of such a discipline of daily prayer in the life of the church is concerning.

      Having said that, your parish or diocese might have a process for assigning such leadership in a church building. We hardly want people to be arguing about whose turn it is and what format it should take.

      Χριστός ἀνέστη!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.