I attended a theological get-together earlier in the week, the topic of which was lay presidency at the Eucharist. Some folks in the room were for it, and some were agin’ it. Among the for-its, many advanced pragmatic or sentimental reasons. “Pragmatic,” in that there are more congregations in Scotland than there are full-time (or even part-time multipoint) clergy to serve them (hence, accord to the laity the prerogative to bless the eucharistic elements); or “sentimental,” as people affirmed that they had felt every bit as blessed by various para-sacramental events as by the typical clergy-led Eucharist.
I was, as one might guess, agin’ it, for various reasons that I won’t dwell on here. More to the point of this particular rumination, though, is the question of why (if it’s as necessary as all that, and if it feels entirely satisfactorily spiritual) one would still think it obligatory to call a lay-led consumption of bread and wine “the Eucharist”? Doesn’t that perpetuate a clerical paradigm by taking something that once was a clerical responsibility, and appropriating it as a function of non-ordained ministry? In other words, rather than arguing that X or Y function belongs fittingly to the ministry of a priest or a deacon or a layperson or a bishop — in this case, arguin that the sacramental act of presiding at a Eucharistic celebration appropriately belongs to the whole people of God — this approach seems to leave untouched the premise that there’s something special about presbyteral orders, and then reassigns the special ministry of clergy to laypersons. Why otherwise not just say, “We don’t feel the need to have a Eucharist here today, because we can’t arrange for a priest to be here and when (non-ordained) Leslie prays that God bless our bread and wine, my soul is exalted more even than when a clergyperson recites an official eucharistic prayer”? I’d think that “getting over clericalism” would mean not assenting to clergy-defined ecclesiastical practices” (such as distinguishing certain ritual acts from others) more than “wanting clergy prerogatives/responsibilities for non-ordained people.” But that’s just me, the dreadfully rebarbative traditionalist priest. For the record, I have not the least objection to people sharing bread and wine in Jesus’ name when- and wherever they want; I would think that a far better state of affairs than their feeling that they might only do it when a clergyperson is around. I think, however, that it’s still worth distinguishing such an act from a Eucharist, which is an action of the church, by the church, as the church.