Monday, August 9, 2010

"Closed Communion"

Here is a quote from "Heaven on Earth.  The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service." by Arthur Just.

After the Gospel reading came the sermon.  The preaching could go on indefinitely, probably for a minimum of an hour.  The sermon was a commentary on the gospel first, and then a full biblical exposition on everything that was read.  Thus the Word service could last two hours or longer.  The congregation would participate and react more than we do, e.g., beating breasts when they heard the Law and crying out with joy when they heard the Gospel.

At the conclusion of the Word service there was the Prayer of Dismissal (in later centuries called the "prayer of the Faithful").  The purpose of this prayer was to dismiss certain categories of people from the Word Service who were not worthy to enter the holy presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper.  The word mass came from the word Dis-Miss-al.  This prayer form was a distinct part of the liturgy until medieval times.  It would include prayer for the catechumens, the penitents, and for those who had confessed publicly a doctrine contrary to the teaching of the Church.  After the dismissal of all but the baptized, the doors of the church would be closed.  This is the origin of what we now call "closed communion."  Even now in the Eastern church at this point in the liturgy the deacon cries out "the doors, the doors,"  a remnant of this ancient practice preserved in the eastern liturgy.  By this practice of dismissing those who are not worthy to receive the Lord's body and blood, one can see that the core value of holiness from the biblical culture of Jesus and the apostles is still in force among the early Christians.  They took very seriously the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, as well as following the Lord's instructions to the apostles in Luke 22.

When all had been dismissed and only the faithful remained, they would exchange the kiss of peace.  This would be a full kiss on the mouth--men to men and women to women--a sign of the reconciliation that existed among the members of the community before they came to the Eucharist.  Only the baptized who were in complete fellowship with one another were capable of exchanging this kiss.  This was not a cultural phenomenon, for even in this culture this would have seemed unusual, but the Gospel gave them the freedom to do this.    p. 204

There are a number of interesting points here for me.

First of all we note that the sermon would go on for an hour with proper exposition of the read texts.  Try and get that anywhere these days.  Of course, the pastors would say that the people would balk.  I don't know.  Let them try and do a good job and see what the people will say.  In my youth we would go back to church in the evening and listen to a talk going right through the Bible with the pastor talking for a whole hour.  It has been done in recent memory and I am not that old.

Secondly, people were more emotionally expressive.  Lutherans being know as the "frozen chosen" and thinking that being solemn  is being properly sanctified and serious, maybe could be a little more accepting.  I have a video examining the history of black Gospel music, and it contains a statement explaining that simply standing and sitting down and being serious could  be described as worship, was impossible to understand for anyone in the black church.  Interesting, anyhow.  These are cultural things.  Maybe this is why the confessional Lutheran movement seems to have no blacks in it (anyhow that what it looks like looking at pictures on the Wittenberg Trail).  I have never beaten my breast or whooped out loud.  I would not know how to get started.  I do better with  Paul Gerhard hymns, myself.  Really, though, they are full of emotion, also.  With Lutherans you wonder, though, if they have listened at all.  It is all to holy to even talk about.  Of course, they have listened but they could make it a little more obvious.

Thirdly, this dismissal before the "closed communion" is very interesting to me.  I have worshiped in one place where this was the practice.  This was in my mother's town where we lived for one year before coming to Canada.  The communion was after the regular service.  I am thinking about this in the light of the desire of many to have communion in every Sunday.  I have not yet belonged to a congregation where this is the practice.  It certainly would be welcome.  But I do wonder about this:  listening to Issues, etc. I have heard it bemoaned that the church growth practice of recommending having less communion in the service for the sake of novices and visitors is a terrible thing to say.

I can empathize with this church growth sentiment.  I have experienced this very uncomfortable feeling of being in a strange congregation and thinking I should not commune, whereas the people I am with think I should, and surely, I would like to...  etc., etc.  It kind of ruins the whole service for me. (There are a number of possible scenarios.)

From these last several observations, I am thinking that communion, if it will be closed, as it should be, then for hospitality's sake, it should be after a dismissal.  ???  YES, NO?

Fourthly, there is this kiss of peace on the mouth.  I do not think we will be instituting this ever again.  But hugs are nice.  I've been to a little Anglican church, actually the one in my town, here, where all the people exchange peace and hugs with everyone else there.   It was quite a mingling in the tiny isle.  They all hugged me, too, and, of course, urged me to go to communion, which I, alas, could not/ would not.  Anglicans even have communed dogs, I read the other day.  It must be embarrassing to most of them. 

Here is a picture of the little Anglican church in my town.  It is historic and the people are great, and the liturgy is great and the sermon was great, too, when I went.  You can look straight at it when you have a coffee at the Mac's store.

1 comment:

Mary said...

I am visiting your blog today.
I enjoyed the piece on faith in today's blog.....
We should continue to commune in the presence of our guests. Prior to communion our Pastor explains the Lord's Supper is sacred and one should receive proper instruction b/f accepting communion, etc. When communing in the presence of our visitors it eleviates possible questions, and curiousity. Besides, when we go to the altar to receive the Sacraments our guests are invited to come up for a blessing.
Bethlehem in Edmonton communes every Sunday.