In the coming weeks, I will be writing a series of posts about the different lay led liturgical roles, as we work on involving more and more people in our worship. Each post will end with an opportunity for you to step into the particular role that I have written about.
People come to communion for a combination of reasons, and each person carries that combination in a different way when approaching the altar. The Eucharist tells us that we belong, and for those of us who have struggled with a sense of belonging in our lives, this message carries a sense of safety and hope. Jesus found us worthy of his sacrifice, and for those of us who have struggled with a sense of worth the eucharist offers a reassurance of love and acceptance. Some of us have experienced transcendent moments of mystical communion with the divine, and the eucharist reenacts or echoes these moments. Jesus’s presence in the bread and the wine is the gift that God sends back with us after we have traveled into the divine reality during the Eucharistic prayer, and to receive it is to acknowledge our own giftedness. The hope, safety, love, acceptance, and sense of mystery that communion offers to each individual is awe-inspiring and soul-enriching. To be the one who holds the chalice and conveys these meanings, and many more, is to offer a profound service, acting with great love.
The chalice itself is a cup with a long stem that reminds us of the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper in Jerusalem. Chalices can be silver, crystal, ceramic, or wood. At St. Stephen’s we have beautiful ceramic chalices that were made for us by the artist Jenny Floch. We have fine silver chalices. We might use one set during a particular liturgical season (ceramics during Lent, for instance), and another during the season that follows (silver during Easter). The chalices, like all of our liturgical vessels, are lovingly cared for by the Altar Guild. All of this might seem rather mundane, but every time I touch one of the chalices, I think about the many people who have participated in its making, its cleaning, its upkeep. Each hand that touches it has done so with intention and love, which I try to emulate when I serve communion. Jesus’s love for the disciples at the first communion echoes through these acts.
At St. Stephen’s, we no longer practice “intinction” (dipping the wafer into the chalice before putting it in your mouth). There have been studies that have shown that intinction spreads more germs than sipping from a common cup, because we touch so many more things with our hands than we do with our mouths. Throughout the day, our fingers are picking up germs that our mouths are not. Sipping from the cup sometimes seems a little too intimate, as we place our lips where our fellow worshippers, some of them strangers, have placed their lips before us. But it is much safer. This might seem counterintuitive, but we might ask why we believe that intimacy is dangerous instead of protective. Our culture wants to teach us that we are safest when we are each within our own separate spheres of control. Our faith wants to teach us that safety grows when we allow each other some degree of intimacy in each other’s lives.
The eucharist is wrapped in public prayer, of course, but there are several private prayers that we may use both before and after serving communion. My favorite prayer to say before serving communion is this:
Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of the bread; who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.Book of Common Prayer, page 834
My favorite prayer to say after serving and receiving communion is this:
Jesus, I thank you for all that you give me in this sacrament. Grant that this sacrament may be fruitful in me, bringing forgiveness, increasing my love toward you, confirming my hope, and strengthening my faith. Amen.Olsen, Derek A. . Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book (p. 143).
Saying a private prayer along with the community prayers allows me to feel that the grace I’ve received is both personal and communal. My experience of God is mitigated through my beloved friends in the church, but it is also mysteriously specific, something so individual and powerful that I don’t even know how to talk about it to others. This belief that God loves both the entirety of all creation and each of us individually is at the heart of my faith.
If you are interested in becoming a chalice bearer at St. Stephen’s, send me an email and I will arrange to train you and add you to the schedule. As part of your training, you will receive a book of specific rubrics that will help guide you in this ministry.