While the approach of tailoring the words of ministration for each communicant, one who is receiving communion, can make the moment more personal, it can potentially make the moment awkward for both minister and communicant. Suppose you, as the minister, know the first person in line very well and have a grandiose statement for them, but you don’t know the next person in line at all and they overhear your grandiose statement and feel disappointed when they receive a less than grandiose statement when you offer them the elements. I propose that Pentecostal, evangelical, and charismatic parishes should follow our High Church brethren in the use of concise phrases at the ministration of the Eucharist.
These few words, these simple phrases, are containers of great grace. The words for the ministration of communion are encapsulations, small containers with great potential, of the Gospel. When a communicant comes to receive the elements of the Eucharist they are responding to God’s grace and are coming to the Table to encounter the living Christ. At that moment it is not the job of the Eucharistic minister, whether lay or ordained, to preach or be overly demonstrative– the “job” of ministry in that moment is facilitated by the one sent by Christ, the Holy Spirit. The Body of Christ has answered the call to gather and worship the Triune God; the word of God has been declared through song and Scripture, the homily/sermon has been given, and the Creed has been professed. The reception of the elements of the Eucharist is the time to open our hearts and minds and to listen as we receive Christ in the Eucharist. This reception is a gift from Christ himself who is the great high priest of our confession.
When we, as ministers of the Eucharist, offer the elements to the other members of the Body of Christ we give the elements with simple words, believing that the Holy Spirit will open the encapsulated Gospel to the communicants, just as the breaking of the bread opened the eyes of the two disciples who journeyed with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). When the host, or communion wafer, is placed in the hands of a communicant with the words, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” it is Christ, the Host of the meal, who nourishes with his words, because he is the Incarnate Word of God. When the chalice, the cup, is offered to the communicant with the words, “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” it is the shed blood of the Lamb of God that takes away their sins, affirming the covenant between them and God, and testifies to the life they live in Christ. By functioning in the few words we can more readily observe, and come into agreement with, the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Eucharist to the communicant. Let us consider Ecclesiastes 5 during the ministration of the elements:
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than the sacrifice offered by fools; for they do not know how to keep from doing evil. Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few” (Eccl 5:1-2, NRSV).
In conclusion, as we approach the Table of the Lord, whether as a communicant or a minister of the elements, let us do so with these three things in mind:
- Joy, in that Christ will meet us in the Eucharist because he promised to be where people would gather together in his name (Matt 18:20).
- Humility, in that it is God who does the work in spite of our shortcomings (1 Pet 5:6-7).
- Confidence, in that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” (Heb 4:16, NRSV).
Ministering through the few words “fits the occasion,” gives room for the Holy Spirit to move and minister as he sees fit, and will “give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29, ESV).
20 August 2015
The Feast of Bernard of Clairvaux
 Church Publishing, The Book of Common Prayer (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), 365.
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