The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Frequent Communion
















Some Near-Heretical Observations

I went to a Russian Orthodox church for Divine Liturgy last Sunday. For those of you who have have never benefited from going to a real Orthodox Divine Liturgy (and not the overly enthusiatic convert ones), you should know that the only two groups who receive Communion en masse in an Orthodox Church are very young children and converts to the Orthodox Faith. Of course, many of you know that children receive all of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, and Communion) the day of their baptism. Ergo, since children do not sin, they are always well-disposed to receive Communion. Adults, however, are seen as needing much preparation for Holy Communion: the service book of prayers for Holy Communion in the Russian tradition is extremely long, though the Greeks shorten it a bit. And of course, sacramental confession is also deemed necessary. Most "cradle Orthodox" receive Communion a few times a year, while there has always been a movement to increase its frequency. At a Greek church I have gone to, the Communion rate was about fifty percent of the congregation; like in all things, the Greeks are a bit more progressive than the Russians.

Compare this, however, to Western Christians, where Holy Communion is now seen as a right: witness all of the commotion over politicians and Communion last election cycle. If you go to an Orthodox Church and don't receive Communion, as long as you "go with the flow" of the services, you are no different than most of the congregation. Go to a Roman Catholic Mass and do this, people apologize to you so you don't feel like a leper. These are the reasons for such wonderful things as lay Eucharistic ministers: it's not a real service unless you "get something" at it.

This was not always the case. Even in recent memory, people were much more reflective as to how often they received Communion. People would actually examine whether or not they were as worthy as they were going to get before going (no one is really worthy). You didn´t need lay Eucharistic ministers since people simply did not go to Communion that often. Holy Communion was not separated from a real ascetical and spiritual preparation.

"Jansenism!": an accusation I can hear over the clanging of this keyboard: the ultimate four letter word in theology and spiritual life. Since the "frequent Communion revolution" of the first really revolutionary Pope of our age, St. Pius X, where has the Church gone? Have we returned to the pristine purity of the Patristic Church, where people received every week, nay every day? Is the Church in better shape because of frequent Communion?

Holy Communion is not a "grace pill" that works without any conscious effort. It does not work in spite of us. It is the Cure and leads us to everlasting life, and it is ultimately our only assured contact with God. The just man still, however, lives by Faith. And if Faith is not strengthened by a real struggle that may mean not receiving Holy Communion from time to time, no amount of eating a "grace cookie" will change anything.

This, of course, should be done under the guidance of a spiritual guide you trust. If you still, however, don't agree with me, take another hard look at the actual state of the Church and reflect some more.

6 Comments:

At 2:49 PM, Blogger thirsty scribe said...

"...to Western Christians, where Holy Communion is now seen as a right: witness all of the commotion over politicians and Communion last election cycle."

So true.

This comment about the Eucharist as a 'grace pill' reminds me of how Catholics excuse liturgical sloppiness on the basis that 'the sacraments work ex opere operato.'

How shallow. I'm a human being, with eyes and ears. When the ministers act as if nothing is sacred, that tells me ... nothing is sacred!

 
At 9:46 AM, Blogger Sprezzatura said...

Слава Исусу Христу!

Thank you for your defence of us Vostochniks on AQ - I found that discussion today and was cheered that I'm not the only Byzantine getting nonsense from the Latin Trads.

I'm a chanter too, by the way, but trained primarily in the Russian and Byzantine traditions.

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Moretben said...

Another original and challenging piece.

sprezzatura

I wonder how much of the chauvinism evident on AQ is less a function of Roman Catholicism, and more of a particular kind of gringo insularity. A perfect illustration of what I mean is the cheerleading that surrounds A Particular SSPX Bishop, at whose every word grown men fawn and simper like hyperventilating neos over a handsome image of JPII. This, I'm convinced, has nothing to do with theology, or taking a "hard line with Rome" - it's because the Bishop's perceived as "their" man - not some shifty cheese-eating foreigner.

Of course I could be wrong; but I see very little else on AQ to persuade me there's a Universal Church the limits of which extend beyond a clutch of mid-western Zip codes.

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Moretben said...

Another original and challenging piece.

sprezzatura

I wonder how much of the chauvinism evident on AQ is less a function of Roman Catholicism, and more of a particular kind of gringo insularity. A perfect illustration of what I mean is the cheerleading that surrounds A Particular SSPX Bishop, at whose every word grown men fawn and simper like hyperventilating neos over a handsome image of JPII. This, I'm convinced, has nothing to do with theology, or taking a "hard line with Rome" - it's because the Bishop's perceived as "their" man - not some shifty cheese-eating foreigner.

Of course I could be wrong; but I see very little else on AQ to persuade me there's a Universal Church the limits of which extend beyond a clutch of mid-western Zip codes.

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

That´s why I tend to steer clear of AQ now.

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger Death Bredon said...

Schmeman was in favor of frequent communion PRECEDED BY PROPER PREPERATION. The problem is that we have the former but not the later.

 

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