Communion

From time to time I see the priest receiving communion last. Some clergy don’t just do this, but strongly advocate it: priests who receive first are apparently not doing it right; I am told that the priest receiving last is the way I should do it. Apparently, this is a sign of humility. And the irony is missed: “I, by receiving last, am more humble than you!”

Binding agreement for Anglicans, The Book of Common Prayer 1662, has the rubric in the service of Holy Communion:

Then shall the Minister first receive the Communion in both kinds himself, and then proceed to deliver the same to the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, in like manner, (if any be present,) and after that to the people also in order, into their hands

This is nothing new. It’s been there at least since the first English Prayer Book:

Then shall the Prieste firste receive the Communion in both kindes himselfe, and next deliver it to other Ministers, if any be there present, (that they may bee ready to helpe the chiefe Minister,) and after to the people.

[The same rubric is found in the 1928 Proposed BCP]

The symbolism is pretty straight forward: we who share Christ with others should first receive Christ ourselves.

The first revised rite in NZ, in 1966, explicitly kept to the same approach:

The Priest shall receive the Holy Communion himself… Then shall the Sacrament next be administered to the Ministers who assist the Priest and then to the rest of the People.

The 1970 revision was explicitly the same. Other Anglican revisions follow the same understanding (eg. TEC’s BCP page 365).

Some justify the fashion to abandon the tradition by pointing to the host at a meal serving themselves last. This brings up far bigger issues if the presider sees himself/herself as the host of the eucharistic meal and the congregation/laity as the guests!

The tradition that we who share Christ with others should first receive Christ ourselves is ancient and widespread. The Roman Missal also describes the tradition: the presiding priest receives communion first.

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