Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Rite for Contemplative Eucharist

A Rite for Contemplative Eucharist

Maggie Ross


1. Introduction
The emphasis of this Rite for Contemplative Eucharist is reconciliation. It restores the Eucharist to the people of God; it offers an opportunity for the clergy to learn to trust the laity. It has the capacity to give everyone who participates, clergy and laity alike, a new approach to help them understand more fully what it means to be "a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice, acceptable to God."

2. History
How the rite came into being and revealed itself as an adaptable and life-changing form of worship, in which the laity make their own offering in the sanctuary in an atmosphere of profound silence.

3. People and Timing
This chapter describes the roles of the Speaker of the Epiclesis, the Animator, the Shills. It suggests appropriate timing of the rite.

4. The venue and its preparation.

5. The Rite Begins
The rite is described in detail. Instructions to the animator and his/her helpers are given in red type. The information presented at the beginning of the rite and the second meditation are in black type.

6. Variations
How the rite may be adapted to particular circumstances and

7. Adaptation for Regular Use
Suggestions for adaptation for regular Sunday use.

A Rite for Contemplative Eucharist

1. Introduction

The purpose of this rite is reconciliation. It restores the Eucharist to the people of God; it offers an opportunity for the clergy to learn to trust the laity. It has the capacity to give everyone who participates, clergy and laity alike, an opportunity to understand more fully what it means to be "a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice, acceptable to God."

This rite creates a minimal liturgical structure in which participants may discover that the Eucharist is not an object or objects over which magic words have been said by a remote cleric, but rather that the Eucharist is the gathering of every moment of each of our lives, of the life of all creation, all our pain and sorrow, all our laughter and joy gathered into a single timeless moment in which Christ is revealed to inhere, to have been present, to be present now, to be eternally present. It makes available in an existential way the knowledge that not only are we beloved of God as we are, but also that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that nothing in our lives is ever wasted.

But the full meaning of Eucharist lies in the heart, beyond language, concept and time. The rite provides a context in which each participant may consciously live Eucharist in silence. Each person's interpretation will be differently nuanced, and each person's silence must be respected and encouraged by the depth of silence of those animating the rite, as well as those participating in it.

While this handbook grows out of the Anglican tradition, it is suitable for use by any group wishing to deepen their lives in God. The guidelines below include practical suggestions for groups without clergy as well as those having more "Catholic" limitations.

That we are Eucharist is inherent in the theology behind Cranmer's rather awkward rite in which the worshippers receive Communion immediately after the words of institution. Cranmer is, of course, drawing on a much earlier patristic tradition. Realizing our union in Christ, being in-Christed—that is, realizing union with God, our neighbor and ourselves as a single union in love—is the "medicine of life," to use a favorite metaphor of the early Church. The words "this is my body" should sound in our hearts referring to our own flesh and blood, the totality of our lives, equally as we hear it sounded from and meaning Christ, for it is Christ indwelling we offer, Christ who offers himself without end.

While this rite is particularly effective for catechumens, for those who often feel unacceptable or are shunned by or isolated from society, e.g., the sick, especially those with AIDS, prisoners, the elderly, and for those in need of reconciliation, its use is not confined to these groups or these contexts. It has been used for a decade in parishes from remote Alaska to suburban London.

This rite also offers a corrective. Over the centuries the view that the Eucharist belongs to the clergy has undermined the confidence of the laity in their approach to God, and has created an abyss between them and the clergy. This rite bridges that abyss. It enables people to begin to come to the altar—whether the physical altar or the altar of their hearts—with parrhesia, with a confidence that arises from true humility, as opposed to the alienation that arises from humiliation. It returns the role of the clerical hierarchy (if clergy are present) to a more appropriate 'kenotic* balance. If the ordained participate with an open heart their vocation can be renewed and transfigured. For some people the rite has proved not only life-enhancing but permanently life-changing at every level.

There is always a danger in writing down a rite that came into being as a gift. It is possible that it may lose its spontaneity, that it may become fossilized, used in an inappropriate way, or exploited as just another "spiritual" consumer item. But the situation in the churches has become so dire that the time has come to set these reservations aside and make it generally available.

The rite itself teaches us that nothing can go "wrong" in the liturgy, that everything that happens to us and everything we do is within its context is liturgy and acceptable to God, for liturgy is life. The non-ordained people of God have an innate liturgical sense, and giving them the opportunity to exercise it can help the clergy understand how to help them on the way, to relax the strictures that often make liturgical celebrations anything but contemplative and anything but celebratory. It can remove a huge burden of stress from clerical lives as well as expanding the vision and understanding of the laity.

2. History

The rite first came into being in 1995 in an Episcopal church in Cincinnati in the Diocese of Southern Ohio when I was Theologian in Residence. My schedule for the five weeks I was there was far too full, and the words "Workshop in Contemplative Prayer" which appeared on my timetable for a Saturday were a very welcome sight. The only problem was the title, which seemed self-refuting. While some spiritual writers may talk about "the work of contemplation," it is working at not working, or rather, it is working to stop working and simply be.

As the day approached I found it impossible to plan it in the ordinary sense. There was an intuition that it would involve Eucharist, so the parish where it was to be held was asked to lay in a large supply of standard issue "priest's" hosts (the fish food variety about 3 inches in diameter) if they didn't already have them.

At 9:45 AM on the appointed day I arrived to find the church basement filled with about 50 people in ordinary dress, chatting and eating doughnuts and drinking coffee. The atmosphere was ordinary, congenial. The oldest person was approaching 90 years of age and the youngest was 12 years old. This scene of people enjoying and reverencing one another in their ordinariness was itself Eucharist. Anything we did would be an extension of it.

I still had no specific plan—I seemed prevented, somehow, from making one. But at least there would be an introduction and silence together, so we began by rearranging the chairs.
To describe what happened after we began is very difficult. It was as if we had somehow entered a timeless space that opened out and embraced us. As each part of the rite was set into motion, the next part presented itself as if it had been waiting for us from eternity. It was an extraordinary day, and it would have been a mistake to try to repeat it, but the form of the rite was given and over time has proved enduring.

On that particular occasion, by the time the rite proper was finished and people were sitting quietly in the church making their thanksgivings, we had been more than four hours in silence. When the last person—the rector—left his seat in the nave, nearly five hours had passed. If nothing else, this day proved that the degree to which the laity will be receptive to silence and unafraid of it is the degree to which those who animate the rites in which they participate are receptive to silence and unafraid of it. Furthermore, the laity seek after such silence but are too often inhibited by their clergy, who think the laity are "not ready" for it, when it is themselves who are not ready.

One of the very few requests made of participants at the beginning of this rite is that when it is over they do not talk about what has happened with anyone, not with each other, not with their families, not with the animator, not with the clergy. It is also suggested that participants try to live out of the silence of the day at least interiorly, if not exteriorly, for as long as possible. The reason for these requests is to forestall "evaluations" that might dissipate the deep communion that has been realized, or trivialize by concept what lies beyond words and linear thought. There is no "success" or "failure" to this rite; it is our life in God, flawed as that may be, no more, no less.

Of course there is always someone who, in spite of the request not to talk about it, will come afterwards and say, "I know I'm not supposed to talk about this, BUT...." It is important for the animator (or whoever is listening to these words) to receive these communications gratefully but neutrally; to want not to know. It is not that the listener does not respect what has happened to the participant, but rather that the listerer ought to respect it so profoundly that it's none of his or her business.

To animate this rite can be perilous to the soul of the animator. If one is to stay empty enough to facilitate it there is absolutely no room for self-congratulation or for the mind-set that entertains words such as "achievement." The animator must attempt to have the same profound focus as in formal sitting or walking meditation, not only during the rite and in its preparation, but as an expression of a way of life, so that the silence communicated from the outset is not an artificial silence or an imposed silence, but a shared silence of being, in which all may find welcome and peace.

It is important for everyone who participates in this rite to be free of expectations, to be relaxed and ordinary and open to the Spirit. To encourage this attentive waiting, it is customary to give an innocuous title for the day that does not contain the words "contemplative Eucharist." As in the spiritual life of which it is an example, there is, once again, no "success" or "failure" in this rite. It is what it is. Each congregation and each context is different.

3. People and Timing

The Animator

The animator's role is delicate and costly. It involves being as empty, silent and as unobtrusive as possible while at the same time making sure the venue is ready, the instruction given, and a minimal structure established in which people can be open, vulnerable and deeply silent.
The animator is always a layperson.* This person should be a stranger to the participants and should disappear after the rite is over, so that if the rite is done on Saturday, for example (this seems to be the best day in a parish situation), the animator is not anywhere in evidence on the following Sunday. While she may make a thanksgiving at the end of the rite along with everyone else, she should leave the premises immediately afterwards in order to eliminate the possibility that people will try to speak to her. The rules in this paragraph are essential to the rite and cannot not be altered without changing its nature.

The animator should confer with the vicar or organizer ahead of time to find out the layout of the venue, to ensure that there will be enough hosts on hand, and that the logistics of the rite are understood. Beyond these practical considerations, the animator should not discuss the rite so as not to impose his or her own (always provisional) understanding of it. The animator is the most vulnerable person in the rite and will be profoundly changed each time she participates in it. Ideally a person should not function as animator more than once or twice a year.

The animator has several burdens to bear. A person who lives from a radical interior silence may find any sort of public role very difficult, yet sharing this silence is be the most precious gift she (or he) has to give. During the rite, the animator must have continual reference to her core silence, not only to help the participants relax and be comfortable with silence but also so that she will not be swamped or deflected by the swirl of incoming signals from the group.

The animator should have a melodious, unaffected, clear speaking voice, and the instructions and second meditation must be presented in an inviting way but without inserting the animator's own experience or interpretation into the text by inflection or any other means. She should not hesitate to use a microphone if necessary so that she does not have to raise her voice. It goes without saying that any sort of theatricality would be totally out of place.
The animator must have the ability by use of the voice alone and the silence which supports it to enable the group to go ever deeper into silence. This means that the animator must be able to set aside whatever other concerns might preoccupy her so that they are not communicated through her voice.*

The animator must consciously and repeatedly renew her trust in the Holy Spirit working through the rite and the process. This non-interfering self-restraint can be very difficult when, for example, a participant seems to be trying to take a prominent role (as with the gargoyle clerics described below), or when something else seems to go awry. It is essential to sustain the atmosphere of the liturgy, which should be able absorb disturbances in such a way that they disappear into the flow. The animator's ability to maintain a depth of focus through all distractions will enable the congregation to do the same.**

The Shills

The title may be amusing but the role is important. The animator gives the intructions only once at the beginning of the rite. The shills' task is to help the congregation relax by discreetly providing momentum if there should be a collective memory lapse. They can be trained the day before or even a few minutes before the rite; there are only three actions to remember. The criteria for choosing shills are: common sense, unobtrusiveness, comfort with silence and the ability to wait, a sensitivity and attention that is tuned into the feel of the group from moment to moment. Nine times out of ten the shills are not needed. The congregation should not know who they are nor is it necessary for it to know that they are present.

The Speaker of the Epiclesis

The Speaker of the Epiclesis says the spontaneous epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit) over the bread and wine towards the end of the rite when all have individually broken their host into the paten and have gathered around the altar. As these are the only words spoken within the rite that are not spoken by the animator, it is extremely important that the this person (either man or woman) be sensitive enough to the group to be able to express the quality of the silence on that particular occasion in that particular congregation. In the epiclesis the speaker quietly gestures towards this quality of silence and invokes the Holy Spirit in one brief spontaneous sentence, but without imposing his or her own agenda. This way of speaking the epiclesis is much closer to the Eucharistic rite of the early churches than any rite we have today.

The speaker also assists the animator, fulfilling her requests in regard to effecting the material aspects of the rite. The speaker is also the usually the person who dresses the altar between the end of the third meditation and the appearance of the group in the nave. Aside from the low-key speaking of the epiclesis, the speaker should be invisible and participate as one of the group. Strict attention to the self-effacing character of this servant role is particularly important if the speaker is ordained, for whom it will often be more difficult than for a layperson.

It is perhaps significant that on the first occasion of the rite all the clergy present without exception had chosen to wear ordinary clothes and to be unremarkable in their behavior. In fact, they were so unobtrusive that discreet inquiries had to be made to find out if there was an ordained person present to pray the epiclesis. This is how the Church ought to operate all the time.

It is perfectly acceptable in this rite for a non-ordained person to say the epiclesis—it is Christ, after all, who makes Eucharist, and the Christ-movement of self-emptying is not confined to Christians—but this first occasion took place in an Episcopal church, and it was not the moment to make political statements or create controversy.

If the speaker is to be a layperson, she or he can be selected by the congregation in advance (such a group will have decided by consensus that they want to have the rite and will have requested it as a group), or else the choice can be left to the animator on the day. The animator should be discerning enough to be able to pick someone appropriate. The criteria for selection of the speaker should not be what we commonly think of as "leadership qualities," but should rather center around stillness and unobtrusiveness and the ability to help others focus beyond themselves. If these criteria are followed, the choice for speaker will naturally fall to someone who is closer to the margins than to the center of the group. The rite is a lived kenosis and throws any attempt at domination into sharp relief.

On one or two occasions there have been clergy who have asked to have the rite in their churches but on finding out what it involves—or doesn't involve—are profoundly threatened. They are reluctant to let go their safe and rigid forms even for a few hours. This, too, is part of life, and rather than trying to change the cleric, the animator should remain neutral and let the chips fall, relying on the truth of the rite and the Holy Spirit working through it to enlighten the cleric. This involves a willingness on the animator's part to risk in faith and to continually to renew the commitment to suspend all judgement and evaluation.

If it becomes evident that the situation is going to become too problematic, the animator should withdraw the rite in advance or improvise a substitute on the spot. Because the silence in the rite becomes poised and penetrating, the slightest tension will communicate itself to the participants. The rite should not be risked in a non-receptive situation, and there are some clergy who simply refuse to listen to or grant credence to anyone else, least of all a layperson; they are reluctant to let go one iota of control. The animator should accept all of these conditions with equanimity, even if in the end she must withdraw. As Ghandi used to say, nonviolence works only in a situation where those in power have a conscience.

On one occasion at a small parish, a very defensive vicar arrived in clericals even though he had been asked ahead of time not to wear them. However, when he saw what was unfolding at the beginning of the first meditation, he vanished discreetly and reappeared even more discreetly in a polo shirt. He went on to participate with deep attention.

In another parish the situation was more extreme: the congregation had been infantilized. They exhibited the body language of grammar school children. During the most important part of the rite, the husband-and-wife clerics who ran the parish decided to ensconce themselves on either side of the sanctuary like two guardian gargoyles in an evident attempt to intimidate, to assert the illusion of their continuing control in a situation that had already gone far beyond their control and had revealed the inappropriateness of such tactics. It was a strategy that was to backfire in a spectacular way shortly afterwards.

Anyone who participates in this rite will be sifted. It should not be lightly undertaken.


While the rite is particularly appropriate for a Saturday at the beginning of Advent or Lent, or in a time of reconciliation, it can be undertaken at any season when there is no competition for the participants' energy and attention (it would not be appropriate to use during Christmastide or Holy Week, for example). However, one parish has used it for a New Year's Eve Vigil.

This rite is not designed to be a regular event. Once in a lifetime for a participant may be enough. There is no hard and fast rule about this, but memory and expectation may compromise a person's openness the second time around.

In a world of high mobility a parish might make the rite available at intervals of 3-5 years. The number of participants should be limited to 45 at most. Even if only a few members of a parish participate in the rite, the quality of their interior stillness can deepen the life of entire congregation. To paraphrase Simeon the New Theologian, one person's silence can transfigure a thousand lives.

4. Preparation

The Venue

The preferred setting for the rite is a church with a parish hall, but almost any church or chapel can and has been used with some improvising. The essential is that there be enough space for people to do silent meditation with some sense of privacy and solitude, and also that people are not crowded when they are together. The venue also needs to have a sanctuary and an altar.

The venue should be reserved for the entire day. It is impossible to predict the amount of time that will pass until the last person has left, and it is vital that no one feel rushed during any part of this liturgy. There should be a sense of spacious leisure.

The normal gathering time is 9:30 AM with the rite starting at 10 AM. Refreshments (water, tea, munchies, etc.) should be readily available in a quiet corner where particpants can discreetly help themselves until after the third meditation.


"Priests'" hosts, the sort that are wafer thin and approximately 3 inches in diameter, are available from convents or from commercial church supply firms. While these hosts often come with a cross or other figure stamped on them, it is important for this rite that they be blank.
There should be a supply of post-it notes or other scrap paper and pencils in an unobtrusive place, e.g., near the coffee pot, for those who might want them.


In the Parish Hall

The gathering place should be within sight of the refreshment table but not too close to it. Chairs should be set in a quarter-circle in several rows facing the narrow end. Each chair should have at least three feet of space all around it. There should be a lectern facing the chairs.
Logistics such as toilet locations, etc. should be dealt with informally in advance. Everything should be clearly signposted. There should be a notice on the food table that refreshment will be available throughout the morning.

In the Sanctuary

The rite assumes but does not require a free-standing altar. The sanctuary should be as open to the nave as possible. If there are portable altar rails, they should be removed, along with kneelers. Even if the rails cannot be removed, the sancturary at least should be cleared of enough furniture so that everyone can stand around the altar. In small churches there may be a little crowding but this does not matter. There should not be any flowers or extraneous items in the church or sanctuary. It should be as simple as possible. If there are elderly people present, one or two chairs should be left in the sanctuary, each with a discreet sign indicating its use. The church should either have natural light or else be half-lit with artificial light. Bright florescent lights should not be used.

The Altar

The altar should be bare throughout the time of the first three meditations when some of the participants may want to meditate in the church. In the short interval between the end of the third meditation and the informal procession of the congregation into the church, the altar should be set as simply as possible with a corporal (a piece of plain, clean white linen about a foot square), a prepared chalice (wine with a few drops of water already added) and an empty paten, plate or bowl large enough to receive all the hosts that will be broken into it. The chalice and the bowl should be as beautiful and simple as possible, e.g., a Revere bowl and a plain chalice. Glass is fine if it is not fancy. Two very simple candles should be on the altar, or free-standing as appropriate to the architecture of the sanctuary.

5. The Rite Begins

The Introduction

At around 10 AM when the moment feels right, the animator goes quietly to the lectern and simply stands there, waiting until people notice and sit down The people will gather quickly as by this time they are alert for the beginning of the morning's activity. It is essential that there be no request for silence or gathering. The shills can be useful here but they should not call attention to themselves in any way or attempt to herd the others. The animator should make sure that all her movements are made slowly and gently, but without affectation.


When everyone is seated and quiet, the animator says gently:

Peace be with you.

There may or may not be a response. This is unimportant. The animator continues by giving the following information slowly, quietly and clearly, in her own words, if possible. It is important not to give any more or any less information than is supplied here. The instructions may seem like a lot, but in fact take only about five minutes to present.

— Today presents us with a space of opportunity, a time of unhurried silence to dwell at the heart of the Eucharist. Each person brings something unique to this shared silence of solitudes, and each person will receive something unique from it. While there will be aids to meditation available throughout the day, here are a few of the questions that might be useful for consideration:

—what do we mean when we say, "here we offer and present our selves, our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice?"

—what does it mean when we say with the celebrant, as we are meant to, this is my body given for You?

—the climax of the Eucharist is the fraction, the breaking of the Bread: there is no salvation without sacrifice. Every true sacred sign effaces itself [at this point the animator takes a host, holds it up, breaks it, and holds the two halves apart, keeping silence for a moment]; that is, every true sacred sign gestures towards a vanishing point. For example, the empty space between these two halves of bread echoes the mercy seat, the "great speaking absence" between the cherubim.* It echoes the cave of Elijah where he heard the still small voice; it echoes the womb of Mary and the empty tomb and all the other empty spaces of opportunity where, released from the shackles of our perception, Love has infinite play with the resonances of the Word.

Whatever you find yourself doing today, take all the time you need within the framework that we have available. We will keep silence throughout the day, and we will go home in silence. Out of respect for others' silence and solitude, please observe what used to be known as "custody of the eyes". When you get home, try to continue to live from the deep silence of the heart you may find here, even if you are not able to keep silence externally. Most important of all, please do not talk about what happens here today, either among yourselves or with others, as talking about it will tend to dissipate the transfiguring power of whatever you have been given.

— Here is the outline of the day. These instructions will be given only once, but they are very simple and nothing can go wrong. Everything that happens is Eucharist.

—At the conclusion of this introduction you will be given a host. This is your meditation object for the day.

—There will be three meditations. The first meditation is silent and lasts for 25 minutes. You may go anywhere you like to make this meditation including the church and the garden, but please return to your seat here at the end of this time.

When everyone has returned, we will have the second meditation together. This meditation contains passages that serve as the epistle and gospel for today.

The third meditation is also silent, and again, you may go anywhere you like. At the end of 25 minutes please return to your seat here.

—After everyone has returned there will be a silence of about five minutes. Then at the signal—which you will recognize when it is given—we will process informally into the church. When we get there, please find a seat in a pew as you would normally on a Sunday morning.

—Once everyone has arrived and settled into the pews and the silence has deepened, each one of us, when you are ready, will, informally and individually in no particular order, go one by one up to the altar and break the host each one of us has been given into the paten* that is waiting there and then return to a place in the pew. Please take as much time as you need for this action.

—Once everyone has had the opportunity to break their host at the altar, I will go forward to break my host. At this point, please leave your pew and come forward to stand around the altar.

—After we have settled around the altar, a brief invocation of the Holy Spirit will be said over the elements and we will receive Communion. After everyone has received we will return informally to our places in the pews to make thanksgiving. Please take as much time for your thanksgiving as you wish.

—It is important to emerge from the silence slowly and gently. When you are ready to leave, please depart the building and grounds in silence. If possible, try to live the rest of this day in silence, or at least from the core of this silence.

—Once again, nothing can go wrong in this liturgy; everything that happens is part of our life, all of which is acceptable to our loving God.

—Are there any questions?

There are usually one or two questions.

—We will now distribute the hosts.

The hosts are passed out by the animator and an assistant, if necessary, who should not have any other role and who should not be ordained. There is a pause while everyone settles.

The animator returns to the lectern and introduces the first meditation. This introduction should be as brief as possible and should include the following information, but nothing more:

—The Anglican rite for Eucharist begins with an adaptation of a medieval prayer that was originally composed for the enclosure of an anchorite, a man or woman who vowed to live out their lives of prayer enclosed in a small dwelling, usually attached to a church. In this first meditation, let us "cleanse the thoughts of our hearts" as the prayer bids us, so that we may come to a greater purity of heart and receptive listening to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

—Once again, you may go anywhere you like for this meditation, including the church (and the garden/classrooms, etc.); please return in 25 minutes.

The group disperses for 25 minutes. The animator removes the lectern and taking a host for herself goes off to find a quiet spot and meditate with it for 25 minutes just like everyone else.

At the end of that time, the animator returns slowly and quietly to the gathering place but this time to a chair set apart the back of the other chairs so that everyone is facing away from her. The shills should disperse themselves with everyone else and keep an eye on the time so that at the end of the meditation they can individually return slowly and quietly to the gathering place, thus encouraging everyone else to do so without in any way interfering with another's solitude. When everyone is settled the animator begins slowly and reflectively to read the following meditation:

Forgetfulness and Creation*

This morning I would like to try not simply to communicate ideas to you but rather share an experience, better, a way of being that is central and important. There will be words and images, but they are here to evoke another level of reality, which you are invited to enter. Let us therefore begin with a time of silence, because it will be silence that will be our place of communion.


Put yourselves in a relaxed position, remaining alert.... Close your eyes.... Enter within your self.... Let your awareness inhabit your body... welcome the movement of your breathing.... Slow it down a bit.... Be fully and peaceably there, from the centre of your being to its edge.... You are.


As we continue, listen at the level of your inmost being with the ear of your silence. Let what the words evoke live in your heart.

[brief pause]

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." *


"Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal."

Baptism cannot be a conclusion in an absolute sense. It is a conclusion in regard to the past; it is a point of departure in regard to the future. And Paul insists that we should strain forward to what lies ahead. The way traveled is to be forgotten: no vain remorse, no "if only," no complacency on account of hoarded spiritual riches.


Before God we are always indifferent servants, pardoned sinners, poor ones. Let us not close our hands on nothing, but keep them open towards the Lord in order to receive the munificence of his love. We are his children in the measure that we are born of God; and it is naked that we are born.


The power to forget is very important. It allows us to get rid of resentments and marks of honour, defilements and exterior burdens from our past, so that we keep only what is inscribed on the substance of our being, by which we are that which we are in the present moment. Thus casting everything aside, we can run ahead, buoyant and responsive, everything straining for the goal which lies ahead, in a perpetual going beyond everything, never pausing in this life. "Draw me after you, let us make haste," we cry to Christ.


Christ is always ahead. Union with God presents itself as perpetual newness, a continual beginning to begin again. We climb the ladder that links earth and heaven, the one which Jacob saw; God calls us to come up to him. The ladder is Christ, and every rung reached opens always towards something beyond. We find ourselves always beginning.


This continual going beyond self isn't a particular stage in the spiritual life, it is the very condition of our being. The spirit, an immaterial and intelligible reality, is, in itself, unlimited. In this, God and the soul are of one nature.


The created being can always become greater. If God is infinite in action, the soul is infinite in becoming. Its divinity consists in being transfigured into God. If it is infinite in becoming, its creation necessarily takes the form of growth, without which it would be merely finite, which characterises the material world. In this perspective, this continual progress is constitutive of the soul itself, it keeps it always turned towards something beyond itself.


There is something of prime importance here for our way of living day by day.

[brief pause]

Let us try another little experience. Close your eyes, breathe two or three times, deeply and slowly.... Become aware of your body.... then enter into your self to the source of your being.... Then, sitting there peacefully, visualise yourself on the screen of your imagination.... See your body irradiated with light.... It is thus that you are wrapped in the love of God, love that gives you being in your material existence—the breath we receive expresses this well—and gives you your spiritual existence.... Existence as a created spirit capable of unlimited growth in knowledge and love.... Existence as adopted children of God, who plunges us into his own intimate life.... This life is communicated to us in each instant by a relationship of grace and liberty that permits us to grow endlessly in goodness and love even to the fullness of Christ, which is without end.


Let us be aware of this light of love that surrounds us.... Love touches us through each object that we see, great or small: the mountain and the tree, the sun and the candle flame.... it sings in the song of birds, beckons in the murmur of the brook.... It takes a human face with Christ, but also in each human being who rubs shoulders with us.... It breaks into our life through all the events which form it.... It is constant in our heart, a presence of the Lord whose name accents our breathing.... We breathe the Love who creates us, here and now.


Consciously and with confident surrender, I open myself to this life and this light which, on God's side, are eternal; the creative action of God, in God, is God himself.... Only its effects are in time.... Each present moment links me with eternity, bears me as a child to the Father in the love of the Spirit.... This moment is rich with the entire past, and bears in itself the future in the measure that I commit myself to it in faith. Forgetting the past, I press on wholeheartedly towards the goal, letting myself be borne by the flow of the present.


It is precisely the reality of my actual participation in the life of God which, overwhelming me, enflames my desire and turns it towards its wellspring....I turn by forgetting, by the poverty of my empty hands....I soar up on my desire.... Each instant is an absolute beginning.... I receive myself anew, and I give myself in all simplicity.... The joy of my gratitude and my praise for the love and mercy of God that enfold me are the song of my creation.


But that which is obtained cannot become a limit to my desire.... This is not God.... The most dazzling light, the most intense feeling of love, the greatest revelation of his beauty—this is still not he One who is infinite, incomprehensible, always beyond.... To be with God, I must thus go always further to encounter his newness without end.


To reach the Creator I must myself become a creator—at least as regards the disposition of the spirit.... I must smash all the moulds in which I continually shape myself, because they are always limited; I must reject all security, familiar words, riches, offer myself utterly poor, virgin, to the breath of the Spirit.... Thus is our creativity made possible, the only creativity that counts, which forms Christ in us, which gives birth; the creativity which forms us, our selves, not just any created work, but our selves, in a poem of love to God, a poem that is absolutely unique.


Sometimes it is by solemn words of love that the Spirit gives me being, sometimes by joyous ones. There are very ordinary words: bread.... water...; there are words of humiliation... of suffering... even of sin. We must allow our selves to be formed by these words so that the glory of God may be sung.


If I am the poet of the poem that is my life, I am also a priest. The Word that is given me as a Christian has the power to change everything into the Body of Christ.... This is my body.... blood, poured out for you.... As God creates, in each instant, through his Word, he thus recreates us, reassumes us in all our humanity, with all the creation, in an eternal offering of the love of Christ to the Father, into whose heart the Eucharist plunges us.


Let us together live a day of creation.... Let us enter into our selves until we come to the level from which springs the source of our being.... Each morning is an absolute beginning.... God creates the heavens and the earth in this instant.... I open my eyes on the morning of creation, I receive the gift of being, wholly new, from the hand of God.... The first movement is a surge of wonder and gratitude.... The sun rises.... We hasten to meet this Love that comes to us in the tasks and happenings of our day however little they are.... Let us be attentive to the secret presence of Love that enfolds us, to its tenderness, sometimes very personal.... This inventive attention, this confidence and receptivity are, perhaps, a very simple form of continual prayer.


Let us receive the words of our poem in joy and surrender to the Spirit who inspires them, whether or not they are pleasing to our ear.... What do we know? ...When the words surpass our comprehension, when the melody is dissonant, unexpected or full of half tones, we escape our limits, we go beyond.... This melody, these words that are so simple, so concrete, are secretly infused with the Word, bear the form of Christ, say, "Father."


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being, in him, was life and the life was the light of all people." *


Each morning let us plunge our being, our day, into the torrent of Love that floods, that is, the life of the blessed Trinity.... This is the creation, this is the Eucharist.... Let us welcome, consecrate, offer our selves, our verse for today in the eternal Eucharist, the thanksgiving to Love.... What is given no longer belongs to us; our offering is the passage (the Passover) of our life in God.... It goes through the dispossession of forgetting in the single remembrance of God, in beholding.... We turn ourselves, we advance in faith and confidence towards the One who comes and who will come.... In each instant, in each thing, person, circumstance, God communicates himself, Christ becomes incarnate, the Spirit unites in the invisible bonds of love.


"And God saw all that was made, and indeed, it was very good. and there was evening and there was morning...." In the evening I give back my being to God; I surrender my life and entrust myself in the repose of the seventh day.... Each night I die in faith, having only my poverty, and my trust and peace in a hope that wishes neither to count nor to know anything.

[The next paragraph may be omitted.]

[Isn't the Father here, the Father whose love catches sight of me even when I am far off? He runs and puts his arms around my neck and covers me with kisses. "But Father, I have sinned!" "Quick, bring the most beautiful robe, a ring, sandals...."]

Thus we proceed, flowers of a day, "from beginnings, in beginnings, through beginnings that never end."

At the end of the spoken meditation there is a pause.
Then the animator gives the following information:

—The third meditation is about offering. Towards the end of this meditation, if you wish—but it is not necessary—you might want to write down a single word on a small piece of paper and take it home and do something ritual with it: burn it in a candle; bury it in the garden; grind it up and bake it into cookies; tie it to a rock and throw it into the river or the sea.

Once again, you may go anywhere you like for this meditation. Please return in 25 minutes.

Everyone disperses including the animator. At the end of 25 minutes, everyone returns. The animator once again goes to the back of the chairs. When everyone is settled and the silence has deepened the animator gives the signal.

The signal that is normally used is a gloss on Julian of Norwich, chapter 5 of the Long Text:

—And Julian looked at the small round thing in her hand and realized that it was everything that God had made: that God loves it, God sustains it, and God keeps it.*

Everyone rises slowly and processes informally into the church, where each finds a place in a pew, facing the altar. The shills assist this movement simply by being part of the group movement. When everyone is settled there is usually a space of silence before the first person is moved to go forward and break their host into the receptacle on the altar. The animator and the speaker stay at the back of the church to ensure that every person has had the opportunity to go forward.

This is usually the moment in the rite when it is most difficult to wait, when it is most difficult for the clergy to trust the laity and the rite (not to mention the animator!) and at which the shills need to be most sensitive so as not to jump the gun. It is important to let the silence deepen and not to rig either the process or the outcome.

This is also the point in the rite at which there will be the most variation. Some people will take off their shoes. Others will get to the altar steps and seem terrified to go any further. They must be given all the time they need.

It is also at this point that there may be variation of other kinds: elderly people may need to be helped up the steps, if there are steps, and should be able to remain in the sanctuary without obstructing the sightline—and the solitude—of the action at the altar or of the people who are sitting in the pews, who have either having broken their host or are waiting to do so. It is at this point also that some people simply "forget" to go back to the pew, though never in my experience has the central action or the flow of the liturgy ever been interfered with. In any event, these variations are part of the process and there should be no attempt at regimentation.
If there are a lot of participants, the process of going forward one by one will take a long time, though it will not seem long because of the action at the altar.
* When the last person in the pews has gone forward and come back, the speaker goes forward and remains discreetly behind or to the side of the altar. Lastly, the animator goes forward, and as she breaks her host, the rest of the congregation comes forward to stand around the altar. The speaker stands closest to the elements behind the altar, facing the nave, with one of the shills standing unobtrusively nearby.
When everyone has settled and the silence has deepened, the speaker prays over the gifts with a one-sentence, spontaneous epiclesis. It should be no more than one short sentence, and it should gesture towards the action of the Holy Spirit who unceasingly consecrates the lives who have broken the hosts and placed them on the altar.

After the speaker has prayed the one-sentence prayer over the gifts, there is another pause to simply be in the silence. Then with unhurried movement the speaker communicates the nearby shill, who slowly distributes the Bread, making sure that each person gets two halves. The speaker reaches for the chalice and faces the nearest person who has already received the Bread and waits reverently while they drink from it and pass it on to the next person. All communicate in silence.

When the Bread returns to the altar the shill communicates the speaker. They should leave any fragments. Anything left over can be dealt with by those who clear the altar, which should not take place until the last person has left the nave after the thanksgiving.

The speaker is also the last to receive the chalice. When he or she sets the cup back on the altar after receiving, everyone slowly and informally moves back to their places in the pews, the speaker and the animator going again to the west door of the church. At this point they may melt into the group, sitting in the back pews to make their own thanksgiving, but they should slip away before anyone is tempted to come and speak to them.

People will sometimes stay a very long time at the end of the rite. The doors to the nave should be shut to protect their silence. They must not be rushed or disturbed. Only when the last person has left the church may the altar be cleared and the furniture set back in its normal configuration, if it has had to be moved.

There is usually a lot of energy around at the end of the rite, and people sometimes forget to be silent. If participants attempt to speak on their way out they should be gently discouraged with a silent, gentle nod and renewed attention toward the altar.

There should be no scheduled follow-up to this rite, no discussion, no evaluation, no attempts to elicit responses from the participants. 'Loose ends' are to be welcomed as sources of rumination and deepening, and no effort should be made to tie them up.

* * *

6. Variations

No written rite can allow for every circumstance. As long as the basic structure, principles and presentation of the rite are unchanged, it can and should be adjusted according to need.
For example, in a service for the sick, the signal might be Jesus' saying that he comes not for the well but for the sick. In such a service, the movement by which the participants break their hosts into the paten would have to be improvised.

In an ecumenical situation where intercommunion is forbidden, the signal could reflect the pain of division. After each person has broken their host into the paten or bowl provided (the chalice will have been prepared ahead of time as usual), the rite can be ended, the group remaining in silence until one by one they drift away, the rite having no communion and no conclusion.

In such a situation the signal could reflect the severity of the disunity. On one occasion, the rite was to be used for a meeting of a local ARCIC group. Two days before the meeting, the very conservative Roman Catholic bishop of the area not only refused permission for inter-communion on this one occasion, he did so in a public and extremely hurtful way.

On this occasion the signal was: "And though I give my body to be burned and have not love, I am nothing." At the end of the aborted rite when everyone had left, the animator took the broken hosts away and burned them privately, as there was no place at the venue to burn them publicly. This conclusion had been agreed upon ahead of time by the organizers, and had been described during the introduction to the rite.

In the end, any group that uses this rite must decide how far it is able to go forward in trust and faith. The more participants are able to risk in silence, the greater will be the possibility for transfiguration.*

7. Adaptation for Regular Use

There are a growing number of parishes offering an alternative Sunday Eucharist that is simpler and quieter than the main service of the day. Many of these Eucharists are very effective, but most of them lack contemplative leisure and are still too wordy.

While there are a number of alternative liturgical possibilities available today, an increased amount of silence does not seem to be one of them because the clergy are afraid that the laity are uncomfortable with silence. Yet it is silence that attracts worshippers to these alternative services, and they should be satisfied.

There is no reason that an alternative Sunday Eucharist should not incorporate the main elements of the rite outlined above, including the central act of one-by-one breaking a host into a paten on the altar, as the numbers of people attending these alternative services are usually few.

Such a service should omit all explanations, attempts to make people "comfortable" (which usually end up making people squirm with embarrassment and destroy the prayerful atmosphere), since the people coming to this service already know more or less what to expect. The service might have the bare-bones elements listed below, with everything said or read slowly and thoughtfully, but without seeming studied or artificial.

For such a rite, a brief printed explanation of the rite could be place on the table that holds the hosts at the chapel entrance. The Confession, the psalm, the Peace, the announcements, the homily, the Collection and all but essential elements of the canon are omitted. One or both of the lessons could also be omitted with only the Gospel for the day being read.

The rite might then proceed as follows:

Each person coming into the sanctuary or chapel picks up a host and takes it with them to their seat (along with an explanatory leaflet, if desired). Then follows:

a) a prayer for purity of heart, either the traditional Anglican one or one that is improvised, although it would be hard to improve on the simplicity of "...cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit...." This collect would be followed by a silence of two or three minutes.

b) the Collect for the day, followed by an even longer silence.

c) the reading(s), followed by a significant silence (at least five minutes); each reading (if there is more than one) begins abruptly with no introduction or interpretation and with no closing salutation

d) the homily should be omitted. A printed reflection could be put by the entrance, but this is a service in which people want to listen to what the silence has to tell them individually about the reading(s)

e) the intercessions, which should not be a long and formal laundry list, but simply a quiet voicing of particular concern, which should be begun and summed up in great humility by the animator in a prayer that leads into an offertory sentence

f) one by one each person breaks a host into the paten and steps back from the altar (though not going back to their seat) until all are gathered at the altar.

h) after a silence the Speaker spontaneously prays a very simple version of the words of Institution and a one-sentence epiclesis appropriate to the assembled group and reflecting the common concern

g) all receive Communion

h) the remains are left on the altar while all return to their seats to sit in silent thanksgiving. The congregation leaves individually in silence.

Basic Principles

The liturgical form outlined above is only a suggestion. Each group should adapt the silent Eucharist to its own needs. The basic principles underlying both the long and the short forms are:

a) the primacy of silence before, during, and after each liturgical action/reading/gesture; silence as the matrix from which the Word (and ourselves) come and to which the Word (and ourselves) return (cf. Isaiah's "it will not return empty"); very slow reading and movement, without being artificial

b) the equality of all self-offering before God

c) letting the Word/liturgy/silence speak for itself without interpretation

d) a physical gesture of self-offering at the altar—the breaking of the host that will then be given as Communion—made by each participant

Those who think that the laity are "not ready" for silence or that they need to have the liturgy explained to them ad nauseam should witness the Compline service that has been held at St Mark's Cathedral in Seattle for the last 40 years. It began when some graduate students in music asked if they could sing Compline in the nave, just for their own edification.

Gradually attendance at this service swelled until today the cathedral is filled to capacity each Sunday evening. The doors open at 9 PM and the people, whose average age is 23, flow into the building until the pews are filled to capacity and people are sitting everywhere in the pews and on the floor, including the sanctuary.

The cathedral is dimly lit; the youthful congregation is respectful and silent—and have turned off their mobile phones without anyone telling them to. There are no clergy, no announcements, no welcomings, no interpretations no organ prelude. Promptly at 9:30—the service is broadcast to a large audience on radio and the Internet—the choir enters in silence, sings a modified version of Compline, interspersed with motets, and then leaves in silence. The congregation departs (more or less) in silence.

Although the Eucharistic liturgy presented in this book evolved independently from this Compline service, it is put together along the same lines. It seems astonishing that clergy who know of this service have not noted its "success", that they have not thought to take the pages of silence and the effacement of their role from its book; that they have not incorporated more silence and less of themselves, that is, less interpretation (interpretation which is often intrusive and unhelpful) into the regular liturgies they conduct.

Modern people live at a tremendously fast pace in a culture of noise and artificiality. We are continually assaulted by those who tell us how and what we ought to think. Liturgy, more now than other time in history, has the urgent task and the precious opportunity of helping us to stop, to be silent, to enter the heart of God, which lies at the center of our own nature.

Peace be with you.
* * *

John the Solitary, (4th c)

‘How long shall I be in the world of the voice and not in the world of the word? For everything that is seen is voice and is spoken with the voice, but in the invisible world there is no voice, for not even voice can utter its mystery. How long shall I be voice and not silence, when shall I depart from the voice, no longer remaining in things which the voice proclaims? When shall I become word in an awareness of hidden things, when shall I be raised up to silence, to something which neither voice nor word can bring.’ Quoted in ‘John the Solitary, On Prayer’ by S. P. Brock, The Journal of Theological Studies, New Series, Vol. XXX, part 1, 1979, p. 87.


* kenosis at the simplest level means self-emptying, the decreasing awareness of oneself that occurs naturally as one focuses with increasing intensity on something else.
* Because of interpersonal dynamics it is usually preferable that the animator to be a woman even (or especially) in an all-male context.
* See the quotation from John the Solitary in the appendix. This quotation could be copied out and posted near the refreshments.
** In fact, I have never seen or heard of any disturbances during this rite or ones similar to it. The silence becomes too enveloping, and the absence of imposed interpretations seems to eliminate the need to distrupt.
* Rowan Williams, Open To Judgementxxxxxxx
* plate/bowl—whatever term is appropriate
* Adapted from an unpublished Carthusian novice conference translated by an Anglican Solitary.
* Phil. 3:10-14
* From the Prologue to the Gospel of John
* The signal can be changed for different occasions. See the section on Variations
* Forty-five people take a little more than an hour and a half to perform this part of the ritual on average.
* The bridging of the abyss between clergy and the non-ordained could be greatly facilitated by using this rite at clergy conference, with an unknown layperson as a Speaker of the Epiclesis, in addition to the animator, who is always a layperson.


Post a Comment

<< Home