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This Is My Body

On reflections for Corpus Christi, I came across more than once the wonderful words attributed to Queen Elizabeth I (when questioned on her beliefs on the Eucharist in Mary’s reign):

Christ was the word that spake it.
He took the bread and break it;
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.

The Western tendency is to treat the words, “This is my body… This is my blood” as words of consecration. [The East has a stronger focus on the epiclesis, the part of the Eucharistic Prayer invoking the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine – the epiclesis missing from the Western consecrating prayer for a lot of its history].

I remind you, that in the original stories of Jesus’ last meal, “This is my body” were not words of consecration. They were words of administration, of distribution. Treating the words, “This is my body” as if they are magical words lies behind our use of “hocus pocus” which are a debasement of the Latin for “This is my body” (“hoc est corpus meum”).

We have valid Eucharistic Prayers (including authorised by the Vatican – the strongest proponent of “This is my body” as words of consecration) which do not include “This is my body… This is my blood”.

I have argued, similarly, that proclaiming, “I baptise you in the Name of the Father, and of…”, as if these words effect baptism, is not what is meant when the New Testament instructs us (Matthew 28:19) to baptise “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. These words are not magical words that the Bible instructs us to say aloud. This is a description of what we are doing when we baptise – we do so on behalf of, in the name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

May I stress, as I have previously, that I am in no way advocating an abandonment of our tradition of including the Final-Meal story of Jesus in our Eucharistic Prayer. I strongly advocate adherence to our agreements – and in this case strong ecumenical agreement. Nor am I talking about whether or not the bread and wine becomes Christ’s body and blood – quite the opposite. I am simply highlighting that any discussion around this needs to take care that we acknowledge that we come with (Western) lenses when we approach the mystery of the Eucharist.

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10 thoughts on “This Is My Body”

  1. An interesting contrast; In the LDS Church, there are two set prayers for the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. One for the bread and one for the water. These are blessed and served separately in the service one after the other. The Church uses water because Joseph Smith claimed a revelation not to use wine purchased from the Church’s enemies, so water has been substituted ever since.

    There is no preface to the meal, no reminding of the Last Supper or what occurred there. The presiders, most often teenaged boys ordained priests in the Aaronic Priesthood, break the bread into individual pieces and then one kneels and reads this prayer;

    “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”

    After the bread has been passed in trays to the congregation, a presider kneels and says this prayer over the individual cups of water that were previously prepared prior to the service;

    “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”

    The trays of water are then passed to the congregation. If the presider flubs the words of either prayer, the prayer has to be restarted and read correctly!

    The only other set prayer in the LDS Church is the baptismal prayer, which must be said word for word as the officiant, a priest or a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood, raises their arm to the square and calls the candidate by their full legal name;

    “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen”

    The person is then baptized by full submersion. This prayer also must be said without fubbing the words or it has to be repeated.

    Baptisms are usually very personal family situations. Children are baptized at 8 years of age and the officiant is most often a grandfather, father, older brother, uncle or cousin. For converts, the officiant is usually one of the missionary Elders who taught them and brought about their conversion.

  2. Bosco, following on from your article, what are your thoughts on lay celebration? If the Eucharistic Prayer is descriptive, what is to stop a suitable lay person reverently celebrating Communion?

    1. Thanks, Ian. You mean the community authorising one of its own to preside as its leader, leading the prayer in its name? Sounds like ordination… Blessings.

      1. That seemed to be the situation in Aotearoa, with churches (supported by their bishops) authorising communion celebration but only in their own church. I think it was a limited licence or something like that. That would potentially mean someone is a priest in Hastings but not in Palmerston North.
        My original question appropriately said “suitable lay person” and I suppose I could have said “any lay person”, but we both know that nobody wants that. So now we are looking at the nature of ordination, which is a whole different subject…

        1. Yes, Ian, I think you are talking about local shared ministry – a community won’t have a vicar; they will divide many of what would be seen as the traditional vicar’s roles amongst themselves. Some in the community will be ordained and have a licence limited to that community. Blessings.

          1. Malcolm French

            Their *license* will be limited to that community – as is, strictly speaking, the case with any ordained person. I can’t just start wandering around Christchurch celebrating the Eucharist wherever and whenever. I am (for the moment) canonically resident in Waikato and Taranaki where I am licensed as Vicar of Cambridge. I shouldn’t do anything down the road at Tamahere without the consent of the Vicar thereof.

          2. Malcolm, you are giving the impression that your licence is identical with that of a priest holding a licence for a Locally Shared Ministry context. That is not correct. As you indicate, with the consent of the Vicar of Tamahere, it would be perfectly acceptable for you, holding your licence, to preside at the Eucharist there. You might do so to help out with the Vicar being away, for example. A priest holding a Locally Shared Ministry licence does not have that option within what they are authorised to do. Blessings.

  3. At the church I attended last Sunday ( part of The Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church ) members of the congregation often lead the communion.

    I’ve never taken communion in years because I haven’t felt called to, in fact the opposite, as with other aspects of liturgy; that’s another topic but it’s very important to me that people feel free to do or not do rituals. You’ve talked about this before but rituals which are very familiar and comfortable to the membership can be confusing or off-putting to the newcomer.

    1. Yes, Tracy. It’s like writing or speaking about a topic one is very familiar with; the more one knows, the harder it is to put oneself into the shoes of those who know little to nothing about one’s topic. Blessings.

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