E is for Eucharist, communion (ABCW)

I can’t remember the word transubstantiation without thinking of Tom Lehrer.

EucharistWhen I spent five days caring for my sister Leslie in San Diego last month, we talked a lot about her conversion to Roman Catholicism. One of the fundamental questions she had to address in her religious training involved the Eucharist.

Specifically, how she felt about transubstantiation, i.e., whether “the change of substance or essence by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament of the Eucharist during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

When I was a kid, I used to help my paternal grandmother, Agatha Green, pour the Welch’s grape juice into the little glasses (and unless I’m misremembering, pouring the unused juice BACK into the bottle; those were different times.)

Knowing that, I still felt from an early age that communion, as we Methodists and other Protestants used to call it, was a Big Deal, even if we believed the transformation was merely representational.

I certainly remember going to Roman Catholic churches and feeling excluded because we heathen Protestants didn’t believe doctrinally in the transubstantiation. There was an event at the Albany Cathedral of All Saints in the late 1900s, some anniversary service, when EVERYONE was invited to the Table. Some of my Protestant friends refused, but I figured, if thy’re inviting, I’m partaking.

I went to a Coptic church, the Egyptian Orthodox branch, in Albany around the same time. It was not expected that I should take the Eucharist, and I did not, though Roman Catholics could have. After the long service, there was a meal. I had a nice chat with a young man who kindly informed me that I would be going to hell for my Protestant beliefs. OK, then.

At my church in July 2018, I helped prepare communion for the first time. I had served it before, back when I was an elder over a decade ago, but the prep was during choir rehearsal. I HAD cleaned up afterwards in the past. We cut up the pita bread; there are also gluten-free wafers. Ah, still using Welch’s grape juice, I see.

So my sister chooses to believe in the possibility of transubstantiation. I don’t dismiss it out of hand. It’s true, though, that I can’t remember that word without thinking of Tom Lehrer’s irreverent The Vatican Rag from the 1960s, a song guaranteed to offend at least a few.

For ABC Wednesday

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

11 thoughts on “E is for Eucharist, communion (ABCW)”

  1. I had to smile because “pouring the Welch’s grape juice” into the little cups – at least one month out of the year – is part of the duties I do at church. (Disciples of Christ do communion weekly….)

    When I was a kid, I was a Junior Deaconess and I got to help out. Back in those days, at that church, we used reusable glass cups (we use plastic here) and one of the things we had to do after church was dump them out and wash and rinse them in a 10% bleach solution, especially important in flu season….

    (I have been told that the Disciples of Christ and other Protestants went to the individual cups, rather than intinction, after one of the early 20th-century epidemics but have been unable to verify)

  2. So many man-made rituals! When you break down the actual Lord’s Supper/Last Supper/Communion/Eucharist, what you see is God sharing an intimate moment with his creation. If you look at many of the interactions Jesus had with others, you’ll notice many times it happens over a meal. Eating together becomes almost a spiritual experience….sharing food and drink is a very personal action. For me, in addition to the horizontal bonding between believers during communion, there is also a vertical element. Just as physical food and drink sustains our physical bodies, the “body and blood” of Christ during communion serves to give life to our spiritual being. If we do this with humble hearts in remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made to reconcile his creation back to the Father, does it honestly matter whether its called transubstantiation, consubstantiation, Sacrificial Union or something else? I believe God is much more interested in the condition of our hearts when we come to commune with him than the labels we put on it.

  3. I totally can relate to those kind of questions, I encountered it all my life, especially during my universitytime studying theologie…which I did not bring to an end, because of those questions partly.
    Some questions are impossible to answer although you long for those answers te most sometimes…

    Have a splendid, ♥-warming ABC-Wednes-day / -week
    ♫ M e l d y ♪ (ABC-W-team)

  4. I’m glad that the Roman Catholic Church invites all to join in communion, leaving it up to the individual whether to accept the blessing with or without taking the host and wine.

  5. Just my personal preference, as coming from Europe, no grape, or orange juice (really in one church), but wine! In many European Protestant churches one wine cup used for everyone (since it’s alcohol, it sanitizes by nature).

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