For the past few weeks the Sunday Mass Lectionary has been giving us the sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel: the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus walking on the water, “It is I, do not be afraid,” and the extended discourse on Jesus the Bread of Life, the Bread which has come down from heaven to give life to the world.
In our Anglican and Catholic tradition we expect the Eucharist to be celebrated regularly, at least every Sunday, and in churches like St James’, every day. Churches of a more Protestant and Reformed tradition celebrate this Sacrament much less frequently, monthly or even quarterly.
One might think then that the Eucharist is less valued in the Protestant tradition, but the contrary is true: the Reformed celebrate the Eucharist less often because they hold it in such high honour that it is to be savoured, and the faithful are expected to devote some considerable time and prayer to preparing themselves to receive the Sacrament. In a sense, receiving the Sacrament is in itself the goal, having prayed for grace to prepare oneself to feed on Jesus in this way. The Free Church of Scotland is the dominant denomination on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, where a friend of mine, an Anglican Sister of Charity, has a house of prayer. The Stornoway Communions are held only four times a year, but there are services and prayer meetings on the days leading up to the Sunday, and then in the following days services of thanksgiving.
For those in the Catholic tradition, frequent communion is not the goal, but a means of grace, of growing in holiness, to become more Christ-like. However, a danger for us, certainly for me, is that familiarity may lead us to lack of preparation and self-examination, which is enjoined upon us by Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 5.23,24) and by St Paul (1 Corinthians 11.27-29). How do we prepare for Sunday Mass? Do we take time to look back over the week, and examine where we have shone with the light of Christ, and when we have not? Do we take time to give thanks for the gift of Jesus in the Sacrament, praying that we may reflect his light and his love?
“Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray thee,
Let me gladly here obey thee;
Never to my hurt invited,
Be thy love with love requited:
From this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
Through the gifts thou here dost give me,
As thy guest in heaven receive me.”
New English Hymnal, #280