Monday, November 24, 2008

Jensen on ministry of word and sacrament

To be fair to the Diocese of Sydney re some recent postings here by me (and some comments elsewhere) it is important to keep reading and thinking about the issue of lay presidency from all sides. Here is an excerpt from a longer address by Archbishop Peter Jensen:

"It is commonly suggested that the development of lay administration of the Holy Communion is contrary to the very being of Anglicanism. Certainly it would have to be agreed that non-priestly administration would be quite contrary to some expressions of Anglicanism. But the assertion that it is contrary to the ethos of the Anglican Church really speaks for one side of the Church only. It suggests that one particular view of priesthood and of communion, and one only, is of the essence of the Eucharistic theology. Without going into the question of whether there is only one valid opinion, it is empirically true that at least two views have been evident in the Church for a very long time. According to the thinking of one such view, lay administration is impossible. Accordingly to the other view it is possible, although opinions differ as to whether it is advisable. From my point of view, the second opinion is a genuine and legitimate development of the theology of the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles. Admittedly, however, that depends on your reading of Anglican history.

The magisterial biography of Cranmer by Diarmaid MacCulloch locates our great Archbishop thus:

‘Standing as he did in the developed Reformed tradition of Europe in the 1550s Cranmer’s conception of a “middle way” or via media in religion was quite different from that of later Anglicanism. In the nineteenth century, when the word “Anglicanism” first came into common use, John Henry Newman said of the middle way (before his departure for the Church of Rome) that “a number of distinct notions are included in the notion of Protestantism; and as to all these our Church has taken a Via Media between it and Popery.” Cranmer would violently have rejected such a notion: how could one have a middle way between truth and Antichrist? The middle ground which he sought was the same as Bucer’s: an agreement between Wittenberg and Zurich which would provide a unified vision of Christian doctrine against the counterfeit being refurbished at the Council of Trent. For him, Catholicism was to be found in the scattered churches of the Reformation, and it was his aim to show forth their unity to prove their Catholicity.” (617).

As far as the Eucharist is concerned, he identifies the mature Cranmer with a variety of Reformed theology which he labels (following B A Gerrish), ‘symbolic parallelism’. He quotes the Archbishop:

‘And although Christ be not corporally in the bread and wine, yet Christ used not so many words, in the mystery of his holy supper, without effectual signification. For he is effectually present, and effectually worketh not in the bread and wine, but in the godly receivers of them, to whom he giveth his own flesh spiritually to feed upon, and his own blood to quench their great inward thirst’ (614-15).

In Cranmer’s thought, the word of God is that which gives the sacrament its power and substance, and this in its turn shapes the ordinal. Word and sacrament belong indissolubly together, and that is why it is reserved to the priest who is the preacher, indeed, the priest who is ordained to be the pastor of the congregation, the one responsible for ‘the cure of souls’.

The question of who administers Holy Communion is one of order: ‘As in a prince’s house the offices and ministers prepare the table, and yet other as well as they, eat the meat and drink he drink; so the priests and ministers prepare the Lord’s supper, read the gospel, and rehearse Christ’s words, but all the people say thereto, Amen. All remember Christ’s death, all give thanks to God, all repent and offer themselves an oblation to Christ, all take him as their Lord and Saviour, and spiritually feed upon him, and in token thereof they eat the bread and drink the wine in his mystical supper’ (Cranmer, 350).

Holy Communion is not a priestly act as such, but an ecclesial one. This is the significance of the absence of any direction about who is to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. The Eucharist is an activity of the whole congregation; the Lord himself is the focus as he was in the Last Supper; We focus on the priest, Cranmer on the congregation; we focus on the elements, Cranmer on the eating and drinking; we think of Christ coming to us, Cranmer thinks of us going to Christ in the lifting up of our hearts.

Our understanding of the BCP ordinal is that it grants recognition and authority to those who are ordained priest by the Bishop to exercise a pastoral – as opposed to a sacerdotal - ministry of word and sacrament in a community setting. That is to say, the role of incumbent, of the cure of souls is the end to which the service points, although priesthood may be exercised as an assistant, and it may be exercised across parish and Diocesan boundaries. This also reflects the first hundreds of years of Christian leadership, where ordination was not thought of as a priestly mediating ministry, arising from an ontological change, but a ministry arising from the community:
‘We may therefore conclude that a situation in which a community was unable to celebrate the Eucharist because there was no bishop or presbyter present was unthinkable in the early Church…On the basis of the right of the community to the Eucharist, the leader of the community also had the right to lead in the Eucharist…If there is no leader, it chooses a suitable candidate from its own ranks.’
(Edward Schillebeecx). In other words, priesthood must be understood in connection with the Christian community which is being served."

The link to the full address is part of a whole web page developed by the Diocese of Sydney called 'Whose Supper?'

There is a lot to be discussed here but, causa brevitatis, I will confine myself to a few observations!

(i) there are undoubtedly merits to the Jensen case: notwithstanding the non-equivalence of the ministry of the word and of the sacrament, there is no doubting the Cranmerian concern to keep the two ministries close together, and thus permitting lay people to preach raises a real and serious question of why lay people may not preside.
(ii) attendance at a Roman Mass yesterday reminded me of one response: that we (like the Romans at eucharistic services) only permit priests to preach!
(iii) I do not see any recognition of what it might mean to be part of the Anglican community (noting the emphasis on 'community' at the end of the excerpt): being part of that community might mean those keen on lay presidency constrain desire for it out of love for our anglo-catholic brothers and sisters. A similar point is made by acknowledging that although in theory the Cranmerian via media between Geneva and Wittenburg might have led to lay presidency, in practice it did not: the path of Anglican history led away from it and not towards it and thus the 'order' of our ministry became fixed around priestly presiding, even as it became flexible around preaching.
(iv) the argument for lay presidency is framed as an argument against a sacerdotal priesthood, but (I suggest) it is unaware of a (presumably) unintended consequence, that the point of a separate ordained priesthood is undermined. In its place would develop a (kind of) licensed priesthood (i.e. licensed lay presiders).

I appreciate that Archbishop Peter Jensen here puts forward a theological argument for lay presidency which can be considered on its merits, out of context of other Anglican matters. But when we look at the context of other Anglican matters, and observe that essentially only one diocese in the world is pushing publicly for lay presidency, the question arises about the nature of Anglican structures: are provinces and dioceses able to decide matters germane to core characteristics of being Anglican without reference to the wider Anglican church? If Sydney seeks an affirmative answer to that question then I struggle (as a fellow conservative) to see how that answer cannot also apply to (e.g.) TEC approving Gene Robinson's consecration or New Westminster approving liturgical blessing of same sex partnerships. (This point, please note, does not involve the fallacy of equating a moral issue with a non-moral issue. It involves the observation that in different places Anglican local authorities are seeking to vary accepted Anglican order.)


liturgy said...


I am sure I am obtuse and may need to read the whole article,
and possibly finding Cranmer and Schillebeecx quoted together in support of lay presidency has knocked my thinking ability,
but I cannot at all see how Jenen's excellent points lead logically to his unorthodox conclusion.
I have commented here previously that his search for liturgical regulations in the scriptural canon shows complete misunderstanding both of God's development of the canon and of liturgical regulations.
Certainly it is the gathered community that celebrates the eucharist - not merely the presiding priest - and we must move away from referring to the priest as the "celebrant" and renew our liturgy and our liturgical spaces to embody that important realisation.
But I cannot get my head around why the presiding priest is not understood to be presiding during the sermon??!!
There are some terrible liturgical practices which reduce the eucharist to a "first part" "second part" with the priest brought in as a "magician" to do what "lay people may not" with essentially lay people presiding over the service. But it is those practices that are an abuse - and clericalise and thereby destroy lay ministry. As well as turning priesthood into some sort of magic - to which Jensen rightly responds - but with the incorrect, unorthodox response.
Your point (iv) highlights it well.
Just as many (RCs) included cannot distinguish between a communion service with the reserved sacrament and Christ's eucharist, so many/most will not be able to distinguish between Jensen's clericalised, authorised lay presider and a priest!



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco

I particularly like your point re the presiding priest presiding during the sermon, even when preached by another! (I had not thought of it in that way ...)

If priest and lay president both wear open necked shirts there will definitely be confusion!

But at the root of the differentiation between Sydney and elsewhere will be (I suspect) a difference in understanding of the shape of liturgy, as you observe. If liturgy is part 1 and then part 2 and a priest is necessary for part 2 but not part 1, magical mysteries develop around the second part.

Where the different parts of the liturgy are understood as integrated into a whole service then there is a different starting point for reflection on the question of presidency!