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Anglican Eucharistic theology is divergent in practice, reflecting the essential comprehensiveness of the tradition. A few low church Anglicans, expressing a Zwinglian ethos, tend to take a strictly memorialist view of the sacrament. In other words, they see Holy Communion as a memorial to Christ's suffering, and participation in the Eucharist as both a re-enactment of the Last Supper and a foreshadowing of the heavenly banquet—the fulfillment of the Eucharistic promise—however, as this view rejects the Real Presence of Christ, it is at odds with the Thirty-nine Articles and traditional Anglican theology. Most low church Anglicans do, in fact, believe in the Real Presence but merely deny that the presence of Christ is carnal or can be localised in the bread and wine. Some high church or Anglo-Catholic Anglicans hold closely to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, first promulgated by Scholastic theologians in the Middle Ages which understands the Eucharist as a re-presentation (not representation) of Christ's atoning sacrifice, with the elements transubstantiated into Christ's Body and Blood.
Some Anglicans, however, implicitly or explicitly adopt the Eucharistic theology of consubstantiation, first articulated by the Lollards, or Sacramental Union, first articulated by Martin Luther . Luther's analogy of Christ's Presence was that of the heat of a horseshoe thrust into a fire until it is glowing. In the same way, Christ is present in the bread and the wine. These Anglicans are not following, however, the historic Thirty-Nine Articles and traditional Anglican Theology. The Reformed Episcopal Church version of the Thirty-Nine Articles strictly forbids this belief.
- Main article: Anglican sacraments
With the Eucharist, as with other aspects of theology, Anglicans are largely directed by the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (i.e., "the law of prayer is the law of belief"). In other words, sacramental theology as it pertains to the Eucharist is sufficiently and fully articulated by the Book of Common Prayer of a given jurisdiction. As defined by the 16th century Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, a sacrament is defined as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace". It thus has the effect of conveying sanctification on the individual participating in the sacramental action. In the Eucharist, the outward and visible sign is that of bread and wine, while the inward and spiritual grace is that of the presence of Christ (either symbolically or actually).
Sacraments have both form and matter. A form is the verbal and physical liturgical action, while the matter refers to any material objects used. In the Anglican Eucharist, the form is contained in the rite and its rubrics, as articulated in the authorized missal of the ecclesiastical province. Central to the rite is the Eucharistic Prayer, or "Great Thanksgiving". The matter is the bread and wine.
For the vast majority of Anglicans, the Eucharist (also called "Holy Communion", "Mass" or "the Lord's Supper"), is the central act of gathered worship, and is the means by which Christ becomes present to the Christian community gathered in his name. For the majority of Anglicans this event constitutes the renewal of the Body of Christ as the Church through the reception of the Body of Christ as the Blessed Sacrament, his spiritual body and blood. In this sacrament, Christ is both encountered and incorporated. As such, the Eucharistic action looks backward as a memorial of Christ's sacrifice, forward as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and to the present as an incarnation of Christ in the lives of the community and of individual believers.
Varieties of Eucharistic theology
Anglican incarnational theology emphasizes the importance of God using the mundane and temporal as a means of giving people the transcendent and eternal. For many who hold such a view, they consider the manifestation of Christ in the Eucharistic elements to belong to the realm of spirit and eternity, and not to be about Christ's corporeal presence. This "middle view" does not necessarily negate memorialist and transubstantiationist views, but instead allows for a comprehensive range of perspectives and for an emphasis on the fundamental mystery of how Christ is present. This respect for the mystery of the Real Presence is reflected in the aphorism attributed by some to John Donne, by others to Elizabeth I : "He was the Word that spake it; He took the bread and brake it; And what that Word did make it, I do believe and take it" without any further explicit detail. Indeed, the Catechism of 1604 states the belief in a non-defined Real Presence:
- Question. What is the outward part or signe of the Lords Supper?
- Answer. Bread and wine, which the Lord hath commanded to bee received.
- Question. What is the inward part or thing signified?
- Answer. The Body and Blood of Christ, which are verely and indeed taken and received of the faithful in the Lords Supper."
Article XXVIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles declares that "Transubstantiation … cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions." Nevertheless, many Anglo-Catholics and High Church Anglicans adhere to a belief in transubstantiation, and in this respect, they suscribe more closely to the Eucharistic theology of Roman Catholicism than with that of mainstream Anglicanism.
Anglicans and Roman Catholics declared that they had "substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist" in the Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine developed by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, as well as the Commission's Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement. Many Anglicans who believe in transubstantiation split from the Anglican Communion, becoming members of the Continuing Anglican Movement.
The concept of Memorialism is largely found in the Diocese of Sydney of the Anglican Church of Australia. These and some other low-church Anglicans tend to reject belief in the Real (Bodily) Presence of Christ, as well as reservation and adoration of the sacrament. Instead, they adopt a Calvinistic (Spiritual Presence) or Zwinglian (Dynamic Memorialism) view of the Eucharist, resembling views held by Protestant denominations such as Presbyterians and Baptists. Low-church parishes tend to celebrate the Eucharist less frequently (e.g., monthly or quarterly) and prefer the terms "Holy Communion" or "Lord's Supper".
Consubstantiation or sacramental union
Thomas Cranmer, principal author of the first Book of Common Prayer, wrote on the Eucharist in his treatise On the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Lord's Supper that Christians truly receive Christ's "self-same" Body and Blood at Communion--but in "an heavenly and spiritual manner". He also maintains in Article XXIX of the 39 Articles that the "wicked" only consume the elements and do not receive Christ.
This view has tended to predominate in Anglican Eucharistic theological discourse and practice. A maxim in Anglicanism concerning Christ's presence is that "it may not be about a change of substance, but it is about a substantial change." This view is expressed in the allied but metaphysically different doctrines of consubstantiation and sacramental union. In sum, both views hold that Christ is present in the Eucharistic elements spiritually. Such spiritual presence may or may not be believed to be in bodily form, depending on the particular doctrinal position. It may in fact be a mystical, yet still physical, Body of Christ, as some Anglican hold, or a superphysical reality "superimposed"in, with, and under the Bread and Wine. Although this is similar to consubstantiation, it is different, as it has a decidedly mystical emphasis.
Many contemporary Anglicans would concur with the views of the 19th century divine Edward Bouverie Pusey, who argued strongly for the idea of sacramental union. In this doctrine, the bread and wine do not disappear at the consecration, but that the Body and Blood become present without diminishing them.
Patristic view on Eucharistic Presence
According to Canon A5 Law of the Church of England, "the doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures." Since both Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation and Memorialism are theological views developed in Western Europe in the Middle Ages (but also built off of the writings of the Church Fathers, incarnational theology, and the Bible) many Anglicans prefer to express their Eucharistic theology in other ways, similar to the Eastern theology before the Middle Ages.
Shape of the rite
- Main article: The Eucharist
As mentioned above, the liturgy for Eucharist is important in Anglican Eucharistic theology because of the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi. The liturgy is derived from the authorised prayer books of the national churches and ecclesiastical provinces of the Communion. The structure of the liturgy, crafted in the tradition of the Elizabethan Settlement, allows for a variety of theological interpretations, and generally follows the same rough shape, derived from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Some or all of the following elements may be altered or absent depending on the rite used by the province or national church:
- The Liturgy of The Word
- The Gathering of the Community: Beginning with a Trinitarian-based greeting or seasonal acclamation; followed by the prayer of humble approach; the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Kyrie eleison, and/or Trisagion; and then the Collect of the day. During Lent and/or Advent especially, this part of the service may begin or end with a penitential rite.
- The Proclamation of the Word: Usually two to three readings of Scripture, one of which is always from the Gospels, plus a psalm (or portion thereof) or canticle. This is followed by a sermon or homily; the recitation of the Apostles', Nicene or Athanasian Creeds; the Prayers of the People or a general intercession, a general confession and absolution, and the passing of the peace.
- The Liturgy of The Eucharist
- The Celebration of the Eucharist: The gifts of bread and wine are received, along with other gifts (such as money and/or food for a food bank, etc.), and an offertory prayer is recited. Following this, a Eucharistic Prayer (called "The Great Thanksgiving") is offered. This prayer consists of a dialogue (the Sursum Corda), a preface, the sanctus and benedictus, the Words of Institution, the anamnesis, and the epiclesis. The Lord's Prayer usually follows, followed by the fraction (the breaking of the bread), the Prayer of Humble Access, the Agnus Dei, and the distribution of the sacred elements (the bread and wine). After all who have desired to have received, there is a post-Communion prayer. A doxology or general prayer of thanksgiving may follow. The service concludes with a Trinitarian blessing and the dismissal.
Customary of the rite
The rubrics of a given prayer book outline the parameters of acceptable practice with regard to ritual, vestments, ornaments, and method and means of distribution of the sacrament. The communal piety of a given parish or diocese will determine the expression of these rubrics, and thus the implicit eucharistic theology maintained by the congregation.
Until the latter part of the 19th century, the so-called "Ornaments Rubric" of the 1662 Prayer Book was interpreted to inhibit much of the ceremonial contemporary Anglicans take for granted. Priests were directed to stand at the north side or north end of the altar, candles on the altar were forbidden, as was the wearing of a chasuble or maniple. The Ritualism controversies of the late-19th Century solidified the ascendancy of the Catholic Revival in the United Kingdom and many other parts of the Communion, introducing a much greater diversity of practice.
In many Low Church parishes ceremonial is kept at a minimum. The priest may be attired simply in a cassock, surplice and either a black scarf (called a tippet) or a stole. This is a priest's "choir habit", as opposed to Eucharistic vestments. Some Anglican presbyters in the Evangelical tradition celebrate the Eucharist in ordinary clothing. Manual action may be kept to the minimum standards of the rubrics (often confined to placing one's hands on the elements during the Words of Institution). Candles may be absent and the material on the altar limited to the chalice and paten. The celebration of the Eucharist may be weekly or less frequent (such as monthly or quarterly). This infrequency is in keeping with the Anglican practice that predominated prior to the 20th century. There is little or no attention given to the unconsumed bread and wine. It is usually consumed and only rarely reserved.
In most Broad Church parishes there is slightly more elaboration. Attending the Eucharist at a Broad Church parish nowadays is likely to be similar in many respects to a contemporary Roman Catholic Mass. The priest will be vested in alb and stole and, in some instances, a chasuble. He or she may make use of a lavabo in preparation for the celebration and the chalice and paten may be initially concealed by a burse and ornamental veil. Candles will almost always be present on the altar. Broad Church Anglicans typically celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, or at least most Sundays. The rite may also be celebrated once or twice at other times during the week. The sacrament is often reserved in an aumbry or consumed. Broad Church Anglicans may not reverence the sacrament, as such, but will frequently bow when passing the altar.
Anglo-Catholic worship involves further elaboration. The priest will often be joined by a deacon and subdeacon (usually actually a lay person) dressed in the historic Eucharistic vestments specific to their office (chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle, respectively). They will sometimes wear maniples and ornamented amices. In many churches the altar will be fixed against the "east wall" and the sacred ministers will celebrate Mass facing the tabernacle (often surmounted by a crucifix) above the altar, i.e., the sacred ministers and the congregation will all be facing the same direction. Apart from the tabernacle (containing the reserved sacrament) the altar is often adorned with six candles. Incense and sanctus bells are often used during the liturgy and the Eucharist itself is supplemented by a number of so-called "secret prayers" uttered by the priest.
High Church/Anglo-Catholic Eucharistic theology places an emphasis on frequent communion, ideally daily. The unconsumed elements are typically reserved in a tabernacle, either attached to a fixed altar or placed behind or to one side of a free-standing altar. When the sacrament is present, Anglo-Catholics will often genuflect when passing in front of it. When absent they will bow to the altar. Often an aumbry is dignified in the same way. Many Anglo-Catholics practice Eucharistic adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, either informally or through a corporate liturgical rite.
While the matter is unfailingly bread or wine, there is variation. The bread may be in the form of individual wafers or an actual loaf, from which pieces are torn off and distributed. Wine is typically red, but may be white (to avoid unsightly staining of the linen which wipes the chalice rim after each administration). In some instances, fortified wine such as sherry or port wine is used. In still others, the option of juice is offered, usually in consideration of recipients who may be alcoholic (although it is perfectly acceptable and valid to receive the sacrament only in one kind, i.e., the bread, pace the rubrics of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer).
Modes of administration vary. Many Anglican parishes retain the use of an altar rail, separating the area around the altar from the rest of the church. This practice is meant to convey the sanctity associated with the altar. In such churches, those who wish to receive Communion will come forward and kneel at the altar rail, sometimes making the sign of the cross and cupping their hands (right over left) to receive the bread, then crossing themselves again to receive the chalice. Anglo-Catholic Anglicans are often careful not to chew the bread (hence the popularity of wafers in Anglo-Catholic parishes) or touch the chalice. Indeed, some prefer to have the bread placed directly on their tongue. In other parishes, recipients stand before the administrators to receive Communion, while in still others, participants may communicate one another, often standing in a circle around the altar. The practice of using individual cups and handing out individual wafers or pieces of bread to be consumed simultaneously by the whole congregation is extremely uncommon in Anglicanism, but not unheard of.
Anglican practice is that those who administer the sacrament (that is, distribute the bread and the wine) must be licensed by the diocesan bishop. Traditionally, priests and deacons were the only ones authorised to administer; however, many provinces now permit the licensing of so-called "lay administrators." In some localities, a lay-person is restricted to distributing the wine, while the clergy administer the bread.
The question of who may receive communion likewise varies. In historic Anglican practice, the altar was "fenced" from those whose manner of living was considered to be unrepentantly sinful. As parishes grew and the private lives of individuals became less accessible to public knowledge, this practice receded — although priests will, on occasion, refuse to admit to the altar those whom they know to be actively engaged in notoriously sinful behaviour, such as criminal activity. Most Anglican provinces keep an "open table," that is, all baptised Christians are welcome to receive Communion. In many others, access to the sacrament is reserved for those who have been both baptised and Confirmed, either in the Anglican or affiliated denomination. Those who are ineligible or do not wish to receive are frequently encouraged to come forward and cross their arms across their chest in order to indicate that they wish to receive a blessing.
Reservation, consumption, disposal
In a minority of Anglican dioceses, reservation of the sacrament other than for use with the sick is not authorised. In these cases, reverent consumption or disposal is often practiced. When disposed, the elements may be broken/poured over the earth or placed down a "piscina" in sacristy, a sink with a pipe that leads underground to a pit or into the earth. What is done with the remaining elements is often reflective of churchmanship. 
In other Anglican jurisdictions, reservation is permissible. Some parishes will place the sacrament (along with holy oils) in an aumbry - a cupboard inserted in the wall of the chancel. As mentioned above, Anglo-Catholic parishes will often make use of a tabernacle or hanging pyx, with which is associated various acts of reverence and adoration.
- ↑ Taylor, Jeremy, "Of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament", in The Whole Works of the Right Reverend Jeremy Taylor, ed. by Reginald Heber (London: Ogle, Duncan, and Co., 1822)
- William R. Crockett, Eucharist: Symbol of Transformation. New York: Pueblo, 1989.
- F. Paget, "Sacraments." In Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation, 12th edition, ed. by Charles Gore, pp. 296-318. London: John Murray, 1891.
- Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1945.