In the last few weeks, I’ve been pastorally alongside people who have been shocked and distressed by some Anglican clergy throwing out consecrated wine. As am I. In catholic understanding, this is sacrilege.

Some clergy who do this turn it into a joke. Others say their bishop gave them permission. I’ve also had people attack me that this is a gnat-swallowing concern of mine, and that I’m the sort of pharisaical obsessor that Jesus came to save us from…

It is worth thinking through the second and third points.

The Bishop Let Me Do It

What are the limits to the Bishop’s authority?

Using this particular example to start us thinking, the formulary (Church’s binding agreement) says:

Any remaining consecrated bread and wine, unless required for the communion of persons not present, is consumed at the end of the distribution, or immediately after The Dismissal of the Community.

A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa page 516

I am convinced that it is not within the bishop’s authority to override such a clear teaching of our Church.

This brings me to a wider issue in our Church. It is unclear what the bishop can authorise.

In 2016, we changed our Constitution [Part G2] so that services can be “authorised” by a bishop if such a service is not contrary to our Formularies. I was against the alteration to our Constitution. I think our Anglican Church of Or has more-than-sufficient flexibility, and no one has yet been able to suggest a specific example of a service that is not allowed by our various Forms but would be allowed by this newly created episcopal authorisation.

All the change to our Constitution has done is generate even more confusion in our Anglican Church of Or. Including amongst the bishops themselves. Can a bishop, for example, authorise a new baptismal rite? Some say they cannot authorise a service for which a Formulary already exists? Others say they can. What about the Ordination rite? That’s just two examples.

Once again, I repeat what I have often said: our Church seriously needs a comprehensive review leading to clarification of what is required, what is allowed, and what is forbidden. And that includes clarifying what the authority of a bishop includes and what it does not.

Gnats and Camels

My focus, in this post, is on the limits of the bishop’s authority. But I think the accusation of liturgical pharisaism is worth at least acknowledgement – if only because some will be thinking this…

The rubrics (instructions) in our Prayer Book are intentionally sparse in the extreme. The rubrics are deliberate in the choice of weight of the verb used: “shall”, “should”, “is”, “does”. These give some idea of the relative imperativeness of the instruction. When the rubric has, “The presiding priest at the Eucharist should wear a cassock and surplice with stole or scarf, or an alb with the customary vestments,” (page 515), the “should” indicates that not doing so is not sacrilege. At an informal house communion, I would wear a stole if presiding.

When we come to baptism, for example, the rubrics are not that the one baptising “should” use water; the instructions to use water are in the simple present tense: “The bishop or priest baptises each candidate for baptism, either by immersion in the water, or by pouring water on the candidate” (page 386).

Similarly, “Any remaining consecrated bread and wine …IS consumed” is in quite a different category to “It is appropriate…” and other levels of instruction.

I have, for many years now, written and spoken about a “liturgical grammar”. In ordinary linguistic grammar, arguing about whether to include a comma is one thing; omitting subject and verb, so that there is no coherent understanding conveyed, is quite another.

Anglicanism is a hybrid tradition, and for people with different acceptable positions to experience inclusion we have agreements that mean, for example, that those who think nothing really happens to the bread and wine in our sacramental actions and those who do believe that God effects real change can remain together and worship together.

What to do with remaining Consecrated Elements

As with my previous section adding to the primary point of the bishop’s limits, we need a postscript for those thinking: but what do we do with the remaining consecrated elements? If you are not reserving, you presumably consecrated more than was consumed because of a very large gathering of people. People grow in experience in judging numbers, communicants, and concomitant amounts to consecrate. If that experience isn’t there yet, some of the large number of people present can be asked to help consume “immediately after The Dismissal of the Community.” To this suggestion, I have received the response that people are driving – and certainly I am absolutely against driving under the influence of alcohol. But it is beyond my belief that, in such a large congregation, everyone has arrived driving themselves as the sole occupant of a vehicle!

image source: MichaelMaggs

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