A couple of blog posts ago I described communion cups used centuries ago and British Unitarian churches. Some were decidedly not of a typical chalice shape. I think the tumbler (beaker) shape deserves consideration.
Flexibility has benefits. A Christian minister might have to bring his or her own communion wear. But the affordable pieces are often shabby and a good stuff is extraordinary really expensive. The unreasonable choices a minister might make have led me to an unexpected suggestion.
- Communion ware should be affordable (though not necessarily cheap) and easy to maintain.
- Congruent in form with established practice.
I think I have something: a Japanese titanium tumbler. This one is from Horie.
You’ll excuse that it’s marketed for beer. It’s attractive, easy to keep clean, doesn’t have a metallic smell and is not commonly seen in the United States, so easy to distinguish for sacred service. It weighs next to nothing and is terribly strong; you don’t get both (or sometimes either) with pewter, which was formerly my favorite material for communion ware. It’s not tiny — a problem with “chapel sized” communion chalices — and you could even go a size down.
Downsides: they’re hard to get, and there’s no plate or basin to go with it. A rectangular wooden tray, perhaps of laminated wood, might do the trick.
I considered this question with individual cups several years ago.
Talk of the Annual Meeting of the (British) Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and noticing the communion service there this morning, put me in mind of an quaint old book.
The 1897 Vestiges of Protestant Dissent is something of register of British and Irish Unitarian, Free Christian, Non-Subscribing and kindred churches, with — and this is the part that amazes me — a listing of their communion plate. Much was then-new electroplate, but other pieces were quite old and noteworthy, so much so that several engravings were executed.
What fascinates me is the use of porringers, posset-cups, “loving cups”, mugs and tumblers (beakers), and not just the accustomed chalice: that inverted bell on a stem, sometimes a knop, and foot we all know and associate with the Eucharist.
Many long-time readers know I have an interest in found communion ware, and lament the division of the communion ware market into the unaffordable and the tawdry. Which will bring me to what I think is an ideal communion cup for our days, and particularly for Unitarian and Universalist ministers — and indeed at least one in Vestiges — who have to bring their own. For next time.
I’ve casually mentioned my plans this week to several people and almost every time I’ve been asked what I mean by Maundy Thursday.
- It’s today.
- It is the anniversary of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
- And so it is the anniversary of the giving of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament or ordinance. It’s also known as the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Mass, or the Liturgy. The alternate term Great Thanksgiving deserves use, too.
- Some churches — I’m thinking of the Unitarians and Universalists here — who might not have the Lord’s Supper at any other time might have it on Maundy Thursday.
- It was especially beloved by Universalists, who would welcome members at the service.
- Some churches wash feet at the service.
- The term maundy comes from the Latin mandamus, “commandment” from Jesus’ new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
This one might be more for my Independent Catholic/Independent Sacramental readers than Unitarian Universalists (or Quakers).
I found these Back Oblaten — baking wafers — at a specialty store over the weekend. They’re used to keep cookies from sticking to a pan. A Christmas favorite is lebkutchen — a kind of light gingerbread — cookies with glaze or chocolate on one side and a wafer on the other.
A wafer like, perhaps exactly like that used in the Mass.
So a mental calculation. A hundred — I think — large (70 mm) hosts for $2.50, and easy to get. Say for low masses? A good deal.
Use them, friends, or no?
It is like a dear home-meal, a family supper, where the Elder and the younger brothers meet around their Father’s table. It is like a farewell meal just before a dear one goes away from home on a perilous journey. The breaking of bread together, the cup of wine together, the beautiful words of remembrance that will stay in their hearts all their lives that will stay in the heart of the world forever.
Wonderful words follow. The promise[of] “many mansions”, the new commandment of love, the new name of friend, the gift of his own peace, the prayer for the “little children’s” safe keeping. Under the sorrow of parting is the joy of returning; with his going away the spirit of truth will come. “It is better tor you that I go.”
The uplifted face seems to smile back into God’s face the voice is tremulous with joy as it whispers, “I go to my Father.”
Maria L. Drew , The Sunday School Helper (1896)
Pivoting from the Unitarians, and looking forward to Maundy Thursday. I’ll go into the Universalist laws of fellowship (and how they changed) later, but suffice it to say now that state conventions, parishes and ministers were subject to them or risk losing their standing. For a few decades, at least, one of these laws concerned who could be admitted to the Lord’s table, or Communion.
From the 1946 Laws of Fellowship
In every church the Communion of the Lord’s Supper shall be statedly observed at such times as the laws thereof prescribe; and at every such service all persons present, whether members or not, who may feel it to be a duty or privilege to do so, shall be invited to participate.
This formulation goes back at least as far as 1891. It also appears in the 1951 version, but disappears in the next (1953) version when, with other specific rules related to Christianity, it was removed. (As for the reference to church laws, even today Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington requires it on “Thursday of Holy Week and at such other times as the Pastor and Diaconate may determine. At every such service all present shall be invited to partake.”)
The reading of the law matches what is printed as an invitation to communion in the “red hymnal” Hymns of the Spirit service for communion, even though it was a joint Unitarian-Universalist production:
A Communion Service will be held in this Church at (stating the time). It is a service of commemoration, consecration and fellowship, open to all who desire to take part in it.
Interestingly, no such preface exists for the Communion service before the last solely Universalist hymnal, Hymns of the Church.
I’ve finished two more books — not on my list — since I last checked in. Relatively shorter and less difficult than what (I think) appeals to me, so I read them without discouragement!
- William L. Barclay. The Lord’s Supper. (2001, of 1965 ed.)
Brief review of the history and meaning of the sacrament, useful (if gently dated) for ecumenically-minded mainline Protestant churches.
- Anya von Bremzen. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. (2013)
Fascinating family memoir usung food to unpack 20th and 21st century Soviet and Russian history.
This week one of the eleven surviving copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in English North America, sold at auction.
The owner was Old South Church, Boston, and the sale reminded me of all the old Unitarian communion plate that was sold to keep the staff paid, the furnace stoked or the roof on.
Though I respect our history, I respect the institutions more. And there’s something sad when a communion cup or psalter becomes so valuable as an artifact that it loses its intended use; it’s like the Velveteen Rabbit in reverse. As treasure, the silver and the printed pages become less real. They were real because they were instruments of praise and thanksgiving. Better then, I think that they can be sold, conserved and placed on display, as indeed the new Psalm Book’s owner, David Rubenstein, intends to do. (He owns two of the eleven.)
Better still to keep the Great Thanksgiving at table, and our praises in song. And if you want to pray from the Bay Psalm Book… well, then thank God: you can read it online, in this 1903 facsimile reprint.
Last month I read Unitarian biblical scholar Clayton R. Bowen’s “The Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper” “a lecture given at the Meadville Summer Institute on June 29, 1914.”
… Jesus be remembered, that the unswerving faith, the boundless hope, the sure hope, the boundless love, that made him our supreme Master and our supreme Servant, may somehow be kindled in us also, through this simple act that we do in remembrance of him.
I wonder if he wrote it in a self-consciously liturgical way. In any case, I’m going to hold on to it for possible later use.
In the joint Unitarian and Universalist 1937 Hymns of the Spirit the shorter communion service has a provision where “there is to be no distribution of the elements” “the communion being wholly symbolic.” I’ve never seen this ever done myself; has anyone?