Monday, 27 April 2015

Bread and Wine: Why do we do it so poorly at times?

When it comes to the Eucharist I have to say that, aside from the old joke which asks who in their right mind would go out to a place that takes over thirty minutes to stick bread and wine on the table, it seems when it comes to the Eucharist there is often little to laugh about. The reason for this is that a fair number of the churches I have visited over the years appear to have failed when it comes to taking the issue of the elements seriously and this is not right. After all, if we really think this is something important then surely we would do our best to make sure it is done both properly and well.

Let me explain:

The Bread
One of the things I like to do is break the bread, if wafers are in use, as I use the words, 'The body of Christ broken for you...' the emphasis being on the 'broken' BUT I have visited a number of churches where the wafer is something soggy which curls as you try to break it. Disaster: 'The body of Christ curled up and rolled into a tube for you,' just doesn't do it for me!!!

It gets worse when the 'priest's' wafer is soggy because with that resounding 'snap' missing as 'we break this bread to share in the body' I'm left trying to tear the wretched elasticised circular abomination whilst still trying to look like it's not a three ring circus.

Then there's the wonderful wafers that have been dried to the extent that when you break them they go off like a gunshot and fragment. I nearly took someone's eye out a few weeks back with one of these as they knelt at the rail (I kid you not)! 

But as if that wasn't bad enough, the blessed soggy things, when consumed, stick to the roof of your mouth and needed copious amounts of wine (honestly officer - I've just been doing a service (hic)! ) to shift the thing so you could do the post communion prayer. Meanwhile the rest of the congregation, who weren't so fortunate,  struggled on (I watched a couple of the old loves present remove their top set of dentures) to try and remedy the problem!!

Mind you, it's not all about wafers this bread problem. A recent service was going swimmingly and as I picked up the bread roll (or 'bun' as they call them here) I was getting into my stride. 'Take, eat, this is my body broken for you...' (bread is now broken to reveal lumps of chocolate) - yes, really!

It's good idea to ensure that the bread you use is of the finest flour and the best you can get, but the communion I did with sunflower seeds in the bread saw more dentures under attack than that seen in the making of 'The `Revenge of the Curly Communion Wafer'! 

The Wine
Personally I like to use a good tawny regimental port (19% proof) because it tastes good and it doesn't stain the linen. When we add water to it (which we do because we're not out to get drunk, it's nothing to do with blood and water and Jesus' side) it still retains its taste and continues to have an antiseptic property (and remember, the using the purificator is a relatively modern practice - but it does apparently remove up to 90% of germs). 

The problem is that somewhere I went to recently used a cheap and nasty pale sherry which once watered down looked like cat's pee and tasted like (and I'm no expert here) something worse still. When asked there response was that it, 'Saved money!' Bah, humbug is what I say!! I'm all for being a good steward but this isn't the place to be skimping, If you want to 'save money' then cut down on all the wasteful printing and buy cost effective candles and stuff like that but make the Eucharist something special.

Next we have the problem of:

Try drinking the remnants of a highly dyed and nasty port that's been left in a bottle for a week with the top off and served from a silver container which someone joyfully attacks with some sort of silver polish each week to add that little extra flavour - it isn't a joyful or pleasurable experience at all!

One church I visited last year had the practice of leaving whatever hadn't been consecrated in their lovely silver flagon and that was why the thing leaked around the seams - the acid was eating the treasure away!

So here's a little plea:

Use the best bread you can and if you are a church that uses wafers, keep them dry (you can buy biscuit tins with some sort of hydroscopic cell in them to take away the moisture and keep them fresh) and if they become soggy - BIN THEM!  Do not inflict them on the communicants (or the clergy either - because more often than not the 'priest's wafers are the ones to really suffer) because it distracts from, and diminishes, somethingquite spectacularly important/    

If you use bread rather than wafers - either get a member of the congregation to bake the loaf or roll to ensure it's the right stuff and if that can't be done and it's shop bought - READ THE LABEL!

I really enjoyed Jesus with added chocolate but it wasn't in the right place  and was not how (or what) we should have been doing! The sunflower and sesame seed Jesus I encountered whilst covering an interregnum was nice, but it would have been improved by toasting the bread (or the person who brought it if that was not acceptable) and the addition of just a little butter.

The Eucharist is an important - no, it is THE MOST important - of the things we do together in Church - make it look and feel like that by taking the elements seriously when buying them, storing them and sharing them - Is this too much to ask I wonder?

Soap box away - it's safe to come out from your hiding places now!!

This could be going just a little too far perhaps!
And as the bags not one of resealable types...


George R said...

I wanted to say that what you had written was not right for a Vicar to be saying but as I read it I realised that I have experienced everything you speak of here and realised that we too have soggy wafers and acidic wine because we don't think about how we should store it properly. I will go and buy one of the biscuit things for the wafers and think about what wine we buy and how we store it.

Thank you for this eye-opener

Anonymous said...

This is one of the funniest things I have ever read from a Vicar. Having experienced the things you write of I am so glad that you think like the rest of us.

Thanks for a great laugh and the feeling that beneath your vestments you are no different to us. Should I show this to my Rector?

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Well I'm glad it make you think and smile - I was just thinking about a communion I'd done recently and thought, 'Blow it,' time to make my feelings known.

Sorry if you thought I was a bit off the mark with it George but grateful that I managed to win you round in the end.

Thank you both for the encouragements (and yes, show the Rector).