Friday, April 11, 2008

The Consecration of the Sacraments

In continuation of our previous discussion: this is the difficulty I see in the practice of a layperson bringing communion elements to an elder and having the elder "bless" them and then the layperson taking them off to administer them to others. Or, for that matter, the elder blessing the elements over the phone or by e-mail:

It strongly implies that the elder has the mystical ability to make bread and grape juice into the body and blood of Christ. The principle actor in the sacrament thus ceases to be God, and instead becomes the elder.

And that's bad sacramental theology.

Another problem is this: if the blessing of the elements makes it an effective sacrament, could not elders "bless" water and then send that water off with a layperson for the layperson to administer the sacrament of baptism? There is an inconsistency in United Methodist practice that we consider one sacrament to be effective in the activity and one to be effective in the elements.

At any rate, one of the principle duties of an elder is to ensure that the sacraments are "duly administered", and I would think that this would be difficult if s/he isn't, you know, administering them.

As I've said, the Discipline says something, I say "Yessir" and I do it. But I think that we need to clarify exactly what we think "consecration" means in the United Methodist understanding of Eucharist.

13 comments:

TN Rambler said...

John,
Yes. What you describe here is bad sacramental theology and should be deplored. It has no place in United Methodist practice.

However, that is NOT what para 340.2.a(5) is speaking of. It is speaking of lay members and deacons to either a) assist in serving the consecrated elements to the assembled body as part of the service where they are consecrated; or b) to take the elements consecrated within a service of worship to the homebound as part of a ministry extending the table to all members of the congregation.

The scenario that you describe (although it has happened) is the result not only of bad sacramental theology but of the arrogance of an elder who couldn't be bothered to be present with the congregation. The scenario that I believe the discipline describes is an act of love and hospitality to those members of the congregation who cannot attend.

Wayne

Don Yeager said...

I agree with tn rambler about what this statement is referencing.

As I said in a comment in the other post, I do not agree with consecrating elements before something like a retreat and sending them with a layperson to be used later during the retreat. If an elder cannot be present, then communion should not be celebrated. It's not essential to the retreat.

I can't picture a situation where an elder would need to "bless" water to be used elsewhere in a baptism. However, I do believe we would allow for a layperson to perform an "emergency" baptism -- if, for example, a dying soldier requested that her fellow soldier baptize her before she died and no clergyperson/chaplain were available.

cometothewaters said...

Not directly on point, but the discussion brings to mind something Willimon wrote about baptism. He said if it was just a matter of saying the right words, we could just take a garden hose out front and spray down anyone who happens to walk by.

John said...

TN Rambler wrote:

However, that is NOT what para 340.2.a(5) is speaking of. It is speaking of lay members and deacons to either a) assist in serving the consecrated elements to the assembled body as part of the service where they are consecrated; or b) to take the elements consecrated within a service of worship to the homebound as part of a ministry extending the table to all members of the congregation.

Now that I can certainly get on board with.

John said...

Cometothewaters wrote:

Not directly on point, but the discussion brings to mind something Willimon wrote about baptism. He said if it was just a matter of saying the right words, we could just take a garden hose out front and spray down anyone who happens to walk by.

Willimon wrote that? I thought that that was a scene from Fight Club.

CBrulee said...

ensure that the sacraments are "duly administered"

The key word there is "ensure", not "duly administered". One can enusure something happens by overseeing it.

Through my layman's eyes, a blessing of the sacraments does not transform them, as Catholics [supposedly] believe. Many Catholics I know don't actually believe that. Rather, I believe that the blessing adds a spiritual dimension to the event and helps the congregants focus their minds better.

We bless food before a luncheon, but that does not transform the food. Hopefully it does focus the gathered people on spiritual aspects of the gathering.

Rich Holton said...

A similar but distinct situation comes to mind. There are times when someone is appointed to serve a charge before they are actually licensed--the licensing may lag by a few months. During that period, the "lay pastor" will lead worship, including Holy Communion. I've heard that, in those circumstances, an elder, or perhaps even a District Superintendent, will consecrate the elements prior to the service. The lay pastor may go through the entire communion liturgy, or may use an altered liturgy, indicating that the elements have already been consecrated.

The only way that I can make any sense out of this practice is by appealing to "order". There's no magic in the license.

Scott said...

There is an important distinction between (1)an elder leading the prayer of Great Thanksgiving in the context of worship (notice I said 'leading' for it is the entire community assembled that 'consecreates' the elements and not just the elder!) and then sending forth others (deacons, laity) to distribute the elements. The elder ought to train people in how to serve (I have seen much confusion in a worship service because no one explained how it should be done.) In many churches, it is assumed the "pastor" distributes the elements. Laity can share in this. And the pastor can send forth others to serve those who are homebound, in hospitals, or in nursing homes. This should be done, in my mind, on a Sunday afternoon if Communion was that morning. The elements are not "re-consecrated" because they are already consecrated in the worship gathering and

(2) a DS praying over the bread and juice in an office on a Friday afternoon by him/herself or with the pastor present and then those same elements being used on a Sunday morning.

This Discipline does NOT endorse or encourage #2. Nor does the official statement of the UMC contained in This Holy Mystery. Or any other publication of the UMC.

Tom Jackson said...

Suppose that Aunt Martha is in the hospital, and a man dressed as a priest or minister arrives and offers her Communion. They go through the usual ritual, he gives her the bread and wine, they pray together, and he leaves her happy and feeling closer to God.

Is the efficacy of this Communion reduced by the fact that the man was an unprincipled atheist, serving Communion because he lost a bet with one of his atheist friends?

If it is, then there seems to be a great deal of magic involved.

If it is not, then the keys would seem to be the grace of God and the mental state of the parishioner, not the credentials of the clergyman.

Clix said...

Tom - first, forgive me if I get my details wrong here - the hypothetical situation you propose reminds me of the Donatist controversy. There were elders who had renounced Christianity rather than be persecuted, and when the government changed and said, "nope, it's ok again," they went back to serving as elders. Others said that their baptisms didn't 'stick.' Augustine said no, salvation is between the individual and God.

My own thought is that an atheist administering a sacrament may do more harm than good. Say he comes in and says, "This is magic bread because a paster prayed over it. When you eat it, you'll feel tingly, and that means you're going to heaven." And Aunt Martha says, "But what if I don't feel tingly?" And the atheist shrugs. "Guess that means you're going to hell." (Let's hope poor Aunt Martha isn't recovering from heart surgery!)

It's bad enough to have our teachings and beliefs misrepresented by those outside the organization. How much worse is such a mistake when it is by those who supposedly represent us!

Keith Taylor said...

I agree with both John and Wayne. This mysticism that is implied by this can lead to bad theology.

However, it is not heresy for the UM church to insist in her Disciple that only elders can consecrate communion elements or perform baptisms so we yield to that if we want to remain good Methodists. With that said, it is really not Biblical per the Gospels other than we are to yield to the authority of the UMC.

Jesus told us to "...this do in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19) when he was serving the Last Supper. It is not recorded at the end, "...only when you have a UM Elder to consecrate the elements first!"

Jesus is quoted in the Gospels, "...Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:,...(Matt 28:19). He didn't say only if a UM Elder is in the room.

We yield this authority to our church, but it is not prescribed in scripture.

Jesus says that "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20)

If I were a pure non-denominational Christian, or if I chose to leave the UMC and not be a United Methodist, Christ clearly gives me and fellow Christians the authority to serve Holy Communion with each other. Christ clearly gives me the authority to evangelize and baptize an unsaved friend of mine in the river or in my house. If the Holy Spirit moves a sinner to be baptized and accept Christ and if I were to do it just, he and I, is not Christ there also? If Christ is there with us as He promised, then what bishop or what pastor, or what priest or Pope, etc. is qualified to say that baptism is not valid? The same for communion elements.

As for the hypothetical story above about the atheist who as a joke ministers to a woman in a hospital, the Bible is clear on this as well. Paul covers this in the Epistle to the Phillipians when he says, "...Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (Phil 1:15-18)

Kansas Bob said...

As a non-UMCer I found this discussion to be enlightening. I always had a problem with the Roman Catholics on this idea that only clergy can administer communion.

James M. said...

I guess my question is "Where is it in the bible that communion elements have to be blessed or can only be served by elders or clergy?" I can't find it anywhere. Baptism is in my follow up, but for now, I'll just ask about Communion :-)