Dom Gregory Dix, one of the foremost Anglican liturgists of the 20th Century wrote passionately on the shape and the power of the Eucharistic action, where bread and wine were taken, given thanks for, broken and shared. In Blessed we created a meditation on his text which can be viewed on YouTube:
Bread and wine transformed by prayer into the Body and Blood of Christ is one of the fundamental mysteries of the Church. How this happens, we simply do not know; why this happens, beyond it is of God’s will, we do not know; and in what way this happens is a mysterios [Greek or sacramentum [Latin. We cannot see the wind, but we can see the action on the wind on the trees: so look not for Christ wedged between the crumbs of the Host, but in the words of the Psalmist “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
The Canons on the Church of England, or our rulebook if you like, states that:
The bread, whether leavened or unleavened, shall be of the best and purest wheat flour that conveniently may be gotten, and the wine the fermented juice of the grape, good and wholesome.
Notice that this does not include gluten-free wafers which we can make available for those with Coeliac Disease. These canons were written well before knowledge of such things. We use specially made unleavened wafers, preferably wholemeal, made by an English Religious Community in Burford, Oxfordshire, although we have also used freshly-baked bread made during the mass. The wine must be alcoholic (no grape juice permitted), but beyond that, no specification to colour, sweetness, alcohol content (although 14-15% lasts better once opened), sparkliness (remember the champagne used as a bold statement of celebration this Easter morning) or fortification (my predecessor used Sherry, and we often use Port at Christmas).
Participation in this most sacred meal is not limited or exclusive: Christ ate with sinners and the unworthy like you and I as often as he did with Pharisees, and for this reason, we happily administer the sacrament to all who wish to receive it: confirmation, and sometimes even baptism are not conditions on which God’s saving graces can be bounded, and so as conduits of that grace, your clergy bid everyone to enter into the banquet of the lamb.
Now, there may be reasons why one might not be able to fully participate in the full meal: issues with gluten, or alcohol or our physical limitations, but if we are unable to partake of the sacraments in both kinds, we have not missed out: for Jesus Christ is fully, mysteriously present in both. To take only bread, or only wine, or to receive in an ‘irregular’ order does not invalidate it. When I was a nurse in Intensive Care, I was privileged to be caring for a long-term patient who was unable to receive the host: he had breathing tubes and was unable to swallow, so the priest brought the Precious Blood up to the unit, and supervising me, I was asked to administer it through a tube directly into his stomach. This was a key part of that person’s healing, the first time I was able as a layperson to administer the chalice (a 5ml syringe!) and a powerful statement of Christ present in the elements both singly and together. Similarly, it is perfectly acceptable to receive communion by intincture – to ‘dip’. The chalice-bearer will put the purificator towel underneath to ensure there are no drips, but this is acceptable. Do as you will, and if it is with the intention of drawing closer to the Lord, it will be fine. Worry not.
It’s all good. The whole of creation exists interdependently for the glory of God: “God makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15).
The Church exists for the Glory of God and his worship and to proclaim the Kingdom of God not at some undisclosed time in the future, but in the here and now. It does not therefore exist for the benefit or satisfaction of its members. To be caught up primarily in concern for the colour of the wine, whilst neglecting the social deprivation within our community; to be more worried about what which chalice we use whilst forgetting to engage with the young people who hang about on our street corners, is to have lost the sense of the Gospel calling.
No decision, particularly related to worship in Church, can please everybody: someone will always be excluded from the table to which the Lord invites everybody, regardless of age, holiness or place on the journey. Whatever your clergy do will wrankle with some and please maybe even less. However, if we refocus our eyes on the purpose of this ecclesial community, and set about making Christ known in broken bread and wine outpoured, then nothing else matters. I invite you on this journey of radical discipleship, and pray that when we do this, these other matters will pale into insignificance.
Written on retreat at the Sisters of the Love of God, Fairacres, Oxford,