Saturday, 18 October 2008

Saturday evening Catholic eucharist

The French refer to it as "La messe anticipée du samedi soir" which I suppose is a way of saying you have been to Sunday service by going to the Saturday evening service that uses the Sunday readings. If you're not Catholic this may seem a bit strange but I suppose it means that you then have your Sunday free to do other things.
For the first time since the course in Rome began a Saturday evening eucharist was organised in the church of the congregation where our meetings take place. It was a simple, straightforward but beautiful service, and I'm pleased I attended even if I did not in the end actually "communicate". Not an easy decision and an emotional one but it seemed like the right one at this time.
I'm not sure my reasoning on this is completely coherent but here are some elements that led me to discreetly remain in my pew this evening.
Worship is a public event, even in a small community, I work for an organisation which works for Christian unity and I didn't want my personal desire to partake in the eucharist to be misinterpreted. Similarly, when you get ordained, in some ways - particularly within church settings - you are not a private individual in the same way a lay person might be. Somehow, fasting from the bread and wine is also a way of fasting for greater and deeper unity, entering into dialogue about the issues - this is not about "individual conscience" for me. (A phrase that the Roman Catholic Church sometimes uses about the issue, i.e. non-Catholic individuals should decide for themselves, although actually the church has already ruled and does not allow its members the same freedom of conscience at Protestant eucharists ... hmmm). I realise this must seem rather inchoate, but as our group had also been talking about dialogue these past two days and insisted on the fact that dialogue is not necessarily harmony, it seemed right for me in this instance to stay true to my convictions.
What was very beautiful about this evening's service was that the patten and chalice were left on the altar and the communicants simply filed up and stood where the priest had stood to take communion. A very powerful symbol and beautiful to be part of, even only as an observer. It also made my decision harder in some ways - it is rare to receive both bread and wine at Catholic mass and the way in which it happened had a certain Protestant simplicity.