Internalised Oppression

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.

4 thoughts on “Internalised Oppression

  1. reminds me of Illich in ‘Disabling Professions’ where he argues that that professions maintain their existence and identity explicitly by keeping some functions out of the public realm.

  2. Or we might realize that the church has reached the point where we need to decouple “professional” from “priest” and simply ordain the laity who can show a calling for that ministry. As opposed to requiring them first to devote ten to fifteen years of their lives to acquiring the proper credentials so they can work for an institution that can only pay them what they would earn working at a fast-food joint with a high school diploma.
    I’m not knocking education – I think “show a calling” in this context includes demonstrating a desire for continuing theological education.
    I also think we need _way_ more bishops than we have. About one for every five churches would be about right. That way we could have “foreman” bishops rather than our current “CEO” bishops.

  3. This argument is entirely specious. It implies that the laity are not the church! And that their lives are not Eucharist! Which was precisely the point—that the Eucharist is the offering of our lives in and with Christ—of Cranmer’s having the people receive Communion and then the Epiclesis is said over them. Tsk. Some people will go to any lengths to hang on to privilege.

  4. 2. AFAIK it’s been done before. A lot. Mediæval ‘Mass-priests’ with relatively little theological training (the seminary was a reform from the Council of Trent), Greeks under Turkish rule who’d ordain the most pious man in the village but not allow him to preach or hear confessions (a circuit-riding trained priest would do that)… I think the Episcopalians tried something like that rather recently (much like the Greeks did: parishioner ordained to do services but under the supervision of a trained priest who approves the sermons). I also understand that the Episcopalians’ Continuing Churches cousins often do something like that: many priests ‘read for orders’ in their parishes with a few formal courses much like permanent-deacon training in RC dioceses.

    AFAIK it can work.

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