Holy Communion - Online

Conflicting Views

I was aware there were, recently in Spring 2020, all sorts of arguments going on in the blogosphere regarding Holy Communion on line – “Was it right or was it wrong?” I could not make up my mind. It is a simple fact that we “comprehend with all the saints [past as well as present]” (Ephesians 3.18) what to do in situations like this. A further fact is that Anglican clergy are ordained to, and they have promised to, teach and minister (that means or includes taking services) according to the true understanding of the Anglican tradition which, of course, is biblical and expressed in its Canon of Canons, Canon A5:

“The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”

Furthermore, in the early days of “the lock down” many of us thought it might only be for a relatively short period. But, of course, we soon learnt we were in for the long haul. And also I was very conscious of the Church of England Canons which say, quite clearly, that all Anglicans should share in Communion particularly at Easter and Pentecost. But at JPC we had not made provision in any way for that to happen and we soon should be making provision for Whitsunday (or Pentecost).

The Canons of the Church of England

Canon B15 Of the receiving of Holy Communion is clear. It says this:

1. It is the duty of all who have been confirmed to receive the Holy Communion regularly, and especially at the festivals of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun or Pentecost.

2. The minister shall teach the people from time to time, and especially before the festivals of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun or Pentecost, that they come to this holy sacrament with such preparation as is required by The Book of Common Prayer.

So what is the solution? First, I’ll give a simple commonsense theological argument that comes from a London church with which I agree. Then I will spend time arguing how this is compatible with the Anglican tradition and even required by the Anglican tradition in a much more legalistic way

A Common-Sense Theological Solution

So one Anglican church in London argues as follows:

"When Paul narrates the last supper in 1 Corinthians 11 there is a strong emphasis on togetherness: ‘I hear that when you come together...’ (11:18); ‘When you come together...’ (v. 20); ‘When you come together to eat...’ (v. 33). It is for this reason that we would not envisage sharing the Lord’s Supper if we were simply live-streaming, because it’s not possible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper without this vital corporate element. However, our experience with zoom is that whilst it is still a second-best to gathering physically, it does still enable some kind of ‘coming together’. Whilst there is no direct biblical instruction concerning virtual gatherings (!), I think there is biblical precedent for flexibility in observing ordinances when the circumstances demand it. For example, whilst in general it’s best to baptize someone in the presence of a local congregation who can witness the baptism and receive the new member into fellowship, there’s an example in Acts 8:38 where that is not possible, and so Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch mid-way through his journey. Similarly, it is common in many churches to bring the Lord’s Supper to a permanently shut-in member who is unable to attend the corporate gathering, and “zoom communion” seems like a sensible and temporary extension of that kind of flexibility.

We are not suggesting that this solution is ideal, and we certainly look forward to when things are back to normal, but we also want to continue to make use of the means of grace the Lord has provided as best we can.”

Such is the conclusion of Christians in London.

The Anglican Tradition

The Book of Common Prayer (based on Archbishop’s Cranmer amazing verbal skills) is still fundamental to Anglican law and practice (see Canon A5 above). The rubrics for the conditions necessary for Holy Communion are set out in that 1662 book. They rule that “there shall be no communion, except four (or three at least) communicate with the Priest [or Presbyter].” And for a “Communion of the Sick”, in someone’s private house, “three or two at the least” of relatives or friends are necessary. However, the very final words of the rubric at the end of the Communion of the Sick service are these:

“In the time of the plague, sweat, or other like contagious times of sickness or diseases, when none of the Parish or neighbours can be gotten to communicate with the sick in their houses, for fear of the infection, upon special request of the diseased, the Minister may only communicate with him.”

Therefore, “in time of the plague” it is legal to have a congregation of one! So I realized what was possible. According to Anglican tradition I, as an ordained Presbyter, may provide Holy Communion in our house in Jesmond, for my wife. For, she and I, are …

“… in the time of … contagious … sickness, when none of the Parish or neighbours can be gotten to communicate with the sick in their houses, for fear of the infection” (BCP 1662).

So, God willing, Wednesday evening next (6th May), at 8.00 pm I will celebrate Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer in its modern language service version (from the old ASB) with my wife, Joy. However, at the same time this service will be Zoomed on Wednesday to communicant members of our church. They will form a virtual “mid-week central meeting”.

A Central Meeting

So we invite members of Home Groups, others in small groups and other communicant members of the church to be in this Zoom meeting. And all who wish will be able to eat bread and drink wine (that they provide for themselves) when I say the words of administration for the bread and give the bread, and for the wine and give the wine, to my wife.

At the conclusion of the service at 8.30 pm people will leave the all church meeting and can go to their smaller groups for 8.40 pm in new Zoom meetings. I may say, that our PCC, meeting recently on Zoom has supported this proposal. For in this way communicant church members will be able to engage in remembering Jesus with bread and wine along with all those gathered together by Zoom.

It is important that only people who should be communicating, have the bread and the wine. I believe this is a genuine Holy Communion service. So "the table" should be “fenced” - hence only a Presbyter should be celebrating and in charge. It really needs to involve only baptized and believing Christian people and that is why we cannot stream such a service on a Sunday. It is solemn occasion and needs to be reverently and thoughtfully enacted. That is why the words of the Book of Common Prayer service in modern language are so helpful. Indeed, Article 25 (of the Thirty-nine Articles) concludes:

“in such only as worthily receive the same [bread and wine] they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.”

But, positively, we need to thank God that “in a plague” we can be ministered to individually but also, by modern science have a corporate “thanksgiving” for all Jesus has done for us on the Cross, is doing by his Holy Spirit in our lives, and will do for us one day when he comes again.

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