Wednesday, April 23, 2008

An illustration: High vs. Low Church

The question? "Why do we celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday?"

Here's how the Episcopal Church's liturgical officer, the Rev. Clayton Morris responds:

The worship life of the Episcopal Church is ordered in a series of rhythms. The liturgical year is punctuated by seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time.

From Advent to Pentecost, the life and ministry of Jesus is the thematic focus, Sunday by Sunday. From Trinity Sunday until the last Sunday after Pentecost, the weekly gathering of the community reflects on how it can "seek and serve Christ in all persons and strive for justice and peace among all people," in the words of the Baptismal Covenant. The week has its own rhythm.

The Book of Common Prayer calls the church to daily prayer, providing offices for morning, noon, evening and night. The prayer book also calls the church to gather as a congregation once a week to celebrate Eucharist.

Why does the church gather around a table with food and drink in its primary act of worship? Because God calls the church to a ministry of reconciliation. The church is called to restore the dignity of creation. It is all about feeding and being fed. It is all about making certain that all God's children are safe, whole and nourished. The ritual breaking of bread in the midst of the assembly reminds us of our task while it embodies its reality.

In its early history, the church always celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday. For a host of historical and circumstantial reasons, weekly Communion fell out of fashion over time so that, by the time Anglicanism was transplanted to the North American continent, Sunday morning worship without Communion was common. The drafters of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer were very clear about restoring the Eucharist to Sunday morning as a way of underscoring the church's ministry in the world.

So, as faithful Christians, we use the Daily Office in some form, alone or in community, to say our daily prayers. On Sunday, we gather as the body of Christ in the eucharistic assembly. We take bread, bless it, break and share it. Then we take our nourished bodies and souls into the world to do the work God has given us to do.

There is some stuff here that looks straightforward but is not, and could be unpacked--I've put it in boldface. This type of explanation strikes me as low, left evangelical, and rather well done for what it is. Notice a critical and, it seems to me, high-church reaction from a layperson on Fort Worth's Standing Committee (empahsis via boldface added by me):

This article written by the Rev. Clayton Morris, liturgical officer for the Episcopal Church, concerning “Since You Asked: Why Do We Celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday?” (Episcopal Life, March 31, 2008) is shocking in its explanation of the Holy Eucharist.
This explanation could apply to any secular gathering or meal where the goal is to make sure that “all God’s children are safe, fed, nourished, and whole.” This could be such things as a food bank project or any number of community gatherings or meals.
This has nothing to do with the Christian meaning of the Eucharist! Where is the saving, atoning death of Jesus on the cross in this explanation? Where is any mention of Jesus’ Body which was given for us and His Blood which was shed for us, as a final and complete sacrifice? Where is even a simple word about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Where is any mention of our part in preparing to receive the Eucharist – “earnestly repenting of our sins, being in love and charity with our neighbors, and intending to lead a new life . .?” And where is any word about forgiveness of sins, strength, and amendment of life granted to partakers in this blessed sacrament by our Lord and Him alone?
The above explanation of the Eucharist has nothing to do with the holy sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood in this sacrament. It is appalling in its omissions.

The blog Apostolicity reporting this exchange presents it without comment, as if it did not need one: just another in a long series of events no longer needing elucidation. That is the saddest thing about it, I think; the layperson from Fort Worth sees only a complete negation of proper doctrine, a line of sentences completely secularized, having literally nothing to do with the genuine article. It might be natural for the layperson from Fort Worth to take the additional step of suspecting the Episcopal Church is apostate, or slipping into secularism, or committed to another religion altogether.

I'd disagree with the assessment from Fort Worth; it seems to me if the boldfaced items from Rev. Morris' piece were unpacked, they would coincide with the core concerns of the critic's piece. The difference is one of style (low-church evangelical vs. conservative high-church) and general emphasis or direction (left vs. right), not one of substance. The church catholic ought to be able to include both peacefully.


At 11:41 AM, Blogger Allogenes said...

Excuse my butting in, I am a UU with some theological curiosity who happened to pick up this post via Google Alert. Anyway, I was wondering what is particularly "high church" about the lay response? To me this angry insistence on Christian particulars such as substitutionary atonement seems as typical of conservative evangelicalism as of anything else, whereas the original statement seems generically modern in its avoidance of such notions...

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

I'd agree, Allogenes. I don't think this is a "high church" response either.

The line "the holy sacrifice of Christ's Body and Blood" is a typical Anglo-Catholic phrase but the quote doesn't use it in an Anglo-Catholic way. If it were, it would refer to the priest's sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

Too, I would expect a much fuller mention of the Real Presence and the mystical union with Christ achieved through the reception of TMPBABOOLASJC.

I'm irked about as well although I agree with the Scotist--there's nothing wrong with this response when it's seen in the larger context of our eucharistic understanding. The problem is that I see this as a catechetical exchange. The point of such a response is not to give one piece of the answer but to give an overview that can be expanded into its constituent parts.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Welcome; thanks for coming by.

I don't mean to say either statement should be rejected tout court; rather, I think they are compatible.

Still, there are differences. The original statement, in its modernity, steps away from much traditional language in what seems to be an effort to speak in a language that hearers can understand in concrete terms. Behind that effort is a presumption that traditional language is distant from and vacuous in relation to contemporary sensibilities.

One fear might be that traditional language without concrete sense serves as a wax nose responsive to hidden agendas that would not be able to fend for themselves if they had to do without the wax of tradition: blocking WO, blocking SSUs, etc.

The high church lay response retains a connection to traditional language that may or may not be sincere, but the important point might be it retains a connection to metaphysics or speculative theology that the more modern view does not. One can speak in high church terms of various symbolic or Platonic themes for which the mioderns have no comparable replacement.

Thus, even apart from the conservative traditionalist's specific concerns, a high-church lefty might worry that the victory of low church evangelicalism will strip the church of symbolic themes and leave a void.

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

I don't fit nicely in either of these, which is probably no surprise given I seem to traverse between Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic categories.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

They can go together--and they have in our past. The evangelical high church missionary bishop is our thing: think Nashotah.

But in fact they seem to me not just actually separate, but to be actually pulling each other apart, resulting in various sorts of gratuitous, needless damage.

At 6:54 PM, Blogger Paul Powers said...

Interestingly enough, the "lay person from Fort Worth" is a lifelong parishioner at a parish that by Fort Worth standards is considered "low church." Perhaps churchmanship is relative and this same parish would be considered positively anglo-catholic in other dioceses.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Paul Powers,

Two points:

It's worse that you say, when you say "relative"--even if a charismatic Episcopalian spoke from Fort Worth's Standing Committee, the context of her speaking would capture the content of what she said. Why? She speaks not only as an individual, but from her office as well.

So--even an traditionally orthodox, conservative ChristiAn woman speaking in any official capacity from 815 wOuld see what she said captured by its context of utterance, so it would not necessarily be heard as traditional & orthodox if there was any coherent way to hear it otherwise.

This mode of hearing probably exacerbates divisions, and the internet lends itself to such forms of misunderstanding.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I too did not find the FtW response to be "high church" in particular. In fact, I think the emphasis leans more towards an evangelical personal-salvation modality, which I consider low church. The emphasis in Morris' piece on the gathering of the community is, in my opinion, a more "high church" notion -- particularly in its emphasis on then taking that strength back out to service in the world. A very Puseyite notion!

At 12:42 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Maybe I'm wrong.

However, I had thought the Typical Right-wing Evangelical would say salvation comes solely through Faith mediated by mere Scripture. The Typical Right-wing Evangelical plays up the potential for Scripture, mediated through Preaching, to bring about a transformation: repentance and amendment of life, say.

Thus, you might see the Typical Right-wing Evangelical tolerate Lay Presidency, greet once-a-month Eucharists with contented equianimity, and really believe his rector should be able to lead the church--including the building his congregation built for itself--out of the province.

Our layperson from Fort Worth seems to place great value on the Gravity and Dignity of the Sacrament in itself, gives no hint of "Scripture alone" or "Faith alone" pieties, confidently embraces church tradition beyond Scripture as essential to orthodoxy and orthopraxis, and very happily speaks up--within the episcopal setting of her diocese, not within her congregational setting (high or low).

Morris does not refer to the distinction between Congregational and properly Episcopal communities--and a number of Episcopalians in Virginia and, it seems judging from CANA's court claims, Nigeria as well have trouble drawing that distinction.

That distinction is one that I figured Anglo-catholics, valuing the apostolic succession and seeing its continuity in strictly episcopal terms, would not have missed


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