Discover more from New High Church Letters
Celebrating Eucharist Alone
Bishop Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester "gives an exceptional dispensation [from following canon law] to a priest (licensed or with PTO in this diocese) to celebrate the Eucharist without a congregation, during the course of the present restrictions."
The role of the priest in the celebration of the Eucharist is to bear all this to the altar in church through the rites of word and sacrament that unite earth with heaven and thereby give glory to God the Father. The celebration of the Eucharist without a congregation should heighten our awareness that this act does not belong to the priest. The celebrant of every Eucharist is Jesus Christ, the new Moses. The gifts on the altar are the manifestation of the life of the people of the new Israel, the Church, in their daily working life, and in prayer and worship in their homes. Jesus unites these gifts with the offering of himself to God for the salvation of the world. [How do you celebrate this without the people of God being present? (This would also apply to celebrating the Eucharist in your own home.)]
As a priest, remember you also belong to the people of God. You are a sinner like any other Christian. In offering the gifts at the altar, you also come in search of mercy and forgiveness.
Extra special preparation is needed for this distinctive celebration. Liturgical texts, vessels and bread and wine must all be in place and easily accessible. Work out carefully how you will place a lectern, altar and chair or stool and move easily between them.
Speak at a volume that you would use in conversation with a person who is in need of reassurance. Imagine you are speaking to any one of the people who are saddened by not being able to get to church.
Prepare carefully what you intend to bring to God in the offering you are about to make, i.e. the names of people, places, etc.
Light the candles, vest and go to the altar as you normally would.
Remember that the Eucharist is a conversation: with the members of the Church on earth, and with the angels and saints in heaven, and with the persons of the Holy Trinity. The text of the rite should be essentially the same as you would use if a congregation were present. You should say only the words of the priest or reader, and the words that priest and people say together.
Do not say the responses of the people who are not present.
Do say, “The Lord be with you.” Do not say, “And also with you.”Do say, “Let us pray.”
Do not say the responses in a responsorial psalm
Do not say, “Thanks be to God” after the OT and/or NT reading
Do not say the responses to the announcement and conclusion of the gospel
Do not invite an exchange of peace
Do not say the people’s response in the Sursum Corda
Do say the Sanctus and Benedictus
You may say the Mystery of faith and you may say the Agnus Dei
Do say the invitation to communion and its response
Communicate yourself in both kinds
Do say the blessing and dismissal
Think carefully about where you focus your attention, given that no one else is present. Read the texts carefully; look at the gifts you place on the altar.
Allow time for silence. This is especially important after the gospel and after holy communion. Ensure that there is a chair or stool conveniently nearby.
Enter the celebration in the services register, noting that there was no congregation, under the terms of permission from the bishop, to meet Covid-19 restrictions. This will be a significant record for history.
Make sure that after the liturgy you set aside time for thanksgiving.
Finally, please ensure that you take good are of yourselves, spiritually, emotionally, medically. There is much that will cause anxiety and grief in the weeks to come. I hope that you will also carve out time for spiritual refreshment, reconnection (safely!) with friends and people who encourage your in your ministry and faith. Look, too, at what will enliven your hope and imagination. Even now, we might begin to think about what we will be wanting to do and to be, when this dark episode draws to its close. What will we have learnt?