Sunday, January 8, 2012

a pastoral/liturgical conundrum...


All right, fellow sufferers, here is the Question of the Day.

St. Curious parish church: Sunday morning: two services, eight a.m., ten a.m. Both, except in truly exceptional situations, services of the Eucharist. Attendance at 10 a.m., between forty and sixty most normal Sundays. Attendance at 8 a.m., anywhere between two and twelve, ENTIRELY unpredictably, although severe weather naturally lowers that number. Not always the same folks, either.

So last night we have a forecast of serious freezing rain through the whole area. A regular eight-o'clock person phones me to say he won't try to attend (he has mobility issues). Nor will he be bringing the lady who usually comes with him. A third regular attender entered into rest on Wednesday last. So I have reason to expect FEW.

But. Freezing rain does not materialize, TBTG. I arrive at church without incident. I set up the chapel space for the Eucharist, and I get the vestments on.

Now if NOBODY shows up, I have two, or perhaps three, options: to do nothing, or to perform the Liturgy of the Word and stop there, or to say Morning Prayer. These I can do all by myself, and put "1" in the appropriate columns in the Vestry Book.

But. At 7:55, the front door creaks open, and Ms. X appears. Ms. X comes quite often. She is East Asian. She almost never speaks. She absolutely never makes eye contact, with anyone. When the other usual folks are present, she allows them to shake her hand at the Peace, and gruffly mutters, "You too. You too." in response to their greeting. And she absolutely never receives communion.

Now a side-comment for non-Anglicans. The denomination is somewhat OCD about the celebration of the Eucharist...CANNOT take place if the priest is ALONE -- but the wording is: "There shall be no Celebration of the Lord's Supper, except there be at least one person present to communicate with the Priest."

OK! So what does A do in these circumstances? Cancel the service? Didn't seem right. Curtail the service to just readings and prayers? Seemed unkind and impolite.

I applied some sort of home-made clawhammer casuistry, in the sacristy, and decided I couldn't PRESUME that she wouldn't suddenly decide, this Sunday of all Sundays, to take communion. Nor could I presume that nobody would come in after the service began (not unheard of).

So I took a deep breath, and we launched into it. I did read just the Gospel, I abbreviated the prayers. In the parts where all the people are to respond together, I did hear just the ghost of a shadow of a whisper of an echo accompanying my own voice. And I was, eventually, the sole communicant.

Any thoughts?

12 comments:

Amy+ said...

I'm still the very new kid on the block, but I would've had the same questions and done the same thing. You cannot know if anyone else would come in late, or maybe she might have felt emboldened by being the only one there and actually taken Communion.

Crimson Rambler said...

oh Amy+, that was very much my own line of "wishful thinking." Thank you!

maida said...

Tricky! I would be inclined to work to find a server/lay reader/etc who would be scheduled to attend. That way there is always one person + priest. Means you have someone to do at least one reading, too...

Crimson Rambler said...

good thinking, Maida.

Josephine said...

Wow, no there is a question. I'm a very new priest so take this as you will. ;)

I might have gone quietly over to her and said "since we seem to be the only brave souls here which would you desire, that we say Morning Prayer together or do Eucharist?" If she says Eucharist I'd feel secure that even if she doesn't physically partake she has a desire and I'd say that's good enough. ;)

But then I'm new. hehe

Crimson Rambler said...

Josephine -- good counsel -- but I'm afraid that she would run right out of the building if addressed so directly. I think I took "presence = desire" and proceeded on that basis. I am talking BEYOND SHY, here.

Malcolm+ said...

Since the person in question seems very sensitive, it would might also have been a problem had you decided her wishes and switched to Morning Prayer or Antecommunion.

So your sacrament was valid but irregular. It was, it seems to me, pastorally correct in the respect it showed to one of God's children.

But what do I know. I once pronounced absolution over the phone because it seemed the right thing to do.

Crimson Rambler said...

Thanks, Malcolm+!

Mary Beth said...

A valid but irregular sacrament. Hum.

Scoop said...

You chose wisely. There may have been latecomers, and your parishioner may have decided to take coomunion that day. I believe the rule was created in response to private masses in the RCC. This was niot a private mass.

Scoop said...

You chose wisely. There may have been latecomers, and your parishioner may have decided to take coomunion that day. I believe the rule was created in response to private masses in the RCC. This was niot a private mass.

Jim said...

Absolutely correct, Rambler. Remember that the participation of the laity is "hearing mass," not necessarily consuming the elements.

The late, great Fr. Arthur Gibson once pointed out to me that even if the RCs would not let me consume the elements, there was no theological difference between a person who consumed at communion and a person who attended but did not consume.

So I would argue that the parishioner did "communicate with the priest," even if you were the only one to consume.

Valid *and* regular.