This piece was first published on my previous blog, “The Liturgical Theologian,” on July 12, 2017 and can be found here.

Perhaps it’s just me and my upbringing in northern Virginia, but I can distinctly remember thinking the local our Catholic parish was weird because when I received communion there is was always and only a wafer. No wine. Anyone else with me? A few confessions are in order here: first, by “my upbringing” I simply refer to the fact that I was part of a fairly low Episcopal Church and had no personal real commitment to Anglican worship, polity, or anything during my youth. Second, I definitely received communion at a local Catholic parish despite being a baptized Episcopalian. Third, I only attended Saturday evening mass at St. James because I played on a successful, travel soccer team and we often had games on Sunday mornings. Arrest me, I know (alas, perhaps another post for another time).

Seriously though, I often thought to myself growing up—and can unfortunately remember numerous conversations attempting to proselytize others—that the Catholics were both weird and wrong for withholding wine from the Faithful. And the current articles/essays/blog pieces going around about the Vatican saying “no” to Gluten-free bread creates the potential for a seemingly interesting “one kind” situation for those with Gluten intolerance. You can read Sarah Pulliam Bailey here and Emma Winters hereon the issue for further information (hint: they both dispel the idea that low Gluten wafers are bad for those with an intolerance).

Fast forward twenty years: I am now an Anglican priest, PhD student in liturgical theology, and I haven’t had communion in both kinds in over 16 months. Why? Because I’m an alcoholic.

Before we go off the deep end here, please read my words clearly: I am not suggesting that all alcoholics in recovery must abstain from partaking the blood of Christ every Sunday. That is way above my pay grade and none of my business. I am also similarly aware that the Vatican has approved the use of mustum (grape juice with less than 1% alcohol content) for use during Holy Eucharist.

That said, being one who partakes of only the bread for 16 months has caused me to reflect on my childhood naiveté and more recent experiences.

You would assume that I would be the first person to insist upon having wine at Eucharist. And no, not because I’m an alcoholic, despite that being the obvious logic! You would make that assumption because my doctoral research is devoted to liturgical theology and what happens in worship, particularly sacramental worship. As I priest I regularly administer the bread and wine, the Body and Blood, to the faithful. Wouldn’t I—nay, shouldn’t I—partake as well?

Here’s what I’ve learned…

  1. I am not receiving a lesser Sacrament or being robbed of a sacramental experience. My involvement in the Eucharist is the same as it always has been: active, prayerful, grateful, expectant. I’m not missing out on anything by virtue of having only one element instead of two. There is no noticeable shift in my own awareness and no less grace conferred, either.
  2. The Eucharist, for me, has become more about the giving of thanks rather than the reception or partaking of elements. I have much to be thankful for in my life: an incredibly supportive and loving wife, three amazing children, a business, a PhD program, my sobriety…the list goes on and on. I have the opportunity to give thanks to my Heavenly Father during the Eucharist for this and for so much more. The point of the Eucharist, first and foremost, is for the church to gather for the source and summit of her worship by giving thanks, directing the praise of creation back to Creator, and self-offering before the Lord. Have we lost sight of this in our post-Reformation debates upon substance, change, and consecration?
  3. The significance of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is not a matter of elemental change or discovering the moment of consecration. My awareness of Christ’s presence, or at least my openness to his activity and agency in worship has changed. Christ is present in the Eucharist, with his people, in the act of thanksgiving, in the offering of praise and prayer, and in the breaking of bread. Jesus is not somehow absent to me and more fully present to another because I no longer drink from the chalice or intinct my bread. The Eucharist is a whole service, not just one part of something larger. In the prayers of God’s people, in the reading of Scripture, in the sermon, and in Communion, Christ is present. My job is to encounter him there and not to locate him solely in bread or wine.

The focus on Eucharist in one kind or in two shifts radically the meaning of the Eucharist from what it should be. I’m not arguing for an anything goes mentality when it comes to sacramental worship, far from it! I’m advocating for a deeper, more robust, thicker sacramental experience and encounter. I’m learning on a Sunday by Sunday basis, and one day at a time, that Jesus beckons me—and all of us—to his table not simply for bread and wine or Body and Blood but for participation in the wedding feast, joining the Eschatological banquet table in a foretaste, participating in the self-giving, overflowing love of the Trinity.

My appreciation for the Eucharist—and I daresay my understanding—has grown significantly in the last 16 months. It feels as though things have been put into sharper perspective by virtue of opting out of the wine and that primary issues have once again become primary (and therefore secondary issues have returned to being secondary). I’m sure that I’ll have more to say on the subject as I am further changed by the liturgy and my lengthening time in recovery, but at this point I can say that it is “right to give him thanks and praise.”

“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”[1]

You May Also Enjoy: On Being an Alcoholic and Liturgical Muggles and Losing the Sacramental Imagination

[1] Taken from the 1979 BCP, Rite II.

This post was first published on February 6, 2019 for Church of the Apostles Anglican, Kansas City. 

Our most powerful memories are often tied to our senses and the way we experience the world. We can usually remember the first time we read a certain book or listened to a new album because of the feelings they evoked in us; we can smell the brand-new pages or remember the weather outside because the memory is made all the more tangible by these seemingly insignificant factors.

A meal can have the same effect. Associations form in the brain as we experience particularly enjoyable or upsetting events, and those associations can include the taste and smell of food, sounds, and sights. Often, we remember a place rather than the meal itself; for instance, Rebecca and I spent a weekend in San Francisco before Jet was born for a “babymoon.” We ate our way through the Golden Gate City having some of the best food ever…and I could hardly tell you what we ate. I could tell you the restaurants we visited and the delightful memories we created strolling through San Francisco and talking excitedly about becoming parents, but the food plays only a bit role in this story.

There are other times, however, when the food is the vehicle by which we make and enter our memories. We are able to conjure up feelings of profound love and happiness as we remember someone while eating. Have you ever wondered why we call it “comfort food?” Sure, a bowl of hot, creamy soup might bring comfort to your heart and stomach, but that’s not the point. At least, I think we are missing the fullness of the picture here. The food is comforting because it reminds us of someone, something, some time, or some place that we miss, want, or desperately need to remember.

My dad has an interesting dish that was a mainstay in my house growing up. I want to prepare you for the culinary sophistication oozing off of its name: Hotdog-on-bread-cheese-on-hotdog. Yes, that’s right: a piece of bread with a hotdog sliced on top and with cheese melted over everything. This meal, of course, could only be properly concocted in the miracle that is the toaster oven. Don’t knock it until you try it, friends.

I have not eaten one of these delicacies in many, many years. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had one, but I can tell you that even the mere thought of eating a hotdog-on-bread-cheese-on-hotdog floods my heart and mind in a very real way with warm and tender memories…as though I am eating with my dad presently.

So, imagine with me the scene as the disciples walked along the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem. The pair is joined by a stranger who begins asking about current events, and they are surprised because the pain is all too real, all too fresh.

Have you not heard about the execution in Jerusalem? We thought he would restore Israel…

The stranger then begins to unlock the Scriptures for them, explaining God’s active plan and the fulfillment reached in the crucifixion, but they still don’t see that Jesus is the one present. Our Lord then breaks bread, just as He had during the Last Supper, and immediately they see Him for who He truly is: their Rabbi, their leader, their master, their Lord.

It wasn’t the breaking open of Scripture that gave the disciples understanding; it was the sharing of this holy meal. Jesus told the disciples at the Last Supper that He was leaving but would send the Spirit to them – that He would not leave them as orphans. The Spirit would come to comfort, guide, and lead them in all truth, and the disciples would be in Jesus just as he is in the Father. The meal Jesus shared with His followers on that fateful night would be forever etched in their memory—both bodily and mentally—because the events which took place after they got up from the table irrevocably shaped their lives.

What is the Eucharist if not the joyous celebration of Jesus’ presence with us? We often hear talk about how Jesus is present in the bread and wine, but we rarely embrace and celebrate that he is present. It is his presence that carries meaning for us and not the method. If Jesus is present in the bread and wine, in the celebration of the meal, then He is present with us in our very lives. We have a weekly reminder that Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us, that He comes to us even in the most mundane things and fills us with His peace and love.

Indulge me for one technical moment: there is a word in sacramental theology that bears great meaning: anamnesis. This is a form of remembering that is active, dangerous, volatile. It is a form of memory that does not merely rest in the past, but drags past events forward and makes them present in the here and now. It is what Israel knew as she celebrated (and still celebrates) Passover annually. It is what we know when we celebrate Eucharist on Sunday. Somehow, in some mysterious but real way, the events of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection come charging into our present. “Does this in remembrance of me,” he said.

I will probably make a hotdog-on-bread-cheese-on-hotdog sometime soon. When I do this, it will be to celebrate the memories I have of eating that meal with my dad as a young boy. I will probably share that meal with Rebecca and my boys in the knowledge that passing it down to them is a way of inviting them into that loving tradition. Jesus shared a meal with His friends, and for the Church, this meal is the pinnacle of our corporate worship: we gather together as the church to remember Jesus and share in His presence through praise, Scripture, sermon, prayer, and the bread broken and the wine poured. This is why we celebrate Eucharist; this is why we need Eucharist as part of our Rule of Life; this is why our shared memories shape us as a people of bread and wine and a people who know Jesus’ real presence…even when we can’t see him.

This post was first published on June 28, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For starters, Alan Jacobs of Wheaton wrote a delightful piece on Harry Potter in 2000 and the piece was recently re-published by First Things. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a diehard-Potter fan. I discovered the books early into the series, I believe it was in between the publishing of Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. Since my adolescence, I have read the books with vigor, attended 4 midnight book releases, watched the movies with a mixture of joy and zealous criticism, listened to the books while I paint, and most recently I attended Harry Potter in Concert with the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Center. I feel a bit like Paul at this point in giving my credentials—only slightly joking—but I do this to suggest that I am not some squib jumping on the HP bandwagon.

I was listening to the original NPR announcement of Harry Potter this morning—it can be found here—and something grabbed my attention. Margot Adler predicted that the word “muggle” would become a big thing in common language and then shared an audio clip from Rowling discussing it further. Within the HP series the term “muggle” simply means “non-magical person.” However, Rowling shared that she began receiving letters and emails from fans who began expanding the term for modern, non-literary usage. In this form the term came to mean something like “dull and unimaginative person.” And I cannot tell you why, but it was like a lightning bolt scared my brain (see what I did there) and it got me thinking:

What if there are liturgical muggles? What if the loss of the sacramental imagination is like the difference between magic and muggle (or at least squib)? I suppose the easiest place to begin is first with the sacramental imagination and its loss.

…Before I go on, please hear: I am not suggesting that the liturgy is an actual form of magic or that words spoken over bread and wine is a spell or an enchantment like Stupefyor Avada Kedavra. I am not looking to debate hocus pocus (hoc est enim corpus meum) or medieval superstitions. If you find yourself arguing with me on these points then you’ve missed my meaning entirely. The reader may continue…

We are heirs of the Enlightenment. Our collective sacramental imagination has shifted over the course of 2,000 years. The ways in which we interpret information, tell stories, share experiences, and view the world today as Christians in the democratic, capitalist West is different from the earliest centuries of the church in the East and in Rome, it is different from the medieval church, it is different from the overwhelming majority of church history. Why does this matter?

Because we no longer actively view the world as being full of God’s glory, imbued with his presence, overwhelmed by his love, rich with encounters of him, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ lyric, “The earth is charged with the grandeur of God” makes no sense to us. Our imaginations, our sense of awe and wonder, our belief in the movement and action of the Holy Spirit is greatly diminished. There is a reason that Harry Potter, Lewis’ Narnia, the Force in Star Wars, and many similar stories capture our imaginations. It’s because it is so other than what we know and what we are used to. It’s not that these stories view magic positively but that they show a world teeming with possibilities, of a world where the supernatural is bumping against the natural regularly, where things aren’t always as they seem.And that brings me to the liturgy…

Our post-Enlightenment, Protestant worship has seen a minimalist approach to liturgy and a dwindling view of enchantment, wonder, awe, and terror before God. These have been replaced with rationalism, with Bible, with Sermon. In many Protestant, evangelical churches the sermon is the centerpiece. Rather than a dually climactic service where Word and Table play off of and interpret each other, these worship services are almost exclusively comprised of worship songs and a long, highly intellectual (though not always) sermon. The mind is what matters here, and how it affects the hands and the feet afterward, but the body is left relatively alone.

Enter the liturgical muggle.  Remember that I am using muggle as a “dull and unimaginative person.”

This is the subtle shift from sacramental worship to rational worship, from Word and Sacrament to more and more Word. I think, and I may be mistaken, that it is obvious how this shift would result in making liturgical muggles. But those in more historical, liturgical conditions aren’t entirely off the hook. This isn’t an us vs. them situation. It is entirely possible to be(come) a liturgical muggle within the liturgy because, for me, liturgical muggles are those who have lost the sacramental imagination.

Even amid liturgical worship, we have lost a sacramental consciousness, awareness, and imagination as the sacraments have less and less to do with reality and more to do with vague and ethereal signs and symbols. Baptism becomes more about the confession of faith (or covenant promise) than the reality of and individual being washed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, of being made a new person, of being anointed with the Holy Spirit. Or Eucharist is about nourishment for the spiritual journey, or a political act of the highest degree (don’t get me started), or a sign of socio-economic equality in the Kingdom of God and not about bread and wine becoming Body and Blood, joining the worship of the cosmos in the heavenly throne room. I could go on and on and on here, but suffice it today that for liturgical muggles water, oil, bread, and wine are always just that. There is no imagination, there is no magic (be careful here) per se. Worship is dull and unimaginative because it is focused exclusively on what our minds can handle and conceive rather than that God is doing in and among us, breaking into our midst regularly, sacramentally.

In my opinion, and I say this with all sincerity and humility, we need to guard against making more liturgical muggles and losing even more of the sacramental imagination. Our Christian worldview needs to shift, and shift pretty dramatically. A deeper, richer, more robust view of the Sacraments will help us avoid becoming liturgical muggles. At the end of the day, rationalist worship or rationalist Christianity is a separation of mind from body, of head and heart, of brain and soul. It may not appear that way, it certainly wasn’t intended that way, but it is it’s own form of escapism, of isolationism, of segregation. The reintegration of these elements, the reintroduction of Sacramental teaching and imagination will result in a holistic, fully-formed, fully informed, fully alive worship and a Christian spirituality that is committed to working within the world we inhabit rather than railing against it constantly.

This post was first published on June 24, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

There’s no good way of classifying those who are liturgical snobs by virtue of being low liturgy or low(er) church. I do not have in view those belonging to churches who lack a historical liturgy or connectivity. This is not an anti-liturgy, contra-liturgy, or alternative-liturgy list (that might be another blog post for another time). I know a significant number of people who are Low Liturgy and who deeply appreciate the liturgical tradition of the Church even if they hold said tradition in a less-than-high regard and draw different conclusions.

This list is predominantly based on my personal experience as an Anglican, although certain substitutes can be made (Calvin’s Institutes in place of the 39 Articles, etc.). Do not be fooled, friends, those who are low church and low liturgy are every bit as snobby as those from my list from yesterday. Their views are held with as much fervor and information as Liturgy Snobs.

Here it is: you might be a Low Liturgy Snob if…

  1. Use the 39 Articles as your guide for liturgical and sacramental theology.
  2. Believe the 1662 Book of Common Prayer to be the only prayer book. Extra points if you’ve uttered, “We don’t use an epiclesis because 1662 doesn’t.”
  3. Consciously—and perhaps even with pen in your prayer book—you replace the word “priest” with “presbyter.” Bonus points if your title is Sr. Pastor instead of Rector. Extra points if you avoid being called “Father” because no one can be called Father but God the Father.
  4. Translate High Church as Catholic and Anglo-Catholic as Anglo-Papalist.
  5. Differentiation between sacraments and sacramental rites is of the utmost importance to you.
  6. Who needs liturgy when you have the Solas?
  7. Think that 1552 was Cranmer’s first prayer book. A snobbier position would be in thinking that 1552 reflects his mature theology and is therefore more complete and authentic than 1549.
  8. Wear your preaching tabs or academic hood more often than your collar. Extra points for referring to your collar as a “dog collar” or “flea and tick collar.”
  9. Reject the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday believing it to be superstitious or works-based.
  10. You insist upon using a Table rather than an Altar for Communion (you definitely don’t call it Mass or even Holy Eucharist).

If you’ve made it to the end of this list and are guilty of the majority of these points, then you are likely a Low Liturgy Snob. You draw your positions on the sacraments, liturgy, and more from the documents and theological milieu of the 16th century Reformations. Low Liturgy Snobs are highly informed and well-read; their positions come from thoughtful study and reflection. Even as I write this list in jest, please be assured that I think you are a valuable part of the Anglican family. I may not agree with you on all points, but then again I don’t agree with anyone on every point.

Here’s the secret to differentiating between Liturgy and Low Liturgy Snobs:

Liturgy Snobs will likely believe that the law of praying shapes the law of belief. They may believe in a two-way street as well.

Low liturgy snobs will definitely believe that the law of belief (doctrine and theology) shapes the law of praying.

This post was first published on June 23, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

Here is a bit of levity for you on Friday. Snobbery can affect any category of people: food snobs, wine snobs, sports snobs, shoe snobs, book snobs, etc. etc. ad infinitum. One group of people not often mentioned but highly afflicted is that of the Liturgical Snob. Liturgical snobbery is not necessarily a bad thing. As you’ll see from my list, most points are actually good and well-informed. It becomes an issue, however, based on how you use your snobbery. Snobbery for snobbery’s sake is annoying and unhelpful. Also, lighten up and have some fun.

Disclaimer: I am a liturgical snob myself. This is fun and jest. I shouldn’t have to state this but there will be those who are too buttoned up and rigid to realize what I’m doing.

You might be a liturgical snob if…

  1. You own a copy of Ritual Notes. Extra points if you treat it as holy writ.
  2. Complain regularly about the use of “just” in prayers. (This type of complaint is grating on my nerves. You can expect a post about it soon.)
  3. Debate versus populum and ad orientem.
  4. Properly translate and interpret Prosper of Aquitaine. Hint: he didn’t say lex orandi, lex credendi.
  5. Have strong opinions about Hippolytus and Dom Gregory Dix.
  6. Sacrosanctum Concilium is a well-read part of your library.
  7. You have a thing for liturgical lace. Are well versed in the various forms of liturgical chanting (Gregorian, Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong, etc.)
  8. When asked to pick between incense and asperges your answer is, “Yes.”
  9. You treat the faculty of Notre Dame’s Liturgical Studies Department as celebrities or the Dream Team.
  10. You know the lineage and pedigree of your favorite Prayer Book and often refer to it as the Prayer Book.

Now, read through the list once more and if you are able to understand all 10 points and/or are guilty of the majority then you are officially a Liturgical Snob. Welcome to the club! Don’t take yourself too seriously, though. That’s where the problems set in. Go and enjoy yourself today: pray with a different liturgy, refrain from correcting someone on Facebook (you know you do it!), try using the word “just” in a prayer. Cheers!