The previous post reveals my catholic sacramentology, for sure, but I want also to explore how less high-church folks still meditate on the act of Communion. So I pulled out my copy of the book The Valley of Vision, and checked out this prayer from Puritan literature. Its title is The Lord’s Supper.
God of all good,
I bless thee for the means of grace; teach me to see in them thy loving purposes and the joy and strength of my soul.
Thou hast prepared for me a feast; and though I am unworthy to sit down as guest, I wholly rest on the merits of Jesus, and hide myself beneath his righteousness;
When I hear his tender invitation and see his wondrous grace, I cannot hesitate, but must come to thee in love.
By thy Spirit enliven my faith rightly to discern and spiritually to apprehend the Saviour.
While I gaze upon the emblems of my Saviour’s death, may I ponder why he died, and hear him say, “I gave my life to purchase yours, presented myself an offering to expiate your sin, shed my blood to blot out your guilt, opened my side to make you clean, endured your curses to set you free, bore your condemnation to satisfy divine justice.”
O may I rightly grasp the breadth and length of this design, draw near, obey extend the hand, take the bread, receive the cup, eat and drink, testify before all men that I do for myself, gladly, in faith and reverence and love, receive my Lord to be my life, strength, nourishment, joy, delight.
In the supper I remember his eternal love, boundless grace, infinite compassion, agony, cross, redemption, and receive assurance of pardon, adoption, life, glory.
As the outward elements nourish my body, so may thy indwelling Spirit invigorate my soul, until that day when I hunger and thirst no more, and sit with Jesus at his heavenly feast.
Like more Catholic piety around the Eucharist, this prayer is also very theologically rich. It moves between theological regurgitation and prayers of adoration & praise seamlessly. Or better still, the theological statements are prayers of adoration and praise. That is a hallmark of a mature Christian, regardless of denomination or theological perspective.
I can’t help but do some compare & contrast stanza by stanza, now, between the Catholic perspective represented in my previous post and the (essentially) Calvinist perspective represented in this Puritan prayer.
Stanza 1 – The phrase “means of grace” is the standard definition of a sacrament, shared between our two perspective, and rejected by the Zwinglian & radical reformation movements which have been inherited by the majority of the American Evangelical church today.
Stanza 2 – This is an echo of thePrayer of Humble Access that I included at the end of my previous post. It’s another thing that is present in Catholic and classical Protestant piety while often missing from contemporary American Christianity: the realization of the depth of our sinfulness that still separates us from God in a very real way. Yet this acknowledgement of wretchedness is still balanced with Christ’s “tender invitation” such that we can’t hesitate but go to him in love.
Stanza 3 – Just one little sentence here marks the major diversion from Catholic belief that this Puritan prayer takes. Discerning our Savior by faith in the sacrament is certainly important, but to apprehend Him only spiritually – that’s where Catholics and Calvin part ways. The presence of Christ in the bread & wine (and therefore also what & how we receive Christ through the bread & wine) is here described as only spiritual, while the Catholic perspective affirms it bodily and spiritually. Martin Luther, too, argued for this vehemently.
Stanza 4 – Hearing these promises of Christ as we receive the bread & wine is a wonderful thing, indeed! Catholics tend to believe that those promises are actually carried out in part in the receiving of Communion, rather than simply use the act of communion as an “emblem” to remember these words and promises of Christ. Of course, the word “emblem” could be understood in different ways, and how you pair this with the next stanza could yield some different perspectives.
Stanza 5 – One way of reading this part of the prayer might make room for a more Catholic perspective: if the “emblem” of the bread & wine is received as Christ’s very “life, strength, nourishment, joy, delight.” But it could also be understood in a way that is more akin to “memorialism” – receiving the bread & wine is a way of solemnly proclaiming (and exercising) our faith, though the elements have no power or presence of Christ themselves.
Stanza 6 – Prayers of “we remember his death, resurrection, and ascension…” are always present in Catholic Eucharistic celebrations, so the first part of this final stanza is a commonality held among all Christian perspectives. Communion is a celebration of the entire gospel of Jesus Christ. The final sentence, then, denotes another distinction which is (again) rather ambiguous. This invitation for the Holy Spirit to invigorate our souls is a commonality shared among all Christians, but the means by which that happens is what’s different. A Catholic would recognize the presence of Christ, bodily & spiritually, in the bread & wine such that those elements would, themselves, communicate the presence of God into our own bodies and souls. During the prayers of consecration is the epiklesis, the “calling-down,” wherein the Holy Spirit is invited to bless and sanctify the bread and wine. This Puritan prayer, however, eschews that line of thinking, and seems to indicate that the people pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence in parallel to the receiving of the bread & wine, rather than through the bread & wine.
Part of the purpose behind examining this prayer is to remind myself (and others) that though I am decidedly Catholic in my sacramentology and honestly think that Calvin and Zwingli (and those who followed them) are simply wrong in their teaching, I do, however, respect the integrity of their piety in these matters. Being wrong about certain things does not necessarily take away from Christian maturity. So in that light, I want to affirm the sincerity with which these folks reach out to God, even though I disagree with their theological convictions.