The Offense of the Eucharist

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All Souls offers Communion at the 2013 Capital Pride Festival

An article for the All Souls Weekly, June 8, 2014.

The practice at my former parish, Saint Mary the Virgin, is to move through Times Square on Corpus Christi Day, carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, for all to adore and celebrate. I remember the rector of another parish getting very upset about this. He was deeply offended. My colleague felt this was a “dangerous practice,” worrying that the Blessed Sacrament might be defiled, disparaged, or misunderstood.

While I try to take great care in the celebration of all the sacraments, I have increasingly moved away from feeling overly responsible for the Holy Eucharist. As I often say at Mass by way of invitation, “It is not for us to decide who is worthy and who is unworthy, who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ God can work out the details.” I mean this not as sloppy sacramental theology, but rather, as a deeply held belief in the power and mystery of God.

Last year, we decided to offer a Eucharist in the middle of the Capital Pride Festival. As I have reflected on that practice and our plans to celebrate the Eucharist again this year (Sunday, June 8, 4 p.m., booths R111 and R112, entrance to the festival at 7th St. and Penn. Ave., near the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro Station), it occurs to me that our “Street Communion,” in some ways, offends all the right people. Devout Roman Catholic and Anglican friends are offended at the very idea. Secular people who want no part of organized religion are offended for other reasons.

But I think we probably should be offended by the Eucharist. We all should be offended by Christ’s Body and Blood if that brings us to any new realization that we don’t control or dispense God, and that God is larger and more loving than we ever imagined.

In the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, Jesus offers himself: God in flesh and blood, poured out for all people. Christ died for everyone—not just the good, not just the holy, and certainly not just for those educated enough to articulate a formal doctrine of the Eucharist. We take medicine not when we’re healthy, but when we’re sick. In a similar way, we should participate in the Holy Eucharist on the way to healing, to wholeness, to forgiveness, and to eternal life. I hope you’ll join me at the altar of All Souls, in hospital rooms, homes, and even in the streets, as we continue to proclaim the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and welcome all in his name.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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