Article XXVIII: Of the Lord’s Supper

This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.

Article XXVIII: Of the Lord’s Supper
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, 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.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

There is a tradition, among a certain kind of Anglican, of wearing a cassock with 39 buttons on the front. The wearer then leaves some spots unbuttoned, indicating which Articles the wearer finds disagreeable. This Article is exactly the sort of thing that would provoke such a person to leave a spot unbuttoned. Plenty of people object to this Article because it forbids the reservation of the Eucharist, a very widespread practice. Here we see an obvious example of the way in which the theological and liturgical pendulum had swung one way when the 39 Articles were written, and how it’s swung another way today.

Ironically, some people who are always going on and on about the “tradition” of the church — sometimes in ignorance of the actual tradition — are quick to jettison the 39 Articles when it comes to things they don’t like. For example, the Iker Diocese of Fort Worth requires (yes, requires!) clergy and congregations to flagrantly violate this Article. Quoting the Diocesan Customary: “The Blessed Sacrament is to be reverently reserved (generally in one kind) in a tabernacle or aumbry in the church. This reservation is indicated by a Presence Lamp (or Sanctuary Lamp), which is kept burning at all times. This lamp is preferably of clear, uncolored glass (not red), and the sanctuary candle is to be white.”

Now, I’m perfectly fine with reserving the sacrament. I’m also eager to explore the breadth and depth of our tradition, realizing that there has rarely been a unanimity of opinion on many matters of the faith. Speaking of which, it seems to me this Article is wrong to claim a “Receptionist” view of the Eucharist, in which sacramental grace is conferred only in the recipient’s faith. I would say — along with most of two millennia of tradition — that the Eucharist itself is grace-filled. That said, I’m less keen to get into a debate about transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation vs. whatever-substantiation. Frankly, I think Schillebeeckx was on to something with his notion of transignification. Beyond that, it seems to me that we do well to leave the mysteries alone. They are, after all, mysteries.

What is the Eucharist and how does it work? I think we do well to start speaking about the kingdom of God when we are speaking of the efficacy of the sacrament. That focuses our attention in the right way, and it allows us to sidestep Aristotelian debates that are neither scriptural nor edifying. Once we accept that God’s kingdom comes near at our celebrations of the Eucharist, we will of course wish to display appropriate reverence.

Read the first paragraph of the Article several times. That seems to me to be a beautiful and fully sufficient statement, along with the liturgy itself, of what Anglicans believe about the Eucharist.

Here are some questions for pondering or meditation:

  • How do you experience Christ as being present in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist?
  • Must we define the way in which the bread and wine make Christ real for us?
  • Do you think, as this Article suggests, that it is unsound to display great reverence for the consecrated bread and wine?
  • Do you think it is perhaps dangerous when we fail to show reverence for the consecrated bread and wine?

O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Previous: Article XXVII: Of Baptism
Next: Article XXIX: Of the wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper

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1 Response

  1. Vashti Winterburg says:

    Reverence for the consecrated bread and wine, yes. Great reverence? Mmmm, not so much. My problem with great reverence is that I feel as if I’m veering towards transubstantiation and idolatry, maybe even magic. Being in communion with someone is very important to me, but I take communion because I am a Christian, not because that is the pinnacle and total focus of my life as a Christian.
    If for some unknown reason communion would never be available to me again, I would still be a Christian.