I had an interesting morning with my curate peers at West Malling Abbey. We had been gathered together to look at the Eucharist, and specifically how to preside at the Eucharist.
The Abbey is a fantastic place of quiet and solitude and I always enjoy visiting this holy place – its been too long since my last visit and I really should look into booking a study day there.
As I said we were there for training on how to preside after our priesting. This has become something for most of us to look forward to. It is certainly big on the agenda for me at the moment as I contemplate presiding for the first time in the cathedral. It was good to hear that amongst ‘a standard way’ that we had to develop our own style which we are comfortable with. It was also good to be reminded that we should preside in a way that means we do not draw attention to ourselves and so allow people to worship and receive from God rather than be distracted by what we do. Another useful point Chris shared was that we all celebrate the Eucharist, and one person has to preside or ‘host’ the meal. This is not an outhority thing, and is all about serving. These useful things had already been shared with me by our excellent Precentor but its still good to hear it again.
As time gets closer I seem to spend a lot of time reflecting and asking myself what all this is about? What do I think happens at the Eucharist and has my opinion changed in the last year or so? I am so conscious of how I am still very much on a journey of discovery. I have certainly moved from this being merely a symbolic meal and probably now agree that something happens and God is present in some mysterious way we cannot explain in the blood and wine. That’s nowhere near the same as believing the bread and the wine change (transubstantiation) which as the 39 articles say …’is repugnant to the plain words of scripture’ (Article xxviii). But, if we pray asking God that this bread and wine ‘may be for us the body and blood of your dear Son Jesus Christ’ then it can no longer just be bread and wine! Something has happened.
I guess another unknown for me is how will I react emotionally as I preside. We were talking about this today and I think Dave brought this up in the discussion. It’s an unknown to me and today I heard how priests have become emotional during their first presiding experience which does not give me a lot of confidence. It doesn’t hold with not drawing attention to yourself either. But … I have noticed that while waiting with the wine and hearing the choir sing behind me in the cathedral I have been conscious of feeling a profound sense of God which has moved me to tears.
God is present in the whole world, and God seems to be present in a special way in the celebration of the Eucharist. For me, the biggest thing I have come away with today is as I prepare to preside I need to be prayerful, well prepared and allow God to be God.