Or, the conditions of possibility for communion without baptism
A great and thoughtful article. As you know the CWOB is a complicated issue and while I am personally not a fan of this as rule, I can see some pastoral exceptions made in consultation with a kirk session). But to your main point.
The preparatory time before Communion in the Reformation part of Christianity stemmed from two concerns:
1) a total rejection of sacraments working as ex opere oparato - Zwingli, Bullinger and later Calvin (and even Bucer) were quite adamant on this point.
2) the concern of the Reformed (that includes Anglicans too) that those partaking would be truly a sanctified, reconciled community (church discipline). Thus, Communion seasons were held 4 times a year, roughly correlated with important church holy-day times, and consistories were given ample time to vet the candidates and reconcile them if needed. In the Reformed tradition there were special preparatory services two-three days before the Sacrament. Preparation had both a personal but also communal element to it.
It is interesting to note that it was the anglocatholic movement that began insisting on more frequent communion and so these services and the stress on communal gave way to personal, frequent, and a little ex opere operato. In the PEC in the USA where the anglocatholics took over - no wonder the importance of preparation disappeared.
Now what to do to bring it back? Ha! Im not sure that a church with an anglocatholic bent (and its seems that where many of the Anglican churches are going) you can do it without jettisoning the stress on weekly communion. I don't really see how you can.
Personally, as a Reformed pastor Im having a change of heart. I used to want it weekly. Now, Im fine with it monthly. I think that on the Sundays when the Lord's Supper is not celebrated, the thanksgiving prayer mirroring the Communion Liturgy should be offered - a great version is in the PCUSA Common Worship. I am also toying with the idea of bringing back the announcement about the LS as a part of the liturgy, as in the 1662 BCP. It is beautiful and hints at something special about to happen. You should, as far as you are able - get ready.
Is it enough? I don't know. But unless we want to tokenize the LS like crucifixes and rosaries as amulets and good-faith charms working ex opere operato, we must revive some element of preparation before the Sacrament. My humble 2c. Excellent piece. Thank you.
Thank you for this thoughtful post, Rev. Crosby.
As a layman very much guilty of "consuming thoughtlessly or casually," I've often wondered if a return to infrequent reception might be beneficial in the sense that scarcity drives appreciation and thus may lead folks to take their preparation more seriously. However, aside from slightly heightened emotional saliency due to a breaking of the weekly monotony, I can't say I've benefited from any prolonged period of abstention (forced or voluntary), and that's likely due to the fact that the contemporary state of my tradition (LCMS) has no guidance for or expectation of eucharistic preparation. Other than keeping a basic "awareness of sinfulness and need for absolution" in the back of my head, it was never made clear to me during my formal catechesis how I might properly examine myself and ensure that I am in a repentant, reconciled-with-others state.
As you have observed, for a normally communicant member to abstain is nearly unheard of. In fact, the only time I can recall someone other than a non-communicant member or visitor abstaining from reception of the sacrament is when my Father-in-law once remained in the pew on Ash Wednesday and turned a lot of heads. (Interestingly, he grew up in a very genuinely pious household wherein his father, a student leader in the seminex walkout, led nightly family vespers and encouraged eucharistic preparation. I often wonder if the present state of eucharistic discipline in the LCMS is the result of reactionary anti-piety in response to the early ELCA. Trends in liturgical style certainly reflect this.) All this is to say that I recognize a great need, in the broader church as well as your Anglican tradition, for the ministry project you describe above, and I very much appreciate your willingness to take it on!
Because you requested thoughts on how this sort of project might be undertaken, I have a few:
1) Individual parishes need to emphasize private confession of specific sins. Perhaps to require it for reception is to take it too far, but ensuring that adequate opportunity exists prior to each communion service is imperative. Bonhoeffer (again, showing my Lutheran bias), in Life Together, touches on its necessity for those unable to convince themselves that their personal examination and confession is not merely a confession to oneself with an imagined absolution (my poor paraphrase). For most people, genuinely bringing sin to light requires bringing it before another person, and doing so only in corporate worship hinders the mentioning of very specific, potentially embarassing sins, which then are left to fester in the dark.
2) Realize, as I'm sure you're aware, that the average North American under 30 is struggling with crippling anxiety. True clinical OCD is running rampant. Any modern guide to eucharistic preparation must account for this. Certainly routine prayers and examination processes can be helpful when we're not sure where to start, but overemphasizing their necessity can lead to obsessive (by definition not sincere) repetitions and counting of phrases. Simply providing a formula with no clear explanation that flexibility and variation are possible will have a net negative effect for many people.
Again, thank you for this post and for your willingness to solve this issue. Your faithfulness amidst the harsh realities of modern life is a great witness to those of us much weaker in our faith than you.