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receiving communion

Not coming to the table for communion

receiving communion
Yes. There are exceptions. Exceptional circumstances and contexts in which the norm cannot be applied.


when planning for new worship spaces, and when renewing inherited spaces

it should be clear that the altar is the community’s table – not somehow exclusively the possession of the ordained

and if there is a procession of the gathered community to receive communion

it needs to be seen as one of the processions

and it needs to be towards the altar NOT away from it!

In some communities, when I come to their celebration of the Eucharist, it is as if they are always celebrating it for the very first time. Those leading seem unsure of what to do next; those assisting in leadership seem unsure what the leadership will do next. Distribution of communion seems each time ad-libbed.

Even some recently-designed/built worship spaces seem to have taken no thought for how communion will be received (“recently” in this context means: since the Eucharist has become the normal primary service).

And so some communities distribute communion by “stations” [a perfectly good way to distribute communion where those distributing stand side-by-side, and those receiving process up, receive, and return to their place]. But what is happening in many places is the stations are not up the front so that those receiving communion move towards the altar – in some/many places, stations are organised so that people are moving away from the altar to receive communion.

There may, as I suggested at the start, be very exceptional circumstances in which nothing else is possible. But if moving away from the table to receive nourishment from the community meal is happening in a contemporary worship space then this is a significant issue. And if a new worship space is being designed and the architect is not taking this into consideration – sack the architect.

It is of concern that senior clergy not only follow this practice of sending people away from the table uncritically, but advocate this practice to others in worship spaces in which other solutions are perfectly practicable.

The NZ Anglican rite invites to communion with the words, “Draw near and receive…” Do we mean what we say? Or should in some places the presider be saying, “Go down the back and receive…”?

This post can be seen as another in architecture reflections on this site.

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8 thoughts on “Not coming to the table for communion”

  1. I find this sort of concern about process and placement one of the more incomprehensible aspects liturgicalism. As my wife just remarked – we are one body because we share the one bread (or tin of wafers … 🙂 ), not one table! In communion, we share in the living body of our Lord. When I ‘draw near’, it is to approach the physical symbols of his bodily presence in heaven, here at hand. It is not to an architectural construct, whether altar or table, to which I draw near. If a community of believers I am with wish to distribute the bread and wine/juice at the front, rear, side or throughout the space in which we gather – fine. My attention is on the bread and cup, and the person they are/represent – the rest is nice, but not necessary, decoration.

    1. Thanks, Paul. Certainly an interesting response. I’m not sure what to make of your neologism, “liturgicalism” – it has a pejorative ring to it. I’m surprised by your reaction (“one of the more incomprehensible aspects liturgicalism”), as if this is regularly discussed – I struggle to recall it ever being discussed or remarked upon, and I cannot recall ever bringing it up myself, not even in my book Celebrating Eucharist. No one is suggesting, as you conclude, that anyone would think my point might be “necessary” (wherever did you get that?) Yes, it is at the “nice/decoration” end of the spectrum rather than at the “necessary” end. But following your logic – the table itself is at that end of the spectrum. Just distribute food straight from the cupboard or microwave to people wherever you find them. No table required. Blessings.

      1. Perhaps ‘liturgicalism’ could be taken as pejorative, if you wish, but was not intended to be. How else to describe a high level of emotional attachment to certain symbolic and process-driven aspects of formal religious ‘theatre’? Especially those which require deep explanation to non-iniates such as ourselves.

        And no, you have not discussed it as a phenomenon, though clearly this blog (which I enjoy) is evidence of it. I too value meaningful process (professional and liturgical), and also processions (I’m building several Xmas parade floats at present). My amused bemusement is wider than your post, though my response was successfully provoked by your bold face italics, and dramatic sacking instructions …

        As to food without tables – yep, I’d call that a picnic. Jesus seemed good at them too … 😉

        1. Thanks, Paul. I’m perfectly delighted by the idea of Eucharist outside – Jesus picnic style. No building required. If, however, we employ an architect to build a family home and we end up needing to have our meals picnic style inside that house, finding it is not possible to gather around a table – yes, I’d not hesitate to sack such an architect. Blessings.

  2. One of the most common liturgical/architectural conversations I’ve been involved in since ordination is about the altar rail. I completely understand and agree with the concern — the altar rail can seem like a fence keeping the holy things and people separate from the congregation, especially with the closing of the gate ritual after the money and elements pass through — but I still often point out that in my experience when the altar rail is removed the people receiving Communion never get that close to the altar again, either because they’re standing farther back or because they’re receiving at a station at the head of the nave. The effect is to keep the people away, whatever the optics of the building.

  3. I agree Bosco that the movement should be forward to the table. Eucharist is about symbolism. Good symbolism at the eucharist should lead to all participating equally in the symbolism. In this case, we should all be moving forward towards the table.

    It may not be, however, a question of sacking the architect. It could be as simple as removing one row of chairs/pews at the front in order to create the room required for the number of stations needed.

    Could I add in here a word for fellow Anglicans [at least here in NZ] (simply because we commonly do not seem to think clearly about efficiency in distribution compared with our Roman counterparts)?

    Let the chalice bearer stand at least 1.5m apart from the paton bearer!

  4. Not many of the 9000 expected at this Sunday’s FaithFest Mass in the CBS Arena will move towards the altar to receive communion. There will be 50 stations upstairs and down at which those nearest to each will receive.

    Ralph Knowles

    1. Thanks, Ralph – a wonderful example of the sort of exception I started this post off with! Let us hope/pray that this gathering is inspiring, hope-filling, and a witness in our context. As an aside: what an interesting reflection to place this in comparison with the gathering of Anglicans in this city when the Archbishop of Canterbury visited a year ago. Blessings.

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