What happens to the bread and wine in and through this prayer of epiclesis, when the priest invokes the Word and Holy Spirit and signs the elements with the cross? What happens to the bread and wine in and through the following Words of Institution?
The Anglican formularies are explicit; the elements are consecrated — set apart for sacred purpose, for holy use: nothing more, but nothing less. Bread remains bread; wine remains wine.
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions (Article XVIII. Of the Lord’s Supper).
What then of the real presence of Christ? What then of his Body and Blood?
The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.
The real presence of Christ is manifest in the act of Communion in which the people of God receive the consecrated bread and wine by faith with thanksgiving. If consecrated bread is eaten in this manner, it is the Body of Christ; if not, it is bread. So, too, with the wine.
Insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.
The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith (Article XXVIII).
The communicant receives the consecrated bread and wine by faith with thanksgiving and thus partakes of the most blessed Body and Blood of the Lord.
Why this excursus on the finer points of Anglican sacramental theology in the midst of a reflection on the priesthood?
Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to you by the imposition of our Hands. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld. Be a faithful minister of God’s holy Word and Sacraments; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
What happens to the priest ordinand — What happened to me? — in this prayer of epiclesis, when the Bishop prays and the assembled presbyters lay hands on his head? By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit he is consecrated — set apart for sacred ministry: nothing more, but nothing less. Flesh and blood remain flesh and blood. He rises from his knees empowered and authorized for ministry, but not for magic.
I speak words of absolution, but if they are not received by faith with repentance, the burden of guilt remains: ministry, not magic. I bless, but if the blessing is not received by faith with thanksgiving, it is squandered: ministry, not magic. I consecrate bread and wine, but if they are not taken by faith with thanksgiving, they remain merely bread and wine: ministry, not magic.
In this sense, the priesthood is truly sacramental. A priest is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace and the certain means by which we receive that grace” (BCP 1979, p. 857), provided his sacramental ministry is received by faith with thanksgiving. The priest is given the grace of the Holy Spirit for ministry, but not for magic. In the absence of faith, even Jesus could do no mighty works.
A priest is a living sacrament through which the Holy Spirit acts to bestow grace on the faithful people of God, and he is a tangible witness to the real presence of Christ in the midst of a fallen world: nothing more, but nothing less. It is ministry, not magic.
Photo: Mary Kathleen Roop. Used by permission.